Distance: 5.5 Miles/8km
Time: 2.5 hours
Total climb: 281ft.
Max height: 345ft.
Min height: 110ft.
Terrain: Track, path and field, can get muddy and wet and at risk of being overgrown.
Start: The True Lovers Knot, Tarrant Keyneston. (Postcode: DT11 8SG, Grid Reference: ST932046, What Three Words: probing.growth.arranger)
Map: OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury and Cranborne Chase
How to get there: From Blandford, head east on the B3082. Pass Ashley Wood Golf Course on your left and then descend the hill into Tarrant Keyneston. The pub 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: The True Lovers Knot, Tarrant Keyneston
Tarrant Keyneston is a small village placed on the main Blandford to Wimborne Road (the B3082) and along the Tarrant valley. On the hills northwest of the village are the earthworks of Buzbury Rings and to the southeast, the earthworks of Badbury Rings, both of which are remains of Iron Age hillforts. The parish is also home to a golf course and a WWII airfield while almost all of Tarrant Keyneston is within the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Starting at the pub, the B3082 travels south east to cross the river Tarrant over a small 18th century bridge. Turn north onto the smaller valley road, with the river on your right, following it along to Preston Farm. Above the farm is the plateau of the airfield. The top of the hill was chosen as the location for this large military settlement and played an important part in the allied war effort.
Continue on the road until you meet a ford on your right. This ford, through the River Tarrant, could have originated as an important river crossing during the Roman period, if not before. Badbury Rings, only a few miles east, is on the junction of a number of Roman roads. One route is possible connecting Badbury Rings to the Roman fort at Hod Hill, using this river crossing as part of its path. Dive off the road to walk alongside the river to a small bridge and then turn around to join the Roman route. The straight path is obvious. Cross over the road and into a tunnel to trees, to follow the Roman soldiers’ footsteps.
At the top of the hill, turn left, cut through two fields and then turn right, keeping Ashley Wood Nature Reserve boundary on your left hand side. The reserve is managed by The Dorset Wildlife Trust and contains a number of permissive paths for access. Filled with ancient ash and hazel it is a haven for butterflies and bluebells, depending on the time of year.
Continue to follow the track as one joins from the left, passing a communications tower. When your reach the top, ignore the track to your right and the later one to your left and continue straight ahead onto the golf course.
Ashley Wood Golf Club is set in idyllic surroundings, with fabulous views across Dorset and has even been heralded as the finest course in the county. As you walk or ride, Cranborne Chase is exposed to your right, even the little tree tuft of Win Green, on the border with Wiltshire, is visible. As you gain height, the Stour valley dips down to your left, the horizon is marked by woodland but Charborough Tower, on the Drax estate, can be seen poking its head out above the leaves.
Ashley Wood Golf Club was built by Sir William Henry Smith-Marriott in 1896 and was only the fifth Golf Club to be formed in Dorset, following Bridport 1891, Isle of Purbeck 1892, Lyme Regis 1893 and Sherborne 1894. During the Second World War it became derelict but was saved in the 1950’s by Roy & Jackie Carey.
Sadly, the course was laid out over historic countryside, including Buzbury Rings, tumuli and defensive dykes all of which dated back to pre-Roman times. However some remain as part of the courses design. As you walk or ride through the course, the path is easy to follow (don’t take any notice of the OS route). Keep left and avoid any teeing off points to be guided down Teversham Way, where you start to run parallel with the B3082. Continue straight across the course, meandering through the number of earthworks and passing the bigger earthworks of Buzbury on the opposite side of the road. When you meet some wooden fencing cross straight over the road, onto another bridleway, circling Buzbury Rings.
Buzbury Rings consists of an inner and an outer enclosure, a number of linear ditches, barrows and tracks. The remains have been severely obliterated by the development of the road and the golf course. The inner enclosure covers a little less than 3 acres. Within the enclosure Iron Age sherds and Roman pottery, mainly of the 2nd century but also of the 3rd and 4th centuries, along with large quantities of ox and sheep bones, struck flints, and much wattle-marked daub, presumably from huts, have all been found, indicating at a small rural settlement, continuously occupied from the Iron Age to the end of the Roman period. The outer enclosure covers about 10 acres and also combines a number of linear earthworks, mainly visible on air photography. As a result of geophysical and LIDAR surveys of 2006, it is thought that the site’s earliest remains are of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure, and that the site continued in use from that time into the later periods.
A number of Bronze Age barrows are also in the vicinity, one of which yielded a primary cremation with fragments of ‘a coarse urn’ in a cist. A secondary cremation of a child in a two-handled vase, together with a piece of dark thick glass and a fragment of samian was also discovered suggesting that the secondary burial was Romano-British. The woods to your right hiding many of these secrets!
