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Dorchester River Walk: Roman Villa, Town Centre & Frome Valley

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a walk along the side of a small river surrunded by green foliage and trees in dorchester

Discover Dorchester and the surrounding countryside with this short circular walk from the historic town centre to the River Frome.

Combining riverside landscapes with historic sites and the town’s charming high street, this walk is a lovely, gentle 4km stroll which should take around an hour to complete.

Explore an Ancient Roman townhouse, spot wildlife along the river, and stroll through picturesque farmland, before heading back to Dorchester’s pretty town centre.

My Dorchester River Walk is based on the Ratty’s Trail route from Dorset Council. As the tourist office is now closed, you can no longer pick up a paper version of the route map. So I have created an up to date map and a more detailed route guide, to help anyone who wants to explore Dorchester and the nearby Frome Valley.

If you want a longer walk around Dorchester, you can combine this river walk with my historic town centre walk to create a roughly 7km figure-8 loop which would take about 2 hours (or less) to complete).

Dorchester River Walk: Details and Map

  • Distance: 4km / 2.5 miles
  • Time: 1 hour 
  • Elevation Gain: 25m
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Accessibility: No steps or stiles. 
  • Terrain: Paved paths, grass, dirt/mud tracks.
  • Parking: Paid parking at Top O’ Town Carpark (DT1 1XT) – from £2.60 for 3 hours in the long stay section.
  • Facilities: There are toilets at Top O’ Town Carpark, and plenty of places to eat in the nearby town centre.
Screenshot of a map showing a river walk in Dorchester
Screenshot of a map showing a river walk in Dorchester

To make following this walk easier, feel free to use my GPS trail route on Wikiloc. It’s a free app where people can share hiking routes! You’ll probably still find my instructions below helpful, though!

wooden signpost near dorchester with walk route markers on it and a muddy path in the background
Along the trail, keep an eye out for the old “Ratty’s Trail” waymarkers so you know you’re heading the right way. These are often quite faded, or even missing, but they should still help.

Dorchester River Walk Route

Step One – Dorchester’s Roman Town House

Leave the carpark and turn left onto Bridport Road, then left again at the roundabout onto The Grove (B3147). Cross to the other side of The Grove and walk along the raised path, passing the entrance to County Hall on your right and following signs for the Roman Town House. 

Near the bottom of the road, an entrance in the stone wall on your right leads to the Roman Town House. Head in and follow the path around the ruined villa, taking time to explore the site.

runed stone walls forming an outline of an old roman villa next to a walk path on a grey day in dorchester

Dating from the 3rd and 4th century AD, this is the only fully exposed example of a Roman Town House in Britain. It was discovered in the 1930s  when the former Dorset County Council bought Colliton Park to build a new County Hall. 

At the bottom of the path, a gate leads out onto a path above Northernhay Road. Turn right and head down the path a short way, then go down the stone steps, cross Northernhay, and follow the left-hand branch of a fork onto Cater’s Place.

The thatched roof cottage on your left here is called Hangman’s Cottage. Supposedly, this was the home of the hangman who carried out the sentences during the Bloody Assizes (1685) trials at the end of the Monmouth Rebellion.

Step Two – River Frome and Blue Bridge

Cross over the small stone bridge next to the cottage and take the path leading directly forward, following signs for Blue Bridge, with the river on your left.

Shortly afterwards, you will see a small wooden bridge on your left leading to the Sun Inn (another lovely Dorchester walk). Ignore that bridge, though, and continue forwards along the gravel track until you reach a stone bridge with blue railings, known as Blue Bridge. 

looking along a stone bridge with blue metal railings otowards bare trees and a grey sky

Cross the bridge and continue along the dirt track, crossing a small stone footbridge. Just after a second (much smaller) footbridge is a metal gate on your right with a wooden signpost.

Look for the (very faded) trail marker for Ratty’s Trail. Turn right to head through the gate and walk the muddy path between the fields.

a muddy path on a dorchester river walk with a metal gate and wooden signpost with bare trees and a grey sky behind
Head through this gate!

Step Three – Frome Valley

After passing through the metal kissing gate at the end of this path, turn right following the wooden signpost (with another faded trail marker), then follow the dirt track as it curves left to proceed along the bottom of a second field. 

Continue along the path, through another metal gate, then through a wooden gate next to a few barns on your right. Continue forwards at the crossroads here onto a wider stone path which soon becomes a paved road.

You will reach a wide metal gate. Go through the wooden gate to the left of it and turn right (see photo below).

a gravel path between a metal gate and some bushes on a grey day
Turn right to walk down this path

Just before the red brick cottage on this lane, take the wooden gate onto the public footpath. Follow this down to veer left past a thatched roof white cottage.

Step Four – Walk Back to Dorchester

Stay on this path (it’s the only available one), through a small copse until you meet the river again. Cross over the metal bridge and stay on the path to reach the stone bridge where London Road crosses the River Frome, known as Grey’s Bridge.

Look out for the old plaque here which warns that anyone who damages the bridge will face transportation for life!

an old plaque on a stone wall which reads: "Dorset Any person wilfully ingjuring any part of this county bridge will be guilty of felony and upon conviction liable to be transported for life by the court"

Cross the road very carefully at the bridge, then turn right to walk back towards town (you can see a petrol station and the two church steeples ahead of you).

Shortly after passing the petrol station, you will see a road bridge at the bottom of High East Street. Cross the road here (carefully) or at the traffic lights a little further up, then take the public footpath just before the bridge which leads along the side of the river. Look out for the white stag sculpture on the opposite bank!

a black metal gate next to a road bridge with a block of flats in the background
The turning for the river walk

Simply follow the paved pathway along the River Frome. An optional detour on your right will take you through a miniature nature reserve via a wooden walkway before reconnecting with the main footpath. 

Follow the river walk until you find yourself back at the bridge next to Hangman’s Cottage. From here, walk back along Northernhay to reach The Grove, turn left, and retrace your steps back to the car park. 

Read More

9 of the Best Walks in Dorchester

15 Short Dorset Coast Walks Under 4 Miles

Best things to do in Dorchester

Dorchester Historic Town Centre Walk

If you enjoyed this Dorchester river walk, or have any feedback for me, please leave a comment below! Especially if any info needs updating.

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