Tolpuddle: in the footsteps of the Martyrs

Dorset celebrates the heroic stand of six men every year.


EVERY July the quiet Dorset village of Tolpuddle is packed for a memorial rally. This year has special significance as it is the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Mutiny Act which was used, in 1834, to deport the six agricultural workers who formed a "trade union" after their wages had been reduced.

Next Sunday (20 July) John Monks, the TUC`s General Secretary, will join the annual procession from the Methodist chapel to the six TUC Cottages named after the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Most Labour and union leaders have made the pilgrimage here, including Tony Blair.

A four-mile country walk follows part of this processional route before leaving the village to explore farmland known to the famous farmworkers. The route starts at the green by the Martyrs' Tree under which the future Martyrs discussed their problems and tactics. Alongside is a thatched shelter and a handy information board maintained by the National Trust.

Turn left by the thatched shelves to walk up the main road to the church. The grave of James Hammett, the only Tolpuddle Martyr to return and live in the village, is one the west side of the churchyard near the walk. Here the annual laying of wreaths takes place at the Hammett headstone below the tower of the little 13th-century church known to Thomas Hardy. Continue along the road and shortly before reaching the TUC Cottages turn right up a track marked "Bridleway to Dewlish". The track bends near the back of the cottages before heading into a narrow tree-filled hollow. The path climbs gently for 300 yards to meet the partly built by-pass which should bring peace back to Tolpuddle's main street. On the far side the way is briefly enclosed to reach a gate.

Continue half left across the field to a gateway on the far side. The rising path now follows the hedge on the right as splendid views open out to the west. Soon after another gate, the way begins a gentle descent to slip out of the field before the corner. A narrow path runs steeply downhill through trees.

Soon after reaching the bottom of the hill, look for a turning to the right. Enter a field and go ahead with a hedge to the left. Cross a track by some old farm buildings to reach the far end of the large field. Go over the stile and keep forward to a small gate. Continue along the valley bottom to pass a barn and cross a stile. Ahead is a high wooded hill fort known as Weatherby Castle.

At the far end of the field go through the gate. There is a line of beeches as the path bears left. After a short distance turn right to follow a track uphill. When the main track marks bear right still continue ahead uphill as the field narrows to a gate. Follow the wooded track to another gate where there is a fine view over Wareham Forest to the Purbeck Hills.

Keep by the hedge to the right. In the next field the hedge is to the left of the track which soon becomes enclosed before running down to a farm at Tolpuddle Common.

Beyond the farmyard the lane climbs up to cross the half completed by- pass. (Watch for heavy machinery passing.) From here the road is metalled as it runs down Whitchill Lane into Tolpuddle.

To the left is the Martyrs Inn where in 1979 Vic Feather pulled the first pint after the name had been changed from The Crown which was thought too much of an association with the prosecution side in the Tolpuddle trial. Today the pub is not only a popular venue on rally day but a year- round tourist information point. The food includes rare Dorset Blue Vinney ploughman's lunch and local game and rabbit pie. Exclusive to the inn is a very strong Martyrs Ale brewed at nearby Blandford. Turn right for the green and the Martyrs' Tree.

Use OS Pathfinder 1318 Dorchester North & Tolpuddle and 1319 Bere Regis & Lytchett Matravers. The Museum at the TUC Cottage is open daily except Mondays. The Rally programme on Sunday 20 July begins at 12.30pm. On weekdays Wilts & Dorset buses run from Dorchester seven miles away (details 01305 224535). Tourist Information Office, Unit 11 Antelope Walk, Dorchester, Dorset DTT IBP (01305 267992). This walk is based on a route in `Short Walks from Dorset Pubs' by Leigh Hatts (Countryside Books pounds 4.99).

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