Despite the intrusion of the road, the golf club and other human detritus, the views are extensive, especially down the eastern slope to the Tarrant Valley and the following hills; leading to Badbury. Buzbury is only a small piece of the much larger jigsaw that is Cranborne Chase, which encompasses a plethora of ancient activity that still survives today.
Continue down the path which forms the south eastern line of the parish boundary of Langton Long. It is an old track that links Buzbury Rings to a ford over the river Stour, a route that must have been vital for trade and travel. In this area four silver Durotrigian coins were discovered emphasising this historical link.
The route down the hill is easy to follow, passing through a number of metal gates. The views open up to the north exposing Blandford St Mary and the cupola of Blandford’s church. Also highlighted in the landscape is Bryanston, its bright red bricked façade is hard to miss. Ahead is Charlton Marshall and on the opposite hill part of the old railway line is visible marked by trees and a line of houses. Lower in the valley is the main road, only highlighted by the passing colours of cars and below that, the River Stour. As you descend, ignore the footpath to the left, unless you want a shorter walk back to the pub via Down Barn. Continue around the field boundary and turn right, following its edge and circling a pylon. Continue through another metal gate and enter into the parish of Langton Long.
Langton Long is only a small hamlet, having lost most of its land to a change in the parish boundary in 1933 as well as the development of Blandford Forum. A fire destroyed the original 18th century manor house, leading to its demolition in 1949. Langton House was built in 1827 to replace the burnt ruin, which still stood at the time. The current house now stands in the park of the former home. Today the village has reduced to little more than the house, the parish church, a few houses, and the stables.
When you meet the barns you enter into Lophill Farm. Many years ago the farmer here decided to diversify into brewing. He even opened his own little bar. However, he must have achieved a certain level of success as he was subsequently thrown out by the larger local brewery and the farm was sold. Today all that remains of the story is the name ‘The Tally Ho Lounge’ marked on the old bar door.
On meeting the road turn left, and follow for approximately half a mile. The Stour meanders to join you on your route just by Manor Dairy Farm. The River Stour is the longest and strongest river of the county, hence its name Old English meaning violent or fierce, its catchment area is the size of almost half of Dorset itself. Covering a 61 mile stretch it flows through Wiltshire and Dorset draining into the English Channel. Here it quietly sneaks upon you only to disappear off down the valley on the rest of its journey.
Pass Manor Dairy Farm to meet a footpath sign at the next hedge on your left. For riders, continue along the valley road, passing the road to the left leading back to Tarrant Keyneston. Take the next track leading to Tarrant Crawford Church, a hidden gem with rare frescos on the walls and earthworks of an ancient abbey. Continue along the track that runs along the left hand side of the church, following the River Tarrant to the road. Turn right to enter into Tarrant Keyneston and then stay on the village road to meet back to the B3082 and the True Lovers Knot.
For walkers, this section of the path can become a little overgrown. If the entrance alone is tricky, return to the farm and enter through the gate to access the same field. Follow the top boundary to the next stile and then the next boundary to take another stile into the woods. Again it can get tricky here. Ignore the OS route and as soon as you enter the woods, fork slightly left and then head straight up the hill to a clear opening. Take the next path on your left to walk along the top side of the trees. When the brambles return, head up the hill again to avoid the obstructions. The advantage of this landscape is the wildlife, full of deer and even foxes!
Keep walking on the same direction with Down Barn appearing on the slopes to your left. When you meet a fence, curve around its left hand edge and then turn right to head up the hill. When the terrain changes and you enter into a more managed landscape again, cut the corner of the field and start heading down the hill towards Tarrant Keyneston, keeping the row of trees on your left. As you near the bottom, fork slightly left to join a grass track. The church slowly appears on your right, its tower hidden behind trees.
Tarrant Keyneston’s St All Saints Church dates back to the 14th century although the tower dates from the 15th and the rest was rebuilt by Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1852, when the original church had become dilapidated. Buried in the churchyard are members of the Bastard family including Thomas Bastard and his son John Bastard who, along with his brother William, were the famous architects who redesigned and rebuilt Blandford after the total devastation caused by the fire in 1731.
At the church and before the road, turn left over a stile and in-between the houses. Continue straight along the channelled tunnel, cutting over a few small roads, bringing you out into to a field. Keep the boundary on your right as it changes into a wall. In the centre of the wall is an old door that leads to the gardens of Keyneston Lodge, built around 1700.
Once past the wall and on meeting a gate, turn right to head down into the village. Cross over your last stile and turn left at the memorial cross, onto the country road. Follow it straight ahead to return to the True Lovers Knot, being aware of the B3082 to navigate first.