Tollard Royal, Wiltshire, England
Tollard Royal is a small village on the Cranborne Chase in southernmost Wiltshire on the Wiltshire/Dorset border in southern England. Our independent walking holidays, Wonders of Wessex and Hart of the Cranborne Chase, pass through this pretty village.
The 'Royal' of the name refers to the royal hunting lodge that was used for hunting on the Chase. Opposite the church in Tollard Royal is King John’s House, the site of a royal hunting lodge of King John. The house dates back to the mid 13th century. Augustus Pitt-Rivers, the 'Father of English Archaeology' inherited the house and spent many years restoring it.
One of the King John Inn’s regulars is none other than the film director Guy Ritchie. Guy Richie and his son live on the nearby 1,132 acres (458 ha) Ashcombe House Estate, which he and his estranged wife, Madonna, bought in 2002 for £9 million. The estate includes the six-bedroom Grade II listed Georgian house. The Ashcombe estate is still run as a working farm. The property’s heyday was the period between 1930 and 1945, when it was leased by photographer and designer, Cecil Beaton.
In the course of his decades-long career as a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, photographer to the royal family, and a British war correspondent, Cecil Beaton documented lives with his trademark theatrical panache. His sophisticated approach to the cult of celebrity led to innovative staging techniques: subjects were photographed with their heads under glass domes, or wrapped in silver cloth, posed like statues against pillars and thrones. His lens captured the greatest names in every field with an uncanny sense of composition and insight, from Audrey Hepburn to Mick Jagger. His stage designs were unparalleled for Hollywood productions such as ‘Gigi’ (1958) and ‘My Fair Lady’ (1964), for which he also won Best Costume Design Oscars.
Cecil Beaton rented Ashcombe House from Mr Borley for £50 a year on the condition that Beaton would make improvements to the house, which was in need of renovation. Beaton employed the Austrian architect Michael Rosenauer to make substantial alterations to the house, including a passageway to unite the front and back. The artist Rex Whistler designed the Palladian front door surround, with its pineapple made from Bath stone. The orangery was converted into Beaton's studio.
Beaton entertained lavishly at Ashcombe House, and his guests included many actors and artists such as Tallulah Bankhead, Diana Cooper, Ruth Ford and Lord Berners. Artists Whistler, Salvador Dali, Christian Berard and Augustus John and stage designer Oliver Messel painted murals in the house, and Dali used it as the backdrop of one of his paintings. (Dali had a number of favourite places in France which are now locations for our walking holidays. One such destination is the Catalan coast. On our Pyrenees Coastal path walking holiday you have the chance to visit the Dali museum.) Beaton's lease expired in 1945 and he was heartbroken to be forced to leave the house. His biographer Hugo Vickers stated that Beaton never got over the loss of Ashcombe.
In the Ashcombe Estate, lies an ancient Quaker burial ground, visited for centuries by members of the local meeting. As well as scattering ashes of their deceased during funerals at the historic site, the 60-strong Shaftesbury Preparative Meeting stage a "pilgrimage" and worship gathering there every 10 years. The next one should be in 2020. In 2000 there were around 200 Quakers, many of whom had come from other meetings in the area.
The burial site was established in 1663 when the then-owner of the estate, William Fry, became a Quaker and designated the area because Quakers were being persecuted and had no other safe place to lay their dead to rest; persecutors of the Society demonstrated at Quaker burials and desecrated their graves. A memorial stone, the only one visible, records it being the gift of William Fry in 1870. A mile-long walking path winds its way into the estate from the nearest road to the burial site, which is on the side of a hill.
A walk from Tollard Royal through Ritchie’s Ashcombe estate leads to the highest point in Cranborne Chase, Win Green hill. Win Green forms a prominent landmark at 911 feet above sea level with a distinctive clump of beech trees. The trees are growing on a Bronze Age bowl barrow (a mound of earth and stones covering a grave.) The hill has fine views of rolling down land in all directions. On a clear day you can see the Needles on the Isle of Wight, Salisbury Cathedral to the east, and see four counties - Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset. Our self-guided walking holiday through the chalk hills of Wiltshire and Dorset, which traces a wonderful route from Salisbury to Shaftesbury goes from Ludwell up to the summit of Win Green before descending to Tollard Royal. Your final day then climbs back onto the chalk hills passing through the beautiful village of Ashmore, the highest village in Dorset.
In St Peter's Church in Tollard Royal, is a memorial to Augustus Pitt-Rivers, the 'Father of English Archaeology'. Pitt Rivers' interests in archaeology and ethnology began in the 1850s, during postings overseas, and he became a noted scientist while he was still a serving military officer. He was elected to the Ethnological Society of London (1861), the Society of Antiquaries of London (1864) and the Anthropological Society of London (1865). The estates that Pitt Rivers inherited in 1880 contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods. His most important methodological innovation was his insistence that all artifacts be collected and catalogued. His focus on everyday objects as the key to understanding the past set him aside from previous archaeological practice, which was very often merely treasure hunting. This was undoubtedly Pitt Rivers' most important scientific legacy.
Pitt Rivers created the Larmer Tree Gardens in the 1880’s near Tollard Royal as a public pleasure garden with picnic pavilions, tree-shaded lawns, flowerbeds and a bandstand for the delight and recreation of local people. Once you have explored Tollard Royal, our walking holiday in southern England leads you to Larmer Tree Gardens which you can visit before reaching your lovely guest house near the pretty Dorset village of Farnham.
Other places of interest on the Wonders of Wessex Walking Holiday: Salisbury - Shaftesbury - Old Sarum - Old Wardour Castle - Gold Hill - Larmer Tree Gardens - Wilton House - Ashmore - Cranborne Chase - Wessex - Woodford Valley - Stonehenge
Take a look at our full list of self-guided walking holidays in the UK and France.