Eight villages line the valley, all gaining their name from the river. Once the location of an abbey, a monastery and the existence of a surviving medieval pack horse bridge, it suggests activity and life has been here for centuries. Going back even earlier in time, ancient earthworks sit abreast the hill tops and Roman roads diverge and link the many Iron Age hill forts that circle the valley.
Today, hidden on the southern edge of the ancient landscape of Cranborne Chase, The Tarrant Valley is still full of business and pleasure to accompany its rich history.
The river begins its course in the small hamlet of Stubhampton. Its catchment is dominated by the hills to the North leading to Ashmore, the highest village in the county. The river soon enters its first village of Tarrant Gunville.
The linear pattern, stretching along the Tarrant, is concentrated in the south of the village. The church of St Mary’s is just off the western side of the valley near the junction to Home Farm. The Old Rectory and The Manor House sit either side of the church and opposite the river are the gates to Eastbury House. A large newly developed home is also nearby which was once the village pub; The Bugle Horn. For more details on the village see the Tarrant Gunville walk.
Home farm camping and farm shop
A small rural campsite with yurts and bell tents for the ultimate glamping experience and winner of The Dorset Wedding Supplier Awards 2018. Accompanied by a café serving traditional farmhouse breakfasts, light lunches, cream teas and pizza nights, all freshly made in the Home Farm kitchen. https://homefarmcamping.co.uk/ https://www.homefarmshop.co.uk/
Eastbury Park was a once one of the largest country estates in England. It contained a large mansion designed by Sir John Vanbrugh. The mansion has not survived, but its former service wing has become a country house known as Eastbury House, a Grade I listed building. It had a large garden which was designed by Charles Bridgeman, some earthworks of which still remain today. The house was inherited by Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple in 1762, who had no use for it, and he had it demolished in 1782. Tales of ghosts and vampires that haunt the building are rife in this darkened corner of the valley.
The river continues its course downstream, through the fields to join the road at Tarrant Hinton. The small garage on the eastern side of the river was once used as a location for a scene in the well-known television series Only Fools and Horses. The river continues to run closely run parallel to the road with small bridges leading to the homes on the other side. On reaching the main A354, the road splits into a one way system, where once stood the village pub; The Crown. Occasionally a creative resident decorates the traffic island with a jolly character! On the western side of the village, the southern side of the A354, is where the Great Dorset Steam Fair takes place. When here its presence dominates; when absent it’s hard to believe it is ever there.
The Great Dorset Stream Fair
An annual world renowned steam fair featuring steam powered vehicles and machinery, it covers 600 acres (2.4 km2) and runs for five days at the end of August. It is the largest collection of steam and vintage equipment to be seen anywhere in the world. A fairground, animal shows, craft, food and a large market also fill the site, its presence undeniable in the valley. https://www.gdsf.co.uk/
Continuing along the western side of the road the river passes by a number of farms as it enters Tarrant Launceston. This is the only Tarrant village without a church. It is also the village which is said to have once contained a monastery, although the exact location is unknown. However, the first farm the river comes to, Higher Dairy, has remains of an old chapel, possibly related to the monastery in some way. The hamlet, rather than village, contains only a few homes before it quickly merges with Tarrant Monkton.
The Dorset Hut maker
Adaptable, and versatile shepherd’s huts suitable for leisure or business uses, combining craftsmanship, quality materials, and bespoke design are made here at Launceston farm. https://www.thedorsethutmaker.co.uk/
This is a family run farming business who have developed barns that once housed heavy horses and seasonal workers into luxury home stays and an events venue. The farm was converted to organic in 2008; a regenerative method of agriculture which demands the highest levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment, which means more wildlife. https://www.launcestonfarm.co.uk/
This is probably one of the most famous of the eight villages, thanks to its pub, ford and subsequent mentions in the Sunday Times. It is also closely related to the army camp on its western flank, it’s easy access to the village via back tracks. Every year the Tarrant Valley 10, a running race, takes place. It attracts many local running groups and includes a mile race for the younger competitors. More details of the village can be found in the Tarrant Monkton walk.
Monkton and Launceston Village Hall
During the summer months the villagers work together to provide weekend cream teas in support of the villages themselves. They have proved to be highly popular, encouraged by the beautiful riverside setting.
The Ford and Packhorse Bridge
A popular wedding photography spot, and has also been a filming location for the Doctor Who television series. It’s a tempting place to paddle but be aware of its slippery surface and miniature tidal waves caused by passing cars. The bridge marks the crossing over the river for the medieval road from Exeter to London.
The Langton arms
A 17th Century thatched free house pub serving homemade local food, real ales and good wines. There are two bars, a restaurant, function room, large safe children’s play area and extensive gardens and courtyards. It is also a B&B with guest rooms housed in a separate building at the rear of the pub. It was voted Best Pub in Dorset 2016 in the National Pub & Bar Awards. https://www.thelangtonarms.co.uk/
The Blandford Camp
Blandford Camp is a military base comprising some 390 hectares high on the western side of the river valley. It is currently the home of the Royal Signals, housing both the headquarters of the corps as well as the headquarters of the Defence College of Communications and Information Systems (DCCIS), the Royal School of Signals, the Royal Signals Museum and the HQ Station (G4RS) of the Royal Signals Amateur Radio Society. A number of other telecommunications-related units, such as the MOD Land Systems Reference Centre, are also housed on the site. Over the years, however, the camp has been home to Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Army and joint-Service units, as well as to a US Army hospital complex. Historically the site has also been used as a horse racing track and a road racing circuit. Significant areas of the camp are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). https://www.royalsignalsmuseum.co.uk
The river turns after leaving Tarrant Monkton. Faced with a chalk escarpment it is forced almost 90 degrees from the north west to a south easterly direction. It soon encounters the farming landscape that plays a prominent role in the economy of the Valley. Its church, St Mary’s, is hidden amongst the farm buildings and although in private ownership, visits are welcome. There is a miniature mill here too, sitting next to the northern side of the road bridge, visible on approach and in passing. It is no longer used but has become such a recognised element in the landscape, it is hard to imagine the river without it.
