Walk - Graston Copse - Hammiton Wood
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From Graston Copse Reception walk down through the park to the bottom field and turn left, walking inside the railings to pick up the footpath beyond. Carry on alongside the copse, ignoring the paths heading to your left, and keep going ahead until you come to the gate in the far left-hand corner of the field. Go through the gate, turning right immediately to go through the gate beside it and cross the next field diagonally left to walk past the left-hand barn and onto the track beyond, turning left to come out on the road.
- Turn right on the road, carrying straight on at the crossroads to go along the lane ahead.
Bredy Farm, just off to the right at the crossroads, has a collection of old farm implements in a small museum which is open to the public.
- When the lane bears right, go through the gate on the left to follow the footpath along the right-hand hedge. In the second field aim for the left of the copse ahead and walk along the right-hand hedge, turning left to walk along the right-hand hedge of the next two fields to go right on the path through the trees. Carry on through the field ahead to the lake.
The pastures and meadows of the surrounding landscape, together with its hedges, ditches and woodland, provide habitats for a wide range of wildlife. In spring and summer there is an abundance of wildflowers, including wild garlic, bluebells, primroses and purple orchids. This attracts moths and butterflies, as well as other insects and invertebrates, which in turn provide food for birds and mammals. The hoarse rattling call of pheasants can sometimes be heard, and the trill of a skylark overhead. Rabbits dart in and out of the hedges, and buzzards and sparrowhawks wheel overhead hunting them, while just occasionally you may catch a glimpse of a fox or even a shy roe or Sika deer.
- Bear left on the footpath to cross the lane and take the path ahead. Go through the gate and turn left to go through another gate, carrying straight on ahead uphill around Hammiton Wood. Go through the gate and walk alongside the left-hand hedge to the road.
Hammiton Hill and Shipton Hill behind it are of interest to geologists because of the way they were formed. Each hill is the residual core of what was once a large mass of Greensand before the surface layers slipped down its slopes to form a broad plateau at the base of the hill. The steep cliffs, or 'slip scarps', above the plateau are formed of a yellow-grey sand known as Foxmould.
Both hills are also of interest to archaeologists because of their prehistoric features. Flint axes have been found in the area, thought to date back to Palaeolithic (Early Stone Age) times, at least 12,000 years ago, and there are traces of what may have been an ancient village on Shipton Hill. Both hills have bowl barrows on the top from Bronze Age times, somewhere between 2350 BC and 701 BC. On Shipton Hill there are the remnants of ramparts and other earthworks from an Iron Age hillfort (800 BC to AD 42).
In much later times Shipton Hill was also used as a beacon. In the sixteenth century warning fires were lit on a chain of hills from the coast inland when the ships of the Spanish Armada were sighted; and three centuries later these hills were used for the same purpose again to warn of French ships offshore during the Napoleonic Wars.
- Go left on the road, Icen Lane, turning left between the gateposts to Hammiton Farm and walk up the drive, to take the waymarked path to the right of the entrance to the farm itself and walk along the left-hand hedge around Hammiton Hill. Ignoring the path waymarked to your right, bear slightly left and downhill to where the field narrows to a bottleneck. Go through the gate at the end. Walk along the right-hand hedge of the next two fields, heading uphill, and turn right before you reach the end of the second field.
As you would expect from a beacon hill, Hammiton Hill affords tremendous views over the surrounding landscape. For many centuries the area's economy has for the most part been driven by agriculture, and if you look carefully you can see the remains of the comprehensive flood irrigation system developed by the monks at Abbotsbury when they farmed the land (see the Abbotsbury Walk). Stone sluices diverted the water from the River Bride into the drainage channels across the meadows, with the added bonus of increasing the fertility of the soil by means of the organic matter deposited when the water receded.
During medieval times, wool, ropes and nets were the area's main products, so as well as providing grazing for the sheep, the fields were used for growing flax for the ropes and nets which were made in Bridport (see the Bridport Walk). There were mills and factories in Burton Bradstock for processing the flax, and throughout history many of its people have made a living out of associated trades (see the West Bay Walk).
Nowadays there are more cows than sheep to be seen, and the flax grown is a different variety, being used for specialist fabrics and paper. Other crops cultivated today are wheat and barley, both used mainly for animal feeds, and rape, whose vivid yellow flowers give an illusion of sunshine on the fields even on the greyest day. This is harvested for its seed, which is crushed for the oil and used in industry.
- Ignoring the clear path to the right, drop downhill, bearing left to head for the left-hand end of the trees below. Go through the gate beside them and aim for the gate at the far right-hand corner of the field. Arriving back at 3, carry straight on ahead to return to Graston Copse along Annings Lane, or retrace your steps on the footpath through the fields.
In Shipton Gorge and Burton Bradstock.