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Tarrant Gunville and Pimperne Long Barrow

A stroll across open farmland in search of an ancient tomb.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 360ft (110m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Quiet country lanes, farm and woodland tracks, no stiles

Landscape Rolling farmland with clumps of deciduous woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 118 Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase

Start/finish ST 925128

Dog friendliness Some roadwalking

Parking Up broad lane beside village hall in Tarrant Gunville

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn left on the main street, passing the phone box on your right. Turn right by the old forge, signposted 'Everley Hill', and go up the road. Where it swings right, keep straight ahead up the lane. Pass the gates of the Manor House, on the left. At a junction keep straight ahead on the farm track.

2 Pass an old farmhouse on the right, with a pocket-sized labourer's cottage in the yard. At the fingerpost bear right on the track, passing a fine, old hedge on the right. The route climbs gently uphill, passing the end of Pimperne Wood on the left.

3 At a junction of tracks at the top turn second-left on to the muddy bridleway along the edge of the wood. At the end of the wood stay on the grass track. Where a farm road bends right follow the blue markers straight ahead up the edge of the fields. As you go over the crest of the hill, the bristling radio mast of Blandford army camp is prominent in the view ahead of you. Beyond rolling Pimperne Down to the right you can see where Hambledon Hill falls away sharply to the north. Continue to where the track meets a metalled farm road.

4 Turn left on to the grassy track, passing the shell of a barn and a water tower. Go through the gate to Pimperne Long Barrow. Walk around the southern end and up the other side, heading diagonally right over the field. Cross a broken-down fence and aim for the grassy track (signified by the blue marker of a public bridleway). Follow this through a field, with woods on your left-hand side.

5 Just over the brow of the hill, where the track veers to the right, bear left down the edge of the field, passing into the woods at the bottom and continuing up the opposite slope. At the top of the hill, by a metal gate, go straight ahead down the green path, which becomes a lane - you'll pass dwellings on the right and skirt the edge of Gunville Park. At a junction of lanes turn right and retrace your steps towards the village of Tarrant Gunville.

6 Bear right before the bottom of the hill through two gates into the churchyard. Leave the church and go down the path and some steps, turning left at the bottom. Turn right at the end, to retrace your steps back into the village.

The chalk downs of Dorset are littered with burial mounds of our ancestors. The long barrow on the hill above Pimperne is one of several in the immediate area and marks the site of a neolithic settlement dating from around 3000 bc. A contemporary earthwork is shown on the map, but it has been ploughed into the ground. Down the slope towards the road is a later round barrow, or tumulus. A similar settlement site and earthwork is marked above the Ninety Nine Plantation on a neighbouring slope to the north east; there are more tumuli here, also disappearing under the plough, and a less impressively preserved long barrow. The settlers in this part of England are believed to have come over from the Continent. They were farmers, introducing cattle and sheep to Britain from south eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Pimperne's long barrow is one of the best in Dorset. It appears as a 330ft long (101m), scrub-covered mound at the edge of a field. Long barrows like this were communal graves, usually for men with the status of chiefs and for their families. The barrows consisted of mounded earth and stone. There were commonly six to eight bodies inside, sometimes buried with vessels of food and possibly interred over a long period of time.

Often, as with the example of the Grey Mare and her Colts, the long barrows would be divided into small chambers by large, flat slabs of stone. With the surrounding fields full of tiny flints, it is easy to see that such luxuries were not available here, and so timber was probably used instead. However, the flinty ground was important to the neolithic settlers for other reasons. A legacy of finely-worked spear heads, arrow heads and polished stone axes shows the value of this hard stone in their daily lives, both for immediate use and for trading. (There's a good collection in the museum in Dorchester.)

Burial mounds of different sorts are found all over Dorset. The round barrows are probably the most common. They date from around 2000 bc and were usually single graves. Other later forms include the bell barrow, where the mound was surrounded by a ditch, and the bowl barrow, where the body was buried in a crouching position. So-called disc barrows, clearly visible in aerial photographs of nearby Oakley Down, consist of one or two small mounds on a larger circle of flat ground, surrounded by a ditch and bank. Finds of beads and needles amid the cremated remains suggest these may have been the burial place of high-born women. The construction of barrows continued under the Roman occupation, only ceasing around ad 750.

Where to eat and drink

Beside the church, in the impossibly pretty village of Tarrant Monkton, is the red brick Langton Arms. Dogs and children are welcome in the public bar and there's also a family room. Good food is served to a steady stream of customers all day on Saturdays and Sundays and at more restricted hours during the week.

What to look for

A simple marble plaque at St Mary's Church in Tarrant Gunville commemorates Thomas Wedgwood, third son of Josiah the Staffordshire potter. He died at Eastbury in 1805, aged 34. Thomas's early experiments in photography brought him a small claim to fame - he worked out how to create images, but unfortunately not how to fix them. His elder brother, another Josiah, occupied nearby Gunville Manor.

While you're there

Larmer Tree Gardens at Tollard Royal were planted with an educational purpose by the famous 19th-century archaeologist Augustus Pitt-Rivers. The larmer tree was an old wych elm, a meeting point for King John and his huntsmen, that blew down in 1894. There's a water garden complete with Roman temple and buildings imported from Nepal. Jazz and brass bands occasionally play in the open-air theatre. The gardens are open throughout the summer, but not on Saturdays.

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