- Distance – 6 miles/9 km
- Duration – 2.5 hours.
- Exertion – Easy
- Terrain – Track, road and path
- Dogs – In line with the countryside code and be aware of livestock and wildlife.
- Maps – OS Explorer 117 Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis
- Start – Bovington Camp viewing car park. Postcode: BH20 7NQ
- Refreshments – None on route
Hidden among South East Dorset’s heath and forest is Lawrence of Arabia’s, aka T E Lawrence’s, final home, Clouds Hill. Nearby is Bovington army camp and the surrounding area is often used for training. This has meant that development is low and the scenery not much different as it would have been in Thomas Hardy’s day, the main difference being the odd tarmac road, extra tank tracks and the frequent sound effects.
Starting at the car park just to the south of Clouds Hill, you will immediately find Lawrence of Arabia’s memorial stone. It was at this spot where he had his motorcycle accident which ultimately led to his sad death. The circumstances surrounding his death are controversial, some believing it wasn’t an accident at all.
T. E. Lawrence served in the British military, becoming involved in Middle Eastern affairs and playing a key role in the Great Arab Revolt. He was also a writer and an archaeologist. Lawrence rented Clouds Hill in 1923 while stationed at Bovington camp. He did it up with a friend and bought it in 1925, just to be used as a holiday home for himself. When he retired in 1935, he made it his permanent home. Sadly, it was only a few weeks later that he had his accident. He was known to love the place and saw it as an escape from the wider world, although he did receive some visitors, including Thomas Hardy himself. The tiny home only contains four rooms, all with specific purposes – the book room, the music room, the bunk room and the bathroom. Engraved above the front door, in Greek, is the saying ‘Why Worry’. After his death his brother gave the property to the National Trust and is open to visitors in the summer season.
Lawrence has become a romantic figure, having been depicted as a hero in a famous 1962 movie ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. A new film, ‘Lawrence: After Arabia’ is a continuation of his life while in Dorset. It was due to be released in May 2020, but has now been delayed until May 21st 2021. It focuses on the controversy surrounding his death. Premieres of the film are due to be shown in Dorset first.
Land south east of Clouds Hill was sold by the Frampton family (of Moreton) to the War Office in 1899. The remoteness and the terrain provided good training ground and it was close to many south coast ports. This made it a prime position for an army base and became what we know today as Bovington camp.
In the early 20th century, tanks were brand new inventions and were a highly secretive weapon. They were transported from nearby Wool station to Bovington for their training and villagers were told to close their curtains and not to look when they heard the rumbling approach. Since these early days, it has developed into its own small town. It still provides many highly trained troops for battle, including (the former!) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. In 2013, it was also the training camp for Brad Pitt in preparation for his film ‘Fury’.
From the car park, cross straight over the road onto a footpath. Signs warning you of the military activity are clearly visible. They advise you to remain between the posts tipped with yellow paint. Walk parallel the tank tracks until it diverts you downhill into woodland.
The heath that surrounds you as you walk is special too. It once spanned right across Dorset from Dorchester to Swanage. Now all that remains are a few patches, but around Bovington is one of the largest patches. The heath is important for many reasons. It is a rare ecology and can support all of the native British reptiles that would not survive elsewhere. These include snakes and lizards, so keep your eyes peeled in the warmer months.
At the bottom of the hill, turn left and then turn right. Follow the route towards Moreton through a gate and look out for the old, ruined house on your right hand side.
Continue to follow the track where it joins a farm road. Turn right walking to the end. In the distance on your left you may notice the large obelisk sticking out among the trees. This is a 70ft spire with a 10 ft high urn standing on its peak. It is made out of the local Portland stone and designed by James Hamilton from nearby Weymouth. It was erected in 1786 commemorating James Frampton (died 1784) of Moreton, who helped rebuild the local church 10 years previous. At the base of the obelisk were two white marble tablets with Latin on one side and the English translation on the other, commemorating James’ life. They were damaged and moved a number of times for safety but now reside just inside the entrance to the Moreton cemetery.
