Walk - Osmington Roman Walk from Bowleaze Coveway
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Coming out of the car park at Bowleaze Coveway, turn left and cross the road to go into the holiday park, following the path along the western edge of the park to the top left-hand corner. Carry on along the path to the left here, bearing right with it as you reach the next holiday park to go into this park a little way up on the left, carrying on along the drive diagonally through the park to the small roundabout. Bearing left at the roundabout, ignore the road to your left beyond and continue along the drive, curving right with it around the buildings to take the main drive up to the A353 road.
A short distance to the left down the road from the car park at the start of the walk, the foundations of the Jordan Hill Roman Temple can be seen in the grass (follow the brown signs). Maintained by English Heritage, an interpretation board on the site shows how the temple may have looked when it was standing. Early Christianity adopted many of the existing pagan traditions, adapting them to the new religion, in order to make the transition from the old beliefs more appealing. Jordan Hill temple was probably built on a site that was already considered holy, quite possibly carrying on the worship of the pre-Roman Celtic god in a revised form. In its elevated position above the coast the shrine would have been visible far out to sea, and it may also have served as an early lighthouse or signal station.
A little to the north, towards Preston village, the remains of a Roman villa were also found. When it was investigated in the 1980s, the villa included a mosaic pavement as well as limestone flag flooring, and an oven or furnace. Later excavations of the temple unearthed a shaft in its south-east corner, containing ritual deposits of bronze coins and bird bones, as well as a sword and a spearhead. It is thought that the whole site, including both villa and temple, includes a cemetery.
- Crossing the main road, turn right and walk to Sutton Road, on your left.
- Turn up Sutton Road, forking right with it opposite the phone box.
- Take the footpath on the right, after the courtyard houses, and follow it across the open ground ahead, bearing right through the hedge to walk to the track. Walk along the left-hand hedge of the next two fields, bearing slightly right in the third to go through the far hedge.
The farm to the south as you walk through these fields is White Horse Farm. On the hillside to the north, locally known as Horse Hill, is the Osmington White Horse. Covering almost an acre, the horse is visible from many local viewpoints and is the only chalk horse in the UK with a rider – King George III, who was a regular visitor in Weymouth at the end of the eighteenth century. There are a number of explanations given for the origins of the carving, including the suggestion that it was carved by a group of engineers stationed here in response to the fear of a Napoleonic invasion at the start of the nineteenth century. Novelist Thomas Hardy (see the Puddletown Forest Walk) mentioned the horse in 'The Trumpet Major', saying that it was to commemorate the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. Another theory for its creation is that it was commissioned by the residents of Weymouth to celebrate King George's visits, and the rider was not added until 1815, some years later. According to this story, the bookseller responsible for organising the carving later committed suicide when he realised that he had depicted the king riding away from Weymouth.
- Carry straight on ahead through the next field and onto the lane, coming out onto Church Lane beyond.
- Turn right on Church Lane and walk to the church.
The church dates from 1170, and the chancel and font are from the original building, although the north arcade is fourteenth century and the tower fifteenth. The chancel was shortened and reroofed in 1796 and the nave was rebuilt in 1846, with a south arcade being added at the same time. By the church are the remains of the seventeenth century Osmington manor house, a Grade II listed building now in ruins, built on the site of a manor listed in the eleventh century Domesday Book.
- Going through the churchyard, take the footpath to the left and follow it down to the main road, coming out opposite Shortlake Lane.
This footpath was known as the Monk's Walk, linking the church to its glebe land in Shortlake Lane.
- Cross the road and take Shortlake Lane towards the coast for about half a mile, until you come to the South West Coast Path.
People have lived in the area for more than 3000 years, and there are burial mounds and field systems from as far back as the Bronze Age, 2500-800 BC. Elsewhere along the South Dorset Ridgeway – the walking trail travelling northwards along Church Lane, created along the inland alternative route for the South West Coast Path – there are long and bank barrows dating back to Neolithic times, some 6000 years ago. On steep hillsides such as the ones either side of the path as you descend towards the coast, terraces known as 'strip lynchets' were cut into the hill to create flat strips suitable for farming, and the remains of these can still be seen. In medieval times, all farming was done on narrow, unfenced strips of land, and these were distributed in such a way as to give all landowners a fair share of arable land. This meant that often a farmer's land was scattered through the district, and it wasn't until the 1857 Enclosure Act that hedges were built around numbers of adjacent strips to turn them into the larger field systems in use today.
- Turn right on the Coast Path, heading towards Weymouth, walking around Redcliff Point and above the cliffs at Broadrock, to drop gently into Bowleaze Coveway and walk back to the car park at the start of the walk.