Tarrant Monkton

From the Langton Arms, deep in the Tarrant Valley, explore the village and find its rare packhorse bridge. Follow the footsteps of medieval travellers, crossing the path of the Roman soldiers and up to the woods on the chalk hills. Discover Tarrant Rushton airfield, which played a crucial role in WW2 but is now just crumbling walls in the woodland. Return to the valley to wander through farms and fields and back to the pub for refreshment!

Distance: 8 Miles

Time: 3 hours

Total climb: 550ft

Max height: 400ft

Min height: 160ft

Terrain: Track, path and airfield, small amount of road.

Exertion: Medium. Some mud after rain.

Start: Langton Arms car park (Grid Ref: ST944088, Postcode DT11 8RX).

Map: OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase

How to get there: From the A354, turn off at Tarrant Hinton. From the B3082, Turn off at Tarrant Keyneston. The pub is signposted in the valley.

Dogs: On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code. The woods contain much wildlife and the airfield is very open, so temptations exist for dogs that are difficult to control. Dogs may need a little help over some stiles, other gates require opening.

Refreshments: The Langton Arms and, on Sundays during July and August, cream teas at the village hall.

The Langton Arms pub

Tarrant Monkton is one of the largest of the eight villages in the Tarrant valley. It gained its name not only from the river but also from monks that once controlled the area. It is a typically beautiful Dorset village with thatched roofs and a well photographed, medieval, pack horse bridge. The village pub, the Langton Arms, sits in the northern corner next to All Saint’s Church. In between these two buildings is the old village school, now a private home. To some of the more hardy locals, this little area is known as ‘Education, Ruination and Salvation Corner’, highly relevant to its original purpose! The Langton Arms is one of the few remaining pubs in the valley, having also survived a fire. A family owned pub, providing meals from locally sourced produce, it is at the heart of village life and supports local events such as The Tarrant Valley 10.

Packhorse Bridge

Walking away from the Langton Arms, back to the road, take the left lane keeping the war memorial on your right. Head straight down the small road to turn right at a T-junction. The road you join is the old medieval road from Blandford to Cranborne – or more widely, Weymouth to London. To the west, it is a dead end for vehicles, but for foot traffic, leads to Blandford Camp, an army training base. Follow the road to the River Tarrant. Here you cross the ford over the old pack horse bridge. This enforces of the importance of this old route, requiring such a permanent crossing. It could also have been encouraged by the presence of the monks, and a nunnery, which is said to have been in the parish of neighbouring Tarrant Launceston.Their home is now long gone, its precise location unknown. There is no specific date for the development of this bridge other than it being sometime in the 16th century. It is just wide enough for a comfortable passage for a loaded animal at 1½ metres. The medieval road was eventually trumped by the creation of the turnpikes in the 18th century, in this specific area, the A354.

Cranborne Chase, the old route to Cranborne from Blandford only just traceable south of the A354.

The ford itself is rare, with only a few packhorse bridges in the county (Rampisham and Fifehead Neville as further examples). However, it is a stunning example of this particular type of crossing. The river is shallow making it perfect for paddling, but on hotter days of the year, the water can disappear. It has also been used for wedding photos, locals to wash their cars and even featured in a Doctor Who episode!

Once over the bridge, to your left is the village hall where, during the summer months, cream teas are served every Sunday. The walk takes you straight on, passing some thatched cottages on your left. When the road bends continue straight on, the terrain breaking into a track. This is Turners Lane, a continuation of the medieval road and is the start of the climb out of the valley. As you make your way up and out of the wooded tunnel, turn yourself around to appreciate the view back down to the village. You can also make out your upcoming walk on the hills opposite. On Turners Lane you cross, for the first time, the Badbury Rings to Bath Roman Road. Although no traces remain, in this section, Roman coins have been found in the area.

At the top of the hill make your way past the wooden posts, ignore the right hand turn and again, continue straight on still on the old medieval road. When it splits, take the right, descending slightly, circling Launceston Wood on your right.

Here you are surrounded by open fields and patches of woodland. Other than wildlife, the odd screeching pheasant, livestock and maybe a little farm traffic, there is nothing to disturb you. Leave Launceston Wood behind and on reaching a crossroads of tracks turn right, up a small incline. Ignore the tracks to your right and left and keep heading south, zig zagging through the wooded clusters.

On arriving at a T-junction turn right. Climb the small hill and through the woods. Once out, the views open up looking north across Cranborne Chase. Tarrant Monkton sits hidden in the valley below. Although you cannot make out the village, the valley is clearly seen in a panoramic view, standing on a corner of the River Tarrant. To the south the valley leads on to Tarrant Rawston, Tarrant Rushton, Tarrant Keyneston and Tarrant Crawford. To the north it continues to Tarrant Launceston, Tarrant Hinton and Tarrant Gunville.

Turn left on the track to approach Hogstock Coppice. This is the start of the landscape that was used intensively during the Second World War. Tarrant Rushton airfield (which we approach later) was a hub of activity. It was the largest employer in the area at that time, housing airmen, mechanics, paramedics as well as the extra infrastructure to support these roles. Hogstock Coppice was home to one of these small settlements. Today the site is buried in the woodland, but the odd concrete bases and brick walls of the original layout are visible through the overtaking vegetation (easier during the winter months). On joining the track keep left, remembering that many military vehicles once rumbled along these paths.

