There’s something magical, almost otherworldly about sunken lanes, those ancient ways worn deep into the earth by the centuries’ passage of boot, hoof and cartwheel.
Visit two of Britain’s finest sunken lanes in one day out on this route which connect Symondsbury with North Chideock, Shute’s Lane and Hell Lane.
Shute’s Lane and Hell Lane in West Dorset must rank as one of the very best examples, where you can discover a lost world 10 metres below the surrounding landscape. This subterranean gem is lined with ancient ferns and the bright orange berries of lords-and-ladies. The trees close overhead to create an archway, offering cool respite from late-summer heat and a perch for hunting buzzards and sparrowhawks.
This old way allows both man and beast to pass unnoticed through the countryside. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a hobbit being chased by trolls, such is the Tolkienesque feel to the place where 200 years of graffiti have been scratched into the bare sandstone walls.
Shute’s Lane starts in a fairly ordinary way on the edge of Symondsbury before developing quickly into the king of all holloways. Reaching a crossroads of four equally enticing ways, continue straight ahead into Hell Lane. On reaching the edge of North Chideock, opt for a footpath on the left to complete a loop back to Quarry Cross via Quarry Hill and the intriguingly named Rock Hopper.
Break free of your subterranean adventures with an energetic climb on a permissive path up on to conical, 417-foot-high Colmer’s Hill. Your reward is 360° views of the rolling West Dorset and East Devon landscape, so evocatively captured by local landscape artist Hilary Buckley. Topped with Caledonian pines, this much-photographed little gem of a hill was once named Sigismund’s Berg after a local Viking chief, and the coastal views range from Portland Bill to Lyme Bay.
Between the hills
Nestled just below Colmer’s Hill and Sloes Hill on the opposite side of the valley is Symondsbury, a charming estate village of honey-coloured cottages, an attractive church and historic thatched tithe barn.
If the weather is warm, seek out Symondsbury Kitchen, set in the old quadrangle milking shed, and enjoy a refreshingly cold glass of locally produced cider. If it’s one of those cooler September days, head into the cosy 16th-century Ilchester Arms to nurse a pint by the huge roaring fireplace.