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Roads and Residents at Badbury Rings

An easy, longish walk on the edge of the Kingston Lacey Estate.

Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 459ft (140m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Farm tracks, roads, grassy lanes and fields, 15 stiles

Landscape Gently rolling farmland leading down to water-meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase

Start/finish ST 959031

Dog friendliness Not allowed on Badbury Rings site; some roadwalking

Parking Car park (donation) at Badbury Rings, signposted off B3082 from Wimborne to Blandford

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk up the hill to explore Badbury Rings, then head down the track by which you drove in. Cross the B3082 and go straight down the road towards Shapwick - its straightness gives away its Roman origins. Pass Crab Farm, with Charborough Tower on the distant horizon.

2 At the junction with Park Lane turn right, then right again by Elm Tree Cottage to go up Swan Lane, a grassy track. Turn left over a stile before the gate. Go straight over the field, cross a stile, and along the edge of the next field. Cross the stile into the yard of Bishops Court Dairy and turn right past the first barn. At the gates bear left over a stile, then right across the field, heading for a stile half-way along the hedge. Cross this and bear right to the top corner of the field.

3 Cross a stile and turn left down the broad bridleway. After about ½ mile (800m) pass a line of trees. Turn right, up a track between high hedges (following the blue public bridleway marker). Continue walking downhill, with glimpses of Tarrant Crawford church blending into trees on your left. Follow the track round to the left, by the side of a stream.

4 Go through a gate and reach the church on your left. Continue towards the barns of Tarrant Abbey Farm. Now go left through a gate and continue diagonally across the field to a track between fences. Follow this uphill, passing above the farmhouse. At the top of the track cross a stile and go straight over the next field. Cross the road and walk down the edge of the field. Cross another road into a green lane. Bear left across a stile and then diagonally across a field. Go through a gate on to the road and turn right.

5 Walk on to the old Crawford Bridge, just to admire it. Retrace your steps and turn right at the footpath sign. Cross a stile and walk straight across the meadows for a mile (1.6km). When you reach a fence on the left, walk around it to a gate. Go through and follow the track round to the right. Cross a stile behind the farm and walk along the road into the village.

6 Pass the Anchor pub and turn left, passing Piccadilly Lane on your right-hand side. Go straight up the road, now retracing your route back to the car park at Badbury Rings.

The most obvious and lasting legacy of the Roman invasion of Britain in ad 43 is the network of straight military roads that they constructed, like a spider's web, across the country. Before they came, many of the routes may have already existed as tracks, but it took the Roman desire for effective communication and control across their empire to make these permanent - there are many stretches still in use today. A few roads would have actually been paved, but usually fine gravel was layered over coarser chippings for effective drainage (a forerunner of modern tarmac).

Four of the most important Roman routes across Dorset met at the hub of Badbury Rings. The most famous and visible of these is Ackling Dyke, the major road which linked London (Londinium) with Old Sarum (Sorviodunum), Dorchester (Durnovaria, the civitas or Roman capital of the Dorset area) and Exeter (Iscarduniorum).

Badbury Rings was a massive fort, occupying a spectacular vantage point. Bronze-Age burial barrows in the area confirm a settlement here around 2000 bc, and the rings and ditches of the fort date from the 6th century bc. At that time Dorset was inhabited by the Durotriges tribe, who were prosperous Iron-Age traders, farmers and potters.

The indications are that the Second Augusta Legion, under the command of Vespasian (who would later become Emperor) had built an advance base at Lake Farm, beside the River Stour at Wimborne. They realised the strategic importance of Badbury and, at some time in the early years of the invasion, the Legionaries attacked and took control of the hill top. The fort was systematically dismantled, the unlucky inhabitants killed, sold into slavery or otherwise dispersed.

The Romans went on to build their own fortified citadel called Vindocladia, near by at Shapwick. When the Romans finally withdrew from Britain in the 5th century, this site was absorbed back into the Dorset landscape, like so many other Roman structures.

Badbury Rings did not disappear from history however. Many believe that it was the site of Mount Badon, or Mons Badonicus, where King Arthur fought and won a legendary battle against the Saxons around ad 516. In 1645 the fort served as a meeting place for the Dorset Clubmen, a ragged, badly armed force opposing both parties in the Civil War. Over 4,000 gathered to hear speeches by local notables. The meeting alerted Cromwell to their threat and they were subsequently routed by his New Model Army.

Where to eat and drink

The red brick Anchor free house in the centre of Shapwick village goes out of its way to welcome families (and dogs are welcome at the bar end). Aside from staples such as home-made steak and mushroom pie, for something more exotic, try the kangaroo braised in port. There's also a good vegetarian choice.

What to look for

Don't miss the little grey Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin in Tarrant Crawford. Once a nunnery, its simple interior has dark box pews, panelling around the altar and a Jacobean pulpit. Some details of its 14th-century wall-painting of the legend of St Margaret of Antioch are still discernible. A brass cross in the floor commemorates where rector Francis Alfred Smith dropped dead after giving evensong in July 1877, at the tender age of 35.

While you're there

In an idyllic setting beside the River Stour at Sturminster Marshall is White Mill, a beautifully restored corn mill. Just to the west of Wimborne you'll find Kingston Lacy, a delightful mansion set in vast parkland. Built in 1663 for the Bankes family after the destruction of their previous home in Corfe Castle, today the house has a particularly fine collection of paintings. Both the mill and the house are preserved by the National Trust.

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