• The Dorset County Boundary Survey website
Durotriges

Shire Rack Circular Walk

Dorset/Wiltshire border

Field Visit

Wednesday 5 June, - 10.00 for 10.30am
Location: Shermel Gate, ST989192; (398909, 119210) [SP5 5PE].  

Turn off the A354 Blandford-Salisbury road at the roundabout with the B3081 into Sixpenny Handley. Turn first right on the edge of the village and then left, signposted ‘Deanland’, to Shermel Gate which is where the surfaced road stops. There is parking space here along either side of the wide bridleway down from Stonedown Wood.     

Do bring along a sandwich; we will be taking a picnic ‘lunch break’ at about 12 noon.  Unlike last year this will be a ‘loop walk’ one of about 3+ miles in length; also presented is a shorter ‘loop’ walk of about half  this length – see both the note below*. Maps links in the table below.

The time we return to our cars will rather depend, not only on how fast we walk, but the time we take noting - and talking about - interesting features on the way.  The county boundary project is an essentially ‘interdisciplinary’ exercise bringing together geology, history, topography and botany.  We should be back to our cars by about 3 o’clock.

The peoples of Dorset and Wiltshire who have for centuries been ‘divided’ by the course of the Shire Rack today share this unique historic linear landscape feature through the good offices of the AONB.  Do join us!

Please note

The activities of our Research Group are organised informally, and by joining in any of our outdoor events you do so entirely at your own risk, and we accept no liability for those who participate. If you wish to join us you are reminded that you must rely on your own ability and experience to gauge the difficulty and severity of the activity and the route or terrain involved, and you will be responsible for your own safety at all times.

Footpaths can be un-surfaced and, in places, steep or muddy. Any decision to continue or discontinue any walk or activity at any point is entirely your own choice, and you are reminded that you should have appropriate clothing, rainwear and footwear, and carry sun protection, food and drink adequate for the weather and the duration of the walk or excursion.

Shire Rack circular walk
Dorset Boundaries
Shire Rack along the Dorset/Wiltshire border
Notes on the ‘Shermel Gate west’ walk

Some of you may remember the walk we led last June along the Shire Rack between Garston Wood and Shermel Gate.  Its ‘accessibility’ here as a route way along the chalk ridge between the Dorset and Wiltshire is presented in its name; ‘shire’ is the pre-Norman, Old English word for ‘county’ (which literally connotes a ‘shearing,’ a division) and ‘rack’ is from the Old English word racu ‘reach,’ a narrow hillside path. 

We find this length ‘registered’ in Anglo-Saxon charters for both the manors of Chalke (to the north) and [Sixpenny] Handley (to the south) providing us with a list of boundary features found along its course in AD 955/6; and we will, once again, be following in the footsteps of the tenth-century land surveyors.

The Shire Rack presents several points of entry along this northern length, related to the driving of livestock, of movement across the border.  That at ‘Shermel’ presents a ‘gate’ name and accessed from the north by a narrow ‘corridor’ presented by the Fifield Bavant parish boundary down the valley here designated as the ‘Trough’ in AD 955.  The word ‘shermel’ suggests the one-time existence here of a tall wayside border cross, a shire mael   the ‘signposts’ of an earlier world. 

From Shermel Gate we will follow the Shire Rack westwards up along the northern edge of Foxbury Lower Hedge to the point-of-entry across the boundary by the Longcroft Road bridleway.  (*Those of us who might prefer a shorter walk can follow the bridleway down to New Town and then east back to Shermel Gate).  The high ground here is recorded as ‘Pigstye Ridge’ in AD 955; the absence of any specific reference to the boundary itself will imply that its course on the ground was one which was plain to see – well-defined. 

Shire Rack walk route
Sheet Description Boundary Dorset Parish Other Parish link KB size date
1 Shire Rack walk route   Handley Bower Chalke, Wiltshire PDF
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594 2019
Dorset 9-7 & 9-11 Shire Rack walk route, 1886 overlay   Handley Bower Chalke, Wiltshire PDF
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852 1886
c 1886 mapping. Nominal 1:5,000
Sheet Description Dorset Parish Other Parish link KB size date
162

Little Shaftesbury Coppice

Handley Berwick St John; Wiltshire PDF
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602 1886
163 Eden Coppice Handley Ebbesborne Wake; Wiltshire PDF
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556 1886
164 Shermal Gate Handley Ebbesborne Wake, Bower Chalke; Wiltshire PDF
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431 1886
Additional Material
Sheet Description Dorset Parish Author link KB size date
-

Notes for Wednesday 5 June

Handley Katherine Barker PDF
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602 2019
- More walk notes Handley Graham Hoddinott PDF
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556 2019