Dorset Highlands

This was the last of the Dorset-focused day tours that remained on my ‘to do’ list, each of which are described by Jack Thurston in his excellent book ‘Lost Lanes West’ (on the one hand it seems lazy to simply ‘follow the guidebook’ but, since time is so often at a premium, having so much of the initial route planning done for me enables me to focus on the actual cycling … and, to be honest, all of these routes are located in areas I’ve wanted to explore by bicycle anyway).

Warning: this route may (does) contain hills

So, what about this day tour? The clue is in the title: this is a hilly ride (although most of Jack’s other routes seem to sneak plenty of ups and downs into the itinerary). But it takes in so many of the gems that make up rural Dorset that the effort is all worthwhile.

I now routinely download the .gpx file that Jack makes available for each route. This then gets uploaded to Komoot, and transferred to my phone when I sync it. The process is easy and the benefits of simple navigation en route are well worth it. I always print out the route cards and an overview map as well, so that I have a manual alternative if my phone dies.

All folded up and ready to go: a sunny morning at Poole railway station, waiting for the Dorchester train

I caught the train from Poole to Dorchester South on this already sunny Sunday morning. Forty-five minutes after the train pulled out of Poole, I was pulling out of Dorchester. Komoot got a little confused when I left the station, but a quick scan of the first route card reassured me that I was on the right road. Town soon gave way to countryside, and I was on my way to Moreton, last resting place of TE Lawrence. There is also a fine tea rooms, occupying what was the village school, which is a magnet for cyclists seeking nourishment.

TE Lawrence’s grave in Moreton cemetery is to the right of the wooden cross, which is visible though the gateway
The tea rooms in Moreton, with a pleasant walled courtyard garden behind them, for when it’s sunny

I couldn’t justify stopping so early on in my tour, so I passed the tea rooms to their right and headed down a gravel track to the ford and the footway across the River Frome, which is a glorious spot, popular with families in the warmer months.

Crossing the River Frome at Moreton
The track from Moreton to Clouds Hill

The gravel track continued on the other side of the river for a little over a mile, emerging onto metalled road once more just west of Clouds Hill, the bolthole TE Lawrence bought when he worked at Bovington camp, in order to escape the public eye. My Brompton faired well on the gravel, only skidding in the sandy ruts towards the end, when the gradient increased and I had to push down harder on the pedals.

St. Lawrence’s Church in Affpuddle

Affpuddle is a pleasant village, with Saxon heritage and a 13th-Century church. Easy cycling takes you from here to Tolpuddle, legendary as the place where protests of labourers treated harshly by their employers led to the founding of the trade union movement.

On the subject of hard labour, the lane north out of Tolpuddle is ‘entertaining’, ultimately crossing the busy A35 dual-carriageway via a footbridge, before petering out into a farm track. My Brompton was about to go off-road again. The going was initially steep, but soon levelled out. I dodged muddy puddles as I rode parallel to the hedgerow, which was thick with wild flowers.

I stopped at the top of the hill, in a corner of a field, to enjoy the view and make a cup of coffee. Surrounded as I was by birdsong, with pheasants calling in the distance to provide a raucous chorus, this was background music you would never hear in a coffee shop.

The ‘martyrs tree’ in Tolpuddle, where they congregated for their illegal meetings

The route continued north, towards Milton Abbas. As I entered the village, I hit a garlic-perfumed wall (not a real wall, just air so heavily scented with wild garlic that my nostrils received an intense hit as I cycled past). The steep-sided valley and the damp banks lining the roadside provide perfect growing conditions for this wonderful leafy allium (I’ve made soup with it before, which is deliciously garlicky).

Milton Abbey provided a stunning vista, although the privileged existence of those now enjoying its fine education seemed somewhat at odds with the treatment of the Tolpuddle labourers, whose tree I had so recently passed by (and, given the widespread use of zero hours contracts in the modern era, I sometimes wonder how far equality has actually progressed in the last 200 years).

A bank of wild garlic flanking the road in Milton Abbas
Milton Abbey and school

Jack Thurston is almost apologetic for the various climbs that link Milton Abbas with Cerne Abbas and beyond, but the circular tour requires that you ‘suffer’ these as you strike west, cutting across multiple river valleys. However, the suffering is temporary, and I was rewarded with fine views from each highpoint. I may even have persuaded a fellow cyclist passing the other way to consider adding a Brompton to his stable of bicycles, when we stopped to chat near the top of Bulbarrow Hill.

The view north from Bullbarrow Hill, towards Rawlsbury Camp hill fort
The 15th/16th-Century church in Mappowder

It seems that almost every village in Dorset has its own ancient church, and Mappowder is no different. All credit to those who have the desire to maintain these old buildings, in an increasingly secular world.

The giant at Cerne Abbas provides a somewhat ‘alternative’ backdrop to the tour. Historians and archaeologists offer several explanations for its origins including that it represents an ancient deity, and that it is a parody of Oliver Cromwell. It remains a mystery.

The Cerne Abbas giant, carved in the hillside

The last true climb (out of Cerne Abbas, towards Sydling St. Nicholas) provided a last high-level vista across Dorset’s pastoral landscape, before I finally descended into the Frome valley. The route here joins that of ‘Hardy’s Hills‘, another day tour described in ‘Lost Lanes West‘, which I had enjoyed last autumn. You might be following a river downstream towards Dorchester at this point, but there remain a couple of stings in the tail, when passing Poundbury to the north.

On the road from Cerne Abbas to Sydling St. Nicholas

I made my way back to Dorchester South railway station and stood in the sun, waiting for my train back to Poole. I would then ride the last few miles back home. My final mileage for the day was to be 54 miles, the furthest I had ridden in one day on my Brompton. Yet again, I had discovered that this folding marvel was ‘the little bike that can’, capable of serious touring over creditable distances.

What of the bag attached to the front of my Brompton in every photograph? It contains half of the total load I would expect to required for a camping tour, including a stove/pot and fuel, spare clothing and various other items. My current run of day tours are – apart from enjoyable outings in their own right – dry runs for cycling adventures further afield. So far so good!

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