Beginning at a stunning view point, looking across the heathland and the harbour to the small port of Poole, wander through the woodland and farmsteads to reach an ancient stone circle. Pass Rempstone estate that played a large part in WWII, utilised by both Montgomery and Churchill. Climb Nine Barrow Down, through tunnels of trees, to reach the Neolithic ridge route of Studland Road. At the peak, experience even more impressive views, surveying over an ancient landscape and wide seascape.
Distance: 4 miles/6.5km
Duration: 2 hours
Ability: Medium (one big climb).
Max Height: 600ft.
Min Height: 147ft.
Total climb: 450ft.
Terrain: Path, track, road and field.
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Start Point: Poole Harbour viewpoint (Postcode: BH19 3AA, Grid Reference: SZ006818, What Three Words: evidence.fishnet.windmill)
How to Get There: From Corfe Castle, follow the B3351 under the railway bridge and on to Swanage. After about 3 miles, the carpark is on the left.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: None on route but a number of options are in both Corfe Castle to the West and Swanage to the East.
The layby at which you start this walk provides you with one of the most beautiful views in Dorset. Looking over Godlingston Heath, Poole Harbour glistens in the distance with the conurbation of Poole reflected in the water. The National Trust Island of Brownsea cuts the blue in two. The peninsula of Arne marks the western edge of the water, met by the Rivers Frome and Piddle, and Sandbanks (the most expensive land outside of London) marks the eastern edge. The heath in the foreground is one of only a few remaining unspoilt wild Dorset landscapes that used to stretch from Studland to Dorchester, often featured as the backdrop for Thomas Hardy Literature. Puddletown Wood and Wareham Forest are also examples of this once desolate, unwelcoming environment depicted by Hardy; however it is far from desolate. It supports a huge abundance of wildlife, including all six of Britain’s native reptiles: common European adder (Vipera berus), grass snake (Natrix natrix), smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), common lizard (Lacerta vivipara), sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and slow worm (Anguis fragilis). It also is the perfect environment for the abundance of rare flora species including Common, Bell and Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and therefore is regarded as one of the most biodiverse areas in the UK. It is owned and managed by the National Trust, following the Bankes bequest of Kingston Lacy estate and is open access land.
When facing the view, head to the far right hand corner of the car park (lay-by) to find a gate onto Godlingston Heath. With keen eyes you can make out the Agglestone Rock to your right, protruding from the heath, a harsh sharp texture in comparison to the surrounding soft sand. Agglestone, sometimes known as The Devils Anvil, weighs in at over 400 tonnes. It used to stand with a flat top but fell over in 1970; its name agger in Dorset dialect means to wobble. Legend claims that the Devil was sitting on The Needles when he saw Corfe Castle being built. He was so offended by the beautiful tower of the Norman keep that he threw this giant rock at it. Alternatively the story goes that it was the Cerne Abbas Giant he was venting his anger at. Either way the missile fell short and became the Agglestone. The area is also home to a number of prehistoric tumuli.
Keep left and make your way down the hill to meet a gate on your left. On your right the landscape of the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club is visible. It was founded in 1892, seven years after the arrival of the railway, which brought new visitors to the area especially in the summer months. In the mid-20th century it was owned by Dr Darrell-Waters and his wife, the children’s author, Enid Blyton. It was then sold to Mr Randolph, who was the Chairman and Managing Director of The Wilkinson Sword Company, elements of which are incorporated within the golf club’s design.
Go through the gate and head straight across the next field, keeping left of a short protruding boundary. Curve around to the right, through a gate and then continue straight ahead, following a sandy track. Keep the boundary on your left as you circle Kingswood Farm an early 18th century building. The low heathland allows you to still glimpse the blue waters of Poole Harbour ahead.
On arriving at Foxground Plantation, keep the boundary tight to your left, following the path into the woods. Cross over a small stream, the source of which lies underground in the vicinity of the Rempstone Stone circle, which we arrive at shortly. The stream then continues under Rempstone Hall underground to rise in Foxground Plantation. This is relevant as there seems to be an association between underground streams and stone circles! Exit the trees and into another field, again keeping the boundary on your left. At the end, go through the gate and turn left, joining a tarmac lane. Follow the lane to the junction and turn left, passing Rempstone Barns on your right and circling Rempstone Estate.
Rempstone is a settlement associated with secrets and mystery, isolated, surrounded by low heath and in the shadow of the Purbeck Hills. Activity has occurred in the area for thousands of years with an ancient Neolithic track high across Nine Barrow Down, which you can see towering ahead. This ancient track, now called Studland Road, connects Corfe Castle to the coast at Studland. Nine Barrow Down gained its name thanks to the Bronze Age barrow graves of Wessex chieftains (26 known in total, not just 9) constructed on the slopes around. The village also contains the Bronze Age stone circle. In the Iron Age and through the Roman period the landscape was highly utilised for its profitable commodities. This included clay, shale, pottery and the ability to export iron and finished pottery goods from the harbour. A Romano British villa has also been discovered at nearby Church Knowle. By the Middle Ages, Rempstone had grown into an ancient manor and hamlet, becoming a farmhouse in the 16th century, encompassed by mature woodland of oak, chestnut, pine and birch, all planted in the 18th century.
