Title: Secret Places of West Dorset
Author: Louise Hodgson
RRP: £11.99
Sale Price: £9.99
Publication date: Oct 2011
Updated/Reprinted: Apr 2016
Format: 234 x 156 mm
Number of pages: 144
Illustrations: 104
Map: 1
ISBN: 9781906651-091

Please CLICK HERE for ordering details

This intriguing book highlights some of West Dorset’s most beautiful and untouched places. It provides ideas for easy day visits and offers an insightful view of the rare beauty of this part of the county.
     An intimate guide, it reveals many places that are rarely frequented, and the clear directions and suggested walks allow you to explore for yourself and make your own further discoveries. Following secluded lanes and ancient tracks, you will visit tucked-away churches, curious sarsen stones, prehistoric sites, nature reserves and timeless villages. Mingle with ghosts and Black Dogs along the haunted byways and forgotten places, and discover local history, characters and folklore.
     Louise Hodgson shares her discoveries and reveals some extraordinarily special places. With an easy to read, poetic style, you are encouraged to challenge preconceptions. Adopting a philosophical approach she draws knowledgeable parallels with other parts of Britain; this leads to a richer insight and deeper understanding of the Dorset landscape and how we relate to it.

Devil's chair, Corscombe

Coney's Castle, Marshwood

St James Church, Lewcombe

What reviewers and interviewers have said

‘This attractively presented book provides the reader with a guide to around three dozen of West Dorset’s landscape gems, focusing on sites that are largely unknown and often ignored by tourists. There is an emphasis on the sacred, both in Christian and Pagan context, but while the book is dedicated to the late John Michell, it is, thankfully, generally free of the wackier excesses of the ‘earth mysteries’ brigade. Instead, the author concentrates on the history and folklore of the sites … Each chapter is accompanied by clear instructions which include grid references, parking places, and, importantly, local hostelries, making it an ideal glove-compartment accessory for anyone holidaying in this beautiful district – or for that matter, locals like myself who enjoy an occasional day out in the countryside … A most attractive guidebook, and highly recommended.
Jerry Bird, Merry Meet: Journal of Folklore & Pagan Heritage

Every summer, tourists brave traffic jams to marvel at Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. The west of the county is as lovely, but largely unvisited. This gem of a book shows how much is to be discovered west of Weymouth.
   Louise Hodgson dedicates her book to John Michell, a lifelong friend: the hidden places she reveals endorse his view that there is “some intangible Mystery concealed within the landscape”. West Dorset’s wonders include several holy wells and a valley of sarsen stones; there are fairy hills, megaliths, a ruined miz-maze (turf maze) and a haunted hill fort. Some are atmospheric simply because they are wild and empty; others have faint traces of some lost and mysterious past. Well-written and informative, the book is beautifully illustrated with photos and the author’s watercolours. There are reported sightings of alien big cats, a gigantic hare and an alleged wolf. ‘Black Dogs’ feature largely in Dorset folklore and for anyone foolhardy enough to want to see one, the book offers likely locations.
Steve Marshall for the Fortean Times (April 2012)

The West Dorset landscape is one of inspiring beauty. Dwarfed to a speck of dust by the vast perspectives, the walker is opened up to a spiritual communion with echoes of the past…Louise Hodgson elegantly invites us to explore this magical and at times transcendental area. The book achieves a literary feel without ever being difficult or a chore to read. The writing feels very free, moulding personal experiences with literary, historical and folk references…The reader instantly senses her deep respect and affection for West Dorset…Rather than try to write an exhaustive guide, she wishes to “encourage people to go around that corner, just go a field or two away. That’s where a discovery can lie”… She is also a talented landscape artist, and painted the illustrations for the book. Interestingly, her paintings seem suggestive of her writing style as they manage to convey the mystery of the places she talks about through her touches of other-worldly colour.
Lalage Wordsworth, Dorset Echo, 5 Nov 2011

Louise's 60-second interview for local newspaper View From

What do you like most about West Dorset?
The huge variety of landscape features – sea, coastline, hills, streams, meadows and woods. I also find intriguing the ancient hollow-ways and myriad footpaths that criss-cross the countryside. I love exploring and Secret Places of West Dorset covers many of these special places.

What would you like to change?
The uninspiring housing developments that blight our lovely countryside and the fact that many villages have lost their original Dorset inhabitants and are now filled with second homes that are empty for most of the time. I would like to see some law brought in that allows Dorset families to retain the family homes that Death Duties render untenable. Due to demand from outsiders, simple cottages are valued at hugely high prices and cannot be handed down to descendants but have to be sold. When the local families go, so does the soul of a place.

What inspired you to start writing?
My love for this part of Dorset and a desire to share my enthusiasm and inspire people to explore this beautiful area.

Do you believe everyone has a book in them?
Yes, everyone’s life has elements that can be shared with others. However, writing a book requires skill, dedication and hard work!

What top three tips would you give to an amateur writer?
Enthusiasm, research and dedication.

Who is your favourite author and why?
Ithell Colquoun, because of her varied talents in both writing and art, her vision and her ability to go ‘looking round corners’.

What is your all time favourite book and why?
Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur. Brilliantly conveys the fact that there are other dimensions other than just the physical world

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Writing and presenting television documentaries on country-life and the beauties of the landscape.


