- Distance – 10 miles
- Duration – 2 hours.
- Exertion – Easy
- Terrain – Path, track and road.
- Max height – 300ft
- Min height – 110ft
- Total climb – 350ft
- Map – OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase
- Start – Badbury Rings car park (Postcode: BH21 4DZ, Grid Reference: ST960030, What Three words: additives.vouch.ticked)
- Refreshments – None on route, closest pubs are The True Lovers Knot in Tarrant Keyneston and The Langton Arms in Tarrant Monkton
Badbury Rings is a prominent Iron Age hill fort on the sourthern edge of the ancient landscape of Cranborne Chase. The hillfort is owned by The National Trust and free to visit. Wider in the landscape, five Roman roads leave the rings in a number of different directions, some clearer than others to see today. Southwest the Roman road travels through Shapwick and on to Dorchester (Dunovaria), southeast, it travels to Poole, northwest to Hod Hill, north to Bath and northeast (Ackling Dike) to Salisbury (Old Sarum). Once out of the National Trust land, the ride consists of country roads and chalky tracks that, although a little bumpy, makes it a fun, easy cycle and great for kids.
Parking at the National Trust car park at Badbury rings, cycle northeast following the bridleway. Make your way through the thick hedge (marking the Roman road to Hod Hill), and up the hill to the wood. Follow the track around the wood to exit out onto another Roman road – Ackling Dyke.
When the chalk road thins into a path, turn left to cut across the edge of the field (although this is officially a footpath, it’s only for a short distance and it is easy to keep to the edge, and, maybe, push your bike). Exit out onto another chalk track and turn left again.
Continue straight down the track and you reach a concrete road that disappears into the woods to your left. The old concrete road is part of the RAF airfield. Hidden in the woods, all around the airfield, are the remains of activity from the war. The woods were once home to a large barracks, all part of the infrastructure of the airfield. The concrete path also lines up with the Roman road to Hod Hill, so, underneath this thick hard skin, and well protected, could be evidence of Roman footsteps. Turn right and the flat lands of Tarrant Rushton airfield come into view.
When you reach the airfield turn left and follow the hard standing track clockwise around the runways. Signs prevent you from going down the wrong path. The airfield played a crucial part in the Second World War. Troops from all over the world came here to play their part. It is also where a number of planes took off for D-Day. On 5 June 1944, six Halifax aircraft took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton, each towing a Horsa glider. On board these Horsas were British troops. An hour later, as the first Allied troops landed in Normany, they seized Pegasus Bridge and Horsa Bridge, preventing the Germans from attacking the beach landings, enabling the Allies to continue successfully with their planned attacks. Other glider-borne troops, light tanks and many supplies also left from Tarrant Rushton. As well as this military role the airport was used for drops to the French Resistance. Armed with weapons the Resistance were able to greatly hamper the German war effort. All this combined makes you wonder, without this little airport’s role, would D-day have succeeded?!
Nowadays it is just fields; crops spreading out far and wide. It’s only from the air – ie google maps, which help you appreciate the full layout of the airfield. Photographs exist showing the extent of the airfield when it was at its peak and where there are now woods, the hospitals and training camps, that could have arguably been the same size as a town, were placed. More details of the airfield, and its influence on the landscape, can be found on the Tarrant Monkton walk.
Some of the existing barns were once hangers for the aeroplanes. The size of the doors alone would catch the untrained eye and question their agricultural purpose. From the western edge of the airfield it’s possible to look back to Badbury Rings, its wrinkly ramparts worn like a high-vis vest. On a good, clear day it’s possible to see Bournemouth’s balloon ride go up and down on the southern horizon, departing from the centre of Bournemouth town.
Continue all the way around the northern boundary. On reaching one of the large, original hangers, turn left, joining onto the Witchampton road. At this junction is a small memorial, reminding people of the airports important role. To return to the ride, at the road, turn right.
Continue along the country road for about two miles, it is quiet and safe, but has a few nasty bends for children to be aware of. Before arriving at Witchampton, you reach a crossroads. Here you turn right, diverting off the main country road to join back onto Ackling Dyke. This is well known Roman road, especially in Dorset. It can be traced easily in the landscape. Entering the county, by aggressively forcing its way through Bockerly Ditch, the main road to Salisbury (A354) then uses its path. It continues to cut through the landscape, marked by present day tracks, roads and fields, to reach Badbury Rings. At the cross roads the linear view of the road can be appreciated behind you as Ackling Dyke continues north.
The small road turns left and diverts away from the Roman road, but then take the bridleway on your right to return. Ahead, depending on the thickness of vegetation and height of hedges, the earthworks of Badbury Rings slowly rise, the Roman road directing you with little distraction.
Continue straight along Ackling Dyke, joining back to the chalk track you started on. When you reach the trees, continue straight ahead to pass a small farm and then turn right. Climb up the small hill to again return to your starting route. Turn left and head straight down the hill to return to your vehicle.
The ride is unique in covering two such different parts of history and both still so clear to see in the landscape. Nevertheless, a third historical element is also present. Access to Badbury rings means driving through Kingston Lacy’s avenue of trees, an 18th century landscape design. In addition to our own modern-day use, these four independent periods of history are rarely demonstrated so clearly, in such a small area, anywhere else in the country!
Also nearby is Pamphill, a small village once in the ownership of Kingston Lacy estate. It sits on the river Stour where a small river crossing, not far from a Roman road and even villa remains, allows for a perfect wild swim, or maybe just a paddle!