The name Rempstone could derive from the ancient family that owned the manor; however it can also be claimed that the family took the name from the land. Alternatively Rempstone may derive from the Old English “Hring-Stun” – Old English for Stone Ring, linking it back to the stone circle.
In 1727 Rempstone was sold to, reputedly, the most intelligent and one of the richest men in the country, John Calcraft MP and has stayed in the same family ever since. At the end of 1940 the military requisitioned the west-end of the house from John Calcraft’s 3x great Grandson Major Douglas Claud Dudley Ryder. He was serving in the Middle East at the time and his second wife, Vera Hamilton, and their blended family of 10 children, moved to Child Okeford. The squash court became a canteen, tanks were parked in the driveway and by the end of 1942 the army had taken over the entire hall. Rempstone Hall itself was never hit, though during the Battle of Britain several bombs fell nearby. It has been claimed that Rempstone was the house where the D-Day landings were planned, yet not proved. However, Rempstone Hall, as the local Army HQ, was used by both General Montgomery and Winston Churchill. The family did not move back until 1949. Ryder moved to Bushey House in his older years and died in 1986. He is buried in the woodland in an unmarked grave, hoping that his remains will do some good for the trees!
Follow the road to the T-junction, passing Bushey House on your right, and turn left. Care is needed here as there is no pavement and the road can get very busy. However the verge is safe to walk on, or jump on when the traffic passes. Stay on the road as you circle Rempstone Hall on your left, the large hedge preventing any view, but on reaching the opposite end, it is possible to see the house through the trees.
Continue along the road to discover the stone circle. The area can get overgrown, so if you’re lucky, shortly after joining the wood, a path on your right will take you through the trees to the stones. If not, it is possible to take the path at the east end of the wood and then turn right to enter the pine forest, leading you to the stones.
Rempstone Stone Circle dates from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2400-1000 BC). The purpose of such monuments is unknown, although archaeologists speculate that they were likely religious sites, with the stones perhaps having supernatural associations for those who built the circles. Local folklore claims that the stones arrived in their position after being thrown at Corfe Castle by the Devil, similar to the Agglestone; maybe they travelled just that little further thanks to their lighter weight.
Only a small number of stone circles were constructed in Dorset, including The Nine Stones in Winterborne Abbas, Kingston Russell Stone Circle, Litton Cheney and Hampton Down. Most of these are made of sarsen stone, making the Rempstone circle unique as it’s made from local sandstone. Most of the circle has been damaged by eighteenth century clay workings, leaving only five upright and three recumbent stones remaining, buried amongst the overtaking woodland. In 1957, an avenue of 23 stones leading to the circle was discovered but subsequently moved, possibly aligning the circle to the equinoxes. Other scattered stones exist in the vicinity, but disturbance has made them difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, representing one of only five known stone circles known in Dorset, this site has the best potential within the group for the preservation of waterlogged deposits. The area does not disappoint with its aura of mystery. Stones are camouflaged within the undergrowth surprising you as you walk through the thick ferns, all neighbouring the empty floor and scattered shadows over the bumpy remains of quarry earthworks under pine woodland.
Make your way to the eastern track and turn right up the hill. This is the start of the biggest climb of the walk. When it forks, take the left hand option, the gradient increasing slightly, entering into Kingswood. The path cuts across the hillside wrapped in trees until the sky appears and the trees give way to gorse bushes. Continue straight through, looking to the right to view the barrows that give the hill its name. On reaching the peak, the views to the south open up. On your right, the large church tower of Kingston is clear, once known as the cathedral of Dorset, Swyre Head’s Barrow rises behind. The chalk cliffs mark Worbarrow Bay and Bindon Hill while the Isle of Portland creates the darker shadow on the horizon.
Continue along the brow of the hill with the blue sea of the English Channel visible in the distance. The small settlement of Swanage lies low in the valley, divided from the channel by the high chalk cliffs. Make your way through a small gate and continue straight ahead on the ancient route of Studland Road. After passing a small stone waymark, fork left to meet a gate in the hedge. Poole Harbour comes back into view along with the sandy beaches of Studland and Bournemouth.
Follow the track diagonally down the hill, entering into more woodland, flashes of blue from Poole Harbour sparkle through the trees on your left. Pass through a couple of gates and when the trees drop away another view of the Harbour and sandy curve of the beaches presents itself, the creamy line of Sandbanks marking the entrance to the harbour.
At the next gate, you can either follow the lower track or take the higher track to appreciate the view before returning to the car park. Join the road and turn left, again taking care due to the absence of the pavement. In about 100 metres or so, the car park will appear on your left.