Wander through the heathland that was left wild for centuries. The marsh and forest stood on the edge of Cranborne Chase, the area frequently hunted by royalty. Skim the earthwork remains of the Deer Park before crossing the dismantled railway that once linked Poole to Salisbury. Explore the little village of Alderholt, grown from the heath in just a generation. Cross the border into Hampshire at Alderholt Mill and the shallow, paddle friendly Ashford Water. Return via medieval trackways that run parallel to modern power lines, circling the 14th century Alderholt Park.
Duration: 2-3 hours
Max Height: 262ft.
Min Height: 112ft.
Total climb: 156ft.
Terrain: Tracks, paths and roads.
Map: OS Explorer OL22 New Forest
Start Point: St James’ Church. (Postcode: SP6 3DW, Grid Reference: SU104125, What Three Words: blizzard.extent.gone).
How to Get There: From Verwood, travel west on the B3081. At the roundabout take the third exit onto Champtoceaux Avenue. At the next roundabout take the first exit onto Edmondsham Road. Follow it around the tight bend at the Heavy Horse Centre and turn left onto Batterley Drove. At the T-junction, turn right onto Cranborne Road and then right again onto the B3078. St James Church will shortly arrive on the left.
Dogs: In accordance with the Countryside Code and any notices on route.
Refreshments: Just off the route is The Churchill Arms in Alderholt.
Daggons is a small hamlet surrounded by a landscape of woodland and heathland. It sits just to the east of the bigger village of Alderholt, the main road it follows connecting Cranborne to Fordingbridge. Daggons Road, previously known as Alderholt Street, was only introduced in 1855, the little settlements previously separated by wild bog and marsh. The land was originally under the ownership of Cranborne Manor and in the parish of Cranborne. The farms and cottages gradually grew out of cleared wasteland, connected by narrow winding lanes and small irregular fields. The name derives from the Dagon family who in the 14th century held Alderholt Park, while the Alderholt name comes from the landscape, translating to Alder wood. Later landowners, including Lord Salisbury (of Cranborne) and Squire Churchill (of Alderholt Park), constructed a number of cottages along the road, which still stand today.
St James’s Church was built in 1849. Residents had previously had to walk to the parish church in Cranborne, but Lord Salisbury donated both the land and the funds for the new St James. The chancel and vestry were added in 1922.
Make your way through the churchyard to the far corner. Head through the lynch gate and turn left on the main road. Be careful of traffic as there is no pavement but the verge is wide enough to walk on if required. Pass the old school, dating from 1847. It was closed in 1982 and has since become Kingswood Nursery. Continue under the pylon wires to then take the footpath diverting off the road on the left hand side.
Daggons Road continues towards Alderholt where it then crosses the old railway route and becomes Station Road. Daggons Road was the name given to the station built in 1874, the road adopting the name at this time too, but its last service was carried out in May of 1964. The line once connected Salisbury to Poole, following the River Avon and the boundary of the New Forest. The tracks have been lifted but its route still carves its way through the landscape, partially used by trails including The Castleman Trailway. A small collection of newer buildings now fill the site of the old station. Also down this road is The Churchill Arms. Named after the Squire Churchill, it was built by the first farming family that ran it and is now part of the Hall and Woodhouse brewery.
Follow the narrow path deeper into the trees leaving the hum of the traffic behind. On entering the thicker woodland a raised earthwork emerges from the vegetation on the left. This listed monument marks the southern boundary of the Royal Deer Park of Alderholt. In places it can stand up to 1.2 meters high and 6.4 meters wide with a 0.6m deep ditch on the internal side of the enclosure, to keep things in rather than out. The contained deer would then be released into the wild lands of the famous Cranborne Chase on days of hunting. The deer park was first documented in 1315 when it was held by the Earl of Gloucester. After his death the estates were fought over by Robert the Bruce’s Brother, Edward, as well as King Edward II, the lands eventually returning to the crown. By King Henry VIII’s reign the park had been recorded as dis-parked with the deer destroyed but it was enclosed again in the reign of James l.
Within the park stands Alderholt House. It was recorded as a new build in 1810, most probably replacing an older manor, and was extended in the 19th century. Continue along the track to cross another, which happens to be the southern drive to the house, flanked by the South Lodge on Daggons Road. Slowly the trees begin to open up on the right.
On the opposite side of the path to the earthwork are the remains of a local industry of brickworks. In the late 19th century a number of brickworks sprouted up in the area, extracting the local clay for brickmaking. Francis William Padgett was the master potter and brick manufacturer in Alderholt from 1881 to 1885. His bricks can be found engraved with the initials FWP. The works continued until the 1920s with many of the old kilns still hidden in the village. At present the site is in the middle of a development of 89 homes, backing on to The Churchill Arms.
