One of Knoll House’s greatest assets - the varied, sometimes strange, beauty of the countryside that surrounds it - is the one least known to most guests. It is easily accessible to the walker, with a network of paths that provide easy going for explorers of all ages. The nine excursions that follow are of various durations, none lasting longer than an afternoon. What better excuse for yielding to the temptation of sponge pudding and custard than an ensuing 6-mile tramp through the Dorset heathland! No special equipment or clothing is needed for these walks. When the weather has been wet, some parts of the paths can get quite muddy, so the squeamish might possibly want to carry wellingtons with them, but don’t wear them for the actual walking. Provided the ground is dry, trainers are by far the most comfortable wear on heathland paths and on the downs.

The Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map 15 is useful, and a compass can be reassuring. Most of the paths are rights of way: either bridleways (marked with blue arrows) or footpaths (yellow). The walking times given are for an unhurried steady pace; you will need to add another 50% for a more relaxed ramble. Most of the walks are circular, but some are outward only and use public transport (train or bus) for the return. A mobile phone is handy: it means you can go further afield on your outward trip and summon a taxi when you feel ready to return. You can obtain a free bus timetable for the entire area from Swanage station; times of important connections are mentioned in these sheets when needed (they don’t seem to change much from year to year); while you're there, pick up the Corfe train times as well. If you want to learn more about this area, and particularly about its flora and fauna and its industrial archaeology (which extends back to Roman times), there are many excellent books that can be obtained either from reception or from the National Trust Shop at the beach (as can the Ordnance Survey map). Rodney Legg's Purbeck Island and Purbeck’s Heath are particularly recommended, as also his Purbeck Walks, which describes itineraries further afield.

Setting out

The walks all start from one of two starting points near the hotel.

Starting point 1: Leave the Hotel by the courtyard entrance, turning left and then right, skirting round the Pirate Ship enclosure: ahead, to the right of the sign saying ‘Staff cars’, you will see a paved path that descends through a group of sheds. It continues to curve round to the right, but leave it by going straight ahead over the slight rise in the field ahead: the track leads straight across the field to an opening on to a lane running to left and right, and a broad opening off it straight ahead. This crossroads is the first starting point.

Starting point 2: The Fergusons have recently opened up a new path through the beautiful woodland at the back of the hotel that provides a much quicker and drier route on to the northern heath. Go down the Pirates’ Way at the back of the car park; at the bottom a path runs to left and right: turn right. After a hundred yards or so, there is a turning back and to the left crossing a small bridge over a stream. Follow this path as it accompanies the stream, crossing back and forth, until you come to a stile through a barbed-wire fence enclosing a small meadow. Cross diagonally over to the gate in the opposite corner, then turn right down a sandy path that soon emerges on to the heath. This is the second starting point.