Fontmell and Melbury Downs wildlife walk

Spread Eagle Hill, near Compton Abbas, Dorset

Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
A view of Melbury Beacon and Compton Down © Matthew Oates (NT)

A view of Melbury Beacon and Compton Down

The Adonis blue butterfly is just one of many that may be spotted here © National Trust/ Matthew Oates

The Adonis blue butterfly is just one of many that may be spotted here

View of Fontmell and Melbury Downs from Melbury Hill, Dorset © National Trust/Clive Whitbourn

View of Fontmell and Melbury Downs from Melbury Hill, Dorset

A guided walk on Melbury Down © National Trust/ Clive Whitbourn

A guided walk on Melbury Down

Route overview

These Downs were bought in memory of English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, to protect the landscape in which his novels of the Blackmore Vale are set. Here you will discover an open expanse of flowery downland, excellent butterfly populations and breathtaking views.

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Route map for Fontmell and Melbury Downs wildlife walk
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: Spread Eagle Hill car park, grid ref: ST886187

  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the road north towards Shaftesbury for about 328 yards (300m).

  2. Walk through the gate and continue straight on, following the fence line towards Melbury Beacon. Drop down into the saddle and continue straight on up Melbury Hill.

  3. Once on the Beacon take in the stunning 360 degree view of the Blackmore Vale, Vale of Wardour and Shaftesbury.

    Show/HideMelbury Beacon

    At 863 feet (263m) above sea level, Melbury Beacon is thought to have been one of the sites used for a warning beacon in times of danger. It was also used as part of a chain of beacons across Dorset to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Savour the wonderful views, which stretch for miles across the Blackmore Vale and out towards North Dorset and Shaftesbury, as Hardy once did.

    A view of Melbury Beacon and Compton Down © Matthew Oates (NT)
  4. From the Beacon head left over the stile, taking a more southerly route along the fence until you join the path back to the main road.

    Show/HideButterflies and glow worms

    There is a wealth of butterflies to be seen here, such as the Adonis blue (pictured), chalkhill blue and marbled white. Also, during June and July, one of the best displays of glow worms can be seen, if the weather is good.

    The Adonis blue butterfly is just one of many that may be spotted here © National Trust/ Matthew Oates
  5. As you drop down into the Saddle turn right through the pedestrian gate.

  6. Head along the top of Compton Down in a southerly direction, with the fence on your left.

  7. Step over a stile (secluded within the thick hedge) and step down onto the track.

  8. Turn left up the track in a westerly direction which will bring you back to the car park.

  9. Once back at the car park you have the option to take an additional 1 mile (1.4km) route across Fontmell Down. From the car park walk straight out across the Down.

    Show/HideLandscape management

    Sheep and cattle graze the Downs to prevent grasses becoming dominant, allowing a variety of flowers to grow. Without management, beech or ash woodland would probably dominate the landscape. We work closely with our tenant farmers and volunteer groups to create the right environment for the plants and animals that thrive here.

    View of Fontmell and Melbury Downs from Melbury Hill, Dorset © National Trust/Clive Whitbourn
  10. Cross over the cross dyke (a bank and ditch).

  11. Once over the dyke, turn left and walk through the gate. Head left, back up the down, in a direction towards the main Shaftesbury/Blandford road.

  12. Finally you will come to a small wooden gate on your left. Go through the pedestrian gate and follow the path along the road which will bring you back to the car park.

    Show/HideGuided walks

    'Join a guided walk to find out more about the natural and cultural history which can be explored here. Contact us on 01672 539167 for information. Marvel at the far-reaching views, high on the chalk downs, while you explore a truly ancient landscape.' Clive Whitbourn, National Trust Warden

    A guided walk on Melbury Down © National Trust/ Clive Whitbourn

End: Spread Eagle Hill car park, grid ref: ST886187

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.3 miles (5.3km)
  • Time: 1 hour
  • OS Map: Landranger 183, Explorer 118
  • Terrain:

    Open access, so you can explore the whole area. Well-used paths and tracks include steep slopes, with uneven surfaces which become muddy and slippery after wet weather. Dogs welcome under close control, as livestock graze the downs. Please dispose of dog mess responsibly.

  • How to get here:

    By bike: North Dorset Cycle Way passes south of the estate, through Fontmell Magna

    By bus: from Shaftesbury take Wilts & Dorset service 182 to Compton Abbas and Fontmell Magna

    By car: from Shaftesbury head south on B3081 then follow signs south to Melbury Abbas. Through Melbury Abbas south onto Melbury St and continue on to Spread Eagle Hill. Car park on the right at the top of Spread Eagle Hill, just before left turn to Compton Abbas Airfield

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