Hell Lane

An Ancient Path Called A Holloway

Did you see the series on ITV last year called Best Walks With A View with Julia Bradbury? In one episode she was in West Dorset on a Golden Cap walk. She started inland in Symondsbury and from there walked off down a footpath, a Dorset holloway.

What’s a holloway?

The name holloway name comes from the Old English “hola weg”, meaning a sunken road. Over hundreds of years the wearing action of feet, cartwheels and rain have deepened sandy tracks in the soft sandstone rock in South Dorset, gouging paths into the bedrock itself and creating deep ditches. Long since abandoned as thoroughfares, and overgrown with brambles and bushes, the paths are often now unknown to all but locals.

Holloway BookThe author Robert Macfarlane has written about them in his book Holloway. Stanley Donwood illustrated it. He is best known for his work on Radiohead albums.

The holloway near Symondsbury was probably a drove trail used to move cattle and other animals from farms to markets or perhaps a pilgrimage route. It’s likely that heavy carts took stone along it to Symondsbury from the local quarry. Maybe smugglers, having taken their contraband up from Seatown beach, used the sunken lane to surreptitiously transfer goods inland?

Our spooky walk

We decided to go and walk the holloway ourselves. With Shutes Lane it connects Symondsbury with North Chideock. We parked in Symondsbury, climbed up and back down Colmers Hill, and then walked out of the village.

For a while our path was just an ordinary country lane but then the greenery thickened. Soon steep walls of rock towered above us on both sides. We continued our walk through what was now a narrow gorge. Gnarled tree roots were exposed out of the rocks, ivy trailed down. Trees above us filtered the light making it felt at times as if we were travelling down a tunnel. Over countless years many passersby had stopped to etch messages, names, faces, giant eyes and other shapes into the rocks. Were we imagining it or did the atmosphere feel a little sinister as we continued along the shadowed path? The name of it did nothing to dispel this vague sense of unease… Hell Lane. I wonder why it is called that?

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