The Stour Valley Way is a long-distance hike that winds through some of Dorset’s prettiest countryside past watermills, Iron Age forts, Roman towns, nature reserves and countless picturesque villages.
At 64 miles (103 km), the Stour Valley Way does a rather comprehensive job of showing picturesque Dorset and a sliver of Wiltshire. There’s no shortage of River Stours in England and this particular one bubbles up from the ground at Stourton, in Wiltshire. It meanders around, crossing Dorset from north to south, and flows into the Channel at Christchurch Harbour.
Starting from the south, this glorious hiking trail heads uphill for most of its course but the first two stages are fairly flat. The final three stages are increasingly undulating but there’s nothing particularly challenging involved. You'll mainly ramble through quaint villages and countryside, though the Way does pass by some larger towns.
Hengistbury Head is your starting point, an impressive peninsula which is a scheduled ancient monument, a nature reserve and a site of special scientific interest. Humans have been present here since at least the Late Stone Age and it’s no wonder, the beach is wonderful. The path quickly joins the River Stour where it pays to keep an eye out for the resident wildlife, like kingfishers and water voles. In summer, the river here is verdant with reeds and marshes and lively with boats, waterside pubs and kayakers.
Roman-built towns, hillforts and old mills are abundant and once you reach the halfway mark, you’ll start encountering gentle hills that provide lovely views. At Hod Hill, you’ll even hike straight through a Roman fort and be in no doubt as to why they settled here. When you reach the northern extent of Dorset, you’ll cross into Somerset for a whole mile before dipping into Wiltshire for the grand finale.
Finish the Stour Valley Way at the National Trust Estate of Stourhead which, handily, sits right on the source. The gardens are exquisite and designed to evoke a sense of Greek mythology. With Palladian bridges, a Pantheon and an 18th-century mansion, this isn’t a bad way to finish a hike.
While I’ve created this Collection to take five days, you can choose to do it in less or more with ease. There are several large towns en route, such as Blandford Forum and Gillingham, and with plenty of villages as well, it’s not difficult to find accommodation, food or public transport.
Getting to the start is simple; catch the train to Christchurch or drive and take a short walk to Hengistbury Head. At Stourhead, walk the mile to Zeals and catch the X4 bus to Gillingham, which has a mainline station.
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