Heritage Walk Parley Common - Barrows - Dudsbury Camp - Church Lane (approx 5 miles)
for printable maps and text please click here.
Start: West end of car park north side of Christchurch Road by Parley Country Club.
1. Track to Woodland Walk - This track was known to have had a number of uses, having been an ox drove track, a path from the clay pits on Poor Common to brick kilns on East Parley Common and as a turf cutters track joining West Parley to Dudsbury Common.
2. Parley Wood -
17 acres of ancient natural woodland, shown first on C17 maps as one of the few areas of woodland in West Parley, which was mainly small scale agriculture and heathland. It was well used by local residents. Hazel in the wood was coppiced for hurdles and fencing and the oak trees were felled regularly, but not since WW2.
The wood is regularly flooded as it is low lying and drainage to the west across to the Moors River is poor.
3. Parley Common -
This large area of restored heathland is part of a once extensive area of heath across south and east Dorset. Cattle used to be grazed here and heather turves were dug for fuel and bracken cut for animal bedding as part of local subsistence farming. The open common was split into individual ownership in 1633 and medieval ditch and bank boundaries that can still be found around and within the Common.
A large number of trees have been cut in the last 10 years to restore the heathland habitat for protected species, such as lizards, snakes and newts. Summer cattle grazing has been reintroduced here as part of the heath management scheme.
Old maps show smugglers tracks across the common heading towards Ringwood.
4. Ralphs Barrow -
On the bend in Lone Pine Drive is a Bronze Age (2350BC - 701BC) bowl barrow, one of 3 in the village. The barrow is a burial site for a tribal chief and is accompanied by burial goods to help with the journey to the afterlife. The bowl is 7ft high with a 90ft diameter. These barrows used to offer extensive views from higher ground across the Stour valley and beyond. Their importance and significance is being increasingly understood as are the rituals associated with burial.
5. Mags Barrow -
This is in the front garden of number 52 Mags Barrow and can be seen from the front gate. The barrow is from the Bronze Age and is another bowl barrow, some 84ft in diameter and 6ft high. It was circled by a ditch but now infillled. It was excavated in 1924 and a number of grave goods were found. This barrow is on one of the highest parts of West Parley. Have a look at the 1900 map to see how open the area around the barrow would have been when it was first created.
6. Parley Barrow -
Take a short detour to the right when coming out of the end of Dudsbury Road to find another Bronze Age barrow, on the corner of Druids Close. This one is 104 ft across and over 9ft high. Another, smaller, bowl barrow was close to Parley Barrow, to the SE, but has been destroyed by housing development.
The large oak trees on the lhs of Dudsbury Road show the ancient field boundary here. These boundary tree are found in many places across West Parley as housing development infilled existing fields and pastures but the boundaries remained. These can be traced back to the medieval period as many of them have distinctive kinks in them that are a feature of medieval ploughing. These are mainly found in fields close to the Stour.
It is very likely that some field boundaries in the village are prehistoric.
7. Dudsbury settlement -
At the end of Dudsbury Road you are entering a part of the current village of West Parley that was the separate hamlet of Dudsbury, mentioned in the Domesday Book. There were a number of cob walled farms and cottages on the main Christchurch Road that have been replaced with more modern buildings.
8. Horns Inn -
This building was built in C17 and has been an inn since that time. Inns were often just rooms in private houses with beer brewed locally. Being on the main road between Wimborne and Christchurch it was well used by travellers and it is easy to visualise this location at the top of the hill being a welcome stopping point.
9. Dudsbury Barrow -
There was a large barrow over the road on the corner of Linden Road and Christchurch Road. It was excavated in 1935 and was found to be in 2 phases. The initial mound, about 35ft in diameter was composed mostly of turves that covered an oval grave of sand which once held a crouched inhumation. The mound was later enlarged and a substantial ditch was cut around it and a secondary cremation under an inverted collared or ridged food - vessel urn was placed in it. After excavation the barrow was removed.
Despite its removal there will be evidence of the barrow on this site as the infilled ditch will be of a different material than the surrounding natural ground.
This site would have one of the best hilltop sites in the area.
10. Dudsbury Camp -
As you enter the track off Christchurch Road, have a look firstly to the right and imagine a clear view across the Stour Valley to Bournemouth and Poole. This is roughly the extensive view from Dudsbury Barrow that prehistoric settlers would require when placing a barrow.
Further along the track on the lhs you can see the 2 rings of the hill fort. This Iron Age (700BC-43AD) fort could have been built on existing defence works on the highest ground on the edge of the River Stour. Double rampart defences enclose a centre of about 8 acres. The openings on the south west and west sides are probably original. The steep side to the south is due to the Stour eroding the cliff since originally built.
In its original form the fort would have been an impressive structure with the ramparts topped with wooden posts and the ditches considerably deeper than they are now.
The Camp is a Scheduled Monument of national importance. There was limited excavation of the site in the 1920s to define the extent of the original banks and ditches and Iron Age finds were made. Small items of Roman pottery have been found 300yds to the east.
The west side of the site is owned by the Girl Guides who have held camps here since 1931. The east side is owned by Castle Rings, the large house to the north of the footpath.
Much of the area has become overgrown and some clearance of small trees and shrubs will open up the extensive views to the south.
11. The Dudsbury -
Now a popular public house, it was built in 1928 as a gentleman's residence on one of the highest parts of the village with superb views from the east side across to the Isle of Wight. Romano-British pottery (made in the New Forest) was found when the footings were dug for the building.
