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Ashmore pond

Cranborne Chase ( ) is a Chalk plateau in central southern Englandmarker, straddling the counties Dorsetmarker, Hampshire and Wiltshiremarker. The plateau is part of the English Chalk Formation and is adjacent to Salisbury Plainmarker and the West Wiltshire Downs in the north, the Dorset Downsmarker to the south west and the South Downsmarker running south east. The scarp slope of the hills is to west, such as at Shaftesburymarker, and to some extent along the edge of the Vale of Wardour to the north. The chalk gently slopes south and dips under the clays and gravels.

An area of 379 square miles(981 square kilometres)of the Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downsmarker has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the sixth largest AONB in the country. The highest point is Win Green, in Wiltshire, at 910 ft (277 m).

History and archaeology

Badbury Rings

The downland has a long history with many earthworks and archaeology from the Neolithic age onwards. The dense woodland originally covering the downs would have gradually been cleared by the first farmers, but would have grown back repeatedly over the centuries as soils became exhausted and the agricultural carrying capacity of the land was exceeded several times over the course of six millennia. Much of the area therefore remained wooded from the Middle Ages until World War II.

There are many Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments and the remains of a number of Iron Age settlements on the downs, most notably the hill fort at Badbury Ringsmarker (Vindocladia). There is a Roman villa which has been dug by Time Team [93295]. During the Saxon invasion of England the Romano-British kept the invaders out of Dorset by building Bokerley Dykemarker, a defensive ditch, across the Roman Road that runs across the downs from Dorchestermarker to Old Sarummarker.

The downs have been sparsely populated since Saxon times, largely preserving archaeology until World War II when the need for agricultural land outweighed the archaeological importance. It was here that Augustus Pitt Rivers developed modern archaeological field work in the 19th century.

The downs are named after the village Cranbornemarker, founded by the Saxons, which had a manor house and a small monastery. The word "chase" comes from the hunts, frequented by royalty (including Kings John, Henry VIII and James I), which took place on the downs. The Chase was owned by the Earl of Gloucester until it passed to King John by his marriage to Gloucester's daughter, Avisa. The land remained in the hands of the Angevin and Tudor monarchs until James I granted the rights to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

Much of the Chase is still owned by large estates such as Kingston Lacymarker.


An area of 1115 acres (451.4 hectares) of Cranborne Chase has been notified as a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, notification initially taking place in 1975.

See also

  • Bowerchalkemarker - Geological profile of a Lower Greensand inlier on chalklands of Cranborne Chase

External links


  • Pitt-Rivers, Michael, 1968. Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.

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