Win Green, Winkelbury Camp and the Rushmore Estate

Updated: Aug 2

When I sat down to write this blog I did so with a sense of gloom as this walk looked like it was going to be another story of blocked rights of way and arbitrary barriers to Open Access land. However, just as I was editing my photographs, I received an email that warmed the cockles of my heart, as it should warm your cockles too! Read on as all will be revealed.

After a lengthy break my good chum and regular walking buddy Stu and I decided a Hidden Wiltshire walk was in order. We planned a route based around Win Green and Tollard Royal right on the border with Dorset. Win Green is a favourite spot of mine with its huge views stretching as far as Poole and Bournemouth to the south and similar distances in every other direction too. It has been beautifully photographed by the famous British landscape photographer Charlie Waite who lives nearby. But you need the right light to make a great photograph and that has always eluded me here. It did so once again last week.

The walk we had planned took us through two Open Access areas. We did this not to be bloody minded but because in the first instance we wanted to visit the hill fort at Winkelbury Camp, and the second because it provided a convenient link from the surrounding heights to Tollard Royal. However, in both cases our plans (or so we thought at the time) were thwarted.

We parked at the parking area at Win Green, high above Shaftesbury and which is clearly marked on the map. Despite being clearly marked, my navigator initially took us instead to another car park along the ridge to the east. No problem we thought. I’ve got a four wheel drive vehicle and we can drive along the Ox Drove byway to the correct car park. The chalk track was steady going for a while albeit it became worryingly narrow. Eventually we came across a delightful lady walking her dogs who was forced to squeeze onto the verge to allow us to pass. I stopped and apologised profusely explaining that we had gone wrong. She looked at my car and said she didn’t think we’d get through the large hole that awaited us round the bend. We soon came to the hole and got out to have a look. In short, with my tyres being more suited to the road than deep gloopy mud, we decided we weren’t going to get through. After a six point turn we managed to turn round and head back the way we’d come, the lovely lady we had met earlier smiling sweetly as we passed her once again.

Win Green Interpretation Board at Car Park

After a much delayed start we finally got walking, back along the Ox Drove (also known as Cranborne Droves Way), through the hole we had encountered on the track, towards the car park Stu had taken us to earlier (I’m going to keep reminding him about this)! The views to the north from Win Green hit you straight away on this walk. But as they say, don’t forget to look behind you. Much of the area to the south is also Open Access land and is a National Trust reserve. At this time of year it is a gorgeous meadow covered in wild flowers, including a large number of common spotted orchids, and over which looms the famous clump on Win Green.

National Trust Reserve, Win Green

On the slopes to the north grazed a small herd of the rare and ancient White Park cows with their calves. I took several photographs but, in my flustered state after our off-road adventure, I forgot to adjust the eyepiece of my camera for my contact lens and didn’t realise I had completely missed focus! I’ve used Photoshop to improve them slightly. It’s still not great but I thought I’d include one of them anyway.

White Park Cow, Win Green

A little further along the ridge, again to the north, can be seen a huge country estate and its manor house. The estate has, in my view, been somewhat unsympathetically landscaped but each to his own. This is Ferne House, the country estate of the Rothermere family, owners of the Daily Mail. Probably best if I say no more about that! The Ferne family built the first house here in 1225. The second house was built in 1811 by Thomas Grove, and in 1914 was bought by Alfred Douglas-Hamilton, 13th Duke of Hamilton who also bought nearby Ashcombe House (more of that later). The Rothermeres bought the estate some time after 1991 and built the current house that can be seen from the hills above.

Ferne House

We continued along Ox Drove where it soon becomes a tarmac road above Monk’s Down. To the north east we could make out the earthworks of Winkelbury Camp on Winkelbury Hill. Here we made a schoolboy error and decided we could cut across the Open Access land to Easton Hollow which carries the road to Berwick St John, where we thought we could cross into the Open Access area that covers Winkelbury Hill. DO NOT DO THIS! There is no way onto the Open Access area from the road but as it was a long trudge back to where we had come from we ended up climbing a fence above a precipitous slope.

Winkelbury Hill from Ox Drove

What you should do is as I have shown on the map – continue along the Ox Drove, past the junction with Easton Hollow and along the line of trees called Bridmore Belt. You will find a bridleway on your left which eventually continues down a steep sided holloway to emerge on the road into Berwick St John at Cross Farm to the east of the village. But long before this, having fought your way for a short stretch along the overgrown bridleway, you will find a footpath finger post and a gate on your left. This is the way onto the Open Access area of Winkelbury Hill.

