Cranborne and Castle Hill

Follow the footsteps of ancient kings. Discover the remains of the 12th century castle that dominated the hunting grounds of Cranborne Chase. Explore the village that was once a powerful administrate office, blessed with manors and lodges, that, over time, slowly shrank back into the landscape.

Distance: 3.5 miles/ 5km

Duration: 2 hours

Ability: Easy.

Max Height: 265ft

Min Height: 155ft

Total climb: 180ft

Terrain: Path, track, road and field.

Map: OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase and OS Explorer OL22 New Forest

Start Point: Cranborne village centre car park (Postcode: BH21 5QB, Grid reference: SU056133, What Three Words: retire.norms.shipwreck)

How to Get There: From Blandford travel north on the A354 for 9 miles. At the Sixpenny Roundabout turn right and follow the road into Cranborne. Staying on the road, follow it around to the right, signposted for car park.

Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.

Refreshments: The Fleur-de-Lys Inn

Cranborne is a village in a small valley, dominated by Pentridge Hill to the north and is the source of the River Crane. It lies on the edge of the famous Cranborne Chase, medieval hunting grounds that were favoured by kings, using Cranborne as their administrative base. The history is rich thanks to this influence. The official Royal Forest of Cranborne covered an area of around 100 square miles, however when it was claimed by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it would have been much more heavily wooded, full of Britain’s native species and wildlife. In the 10th century a monastery was founded, Cranborne Abbey, and the Parish Church of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew sits on what was possibly the abbey’s original site.

Cranborne Manor (photo:@tersiavs)

Cranborne Manor is one of the most important domestic buildings in England. The construction includes the old hunting lodge built by King John in 1207/8, making it one of the oldest surviving domestic buildings in the country. There are accounts that King John came to Cranborne on many occasions. The village was host to a number of subsequent royal visitors too including Henry VIII, King James I and Charles I. Early in the 17th century the Cranborne estate was acquired by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury. He employed John Norden to make a general survey of the property, immortalising the building forever. Dated 1605, the plans are preserved at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. He amended the hunting lodge and created Cranborne Manor House. Today a large amount of the original features survive, only minor alterations having occurred.

Another important building is 10 Castle Street – also known as Cranborne Lodge. This Queen Anne house, built by King Henry VIII, forms part of the Cranborne Estate and is currently run as a hotel, restaurant and private members’ club.

10 Castle Street (photo: trip.com)

Cranborne also received literary visitors such as Thomas Hardy, who based his mythical town of Chaseborough on Cranborne, as featured in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Another historical literary figure was Rupert Brooke who wrote a poem about the Fleur-de-Lys Inn after getting lost trying to reach it.

In Cranborne town two inns there are,
And one the Fleur-de-Lys is height,
And one, the inn Victoria,
Where, for it was alone in sight,
We turned in tired and tearful plight
Seeking for warmth, and company,
And food, and beds so soft and white-
These things are at the Fleur-de-Lys.

Where is the ointment for the scar?
Slippers? and table deftly dight?
Sofas? tobacco? soap? and ah!
Hot water for a weary wight?
Where is the food, in toil’s despite?
The golden eggs? the toast? the tea?
The maid so pretty and polite?
These things are at the Fleur-de-Lys.

Oh, we have wandered far and far,
We are fordone and wearied quite.
No lamp is lit; there is no star.
Only we know that in the night
We somewhere missed the faces bright,
The lips and eyes we longed to see;
And Love, and Laughter, and Delight.
These things are at the Fleur-de-Lys.

Prince, it is dark to left and right.
Waits there an inn for you and me?
Fine noppy ale and red firelight?
These things are at the Fleur-de-Lys.

Also in the village is a reproduction of an Iron Age dwelling. The roundhouse was built in the 1980s at the back of Cranborne Middle School, as an exercise in experimental archaeology. Even I took part in its construction at the age of 11, on a very memorable school trip!

It has since greatly developed since then and has become a living museum known as the Cranborne Ancient Technology Centre.

The importance of the village was soon overtaken by more accessible towns and villages. It had once been on the main trade route between Poole and Salisbury, but the introduction in the 18th century of turnpike roads meant the diversion of the passing traffic away from Cranborne. This allowed the little village to slowly sink back into the hills and valleys of the Chase.

