Dorset walk – 2 Cranborne
Teresa Rabbetts goes on a gentle stroll in and around one of Dorset’s most picturesque villages
Published in November ’14
The village of Cranborne lies in the valley of the River Crane, at the heart of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; the diverse landscape offers rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodland, chalk river valleys, downland hillside and is as rich in interest today as in its past.
The ancient Town of Cranburn was an important and powerful settlement, in fact possibly one of the most important in Dorset; it had a regular market, two fairs a year, a Grammar School, and a Manor House that was regularly frequented by royalty.
Following the surge in turnpike roads during the mid-eighteenth century, Cranborne found itself abandoned by the main coaching traffic that travelled between Poole and Salisbury when the new road by-passed the town being built instead from Salisbury to Blandford. The once-busy town became the peaceful village we see today.
The monastery of Cranborne was founded as a Benedictine abbey by Aylward Sneaw in about the year 930, but the abbey was pre-dated by a church. Following an ‘act of discourtesy’ to Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, the Manor was confiscated from Aylward’s descendents and granted to William Rufus then to Robert Fitz-Hamon. the Patron of Tewkesbury. He decided to transfer the Abbot of Cranborne and community of 57 monks to the church of thereby reducing Cranborne to a priory, subject to Tewkesbury Abbey until the 16th-century dissolution of the monasteries. The priory buildings were demolished in 1703 leaving the impressive church of St Mary and St Bartholomew as the parish church of Cranborne.
The first significant property on the site of the current Cranborne Manor was a hunting lodge, built by King John, which was enlarged in the 17th century by Robert Cecil, First Minister to Elizabeth I and James I, when he was granted the Manor and Lordship of Cranborne by James I in 1607. The statues of Justice and Mercy stand over the south porch as a reminder of the days when the laws of Cranborne Chase were administered here.
After a time the Chase came into the possession of the Pitt-Rivers family who monitored the area and protected their deer by Chase Law. These Laws actually prevent small landowners from uprooting the vegetation on their own land which, by the 18th century when farmers were increasingly keen to introduce modern farming techniques and mechanisation, led to bitter complaints that the Chase law was preventing them from doing so. By now the Chase had also become an area of lawlessness that was popular with poachers, highwaymen and smugglers, who found it a perfect place to carry out nefarious activities.
Thomas Hardy referred to the dark reputation of Cranborne Chase writing that it was ‘a truly venerable tract of forest land, one of the few remaining woodlands in England of undoubted primeval date’. He was less than complementary about the village, though, referring to it in Tess of the d’Urbervilles as ‘a decayed market town,’ which locals visited to partake in ‘curious compounds sold to them by the monopolizers of the once independent inns.’ This wild location was the scene of Tess’s fateful meeting with Alec d’Urberville.
The manor house sits amongst beautifully laid out gardens and trees which were originally established by the famed English naturalist, gardener, collector and traveller John Tradescant (the Elder) and Mounten Jennings. Most of the current garden was the work of Viscountess Cranborne and has evolved over the last fifty years into an interesting mix of formal and informal areas of herbaceous borders, herb gardens, neat yew hedges and walkways alongside wildflower meadows which are overlooked by some fine old trees. A newly independent garden centre with tea room sits adjoining the property.
This is a relatively gentle and short stroll exploring Cranborne and its immediate area. The terrain is easy and unchallenging but gives the walker plenty of opportunity to visit the village and church, to enjoy glimpses of Cranborne Manor and the wonderful trees in The Close and offers a taste of the surrounding rolling countryside, with the anticipation of easy access to tea and cake (or something stronger) at the end.
Distance: 2½ miles
Start: Cranborne is on the B3078 between Wimborne and Fordingbridge. Water Street Car Park, Cranborne (follow P sign). OS REF SU057137, postcode BH21 5QB
Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 118, Landranger 195 (plus, annoyingly, about 1100 yards on Landranger 184)
Refreshments: The Café at Cranborne Garden Centre, the Inn at Cranborne and the Sheaf of Arrows, all in Cranborne itself
Park (for free) in Water Street car park, and walk towards the Square – pass along the front of Cranborne Stores.
1 Follow the road from the Square into the High Street and it bears right into Salisbury Street. Stay on the left hand pavement and follow the footpath which is signposted between 15 and 17 Salisbury Street towards a gateway.
2 On going through the gate, follow the clearly marked track straight across the middle of the field, this area is called The Close – there are glimpses of the parish church, Cranborne Manor and an avenue of trees to the left.
3 Follow the path through Manor Farm, with the house on the left and the farmyard on the right (the River Crane will be on the left) and follow the track to Cranborne Farm.
4 On reaching Cranborne Farm turn right and follow the path as it rises uphill until reaching a crossroads.
5 Turn right here; the crossroads is an area known as Jack’s Hedge Corner and is the site of a Romano-British settlement. Follow the track which becomes a tarmac road and leads back to a junction.
6 Turn right into Salisbury Street and Cranborne village.
7 The Church of St Mary and St Bartholomew is a reflective way to finish the walk. This church, which is particularly magnificent for such a small village, contains many gems but perhaps most notable and beautiful are the mural paintings on the south wall of the nave. Discovered under lime-wash in 1870 are unique murals depicting The Tree of the Seven Deadly Sins and The Tree of the Seven Virtues and nearby a portion of St Christopher survives wading through the water; these delicate pictures are believed to date from between 1240 and 1400. ◗