- Distance – 6 miles
- Duration – 2 hours.
- Exertion – Easy
- Terrain – Track and road.
- Dogs – Be aware of livestock and keep to the countryside code.
- Map – OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase
- Start – Bokerley Ditch car park (Postcode: SP5 5RH, Grid reference: SU036201, What three words: latches.exotic.pinch
- Refreshments – None on route. Nearest pub: The Fleur de Lys in Cranborne or The Penny Tap in Sixpenny Handley
Bokerley Ditch is an ancient earthwork, most probably dating from the Bronze age with different additions and uses over time. It consists of a large bank and ditch and is combined with other earthworks including Grims Ditch, the Dorset Cursus and a multitude of tumuli.
It’s true purpose is unknown but we can establish that it was mainly used as a defensive system. The first use may have just been as a boundary between the two neighboring tribes- Dorset being the Durotrigian territory and their tribal neighbours the Belgae.
With the arrival of the Romans, it may have been reinforced. But the evidence of Ackling Dyke (the Roman road, now partly the A354) cutting straight through the boundary may prove that it was no obstacle for them. Ackling Dyke connects Old Sarum to Badbury Rings and on to Dorchester (Dunovaria).
With the demise of the Romans there are suggestions that it was reinforced to help against the invasion of the Saxons. The evidence so far indicates that this defensive system worked and the Saxons seemed to have been deterred until the 7th century-almost 300 years after the Romans left. It created a divide of the country with the east being highly influenced by the Saxon arrival and the west remaining more ancient British.
It is still a very much substantial earthwork. Even today the engineering required to create such a construction would be vast. The environment surrounding it is farmland so little of it has been destroyed by development, but the necessary agricultural purposes has damaged some. It is still used as the current county border between Dorset and Hampshire. Where the Roman road cuts through the ditch there is a large layby with refreshments available. Probably the same activities that were occurring 2000 years ago!
Park in the car park and make your way to the Ditch, walking alongside the vast banks to the south. The top of the Bank is thickly overgrown, so to walk across the top would be almost impossible. The chalk hills stretch out for miles providing you with a wide view and a large sky.
As you follow Bokerley Ditch down hill, ahead you can make out is path in the landscape as it curves along the hillside, its path marked by trees in the distance. As it disappears over the brow of the hill, it gives an impression of Dorset’s own mini great wall! However, Bokerley is thousands of years older than the Chinese version, giving this particular landmark a bit more kudos!
The path starts to rise to meet Grims Ditch and the heather and gorse grow into thicker trees. Grims Ditch is a similar but smaller earthwork to Bokerley (maybe it’s predecessor?). This is where Bokerley’s bank is at it’s highest and the ditches at their lowest, away from the main road (modern day influence and Roman) and protected from agriculture. With the trees shadowing the area, it becomes a bit more mystical too. The earthworks are dense, the two ditch’s are in the company of many barrows and other human disturbances, what they all are, we will never know. Every lump and bump in the ground has its own reason for being there, and yet have suffered generations of erosion but still rise above their surrounding landscapes.
When a number of tracks converge, turn right, heading to Penbury Knoll, cutting though the bank of Bokerley. The ditch is so prominent in the landscape it is the official border between Hampshire and Dorset. As you cut through the ditch, you enter into woodland and back into Dorset. Stay on the Dorset side of the boundary and walk south west to Penbury Knoll. The views are far-reaching. To the north you can make follow the course of the ditch snaking its way to the west. As you walk along the path to the Knoll, the skyline of Poole and Bournemouth comes into sight in the south.
Penbury Knoll sits on top of the hill ahead, capped with pine trees. It is debatable whether is or not the site was a hill fort or settled earlier, the site has never been excavated. As you arrive, the pine trees dominate, all towering high, fighting for light. But even with the slightest breeze, they all rustle together, adding a sound track to the magical aura this hilltop seems to emanate.
Pass the church on your left and curve around to the right, entering the next field. Cut straight across to meet the country road where, at the junction, you meet the Dorset Cursus for the first time. On the ground little can made out of this earthwork but from the sky it is clear. In the picture below, the far western end can be seen in the field. The crops growth having been affected by the Cursus’ presence, creating a different colour. The Cursus then travels in a south westerly direction, the edge of which can be followed again with the slightly different colour. It stretches for just over 6 miles, another huge feat of engineering. But what and why? Nobody knows!
At the road, turn left and then right to join a track. When it splits, take the right hand fork and follow it north, crossing the Cursus again, hidden underground.
When a track arrives from your right, turn left into a field. Here you enter into the scene of the google picture above. Continue straight on, crossing the Cursus for the third and final time. When you reach another track arriving from your right, turn left and cut straight across the field, aiming for the Bokerley’s earthworks ahead. Once you have cut through the banks, turn left to make your way back to your vehicle.