Continue all the way through the wood, sticking to the deer park boundary until you leave via a stile. Head through the little meadow and turn right to cross a little stream and over the old overgrown railway line. Enter into a field and walk straight over into the trees. Cross over another small bridge and keep left to follow the track to the B3078 for the second time
With the death of Lord Gloucester and the lands gained by King Edward II, the development of the Manor and park was the first time Alderholt was put on a map. The proximity to the Royal hunting grounds meant it was in a prime position to access the Chase. It also provided a place from which the Chase could be controlled, alongside nearby Cranborne, as it was rife with poachers, smugglers and highwaymen.
On emerging from the trees turn left to pass Alderholt reading room. The building was constructed in 1904 on land once again donated by Lord Salisbury, but this time filled with books and magazines donated by Squire Churchill. Constructed from modest corrugated iron it is successfully kept warm with an open fire and is one of the few remaining examples of its type in the country. Today it is a small little café.
Stay on the same road all the way through the more modern part of the village, this time with a pavement to keep you away from the traffic. In 1971 a new main drainage system was installed throughout the village; this led to a rise in development centred on this main thoroughfare and the wasteland to the south. At the corner, where the pavement disappears again, turn left and then right, curving around the bottom of Bonfire Hill.
Walk on for a further 300 metres or so passing a number of brick cottages as well as the odd older thatch. The majority of the brick cottages were built by and for those working in the brickworks, even using the bricks they made themselves in their construction. After passing Red Lion Cottage, veer off the road to the left onto a gravel track.
Follow it up to the old railway, its path to the north now a farm track. Turn left over a stile and into an open field. Walk straight ahead, climbing over another stile and following the boundary on the right. Cross over a little stream at the bottom and up the other side to skim the edge of the 17th century Home Farm to the road.
Turn right onto Sandleheath Road and follow the lane for just under half a mile, passing Alderholt Park and Squire Churchill’s North Lodge on the left. Continue down the hill to arrive at a junction with Alderholt Mill ahead. Bend around to the right to pass the front of the building.
A mill has been recorded here since the 14th century, most probably developed at the same time as the manor and deer park. For many centuries it was known as Padner’s Mill, after a medieval miller, and was commercially productive right up until 1947 when it was left to fall into ruins. The miller’s house was converted in the late 1950’s then, 30 years later in 1987, the mill was fully restored and began to successfully produce flour once again. Many of the outbuildings have since been turned into self-catering cottages and the Millers House is now a B&B.
The mill itself is placed on a small island formed by the River Allen, a small tributary that flows into the River Avon. This particular section of the river is known as Ashford Water and marks the county boundary between Hampshire and Dorset. Not too far to the north is the county boundary of Wiltshire. A village saying used to claim that a man standing in the stream in one county could lay his hands on the other two. Squire Churchill used to tell how he could flush a duck in Dorset, shoot it in Hampshire and pick it up in Wiltshire.
Walk over the little brick bridge into Hampshire and turn sharply left onto a muddy footpath. Cross over a little footbridge to soon cross another, following the river upstream through Ashford Water. Head through a kissing gate and then bear left, just as the river meanders away. Head through the next stile and continue in the same direction to meet the sound of gushing water. The trees on the left hide a large lake and a number of mill races, all part of the management of the river on its arrival to Alderholt Mill.
Walk through the kissing gate into the woods. Turn left at the footpath sign to cross a maze of ponds, back into Dorset. Curve with the path up to Hawk Mill, the old corn mill now a private home, self-catering property and camping site.
Follow the drive under the pylon wires, up the hill and over a cattle grid. The park pale begins to emerge again, rising above the forest floor in the woods to the right and the old oak tree, on the junction with Cheater’s Lane, may well have been a boundary marker. Cheaters Lane is also lined with Oak trees, possibly creating an avenued entrance into the Park whether it be natural or intentional.
Turn right to walk under the pylon wires once again and past the late 18th century Bull Hill Farm. Bend with the road around to the left at Higher Bull Hill Farm and when it curves to the right continue straight ahead.
Follow the track along the edge of a collection of irregular shaped fields, the route bordered by coppiced hazel and old farm machinery. Turn with the path to the left then right and continue straight down to Daggons Road. Walk through the final field to the final stile and join a grassy track back into Daggons. Merge onto the drive to the Vicarage to then meet the road. Turn left to arrive back at St James’ Church and your vehicle.