Abbotsbury – Ruined Chapel in the Wood
Abbotsbury – Kingston Russell Circle, Grey Mare and Valley of Stones
Beaminster – Buckham Down, Meerhay and Daniel’s Knowle
Bettiscombe –Wishing Stone and Screaming Skull
Broadwindsor – Black Dogs
Chideock – Martyrs’ Church and Castle Ruins
Chideock – The Witches of Langdon Hill
Coney’s Castle – A Haunted Hillfort
Corscombe – The Devil’s Chair and a Haunting Lane
Corscombe – Bracketts Coppice
East Chelborough and Lewcombe – A Fairy Hill and Wayward Church
Eggardon Hill – The Bell Stone and Strange Occurrences
Leigh – An Intriguing Village
Littlebredy – Bridehead Lake
Litton Cheney – An Early Downland Settlement
Long Bredy – Martin’s Down and Our Hidden Ancestors
Loscombe and Burcombe – A Lost Combe and ‘Cunning Man’
Lyme Regis – Monmouth Beach
Lyme Regis – St Michael’s Church and Leper’s Well
Mapperton – The Posy Tree and Plague Burial
Melbury Bubb – A Curious Font and Tiny Church
Morcombelake – Untamed Hardown Hill
Morcombelake and Whitchurch Canonicorum – A Holy Well and Pilgrim Church
Portland – Church Ope Cove
Portland – Ancient Culverwell
Portland – King Barrow
Powerstock – Castle Hill and Powerstock Common
Shipton Gorge – Cult of the Head and Liminal Crossroads
Stoke Abbott – Waddon Hill and a Lion Spring
Synderford River – Romantic Waters
Toller Fratrum – The Knights Hospitallers
Toller Porcorum – Churchyard Megaliths
Uplyme – An Ancient Yew and Black Dog
Walditch – Spinners’ Lane and Real Tennis
West Chelborough – A Timeless Village
West Milton – A Hollow Lane and Old Church Tower
The Sacristy, Catholic Church, Chideock
Tiny St Edwold's Church, Melbury Bubb

Posy Tree, Mapperton

Extract from the book

Broadwindsor – Black Dogs
Common Water Lane is part of the Wessex Ridgeway, one of the best-known ancient tracks in England. This track, Neolithic in all certainty, is an upland route through some of the southern counties of England, ending on the Dorset/Devon coast at Lyme Regis. The part of the track known as Common Water Lane travels through Broadwindsor, continuing towards Beaminster and beyond. It is a lovely old lane, during the day at least, affording beautiful views of hills and unimproved pastureland.
     Following the directions above, a short diversion is afforded after a couple of hundred yards by a footpath on the left , which passes a large duck pond. This body of water is private, but the path offers a good view of the pond, which is a lovely secluded place to gaze at for a while. Retracing one’s steps back to the lane, there is an exhilarating feeling of openness to this part of the track. The fields on either side are ancient pastureland, and beyond can be seen wooded Lewesdon Hill, the flat top of Waddon Hill, and Gerrards Hill, with its crown of beech and Scots pine. A dreamy diverse landscape starts to emerge, for on the other side of the track the fields roll to the borders of Somerset and distant Blackdown Hills.
      Progressing up the lane, the journey starts to feel, subtly, more eldritch. The crows caw with rough-edged hoarseness and wheel their black jaggedness against the sky. As the track dips and gently rises, the landscape develops a wilder feel, with patches of woodland, tree-tangled and unkempt. It is not surprising that the ghostly shaggy Black Dog, a Girt Dog, also pants and grizzles this way. Black Dogs, spirit creatures, omens of death and change, are found in folk-legend and actually sighted all over Britain. They are called by different names – the Welsh Gwiyllgi, the Highland Cu Sith and Black Shuck of East Anglia and Norfolk.
Ancient track-ways are a favourite haunt of these strange beings and this area is no exception. Local folklore links Common Water Lane with the Black Dog and there have been sightings recently, on the continuation of the lane …

The Author

Louise Hodgson has spent most of her life in the West Country and currently lives in West Dorset. Over the years she has walked and explored this part of the county and some of her most intriguing discoveries are in this book. She has been published in The Literary Review, City Canticle Magazine (San Francisco), The Equinox and other periodicals and her artwork has been exhibited in the West Country and London. She has appeared on television – on BBC Points West, discussing her pilgrimage through the Cotswolds, Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, accompanied by a pack-pony and greyhound, and on ITV Network 7, discussing the importance of the Midsummer Solstice. She has taught ‘Landscape and Spirituality’ at Frome College, Somerset, and currently runs a tour company called Secret Landscape Tours. You may contact Louise about her writing, art and tours via the website

Useful Links

Secret Landscape Tours
After a lengthy break through injury Louise is now back in action running fantastic local tours. Her 1-day tours of the Dorset Coast and Abbotsbury cover many aspects in her book, but she can customise them to suit your needs. Please CLICK HERE for her website.

Marshwood Trails
 Marshwood Trails offer cycling and walking tours to help people discover what this beautiful area has to offer. As well as exploring spectacular landscapes, the tours include opportunities to learn more about West Dorset's vibrant history and sample some of the renowned local produce. Every tour is led by a knowledgeable and qualified guide. Tours can be tailored to individual requirements and booked for a single day or run over consecutive days with a range of accommodation and fine dining options. For more information call Martin on 07796 135256.

Please CLICK HERE for the Marshwood Trails website.