Walk 2: Dorchester Circular Walk: Far from the Maddening Crowd

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km)

Time to walk: It’s not really possible to put a time limit on this walk as there’s so much to see. For example… we spent 1 1/2 hours in the museum. With coffee shops etc it’s probably best to allow half a day

Difficulty: All walking on paths apart from the final destination which is on grass

Parking: We parked in the public car park in Weymouth Avenue where they hold Fairfield Market every Wednesday

Public toilets: Plenty of pubs, cafes etc which mean you’re never far from one (& if you stop at all the cafes, that’s a good job!!)

Map of the route: This is a combination of all of the suggested town walks. The map is a bit complicated so we suggest you just follow our instructions.

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We visited Dorset recently & used Dorchester as our base. It may be one of the smallest County towns in England, but it’s packed with history & culture

You’re surrounded by beautiful countryside & only 10 miles from the Jurassic Coast, which is a World Heritage Site

It’s also associated with the novelist Thomas Hardy who was born not far from Dorchester & lived in the town all his life (see pictures later). Dorchester is the fictional ‘Casterbridge’ in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ & it is possible to do ‘Casterbridge’ walks…we’ve included some references in this blog, however there’s much more to this town

Our walk is a combination of the 4 different suggested walks around the town

Well then…

Let’s Walk!

1. We park as above & start our walk in an area of Dorchester that’s currently being renovated…Brewery Square. It’s not due to be finished until 2018, but already it’s a great development that’s well worthy of a city. Have a look at the above link, but already the cinema & restaurants are well worth a visit & for the first night we stayed at a very new, modern Premier Inn here (didn’t see Lenny Henry though….)

2. Turn right onto Weymouth Avenue. The car park where we left the car is over the road

This is also the home of Fairfield Market which has been home to Dorchester’s famous historic open & covered Wednesday market since the 19th century

3. We started this walk early & hadn’t had breakfast so we came across a great little deli opposite the car park….Simon’s Delicatessen. What a great place…fabulous granary, bacon sandwiches & great coffee. If you’re down there please visit & say hi from us

4. Fully replenished we carry on down Weymouth Avenue to the junction & cross straight over into Trinity Street down the right side of the pub below

& then turn left down ‘The Walks’ as below…

5. ‘The Walks’ in Dorchester follow the old Roman walls of the town. We’ll see more of the Roman influence on this town as we continue this walk. So…at the end turn right & head along West Walks

On the left side are the amazing award winning Borough Gardens, which also include an ornate Victorian clock tower, a bandstand & fountain. It was November when we visited, but we can imagine this in summer.

6. Right…carry on up West Walks & allegedly, on the right here was a cottage where Susan Henchard lived in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge.

7. At the top of West Walk we come to a junction & cross over. On the right is a sample of the Roman Wall that surrounds Dorchester (Durnovaria in Roman days).

The wall was originally 2.5 metres thick & stood 6 metres high. In the 18th century the wall was replaced by the tree-lined Walks that mark the town’s perimeter. The walls were not the town’s only defences…..there was also a massive ditch surrounding the town.

At the roundabout we suggest you turn left & have a look at the  The Dorchester Military Museum

Right come back to the junction & turn left into cross over into The Grove….if you fancy a cuppa there’s The Old Tea House nearby which is well worth a visit

8. On the right is Thomas Hardy’s statue…apparently he was sculptured sitting down as he was a small man

Now carry on down the road & we’re again following the Roman walls. Note how far below us the road is…the road is now where the Roman ditch was

9. At the end of the path turn right & walk along until we see the sign to The Roman Town  House.

This is the finest example of its kind in Britain. Discovered in 1937 it’s been conserved. Notice the well & mosaic floors.

10. So head back out of the site & then over the road as below…

The thatched building on our left here used to be The Hangman’s Cottage. Covered in traditional Dorset thatch, this was the home of the town’s executioner

11. Now cross the bridge, turn right & follow the path alongside the river. This area is known as John’s Pond.

There’s a legend that a prisoner named John drowned after escaping from the nearby jail. The pond is a main part of the drainage system for the nearby water meadows.

If you look up to the right you can see Dorchester jail

Also just along here, where the stream bends to the left, is where hangings used to take place

In 1856, at the age of 16, Thomas Hardy witnessed the hanging of Martha Brown for the murder of her husband.

12. Now it’s time to turn right & head up Friary Hill back into town.

On the right’s the prison

Now we enter the square & turn right up the lane below..

13. On the left hand side is The Rev John White‘s House. He was known as the ‘Patriarch of Dorchester’ & was a dynamic preacher who rebuilt the town after the fire of 1613. He was also instrumental in the founding of Dorchester Massachusetts.

14. Now let’s turn left down Grey School Passage

Ahead of us is Holy Trinity Church

15. We exit the passage onto High Street West & immediately on our left is The Shire Hall / Old Crown Court where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were condemned in 1834. You can still visit it, but it wasn’t open today

16. Well let’s continue down the main street (it’s chucking it down by the way now). Here’s a view of where we’re going…

On the right is a cafe called Judge Jeffreys…click on the link & we’ll come back to him again….

The place above dates back to 16th Century & is one of the oldest buildings in the High Street. In 1685 the infamous Judge Jeffrey’s stayed here while conducting his ‘Bloody Assize’ which saw many local people condemned to death for their part in the Duke of Monmouth‘s rebellion against King James II.

