A legend hovers about the hills in Dorset's heartland. A town so spoiled the view of the local lord that it was flooded to become a lake. He had the valley landscaped by the most famous landscaper in the land – Capability Brown – and built a new idyllic village on a hillside nearby.

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Colourful beech, copper beech, ash and sycamore blend and flicker in an impressionist blur as a backdrop to the clean lines of the immaculately designed village of Milton Abbas. Arranged either side of a single, gently curving road are 36 thatched cottages that could have come straight from a fairytale.

Nearby Milton Abbey School occupies a Gothic mansion, built during the 1750s on the site of a Benedictine abbey at the behest of Joseph Damer. The Abbey Church still stands. Unhappy with the adjacent town of Middleton, Damer set about buying the town and demolishing it. Many of the residents moved to the newly built model village of Milton Abbas.

Milton Abbas thatch houses
The pristine thatched cottages of Milton Abbas were built to replace an earlier village disliked by Dorset landowner Jospeh Damer/Credit: Geograph

Milton Abbas walk

3.8 miles/6.1km | 2.5 hours | moderate

1. Thatch to forest

Walk uphill from the Hambro Arms and take the bridleway to the left through the newer part of the village and into the fields. On a clear day, turn back where a track crosses the field for views across to Poole Harbour and Old Harry Rocks. Continue, crossing a driveway until you meet a lane and forest tracks.

2. Autumn leaves

Take the track on the extreme left. Note the effects of autumn on English woodland classics oak, ash and hazel.

When the track joins a driveway, ignore the drive to the left and the forest track opposite it. Take the following woodland path to the right, passing between two boulders. Ignore the first two right turns. After the path makes a steady decline flanked by hazel and fern, take the next right.

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Hill in autumn

3. Chapel peace

12th-century St Catherine’s Chapel sits in serene simplicity with a viewpoint overlooking the decadent Abbey Church below. The chapel is said to be built on the spot Saxon king Athelstan had a vision of defeating the Danish army. In reverence, he founded the Abbey in 934. Shortly you will come to Steepton Bill Farm shop, a perfect place to purchase provisions including pasties, tea and coffee. Descending from the woods on to the lane, turn left.

Fields around Milton Abbas
Explore the rolling countryside around Milton Abbas/Credit: Getty

4. Abbey diversion

After a third of a mile, Lake Lodge will appear on the right. Take the footpath going behind the lodge if you wish to visit Milton Abbey Church. Its grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown. Surrounding the church are a number of ornamental firs and maples. Return to the lane the way you came.

5. Back at the village

Coming to a T-junction, turn left to walk through the village back to the start. Opposite the church stand almshouses from 1674, which originally stood in Middleton. The churchyard displays information boards about the wildlife to be found therein.

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Hambro Arms pub in Milton Abbas
Hambro Arms pub in Milton Abbas/Credit: Geograph

Milton Abbas map

Milton Abbas walking route and map

Milton Abbas walking route and map

Authors

Christopher Ridout is a walker and writer with a keen interest in history and mythology.

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