The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset Drive — Avon, Allen, Tarrant and Stour

Matt Wilkinson deserts footpaths for highways as he explores the far east of the county

The Avon

The Avon from the Avon Causeway bridge. The river forms the border between Dorset and Hampshire for ten miles on its way from Ringwood to Winkton.

The title ‘The Dorset drive’ is a slight misnomer as the route runs for several miles just over the county boundary in Hampshire. I hope that Dorset die-hards will forgive me, as it is the best way to appreciate the lower Avon valley and Ringwood Forest; much of both lie in Dorset.

The landscape of the far east of the county is undemandingly pretty, in striking contrast to the downs further west or the dramatic cliffs of the coast. The route touches on the edge of Cranborne Chase and crosses the line of both Ackling Dyke and the Dorset Cursus, although few traces of either remain on the ground. The former was a Roman road but the Cursus, a linear earthwork 6¼ miles long and 100 yards wide, is much older and remains a mystery; it may have been a processional way.

The route goes through one of the prettiest villages in Dorset (Wimborne St Giles) and also one of the ugliest (discretion forbids identification). Passing Tarrant Rushton aerodrome, from where a large part of the Allied glider force took off on D-Day, and where important trials in in-flight refuelling took place, it descends into the under-rated Tarrant Valley before returning to its starting-point. It has passed through or alongside three of Dorset’s great estates, at Cranborne, Crichel and Kingston Lacy.

Distance. About 54½ miles
Start. The Square, Wimborne (OS ref SU009001)
Maps. OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck) and – very briefly – 184 (Salisbury and the Plain)
Refreshments. Most of the villages mentioned in the text have pubs, and there are restaurants and tea-rooms in Wimborne and Ringwood
[Milometer readings are given in square brackets. They should be generally reliable but milometers do vary slightly.]

1. Leave the Square at the north-west corner, which is West Borough, signed to Cranborne. Keep to the right-hand side of the road and at the lights bear right. Continue ahead and cross two mini-roundabouts fairly close together. At the next mini-roundabout bear right and at the roundabout after that turn left, signed to Ringwood. This is Leigh (pronounced ‘Lye’) Road. Follow Leigh Road to the large roundabout at Canford Bottom [2.6]. Take the fourth exit, signed to Hampreston and Longham. Continue to a double mini-roundabout at Longham [4.5], with Longham URC church on the left looking as if it has been imported from New England. Go left at the first roundabout and right at the second one, signed to Christchurch. Go straight across Parley Cross traffic lights [5.7] and at a fork followed by a roundabout [6.7] take the right-hand options to follow the perimeter fence of Bournemouth Airport on the left. Pass the main entrance to the airport and at a roundabout [8.6], bear left to Avon and Sopley. Cross the Bournemouth spur road, then the flood-plain of the River Avon on Avon Causeway.

The Avon at Monkton Up Wimborne

The River Allen at Monkton Up Wimborne

2. At the end of the road [10.3] turn left on the B3347 to Ringwood. Enter Ringwood and go straight across the first mini-roundabout. At the next one [15.2], turn left, signed to the Market Place. Take the first large turning on the left, opposite The China Studio, down a cobbled street. Continue through the Market Place, cross back over the River Avon and reach a major dual carriageway. Here filter left, but almost immediately take the exit signed to Verwood [16.0]. Follow the road as it curves under the dual carriageway, then bends to the left. Take the first fork on the right [16.9], signed to Alderholt. Continue up to a T-junction in Alderholt [22.1] and turn left to drive through the village. Continue through the curiously named Cripplestyle to reach Cranborne and a T-junction in the centre of the village [26.7]. Here turn left, then take the first turning on the right to get a glimpse of Cranborne Manor, the ancestral home of the Cecils, on the right. At a T-junction [27.9], turn left on the B3081. Where the B3081 is signed to the left [28.4], carry straight on and enter Wimborne St Giles. At the far end of the village, just after crossing a bridge over the River Allen, turn right, signed to Monkton Up Wimborne and ‘6d Handley’. Follow this rather twisty road, which crosses the line of both Ackling Dyke and the Dorset Cursus, to a T-junction with the A354 [32.3].

Crichel House

A glimpse of Crichel House between the trees which line the approach to Moor Crichel

3. Turn left, then in Cashmoor take the next turning on the left [34.2], signed to Gussage St Michael and Gussage All Saints. Drive through these two villages to a crossroads at the far end of Gussage All Saints [37.4]. Turn right and at the next T-junction [37.8] turn left. Take the first turning on the right, signed to Moor Crichel and Witchampton [38.1]. This is the main part of the Crichel Estate and the house itself may be seen to the left as the route passes through a striking avenue of trees. Later, it may be possible to catch a glimpse through the trees of its huge lake. Reach a turning on the left with a patch of grass in the middle, on which is a tree with a handsome bench round it [40.1]. Here turn left into Lawrence Lane, signed to Witchampton and Wimborne Minster. At the end of the road turn right and drive down through Witchampton. At the far end of the village turn right, signed to Tarrant Keyneston and Blandford Forum. On a sharp right-hand bend [43.5], Tarrant Rushton aerodrome lies ahead, with the memorial to those who served there on the left. Continue on the road as it curves round the edge of the airfield and descends into the Tarrant Valley.

The Church of St Mary and St Cuthberga

The church of St Mary and St Cuthberga nestling in the village of Witchampton

4. At the T-junction at the bottom of the hill [44.5] turn left. Cross the B3082 by the True Lovers Knot at Tarrant Keyneston [46.1] and continue straight ahead. At the T-junction at the end of the road [47.4] turn left, then left again in front of a very ancient cross [48.1], signed to Shapwick. Continue through Shapwick, which once marked the highest navigable point on the Stour, and reach two turnings on the left just before historic White Mill [50.8]. Ignore the first and take the second, signed to Cowgrove and Wimborne. Follow this road along the edge of the Kingston Lacy estate until it reaches St Margaret’s Hill in Wimborne, with the Victoria Hospital on the right [54.1]. Turn right and at the first mini-roundabout turn left into West Street, which leads into the Square [54.5].

The memorial at Tarrant Rushton aerodrome

The front and side of the memorial
at Tarrant Rushton aerodrome

The memorial at Tarrant Rushton aerodrome

Dorset Directory