17. Next door is the Dorset Museum

It’s a great museum & there’s a great tribute to Thomas Hardy who also donated his study to be recreated here.

18. Next door to the museum is St Peter’s Church which dates back to 15th century.

19. Our next stop down the road is the Corn Exchange which dates from 1848 & was originally built without the clock tower. This was later added by Alderman Galpin & the people were sure it would one day fall down. The Town Hall & Council Chamber sit here

& over the road is another recommendation for somewhere to eat….

Masala Dorchester – we have to say one of the best curry houses we’ve ever eaten in

Here’s the view back up the road….

20. As we continue down the road on the left we come across the 2nd hotel of our trip..The Kings Arms. Nice Best Western Hotel, but if they offer you room 206 politely decline because it’s next to the noisy lift!!

The property is an 18th century bowed window coaching inn & features by name in Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge’. In those days the fastest horse & coaches took 16 hours to reach London.

21. Next on the right we come to All Saints Church which has has a fantastic spire. Go round the back & stand in the churchyard & read the Thomas Hardy poem for a smile & a shiver!

“O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!

“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!’

“The wicked people have annexed
The verses on the good;
A roaring drunkard sports the text
Teetotal Tommy should!

“Where we are huddled none can trace,
And if our names remain,
They pave some path or p-ing place
Where we have never lain!

“There’s not a modest maiden elf
But dreads the final Trumpet,
Lest half of her should rise herself,
And half some local strumpet!

“From restorations of Thy fane,
From smoothings of Thy sward,
From zealous Churchmen’s pick and plane
Deliver us O Lord! Amen!”

22. Back across on the left side of the road we come to Mariners Parade & the Pale Ale Brewery sign is a reminder of the past

Just near here is Tom Brown‘s pub which, if you like a bit of beer brewed on the premises, then call in

23. Cross over the road & turn down High Street Fordington & head up the hill. At the top we come to a church known as St George’s Fordington.

24. At the square take the right turn down South Walks Road & again we’re following the Roman boundary again

Continue along here to the junction which was once know as Gallows Hill & was one of the main sites used for public executions. Also here is the Dorset Martyrs Statue

Built in 1986 by sculptor Elisabeth Frink it apparently celebrates all those who died for their faith

25. Now head up Icen Way looking for an public access gate through a retirement home…..unfortunately it was locked…oh dear…so we back track along the streets around.

Here’s where we should have come out

On this area were the Roman Baths, which were excavated in 1978 before it was covered over by a car park. Cross over the road & head up the stairs into the shopping centre

26. Alongside Waitrose is the Tudor Arch which once formed part of the yard of the Greyhound Inn.

Pass through the centre

There’s an amazing Deli here on the left selling incredible pies & local produce.

27. We exit the arcade & turn right up South Street. At the top of the street is the Town Pump…

Before we get there though stop opposite The Antelope Hotel & Walk

This hotel was originally a 18th century coaching inn that vied against the King’s Arms where we stayed. Sarah Eldridge of the Eldridge Pope brewery took over this building in 1833. The hotel is mentioned by name in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’

28. So why don’t we head up the arcade…. we dare you to pass the Pasty Shop which has a  fantastic opening & closing sign that says ‘We close when the last pasty’s sold’ -love it!!

Half way up is the Old Oak Room. This is reputed to be the room used by Judge Jeffreys (we’ve mentioned him above). There are allegedly tunnels from here under the road into the Courthouse

29. Come out of the arcade onto Trinity Street again. On the corner on the left is a very good Tourist Information Centre. Turn left down Trinity Street & over the road is the amazing art deco Plaza Cinema.

Opposite the Plaza is a narrow alleyway that takes us back to South Street.

30. We emerge from the alleyway opposite Barclays Bank which is the house referred to by Hardy as The Mayor of Casterbridge’s House…

31. Continue down the street & the next building we come to is Napper’s Mite. This is now a restaurant in buildings that were originally almshouses built by Sir Robert Napper to house ’10 old men’ after the fire of 1613. Have a look at the fabulous clock high up…this is one of the oldest buildings in South Street & the town. We had tea & some pretty good crumpets here mid afternoon!!

32. Tea & crumpets over, we keep going down the street. On the right hand side of the buildings on the right are plaques to Barnes & Hardy

32. At the end of South Street on the left is the Cenotaph & a Victorian Post Box which are both situated close to the site of the southern gate in the Roman walls. The post box is one of the earliest designed by Penfold dates around 1866. The Centotaph dates from 1921 & was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens & is made from Portland stone

33. Be careful crossing the junction & head back up Weymouth Avenue past where we left our car & past Brewery Square again. About another 100 yards on the left is a gate that leads into Maumbury Rings.

Maumbury Rings was most likely constructed as a Neolithic henge monument about 4500 years ago. The Romans would have made some major changes to create an amphitheatre capable of holding 10,000 people.

Now it’s head back to the car as that’s our walk over (& it is raining quite heavily!!).

34. As we’re in Thomas Hardy country it would be rude though to leave this walk without reference to his birthplace, which we just made in daylight & Max Gate where he lived for most of his life – both National Trust properties & both so worth a visit

So there we are…..the rest of our days in Dorset we spent by the Jurassic Coast & what a beautiful part of the country it is so…

Go Walk!

Here’s a few extra pics of the area..

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