From the car park, take the small footpath that runs alongside the school, bringing you out opposite 10 Castle Street. Turn left and follow the road until the houses start to thin and the road bends sharply left. Take the right hand turning and then the left hand footpath, marked by a stile. If the trees are not in full leaf, the impressive earthworks of Cranborne Castle can be seen amongst the branches on the hill ahead. Cut straight across the field reaching a track and turn left. Continue along Mill Lane, this once being an important route, linking what was this impressive defensive settlement to the landscape around.

Look out for some yellow posts marking the next path you need to take on your right hand side and continue to follow this route along the edge of the forest. When you meet another track, turn left and then curve around to the right to take you straight down into Edmondsham.

At the end of the lane, where you join the valley road, sits the old village water pump. Housed in a 1930’s structure, the pump itself dates from 1884 and is inscribed with the initials HEM – Hector Edmond Monro, who was the squire at the time and whose family owned Edmondsham House.

Turn right to wander through Edmondsham to meet the most impressive of the buildings in the village, the manor house itself, dating from 1598. At the next junction you meet the estate gates, with a small gatehouse guarding the entrance. The house can be seen peeking out from behind the trees at its entrance. Continue straight across the junction to then be guided off the road by a small signpost to St Nicholas’ church.

The church, placed almost in the garden of the main house, does appear slightly isolated from the village. However, the village used to be much bigger. There was once a Post Office, a School, a Rectory and a Methodist chapel but these have disappeared or been converted into private residential use. To the south and west of the church the village also extended but has now disappears, all earthworks plugged into the ground.

The church is lovely and many of the gravestones are still readable, connecting the visitor to those that lived here a little more personally. Different families but with corresponding dates all stand out. It is easy to imagine them walking the tracks in this landscape, living in this small hamlet and all knowing each other. One inscription, for William Miles who died in 1868, clearly reads:

‘Behold and see as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare for Death and follow me.’

Behind the church is the private entrance from the manor house. Here you can appreciate its solid Tudor appearance, constructed from local stone and influenced by Dutch design. It is in private ownership, having been in the same family for the past 400 years, but during the summer months the gardens are occasionally open for visitors. Permissive paths also surround the estate but following them can be a little tricky.

Retrace your steps to the junction and back to the water pump. Head back up the track that led you to the village and turn to the left. Continue straight ahead, through a metal gate, ignoring the previous path you arrived on. Here you are now on some of the permissive paths, allowing visitors to access not only the woodland but Cranborne Castle too. Continue to follow the track through the wood until the trees fade away and ahead of you sit the imposing earthworks of the castle.

We know very little about Castle Hill. Its earthworks are its greatest gossip. The typical Norman fortification of a motte and bailey suggests a stronghold or aristocratic residence, occupying a strategic position, most probably occupied during the 11th to the 13th centuries. It is likely it was abandoned when King John built the hunting lodge in Cranborne, now converted into the Manor.

At the peak of the motte there is a large raised mound which was a burial site for two of LDG Tregonwell’s horses that were buried in the first half of the 19th century (he lived at Cranborne Lodge). There has been no other interference and so the site remains well preserved. It is without a doubt that the site will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction and political, social and economic significance, its abandonment and overall landscape context; or what I like to call treasure!

After exploring the castle, follow the same permissive path you arrived on to exit the site returning to a wooden signpost. Turn sharply right, just before the tree thicken, to almost turn back on yourself and follow the route to the road. Turn right and return down the hill to Cranborne. Turn left at the end to enter back into the village and to either explore at your leisure or to return to your vehicle.

8 thoughts on “Cranborne and Castle Hill

  1. Can’t wait to get round and about a part of Cranborne we’ve not walked before… going this week-end!

    1. Enjoy, it’s quite an adventure. The earthworks are really impressive. And, if you get to Edmondsham house, try viewing it’s western front…completely different house! It’s private so you have to be a little sneaky sneaky! But keeping close to the church and in the trees you can get away with it! A little secret tip for you!

  2. Another one of your brilliant posts that remind me of home… It looks like some of the trees around the castle site may have been thinned out

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