It was Sally’s turn to lead the village walk last Saturday and she chose a circular route based on The Fox Inn at Ansty. We drove to Ansty passing through the most picturesque village of Milton Abbas. The village features on many picture postcards of rural Dorset. The 36 almost identical thatched cottages were intended to house two families each. They were built from cob and previously were painted yellow, with each house fronted by a lawn; originally a horse chestnut tree was planted between each dwelling. The church, consecrated in 1786, is in Georgian Gothic style, with late 19th-century additions.
Today the houses are white-washed, and the main street also features a public house (the Hambro Arms), a Post Office/shop, a now redundant school building, and a Weslyan chapel. In 1953 the original horse chestnut trees were judged unsafe and a danger to the houses and removed.
Leaving our parked cars at the pub in Ansty we walked down to the village hall and then turned west across farmland, always climbing, to reach Melcombe Park Farm. Here we entered a field and walked along the woodland edge at its northern margin towards Dorset Gap. Also known as the Dorsetshire Gap this is an important, historic track junction – once the hub of central Dorset, and is a well-known beauty spot and magnet for ramblers. Five ancient trackways, now bridleways, with steep, narrow man-made cuttings meet at the Dorset Gap. It was an important road crossing from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, linking the Ridgeway with the drove roads to the north.
As we made our way to the meeting of the trackways we were able to admire views looking north and south over the Blackmoor Vale. We turned southeast cutting through a deep cleft following a sign for Higher Melcombe. Our way took us along the right hand edge of two fields and passing an area of low mixed relief which marks the remains of a medieval village. Reaching a crossroads at Melcombe Bingham we crossed over passing an old public ‘phone box which is now a library/swap shot. We headed towards the settlement at Bingham’s Melcombe!
Here is the site of an abandoned medieval village of this name and this latter name is sometimes used to describe the church and its adjacent manor. The manor is a Grade I listed building in a very beautiful setting with well kept grounds and a small lake. Nearby is the bijou parish church of St Andrew’s. The present church is thought to be 14th century but there was certainly an earlier church on the site, the records of which ‘s go back to 1150 and are held in the County Museum Library. There is a stuffed owl perched high up on the north side of the chapel arch whose job it is to deter bats.
Leaving Bingham’s Melcombe, pausing first to enjoy the high beautifully shaped evergreen hedge and various large topiary items beside the manor house, we found a track out onto open farmland. Crossing this we had views over the fields yet to be sown with their crop, and made our way towards a string of houses along the road which leads into Ansty and our chosen watering hole. Nick and I had liver and mash for lunch, cooked to perfection. This was possibly the best walk we have done with the Winterborne Kingstoners.