The Dorset walk: Long Crichel, Chetterwood and Crichel Down
Matt Wilkinson and Andy Farrer enjoy a variety of landscapes on Cranborne Chase
Published in November ’16
This route takes in typical Cranborne Chase country, with wide open spaces and enormous skies, but it is also quite a wooded part of the Chase and the walk includes the ancient broad-leaved woodland known as Chetterwood. Such is the antiquity of the trees that here, more than anywhere else on the Chase, one feels a connection with the medieval monarchs whose enjoyment of hunting demanded more woodland than is found on Cranborne
The walk starts in Long Crichel a small but – as its name implies – straggling village strung out along a valley bottom. It is perhaps best known for its artisan bakery, whose products are appreciated by bread connoisseurs locally and further afield.
Above the village to the west, and crossed by this walk, is Crichel Down, the subject of a notorious political scandal of the 1950s. 725 acres of the down were bought by the RAF in 1938 as a bombing range from Lord Alington of Crichel House. After the War (in which Lord Alington was killed on active service), it was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, who demanded a hugely inflated price for its return. Lord Alington’s heirs complained noisily and won a public enquiry, which condemned in the strongest terms incompetence and dishonesty in the Ministry of Agriculture. The Minister, Sir Thomas Dugdale, was forced to resign, and a comparatively insignificant Dorset hill gave its name to the Crichel Down Rules, which govern compulsory purchase.
Distance: About 5 miles
Terrain: Cranborne Chase tracks are mostly clear of mud and provide easy walking. But care should be taken after rain in parts of Chetterwood, where the detour round the wetter parts is a slippery, sloping path. The climbs are gentle.
Start: By the telephone box in the centre of Long Crichel. If, by the time you do the walk, it should have disappeared, as so many rural phone boxes have, its position is – was – outside the double cottage that bears the name-stone ‘Augusta Cottages’ below its upper window. Map reference ST974104. Postcode BH21 5JZ.
How to get there: If coming from the west, turn south-east off the A354 Blandford-Salisbury road, signed to Long Crichel; the turning is about 4 miles from the Blandford bypass if coming from the south, or 4½ miles from the Handley Hill roundabout if coming from the north. The way from the east lies through the villages of Witchampton and
Maps: OS Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase), OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck).
Refreshments: None on the walk.
1 Walk along the road in a south-easterly direction, that is passing the phone box and Augusta Cottages on the left. Opposite the first turning on the left, turn right, past Lower Farm Cottages on the right, and continue up a track, which soon runs alongside a wood on the right. At the end of the wood, bear left and continue uphill. A large field opens up on the right; follow its left-hand edge. At the end of the field, join a track briefly, but almost immediately turn left into the first open field and follow a track along its left-hand edge. Follow this track to its end at a T-junction.
2 Go through a gap in the hedge straight ahead and turn right on a lane. Pass a 30 mph restriction sign, then Pedlars Roost on the right, and take the next turning right on a paved drive, past a large thatched double cottage on the left. The drive bends to the right, but carry straight on up a grassy path into the thick woodland of Chetterwood. Ignore all turnings to left and right; if in doubt where the path becomes slightly indistinct, just keep going straight ahead.
3 A big cross-tracks in the middle of the wood is crossed on a very slight right-left dog-leg. About 150 yards after that, another track joins from the right, and a few yards further on, there is a fork. Take the right-hand option and leave the woodland to follow the left-hand edge of an open field. Stay on the track until it ends at a T-junction, where turn right. Ignore a turning to the left but continue to aim for the left-hand end of the belt of trees ahead; this is Horse Coppice, with the charmingly named Strawberry Coppice to its right.
4 At a cross-tracks on the far side of Horse Coppice, turn left, slightly uphill, with the slopes of Horse Down to the right. The track goes round the edge of Launceston Wood (Tarrant Launceston is a mile to the north-west) on a long left-hand bend, then bends to the right and continues along the edge of the wood. Follow the path round to the right again at the top of the rise and pass a raised reservoir on the right. Continue along the left-hand edge of the field to its end, where admire a wonderful view of the upper Tarrant Valley on the left, but turn right round the end of a belt of trees coming in from the right.
5 At a track junction at the end of the trees, turn right, then in a few yards left along a track with wide open views on either side. At the top of the rise, continue on the track as it bears right to cross Crichel Down. At the end of the field, turn left down a broad enclosed track. A cross-tracks affords some great views, then a path continues downhill. Follow it down to the road through Long Crichel, where turn right to return to your car.