The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset Walk – Corfe Castle and Common

Matt Wilkinson and Dan Bold explore Purbeck’s historic village and its surroundings on one of their shorter routes

The ruins of Corfe Castle are the image often chosen to represent not just Purbeck but Dorset as a whole, and it is certainly hard to think of a building in the county as iconic or as instantly recognisable. Before the Norman Conquest there was a fortification here, at the gates of which King Edward the Martyr was murdered on the orders of his evil stepmother, Ælfthryth, in 978. In fact, the romantic-looking castle has a darker side to its history, having been King John’s favourite dumping-ground for his opponents. These included Eleanor of Brittany, sister of the murdered Prince Arthur, who was John’s nephew and rightful heir to the throne. At least she did not suffer the fate of Maud de Braose, who made an indiscreet remark about Arthur’s death; she and her son, William, were walled up in the castle’s dungeon and left to starve.

The Castle and gap in the Purbeck Hills it was placed to survey

The oldest part of the castle we see today is Norman, and it survived for six centuries until it was destroyed by explosives and undermining on the orders of Oliver Cromwell following the Civil War. During that war it had been defended for the Royalists against the besieging Parliamentarians by Lady Mary Bankes – ‘Brave Dame Mary’ – until one of her senior officers turned traitor and let the Roundheads in through a sally port. Today it is cared for by the National Trust.
Corfe Common offers spectacular views and is an SSSI because of its importance to wildlife.

Two icons of the Purbeck landscape: Corfe Castle and the Swanage Railway

The route also crosses the Swanage Railway, one of the success stories of the steam railway preservation movement. The branch line from the main line at Wareham to Swanage was closed as part of the Beeching cuts in 1972 and the track south of Furzebrook was lifted. A band of determined enthusiasts have slowly restored the line, inching out from Swanage through Harmans Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden towards Furzebrook, and a regular timetable is operated throughout the summer and at weekends in the winter.  The link-up with the existing track has now been achieved and although much work remains to be done, especially on the signalling, it is hoped that a daily service between Swanage and Wareham will re-start in 2013.
Corfe Castle now overwatches the village's cemetary    What with a model village, a historic parish church, shops and places of refreshment, it is easy to spend a whole day in Corfe Castle, perhaps with this walk at the centre of it.

1 Leave the car park by the kissing gate in the far right-hand corner and walk along the left-hand edge of the field beyond, with a sports field on the other side of the stream on the left. In the first corner go through the smaller, left-hand of the two gates ahead and walk down an enclosed path to another gate. Beyond it turn immediately left, then left again up a slope to emerge onto Corfe Common. Follow the left-hand edge of the common to cross a paved drive. Continue along the left-hand edge but at the top of the rise, bear gradually away to the right, heading for the left-hand of two telegraph poles visible on the far side of the stretch of grass.

2 Go through a gate just by this pole and turn left to walk carefully down to the road junction. Here turn right for 50 yards, then left through a gate onto a rough track. Follow this track to a bridge over the railway and a gate, after which bear slightly left towards a power line that is joining from the right. Just before reaching the power line, the path bears left and approaches another power line. Just before reaching it, go through a gap on the left and walk along the large field beyond, roughly parallel to the right-hand edge. At the very end of the field, descend to a boardwalk which leads to a path under a low
railway bridge.

3 A few yards after the bridge, turn right on a path which initially parallels the railway, then swings left and descends to a footbridge. Immediately after the footbridge, turn right over a stile and through a gate. Walk up the field to a gate near the middle of the far side and continue in the same direction to reach the car park just beyond the garden of the Castle Inn. Turn left and walk up St Edward’s Close to reach East Street. Follow it down to the Square, where turn left and left again into West Street. Follow West Street for about 300 yards to the turning on the right that leads to the car park.

 

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Distance: About 2½ miles.
Terrain: Some of the going underfoot is quite rough and it is often muddy: wellingtons or stout shoes are recommended.
Start: At the far end of the car park off West Street. OS ref SY958817. Postcode BH20 5EQ. Fee payable.
How to get there: Take the A351 south from Wareham and, as the road through Corfe Castle bends to the left on a hill, turn right into the Square opposite the Bankes Arms. Leave by the top left-hand corner into West Street and the turning to the car park is signed to the right, just past no. 46 and opposite no. 43.
Maps: OS Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset); OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck).
Refreshments: There are several pubs and tearooms in the village.

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