Tarrant Valley camping
A small pop-up campsite is available in the summer months. Located at the top of the chalk escarpment that forces the River Tarrant to turn, it comes with captivating views over the valley towards Blandford camp and onwards creating breathtaking sunsets. https://www.tarrantvalleycamping.co.uk/
Rawston Farm Butchery and Shop
This farm shop is family run, offering the finest locally reared meat and locally sourced produce, most of which is served at the Langton Arms. https://www.rawstonfarmbutchery.co.uk
Scattered along the road are a few homes but the majority of the village is off the main route, on the eastern side of the valley and across the river. Again, for more details see the Tarrant Monkton walk.
Tarrant Rushton airfield
Situated on the opposite side of the valley to Blandford camp is RAF Tarrant Rushton. It was a Royal Air Force station from 1943 to 1947 and used for glider operations during World War II and later revived for civilian operations. It is currently disused, though some buildings survive. A memorial to the men who served at the airfield is located by the roadside next to one of the surviving hangars.
Here the river meets the second of its two main roads, the Wimborne to Blandford B3082. At the top of the hill on the western side is Ashley Wood Golf Course, the holes of which trespass onto the remains of the Iron Age earthworks of Buzbury Rings, which has also been sliced in two, rather aggressively, by the B3082. On the eastern side of the village the road continues to Kingston Lacy Estate, bordered by a famous mile of trees.
The True Lovers Knot
The True Lovers Knot is a traditional Inn serving traditional food and a range of Badger beers from the local Hall & Woodhouse Brewery in Blandford. Rooms are available and a it has a small caravan/camping area for guests to stay. https://trueloversknot.co.uk/
Keyneston Mill is the creative home of Parterre Fragrances. Here you can explore the Scented Botanic Gardens and surrounding 50-acre working estate, where they grow, harvest and distil unusual plants and ingredients for their luxury perfumes. https://www.keynestonmill.com/
Ashley Wood Golf Course
The professional golfer, Peter Alliss, once described The Ashley Wood Golf Club as “the best kept secret in Dorset”. The club was founded in 1896 and constructed on a natural free-draining chalk downland with spectacular views over the surrounding Dorset countryside, stretching north to Salisbury Plain and south to the Purbecks. The course includes ancient woodlands that are carpeted with bluebells in the spring and is abundant with birdlife including buzzards.
Buzbury Rings is an Iron Age hillfort with other associated earthworks including a large dike that cuts off the hill spur towards Blandford Forum, defending the Tarrant valley below. Spetisbury Rings sits to the South and Badbury Rings to the South East, all of which are connected by a series of Roman Roads. From Badbury to Buzbury the Roman road continues to the larger more well-known settlements on Hod and Hambledon Hills. The southern Roman road from Badbury to Spetisbury continues to Maiden Castle – the largest hill fort in the country. Discoveries, both accidental and on purpose, provide the evidence for much Romano-British activity.
Kingston Lacy is owned by the National Trust and home to an impressive art collection. Rubens, Titian and Sebastiano are among the great Western artists whose works decorate the walls. The house is impressive in stature, altered many times by its successive owners to keep to the latest fashions in architecture. The garden was celebrated in the early 20th century as a horticultural masterpiece; an 18th-century parkland and a living landscape rich in wildlife, history and nature.
The final village of the valley is the most deserted. Tarrant Crawford was once home to an Abbey and a larger settlement, but now little remains. for more detail of the village and area, see the Spetisbury walk.
Tarrant Crawford church
The Church of St Mary the Virgin was built in the 12th century. The church is all that remains of Tarrant Abbey, for which it may have been a lay church. Two famous historical figures are said to have been buried here, possibly moved from the decaying abbey. The first is Queen Joan, the wife of Alexander II of Scotland and daughter of King John of England, supposedly buried in a golden coffin. The second is Bishop Richard Poore, builder of Salisbury Cathedral, and responsible for the subsequent move from Old Sarum to the new city. Rare medieval wall paintings cover most of the interior walls of the nave and chancel, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries.
This is one of the oldest bridges that cross over the River Stour. The importance of the Abbey probably required it, helping guide people, trade and culture from the south, straight up the Tarrant Valley and vice versa. It crosses the Stour at a wide section of the river and incorporates 9 arches to cover the distance. Secured to its internal side is a familiar sight on many of Dorset’s ancient river crossings; a sign warning of transportation to Australia if you wilfully damage the bridge.
Meeting the Stour
In this area the River Stour, east of the village of Spetisbury, has been managed to serve a number of mills that once worked its channels. Now the flood plains dominate and the small foot bridges guide you over its many narrow courses. Where the Tarrant meets the Stour is reachable by foot, although the last few yards may include a fight with a few brambles. It is a peaceful spot, where they converge, no dramatic waterfall or loud splash. The two rivers gently combine to continue their journey onwards to the sea.
Jack Hargreaves made a little video about the valley…