The twin villages of Teffont Magna and Teffont Evias are tucked away in the south western corner of the county in the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These unique villages with the river flowing through their centres have been recognised as settlements since Saxon times. There is also plenty of evidence of even earlier inhabitants. These include the Iron Age Hillfort known as Wicks Ball Camp, which sits high on a hill to the east, and to the west there is evidence of a Roman building or shrine. A number of Roman stone tombs have also been found in the area. The name 'Teffont' confirms their antiquity with 'Tef' being a Frisian word for border and font a Romano Brythonic word for spring or stream, so the villages have sat on the border stream for ages, although what border this alludes to I am not certain. But there is no mistaking the stream as it snakes down the side of the road and on through the villages. Many of the cottages have to bridge this stream to allow access, which all adds to the charm of the place.
We combined our visit to the Teffonts with one to the National Trust property of Philipps House and Dinton Park. Parking at the NT car park we set off on a walk of around 4.5 miles, which led us across the estate up to Wick Ball Camp then along to Teffont Magna and down to Teffont Evias before heading along quiet roads south of the villages. We then crossed the railway line (twice) before heading back through fields and meadows to the NT estate.
Although Philipps House is not open to the public, the park is a lovely area to spend time in. At the top of the north west corner, Wick Ball Camp lies hidden in trees and at the time of our visit was also carpeted in bluebells.
Standing just below the hillfort and looking across the park to the far reaching distant view we could make out Salisbury Cathedral’s Spire and even further away hill lines. The view reminded me, in a small way, of the images of layers of smoky grey mountains you see in paintings of the Far East.
A pretty gorse lined path takes you from Dinton Park to the Teffonts. This path offers lovely countryside views and takes you along and through small wooded glades. Even in very dry weather it can be a little muddy in places, possibly a hint of the springs further up the hill that give rise to the Teffonts’ river. Locally this is known as the old coffin path because, as there was not a cemetery at Teffont Magna, the inhabitants of the village had to be buried in nearby Dinton. This path would be their final journey.
Walking into Teffont Magna you immediately notice the thatched cottages and the small Saxon church, and you could be forgiven for thinking that somewhere you have managed to step back in time by a few centuries. The church, rebuilt in the 13th century, remains very much untouched from that time and has a number of hidden gems. These include fragments of a Saxon cross in the wall, the original old bell, a glass encased fragment of stone with an engraved consecration mark and the graffiti on the porch where there are, unusually for an inland church, two depictions of medieval ships. The simple beauty of this little church shines through and was a joy to visit a church that had, for once, not been “enhanced” by later generations.
Walking through Teflont Magna the theme of old stone cottages, thatched roofs and stone mullion windows continues but with some more modern twists such as the painted pebbledash of Bathurst Cottage with its pretty fanlight windows and the Chilmark stone bench carved by a local resident in 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Lying on a quiet road Teffont Evias is both tranquil and visually stunning. It is probably quieter now than in the Norman period when it would have been a hive of activity during the time the seam of Purbeck rock to the west of the village was being quarried for the building of Salisbury Cathedral. This area has also yielded a number of artefacts of archeological interest such as Roman coffins and fossils of fish and insects.
At the southern end of the village stand the church and manor; the view towards them offers an ageless idyllic rural scene. The church is well worth a visit with its spire, pretty stained glass and impressive knight's tombs. The manor is curious because of its strange tower. This tower is reminiscent of the ones in Tuscany but I suspect it was built for show more than fending off neighbouring rivals. In Victorian times John Mayne, the owner of the manor, directed the restoration of the church and maybe a little of the manor’s flamboyance shines through in the ornate features of the building.
Walking back on the road south of the villages we passed a lake and then took the farm road to the right which leads to a level crossing. This road offered views back towards the Teffonts and across the undulating countryside towards Sutton Manderville and the Vale of Wardour. On crossing the railway line we headed towards the river Nadder passing, on the way, an interesting group of farm buildings with a number of different roofing architectures. Taking the stile to the left of these buildings we traced our route back under the railway line and on to Dinton Park.
For natural history; all along the walk we encountered swathes of bluebells and wild garlic but there were also other wild flowers such as wood sorrel, primroses, cowslips, red campion and stichwort. Sadly, we did not notice any water voles or other rare wildlife but enjoyed talking to the curious cattle in Teffont Magna and watching the male swan glide towards us on the previously mentioned lake.
Finally, a cautionary tale for those who are tracing their ancestry; do not believe all those cast in iron family trees that appear on genealogy websites as it seems even in the 1800s folks were still prepared to massage the truth of their lineage in order to have their ancestry align to the noble families of the past. It has recently been uncovered that John Thomas Mayne of Teffont Evias manor, not satisfied with his descendancy, may have done just that and may have done this with the help of a well known reference source of the peerage!
The villages are really pretty and well worth visiting as I am sure there is more history and curiosity to uncover than I mention here.
To find out more see the links below
Soldiers, Saints and Scallywags: stirring tales from family history by David Gore.