Spetisbury old Railway line, Crawford Castle, St Mary’s Church and Keyneston Mill

This short walk is crammed full of interest and history. Beginning on the old railway and meeting Crawford castle, it then takes you across the River Stour to a special church with a hidden secret. On your return you pass a famous perfumery, with a café which serves products that use flora grown in their own botanical gardens.

Distance – 4.5 miles/7 km

Time – 1.5 hours

Total climb – 200ft

Max height – 265ft

Min height – 82ft

Terrain – Old railway, track, path, road and field.

Exertion – Easy

Start – (Grid ref: ST908029, Postcode: DT11 9DF).

Map – OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase.

How to get there – From Blandford Forum, travel south on the A350. Take the first right immediately after entering Spetisbury, just before the school. The car park is on your left hand side.
Dogs – On leads where livestock is present and in accordance with any notices on the walk and The Countryside Code.

Refreshments: Keyneston Botanical Café and Marcia’s Farm shop and café.

From the car park, take the small ramp, which guides you up the left hand side of the bridge, to the railway. This is the old southern route of the Somerset and Dorset Railway (the North Dorset Trailway making up the northern sector). Once at the top, continue in the same direction away from the car park for about a mile or so. Keep eyes peeled for passing under bridges and crossing over roads and also for the numerous apple trees that grow here, mostly thanks to people throwing apple cores out of passing train windows.

Eventually you reach the old Spetisbury Railway station. It was closed in 1956 but the track was still used until 1969 when it was finally lifted. The station, however, has become something of a magnet for people using the old railway. It is obviously still treasured by the villagers, well-kept and presented for anyone travelling through to see.

Once past the station, continue on the old railway line, but before being taken off its path look out for a small gap in the hedge on your right to take you to Crawford Castle (also known as Spetisbury Rings). Turn right in the next field and follow the footpath that takes you straight to the southern corner of the ramparts. You can then circle the area, walking along the highest rampart, the views stretching far and wide. It is an Iron Age Hillfort and is in good company in the area. At the highest point of the walk (marked by a handy trig point) you can make out the trees of Buzbury Rings to the North East and Badbury Rings to the South East. The long lines of the Badbury Rings trees that lead to Kingston Lacy are also visible. Activity in the area must have been rife during these times. Hambledon and Hod Hills are not too far away either and the area also saw a large amount of later Roman activity. During the construction of the railway a mass grave was discovered that contained over 120 skeletons. It is presumed that these could have been caused by a Roman invasion on the hill fort.

From the castle, return following the same footpath you arrived on, returning to the old railway. Turn right and follow it down to the road. Turn left to meet the main A350 and cross straight over to Crawford Bridge. Built in the 15th century it can be argued that Crawford Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in Dorset – with White Mill further downstream, being a close second (see Wild swimming for more details about that bridge!) . It is surprisingly long, crossing over a wide part of the River Stour and constructed with 9 arches.

Continue along the road to meet a footpath that guides you into a field on your left. Follow the field boundary around to the right and climb the gentle slope up the hill to meet another road.

Cross straight over and continue down the hill towards Tarrant Crawford Church. As you lower into the valley it’s hard not to notice all the strange lumps and bumps in the landscape on your right. In this area was the old Tarrant Abbey, maybe these lumps and bumps are evidence of its more precise location.

At the bottom of the hill, you reach the church. St Marys is now redundant. It sits isolated with nothing but the farm for company but it would have once been, not only surrounded by the important abbey, but other settlement would have been nearby too. The church is all that remains of the Abbey other than the earthworks and possible stones having been reused in the construction of the nearby barns.

Buried somewhere in the churchyard are two important graves. It is said that they were once laid to rest in the abbey but when it was clear the abbey was falling into disrepair, they were saved and moved to the church. The first is Queen Joan who was the daughter of King John of England, and apparently she is encased in a gold coffin. The second is Bishop Richard Poore who helped with the building of Salisbury cathedral and the subsequent move from Old Sarum to the new city. Inside the church is more treasure. Adorned on the walls are frescos still visible and immaculately preserved, so much so that they are thought to be the best in the country.

On leaving the church, head over the small bridge across the river Tarrant and follow the small farm track to the road. Be sure to keep your eyes out for the recycled stone as you pass the old barns. On reaching a road, continue straight across, keeping the River Tarrant on your left. As the path guides you around to the right, you meet the Stour. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even fight the brambles and discover where the Tarrant and the Stour join.

Continue to follow the Stour upstream, keeping it on your left, and you arrive at Keyneston Mill. This is the home of Parterre Fragrances – the perfume creators. It consists of a 50 acre botanical garden which is home to a huge number of wild flowers from ferns, lavenders, mosses, roses, geraniums to jasmine. Their café is also inspired by the plants, creating a number of teas and cakes by using their own homemade products. They also have an outdoor cinema!

Follow the path down the side of the mill to cross a bridge and enter onto the central flood plains of the River Stour – perfect spot for a picnic. Continue straight ahead to meet the next few bridges, past Spetisbury Old Mill and its accompanying river landscape to exit out at Mercia’s Farm Shop (serving ice-cream!).

Walk on up the small road to meet the main A350 road for the second time. Cross straight over and the car park will be on your right hand side.

The Tarrant Valley

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