At the next junction of tracks, turn left still heading towards Moreton. Keep an eye out for the footpath on your right, as this is the route you will be returning to after visiting the village. Go over the bridge and when the road forks, take the right hand route that brings you out to the River Frome. Its shallow water and lengthy bridge is a brilliant spot in the summer months to splash, play and swim. It is also here a scene was shot for the 1996 film ‘Emma’, staring Gwyneth Paltrow, where Emma’s carriage gets stuck in the river.
On the other side of the river you enter into the picturesque village of Moreton. Moreton is often overshadowed by Lawrence’s presence but has its own history too. The Manor House has been in the Frampton family since the 14th century. One resident was James Frampton (1769-1855, the son of the previously mentioned James Frampton). In 1834, as a magistrate, he secured the prosecution of six members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers; aka the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs. In WWII, the house was taken over by the Military Police and later by the American troops, the gardens were turned over to growing vegetables and nearby fields were full of tents to cater for a newly present field hospital.
Walk straight ahead and turn down the drive to Moreton House on the left. This brings you to the church. It is worth the diversion. It was once believed to be one of the most beautiful in the country. However, it took a hit from a Second World War German bomb in October 1940 which blew out all its windows and destroyed the northern wall. In 1950 it was renovated and is still a striking building today. This is even more enhanced by the glass windows, engraved by Sir Laurence Whistler. He was commissioned to make 12 but made a 13th anyway called ‘Judas’, which wasn’t installed until 2014, 14 years after the artists death.
From the church, make your way back to the road and turn left. Shortly on your right is Moreton cemetery. The entrance gate has been recycled, its original use was for Moreton House as the entrance to their kitchen gardens. Just inside the entrance the marble plaques from the obelisk are displayed. Enter into the cemetery and follow the bricked footpath to the end, this brings you directly to T E Lawrence’s grave.
Retrace your steps back through the village and over the River Frome to return to the footpath you passed earlier. Go over the stile on your left and turn right to follow the wooded boundary. Cut straight across the field to a gate and then straight across the second field that takes you into woodland.
The track is pretty easy to follow with the odd stretch of decking to help cope with the soggy ground. On reaching a track in the heart of the woods, turn left and weave your way through some big stones. The path then flows around to the right and brings you out onto a road. Cross straight over and onto another track. This is again easy to follow and takes you through more woodland. Pass through a gate and out into a large expanse of heathland, follow the track round and under some large pylons.
After a small climb the path splits, take the left hand fork that then passes a large sinkhole on your left. This can be quite a surprising site. Although these sinkholes are hidden in vegetation, the size of them can still be appreciated. The size of Cul-peppers Dish is about 4 times bigger than this one and is more densely packed with vegetation, making it a little harder to see. To get to Cul-peppers, once on the road, turn left and walk about 100 metres or so. On your right there are small scattered footpaths taking you through the woodland towards the sinking ground. Be careful though as it is steep and if you decide to go to the bottom, be prepared for the fight back up.
Cul-peppers Dish is a SSSI, a sinkhole created by an underground stream. The sandy heathland sub soil can create an hour glass effect to the land creating a large collection of sinkholes in the area, Cul-peppers Dish being the largest at 265 metres round and 43 metres high. The name comes from its discovery, found with a large tree growing out of its centre. Its appearance was of a pestle and mortar and was therefore was named after the famous seventeenth century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (despite slightly different spellings). It has also been immortalised by Thomas Hardy with it being the setting for Mrs Wildeve to collect holly branches from the ‘lonely and desolate’ Cul-peppers Dish for a wreath in ‘Return of The Native’.
From Cul-Peppers dish, head back to the junction you arrived at from the footpath. Take the next right hand turn and follow the road down to the end. Once reaching the next road, cross straight over to get onto another footpath. Gradually more tank tracks come into view as you approach the end. Go through a gate to arrive back at a road and straight opposite you is the location of Clouds Hill.
From Clouds Hill, you can either return back to the car park via the road or head back to the junction, turn right and walk to the next footpath, marked with yellow tipped posts on your right. Follow it parallel to the tank tracks and you arrive back at the car park.