Cranborne Chase

Our Independent Walking Holidays Wonders of Wessex and Hart of the Cranborne Chase cross through an area known as the Cranborne Chase

Cranborne Chase spreads over 3 counties, Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy described Cranborne Chase as ‘a truly venerable tract of forest land, one of the few remaining woodlands in England of undoubted primeval date, wherein Druidical mistletoe was still found on aged oaks, and where enormous yew trees, not planted by the hand of man, grew as they had grown when they were pollarded for bows’.

Cranborne Chase is an ancient royal hunting ground and is now classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It is a diverse landscape offering areas of rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, chalk escarpments, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys each with a distinct and recognisable character.

Though time has not stood still in the Chase, it has had a slow evolution because of restrictions imposed; for centuries it was preserved for kings and their noble relatives. William the Conqueror gave it to his queen and their son, William Rufus, gave it to a cousin. An illegitimate son of Henry I acquired it by marriage, as did King John, who is known to have made at least 14 visits in order to hunt in the Chase. James I gave it to Robert Cecil, who served James as his chief minister and was created Viscount Cranborne and then Earl of Salisbury.

Lord Salisbury enlarged the manor house at Cranborne, equipping it to entertain the king when he chose to visit for a hunting trip. In 1609 James I spent time at Cranborne, killing 5 bucks in 2 days’ hunting. Charles I, in legislation reinforced the preservation of deer in one of the Chase walks. Cranborne Chase had privileges and restrictions stemming from the preservation of hunting grounds, from the Norman Conquest to the Civil War.

Ownership of the Chase rights and its lodges was sold after the Restoration and passed through several hands before it came to George Pitt in 1714. Pitt’s grandson was created Baron Rivers. The Pitt-Rivers family were the last lords of the Chase. Without the consent of the lord of the Chase nobody was permitted to interfere with the vegetation on which the deer grazed and in which they found shelter. Also you could be required to pay a toll for any form of transport over the Chase roads if this might be harmful to the deer e.g. in the breeding season. As late as the early 1800’s, a pair of antlers were placed on Harnham Bridge, on the outskirts of Salisbury, to indicate when Lord Rivers was levying money for every wagon and packhorse using the bridge as recompense for disturbing the deer.

Tensions inherent in such a system grew. Many took to poaching deer and the Chase gained a reputation for violence between keepers and parties of illicit hunters. A high price was being paid for the preservation of deer. The need to franchise the Chase became urgent, but negotiations between a committee of local landowners and Lord Rivers took 40 years to reach an agreement which was finally embodied in an Act of Parliament. Lord Rivers received an annual payment in compensation for the annulment of all the rights and privileges associated with the lordship of the Chase. The structure of the Chase reflects the character of a hunting ground; the towns are all just outside the boundaries, Shaftesbury, Blandford, Ringwood, Wimborne and Salisbury.

The real centres of activity over the centuries were the manor houses to which villages were appendages. Initially religious establishments were dominant, such as in Shaftesbury, Wilton, Horton, Breamore, Tarrant Crawford, Wimborne, Gussage St Andrew, Cranborne and Iwerne. When the monastic estates were disolved, the new men of Tudor England emerged, such as the Arundells, Ashleys, Cecils, Groves and the Napiers. And with the growth of the Empire came the new wealth of the Pitts, Beckfords and the Dodingtons.

Their legacies are the buildings erected as their private palaces.

New Wardour Castle: After the death in 1944 of John Francis, 16th and last Lord Arundell of Wardour, the building was rented and became the home of Cranborne Chase School. The school eventually closed in 1990. In 1992 the house along with five cottages, six tennis courts, and a swimming pool in the walled garden, was sold and converted into 10 luxury apartments. The extensions and accommodation added by the school were mostly demolished. It is believed that Jasper Conran, the fashion designer, recently purchased the house. Old Wardour Castle can be visited as part of the Wonders of Wessex Independent Walking Holiday as well as the 2 or 3 centre based version of our Hart of the Cranborne Chase.

Ferne House: The first Ferne House was the manor house of the de Ferne family: Philip de Ferne is recorded as living there in 1225. From the Ferne family, it passed to the Brookway family, and in 1561 to William Grove of Shaftesbury. By 1809 the house had become so dilapidated that it was demolished and a second Ferne House was built by Thomas Grove on a larger scale. In 1902 the house passed out of the ownership of the Grove family and was demolished in 1965. Sometime after 1991 the estate passed into the ownership of the 4th Viscount Rothermere. In 2001 the third and present Ferne House (known as Ferne Park) was built to the design of the architect Quinlan Terry, in Palladian style and at a reported cost of £40m. It is built in Portland and Chilmark stone and is clearly visible from the highest point in Cranborne Chase, Win Green.


Cranborne Chase


self guided walking tour dorset uk hills in cranborne chase


cranborne chase walking holiday dorset UK


Old Wardour Castle


ashmore pond in dorset walking holidays







New Wardour Castle

New Wardour Castle

Ferne Park

Ferne Park