The Dorset walk — Cranborne and Wimborne St Giles
Matt Wilkinson and Mark Bauer return to Cranborne Chase
Published in November ’09
There are good judges of such matters who say that Cranborne Chase offers the most glorious walking country in Dorset. This route rather proves their point, especially on a day when small fluffy clouds dot a blue sky that always seems much wider over Cranborne Chase than anywhere else in the county. Even if such days are rare in November, the views and the sense of peace make this a worthwhile walk at any time of year.
The route takes in two villages that have been the administrative centre of the Chase. Both are distinctive estate villages. Cranborne, where the walk starts, has been one of the seats of the Cecil family since 1600. Although the house is not open, and the gardens only at certain times, the village is charming and its name is taken as a courtesy title, Viscount Cranborne, by the eldest son of the Marquess of Salisbury.
Wimborne St Giles is the estate village to St Giles House, which used to be the home of the Ashley Coopers, the Earls of Shaftesbury. Although the family has been dogged by tragedy in recent years, their association with the village goes back even further than the Cecils’ with Cranborne. The church, re-built by Ninian Comper in the early years of the 20th century, is worth travelling a long way to see. With its elaborate and dramatic interior, including the Ashley Cooper tombs, it is unlike anything else in Dorset.
Distance: About 7 miles
Terrain: Could hardly be easier. Much of the route is on lanes and that which isn’t will rarely be muddy. There are two short stretches of busy road. Gradients are gentle.
Start: In the Square at Cranborne. OS ref SU055133. Postcode BH21 5PR.
How to get there: From the south, take the B3078 from Wimborne to Cranborne. In Cranborne, drive down to the bottom of the village, and where the main road bends to the right, turn left into the Square. From the west, take the B3081 from Shaftesbury through Tollard Royal and Sixpenny Handley. Turn left at the junction with the B3078.
Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase); OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck) and 184 (Salisbury& the Plain).
Refreshments: The Sheaf of Arrows and the Fleur De Lys at Cranborne. The Bull at Wimborne St Giles.
1. Continue through the Square with the Sheaf of Arrows on the left. Follow the road round to the right and just after no.15, turn left on a rough track. Go straight ahead through a gate into an open field and continue straight ahead on a clearly defined track which gives a good view of the north front of Cranborne Manor on the left. The track bends to the right and becomes a paved lane at Manor Farm; ignore the turning to the left in the middle of the farm buildings. Continue along this lane more or less parallel with the River Crane on the left.
2. In just under a mile from Manor Farm, reach Cranborne Farm. Ignore the drive into the farm buildings on the left and a track running up to the right. Instead go straight ahead, with most of the farm buildings to the left, and take the track which curves round behind them. Where it forks, take the left fork, and shortly afterwards bear right to cross the River Crane. Almost immediately take a gate on the right and walk along the bottom of the long, narrow field beyond to reach a gate at the far end. Walk over the brow of the next field, bearing very slightly right to a gate onto a main road.
3. Turn right and walk carefully along the right-hand side for about 350 yards. By then the woods have come down to the left-hand side of the road. Enter them at the first opportunity, having crossed carefully, and almost immediately turn right onto a track. At the first major cross-tracks turn left and follow the track out of the woods and downhill with open country to the right. It emerges onto a lane on the edge of Monkton Up Wimborne. Turn right and in 100 yards, opposite the post-box by the drive to Manor Farm, left up a track.
4. In 160 yards, go through a gate and walk up to a stile in the top right-hand corner of the field. Follow the right-hand edge of the next field to another stile, then bear right to a third stile about 25 yards along the right-hand fence. Emerge into an open field and turn left to follow its left-hand edge. In the bottom corner, go through a gate on a paved track that leads down to a lane. Turn right. In 600 yards, soon after Harriet Cottages, there is the option of turning left, but if you prefer to visit Wimborne St Giles, continue straight ahead to a T-junction.
5. Turn left here, over the River Allen by postcard-pretty Bull Bridge, and walk up past what remains of the village stocks on the right. The route takes the first on the left, just before the village school, but it is worth walking up to see the almshouses and church. Then come back and take the lane by the school. At the end turn right (you will already be on this lane if you have taken the short cut mentioned above) and continue for about 700 yards to where paths lead off the lane to both left and right.
6. Take the one on the right, down an enclosed path. In 550 yards turn left, with a hedgerow on the right and an open field on the left. Continue along a second open field and 40 yards beyond the end of it, turn right through the hedgerow to walk straight across the field to a metal gate visible alongside a barn. Turn left on the road beyond and walk carefully up to where the road bends to the left in front of Creech Hill House. Here turn right and continue for 550 yards to where the road bends to the right. Cross a somewhat concealed stile on the left and bear slightly right, straight across the field.
7. Cross a drive by means of two stiles and continue in the same direction to enter a belt of trees. Here go through a gate and follow the right-hand field-edge, crossing a footbridge over the River Crane. Continue to follow the right-hand edge past Cranborne Manor to a kissing gate in the far corner. Follow the path to a small paved area. Leave this area by the lane in the far right-hand corner. This is Swan Street, which leads back into the Square.