When walking across the fields downhill note that much of this area to the left and right is planned for a large housing development that will transform this most enjoyable area of the village.
There has been some settlement here through the ages, especially as this is next to the Iron Age Hill fort. Its construction would have required a workforce of thousands, settled here over many years or decades. The land here is dry yet there are fresh water springs locally in Ridgeway at the bottom of the hill.
12. Ridgeway -
Before turning into Ridgeway look round and up Christchurch Road. Up the hill on the left before the Horns Inn were a number of cob farm buildings being part of the now-demolished Dudsbury Farm. On the opposite corner were 2 cob cottages for shepherds.
Ridgeway is an ancient track leading to the River Stour, once known as Dudsbury Lane and is very likely to have been used by smugglers after crossing the Stour. Notice the age of the oak trees on the way down to the river. These are probably at least 300 years old.
13. Field on New Road -
This large area of open land was occupied by Stewarts nursery for many years. Nursery stock was grown to supply local and national markets. The 250 year old Scottish firm started up in Dorset in 1856 with a nursery in Ferndown and further nurseries in Parley, West Moors, Uddens and Longham soon followed.
14. Brambles House -
This is the former farmhouse of Brambles Farm and is of red brick patterned with blue header bricks. It was built in the early C18 but Tudor origins have been found in the building. Note the cob walls on the front to both right and left of the building and the letters JMB on the south end wall. These are believed to stand for James and Margaret Brambles, once owners of the building.
The window above the entrance has been blocked. The building is Grade 2 listed.
There are medieval field boundaries in local fields. This is one of many ancient farms in this area on drier land away from the Stour flood plain.
All the houses in this area were part of the original hamlet of West Parley.
15. Mead Cottage (former West Parley Hall) -
This charming house was once 2 farm cottages, built around the late 1700s / early 1800s. There is a Victorian extension on the side. Old pottery and glass debris has been found in the side paddock.
On old maps the cottage is called West Parley Hall and may have been known as West Parley Manor but this is confusing as the design both in and out does not indicate any open space and the construction is basic. Some residents say a Hall was used as a cinema here, but this may have been the rear of the old Rectory close by that may have had a small room to the rear.
16. Church Farm -
This is one of the main buildings within the Conservation area which is defined by the mellow orange / red brick used as walling for the Old Rectory, Appletree Cottage, All Saints Church and Church Farm. Little has changed here for hundreds of years. The farmhouse and barn were built in late C18th and comprise a 5 bay 2 story building plus an attic and cellar.
17. All Saints Church. -
This is the best known historical building in the village and though the nave has mid C12th origins, it is thought to have replaced a Saxon church, which may well have replaced an even earlier church. The porch is 15/16th century, the steeple was built about 1792.The door hinges are C12. Much of the church was rebuilt in 1896 but many of the original window frames reused. The building is listed. Look at the sundial on the approach path to Church. It was part of the post from the gibbet that used to be on East Parley Common. This was the last gibbet in use in the south of England. Also look at the recess in the east wall. It contains a C14 earthenware vase found in the graveyard in 1895.
The lane to the right of the church continues along the edge of the Stour to a former ferry crossing at Riddles Ford that took locals into Bournemouth via Redhill.
18. Old Rectory -
This is of classic Regency design. Part of it was used as a church hall and meeting room until the building was sold by the Church in 1947. It is a Grade 2 listed building.
19. Crossing point / boat house -
Have a look at the lane by the side of Appletree Cottage leading to the River Stour. Old maps show a boat house and dock at the end of the lane. With no bridge to Bournemouth over the Stour from West Parley till 1910, residents could only cross the Stour at a couple of places. The crossing here was by boat and possibly by chair on a rope. When the river was low, horses and carts could cross with care at other places.
20. Wood Town Farm -
After walking back up Church Lane, turn right on to the footpath to Wood Town farm. A local map of 1860 says "Traces of Folk Moot site" just on front of the farmhouse. A folk moot is a general meeting place for parish residents in medieval times to discuss and resolve local issues and disputes.
The farmhouse has cob walls on footings of brick and heathstone. The original building is early C17th. Early in the C19 the main room was divided and a further room was added to the south end. Just to the north of the farm Iron Age finds were made in 1929 when clearing out a duck pond and C4 Romano-British occupational debris has been found to south east.
21. Barnes Farm -
On the corner of Barrack Road was a smallholding called Barnes Farm. This now the Golden Acres nursery and the coffee shop in the nursery was an old barn. In the coffee shop are a number of maps and old photos of West Parley that are worth a look at.
22. Houses in Christchurch Road. -
Have a look at numbers 366, 358 and 356 that are from the mid C18. 356 has old wall ties to keep it straight, one of the few houses in the village needing this support. Part of the wall is cob. Old maps of this area south of Christchurch Road show a number of other old houses but they are no longer here. They were probably cob farm cottages.
23. Curlew Inn -
This was originally the farmhouse for Stocks Farm that was actually built as a hunting lodge out of local brick in the Georgian era. The front is listed. The village stocks were reputed to have been located outside the farmhouse. The junction here with Church Lane is the original West Parley crossroads, until New Road and Ensbury Bridge were built.
24. West Parley Memorial Hall -
This Hall contains the village WW1 and WW2 memorials. It was built in 1964 to replace a temporary hall that had been opened in 1948. It is well used for many social and recreational events.
Return to the Car Park. Hopefully you enjoyed this walk!