Footpath to Winkelbury Hill from junction of bridleway to Berwick St John

There are three scheduled monuments on Winkelbury Hill. Winkelbury Camp itself is a substantial univallate hill fort thought to be Iron Age. It covers 7.5 ha measuring up to 382m long by 160m wide. I’ve included an aerial photograph from the Historic England listing which shows the extent, commanding the heights above the Ebble Valley. It was partially excavated by Pitt-Rivers (more of him later) in 1881/2 and a hut circle together with Romano-British artefacts were found. Another listing relates to Winkelbury Hill Round Barrows and a third to Winkelbury Hill Earthworks. In places the earthworks are still quite substantial – up to 2.5m high. This must have been a very impressive and intimidating sight in its day. But from the northern flanks of the hill there is little evidence on the ground, with only minor banks being visible. The more impressive earthworks are to the south and east (top left and bottom in the aerial photo). The earthworks on the southern edge of the camp, the cross ridge dyke, is mentioned in a Saxon charter of 955 AD and called ‘Esna Dic’ meaning ‘serf’s dyke’. It has had various interpretations including Pitt-Rivers who suggested it was an outwork for the hillfort to the north.

Aerial view of Winkelbury Hill (courtesy of Historic England)

Berwick St John from Winkelbury Hill

Ebble Valley from Winkelbury Hill

Win Green from Winkelbury Camp Earthworks

Navigator still searching for the Win Green car park from 'Esna Dic' (He was facing the wrong way!)

Having spent some time on Winkelbury Hill it is necessary to retrace your steps back to Ox Drove. We did not do this but dropped down to the aforementioned hollow way which involved wriggling under a fence before dropping down the steep bank. I wouldn’t recommend this. Once at the Ox Drove (Cranborne Droves Way) the bridleway crosses the Drove then passes through a narrow meadow before reaching a road with far reaching views south down Rotherley Bottom. This was the scene of a depressing encounter for us which eventually turned out well!

Rotherley Bottom is a steep sided combe which provides a convenient route down towards Tollard Royal. The map shows it as being Open Access. On exiting the narrow meadow onto the road (as one of those strange looking Osprey aircraft/helicopters passed low over our heads looking for all the world like a drone) the only way we could see into the bottom was a gate off the road a hundred metres or so to our right (west). We made for the gate only to find it locked with a Rushmore Estate sign saying ‘No Public Access’. We checked our maps and decided we would continue on our planned route which involved climbing the gate. It’s a metal gate and easy to climb. However the head of the combe/bottom is very steep and you need strong knees to descend it. Eventually we reached level ground and headed down the combe as it meandered gently south in the direction of Tollard Royal. It was a lovely peaceful spot which made us even more angry about the access problems. At the bottom end we were faced by an old high gate but there was a pedestrian gate next to it through which we passed. On the other side was another sign saying ‘Private No Entry’.

Special Forces Osprey over Rotherley Bottom

Gate at top of Rotherley Bottom

Rotherley Bottom

Gate at bottom of Rotherley Bottom

After our experience in Rotherley Bottom I wrote a very polite email to Rushmore Estate enquiring about access to the combe and pointing out that the map shows that the land is Open Access. The first working day after sending my email I received a very courteous reply stating that they had checked and that I was correct – the signs should not be there. They undertook to remove them. This was such a heartening response and I think Rushmore Estate should be congratulated. I’m sure they won’t mind that I have included their email in this blog. I’m not sure they will make access any easier but at least they will remove the intimidating signs. If you don’t want to risk climbing the gate at the top of the combe there is a parallel footpath to the west. And to the east you can walk along a road which connects with a footpath by Cuttice Lodge leading along Cuttice Bottom. But both alternatives necessitate stretches walking along the road. All three routes eventually converge near Munday’s Pond.

Rushmore Estate email re Rotherley Bottom (the spelling mistake was mine)

We stopped for lunch by the little pond in the centre of Tollard Royal. There are benches all around it. If you have time I can recommend from previous experience the King John Inn a little further up the hill in the village. But we crossed the road to take a look at the church and King John’s House.

The unusually titled Church of St Peter Ad Vincula dates to at least the 13th century. It’s a pretty church from the outside but it’s true glory lies within where there are colourful inscriptions on the plaster walls and the recumbent effigy of the 14th century knight, Sir William Payne. There are many memorials to the Pitt Rivers family who long owned the Rushmore Estate. Lt General Pitt-Rivers inherited the estate in 1880 and was responsible for much of its current shaping. He was also a pioneer of modern-day archaeology. The Gronow Davis family is also commemorated throughout the church and graveyard, having acquired the estate in 1999.

Church of St Peter Ad Vincula, Tollard Royal

Interior of Church of St Peter Ad Vincula