A few days ago I was chatting to Mandy, one of my walking buddies and I mentioned a walk I had done on Cranborne Chase earlier in the year. This led to us realising that neither of us had really explored the Chase, despite both of us having lived in this area for most of our lives. So today we hop in the car and head off to the village of Tollard Royal to start our walk.
We start from the small car park (Grid Ref ST944178) besides the Green and village pond.
From the car park we head north on a track and soon fork left to head through a gate and follow The Wessex Ridgeway path as it heads below an escarpment.
On reaching a gate we take a path on the right that follows an estate track, part of the Rushmore Estate, and continue on the Wessex Ridgeway through Ashcombe Bottom.
The track divides as it nears Ashcombe House with the footpath following the left fork. Over the years Ashcombe House has had some interesting residents, back in 1930 the photographer and designer Cecil Beaton leased the property for fifteen years, apparently part of the lease was that he restored the building. More recently it has been the home of Madonna and Guy Ritchie with Ritchie retaining the property after they divorced.
Staying on the Wessex Ridgeway path we enter woods before taking a right turn to head steadily up through woodland to emerge onto access land and continue uphill before turning to admire the view behind us.
After going through a gate we head across the access land to the Ordnance Survey trig pillar on Win Green, my 158th I “bagged”.
I haven’t previously visited Win Green, it stands 909 feet above sea level and is the highest point on Cranborne Chase and the views from up here are extensive, on a clear day you can see Salisbury, the Quantock Hills, Glastonbury Tor, the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth.
We spend some time at the viewpoint trying to locate points on the horizon.
Resuming our walk we head across to the Ox Drove and follow this track in an easterly direction along the top of the escarpment. Down below us is the fine Berrycourt Farmhouse, which was originally built in the late 17th century, but apparently altered many times over the years.
We stay on the Ox Drove until we reach a minor road close to Monk’s Down.
At the road we turn to the north and briefly walk along it before taking a footpath on the right leading steadily downhill on a tree lined path to join Ashcombe Lane. Having joined the lane, which is a farm track, we follow it to the outskirts of Berwick St John where we turn left and follow the village lane passing Upton Farm.
We stay on the lane through the village until we reach the church yard of St John the Baptist Church, built in the 14thcentury is was significantly restored in the 1860’s.
After popping inside to look at the interior of this small church we follow the path through the churchyard to reach Church Street where we turn left and wander through the village. On reaching a footpath on the right we leave the lane to enter a field and follow the path in a northerly direction.
Soon we are heading uphill across a couple of fields to reach access land where we turn left and follow a path around the head of Berwick Coombe.
As we near the Old Shaftesbury Drove at White Sheet Hill we come across an old milestone. We struggle to make out the inscription, but later on looking at the Historic England website I discover it reads ‘XCVII MILES FROM HIDE PARK CORNER, XIV FROM SALISBURY 1756’.
We now join the Old Shaftesbury Drove, which used to be the main route between Salisbury and Shaftesbury and follows the route of a Roman Road. This whole area is littered with ancient burial mounds and we soon pass a Long Barrow before making a slight diversion across the stubble to bag the Ordnance Survey trig pillar on White Sheet Hill, number 159 “bagged” for me, and enjoy some stunning views.
Our route for the next few miles is very straightforward; we stay on the Old Shaftesbury Drove as it heads east.
When we reach a crossing of paths at the northwest corner of Prescombe Down we take a drove on the left and follow this along to reach our third trig pillar of the day, and my 160th, on Sutton Down.
This is another trig point with cracking views.
We continue along the track to pass through a gate and then as the route descends we turn to the right to join a path heading southeast. From here we get a view of the famous military badges on Fovant Down.
The track we are now on crosses the Old Shaftesbury Drove and continues along the side of a field to reach a junction of paths where we turn right. Soon after we ignore a path on a track to our left, instead continuing straight on across a field and then through a thicket to reach the cracking coombe of Church Bottom.
This is open access land but we follow the footpath into the bottom of the valley and then through a gate to enter more access land. Our path is now a steep ascent up the chalk down. At the top of the hill we cross a couple of arable fields to reach a junction of paths where we turn left and then almost immediately take a right that heads steadily downhill along the edge of a field to reach a minor road on the outskirts of Ebbesbourne Wake.
Once at the road we turn right and walk into the village and cross the River Ebble before turning right towards Alvediston and out of the village. This road climbs steadily; as we approach the brow we take a track on our left that is a bridleway. The track takes us around the edge of fields before heading south with the downs in front of us.
As the track enters access land it becomes a steady ascent on a sunken path up the downs. It is now a cracking afternoon and we pause for a breather and take in the views behind us.
We stay on this way marked path to a junction with the Ox Drove, here we turn right to follow the drove. Cranborne Chase was originally part of royal hunting grounds used by King John, King Henry VIII and King James I, the “Chase” element of the name referring to the hunts. The whole area is sparsely populated and is dominated by large rural estates. Many of the old tracks across the downs are Roman roads that run along the chalk ridges and provide some cracking views.
We stay with the Ox Drove as it meets a minor road and continues east with the trees of Bridmore Belt on our right. At a road junction we leave the Ox Drove by taking a left turn on a track heading south. As we approach Rotherly Wood we see something to our left that from a distance looks like a trig pillar. I check the map and can see no sign of a trig in this area so head across to explore.
The weathered inscription on the stone reads, “This Romano-British village was excavated and the pits and ditches partly filled back in by General Pitt Rivers 1886-7”. Augustus Pitt Rivers (born as Augustus Henry Lane-Fox) (1827-1900) is well known as an archaeologist and the founder of museum collections including the famous Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. He inherited a large estate on Cranborne Chase in 1880 from his Uncle, a proviso of the inheritance was that he adopted the Pitt Rivers name. Owning such an archeologically rich site enabled him to pursue his passion and he catalogued artefacts for public display.
We head back to the footpath as it runs besides Rotherley Wood and continue downhill. In the distance we can see a tower at the Larmer Tree Gardens. These gardens were created by Augustus Pitt Rivers in 1880 and are reportedly the first private gardens that were opened for free public enjoyment. These days it is also famous for its summer music festival.
The track we are on heads downhill to reach a gate, we pass through and then leave the main track by veering right to head up across the chalk down. The path now follows the edge of a field and we can see the church in Tollard Royal.
Staying with the way marked path we enter trees and then gradually descend downhill to reach the village green and pond where we started our walk. We have been out for most of the day and covered eighteen miles with over 2,000 feet of ascent, which just goes to prove that the rolling downs of South Wiltshire can provide a good challenge for any walker. Some of the views we have encountered along the way have been stunning; it will not be too long before we venture out onto the Cranborne Chase again.
To follow my walk you will need Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 118 – Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase
5th September 2019
© Two Dogs and an Awning (2019)