Ruin from the old WWII settlement

When the track joins a road turn left. In the field on your right is an old ruin, again part of the old airfield’s reign. It is said to have been part of the old hospital. The area was once filled with buildings, some old photographs provide evidence of this. Now this small ruin is all that clearly stands out. Stay on the track continuing south. Ignore the track to your left and pass an isolated thatched cottage on your right. As you exit the wood, the field on your left was another location of an old war settlement. Nothing remains as it has now been ploughed out.

Old WWII photo. The walk joins from the bottom, turning left at the end of the wood. You then approach the airfield from the left following the path across the photo.
WWII hospital

When you join a country road, turn left then almost immediately right. Enter the field via a small metal gate and keep the boundary on your right. In the second field go through another gate still keeping the boundary on your right. Here you join the airfield. Turn right and make your way along what is now a concrete road. The landscape opens up and the views are extensive. To the south lies the Iron Age Hillfort of Badbury Rings, too close to be on the far horizon but its height gives it away. To the west sits the smaller Buzbury Rings, now mostly hidden by the Ashley Wood golf course. Three, Roman roads fly past in the landscape and although they aren’t obvious, can be made out by following hedges and field boundaries. They well demonstrate the importance of this area throughout history. One being the famous Ackling Dyke – Badbury Rings to Old Sarum, the second Badbury Rings to Bath and the third – Badbury Rings to Hod Hill.

Original WWII hanger

Returning to man’s more ‘modern day’ impact, the airfield is no longer in use. Prior to the war it was nothing but farmland and within a matter of months was transformed into nothing less than a small city. It was shut in 1980 having turned from military to civil use in the late 1940s. Head in the direction of one of the original hangers, now a barn. It is worth a slight diversion to your right, at the hanger, to appreciate the war memorial and tribute to the site and people.

WWII memorial

Back to the walk continue around the end of the airfield. The view to the west becomes more apparent. Blandford Camp in particular is clear thanks to its mast standing proudly at the top of the hill. Prior to it being a military establishment, it was the site of the Blandford racecourse. In the late 18th century many leading country families would attend, making it an important social event, a real place to be! However, it was just as much an important occasion for the common man, connecting the two divisive worlds. The area of the airfield is heavily farmed now, so keep to the concrete path. Occasionally oddities appear reminding you of its past, including one of the old runways disappearing to the horizon on your left. In the summer of 2019, the old Tarrant Rushton Air Traffic Control Tower was discovered in a reclamation yard. Miraculously it had survived the test of time, four decades after demolition. In its prime of life it received the order for D-day operations to commence, making it one of the main spring boards for the invasion of Normandy, from this very spot. The tower was put on display at the Great Dorset Steam Fair the same year it was discovered.

The old control tower

On approaching a little bend in the track, take the bridleway that guides you right, down the hill. It is quite a steep descent back into the valley and to Tarrant Rushton village. Follow the road down the hill and when the road splits, near a garage, take the right hand fork. Shortly after this, take the footpath that guides you left before St Mary’s Church.

The village of Tarrant Rushton is eclipsed by its war time history. However, it has other secrets too. Sitting behind the church is a collection of earthworks, recorded as an old moat. There are a few theories for this – it possibly being a religious hospital, an old manor house or even a castle! There are few houses here prior to the 18th century due to a huge fire that demolished most of the village sometime before 1664.

Follow the road down and the path takes you past the edge of the old mill. Go over a small footbridge and a stile and follow the footpath round to the right. From now until the end of the walk there will be a high chance of encountering livestock, so be aware. Head for a double stile to the right of the bungalow and then through a rather rickety gate to reach the road. Cross straight over, through a gate and head to your right. Walk behind the houses and then straight to the farm ahead of you. Go through another gate, turn right and then left through the farm buildings. This farm, and its small collection of buildings, is the hamlet of Tarrant Rawston, it being the smallest of the Tarrants. It has its own little church which is privately owned in the gardens of the farmhouse. The Farm is also a major supplier to the Langton Arms and known as Rawston Butchery.

You are now on the home straight back to Tarrant Monkton. The views to your right include Hogstock Coppice, the old routes leading to it and the earlier route of this walk. Stay on the track out of the farm and when faced with two gates, take the right hand option to join a bordered track. Go through a smaller gate, into another field, keeping the field boundary on your left. In the third field, diagonally cut across heading for Luton Farm.

Join the road and cut straight across the track, keeping the buildings on your right. Follow the path behind the buildings to meet a stile in the bottom corner. Turn left, heading uphill, cut straight across three fields, finally reaching another track. Turn right, passing the barns then turn left to go through a gate. Once again, cut diagonally across. The welcome sight of the roofs of Tarrant Monkton’s village appear amongst the trees and on the far left the tower of All Saints Church. Your original climb out of the village via Turners Lane is visible on the opposite hill.

All Saints church

Head to the bottom right hand corner of the field, watching out for any chance of wire fences that you will have to duck under or climb over. Go through the gate and in front of you, through the trees, appear the chimneys of Tarrant Monkton’s old rectory. Keep your eyes peeled on your right for a small stile in the hedge and climb on through. You are now facing All Saints church. Head to the left down the hill, behind the old school and climb your last stile. Follow the track to the gate and back to the Langton Arms for a well deserved refreshment.

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