The view from Boveridge Farm was all you’d want on a beautiful summer’s day – the gentle swell of the Dorset Downs, the snaky blue line of a fence or chalky track cutting across the hill, trees throwing ink-black shadows along the hedges. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
I stood admiring the prospect, then shifted my stance – a couple of steps to the side for a new perspective. Now I could see a blood-red slash of earth across the tree-crowned hill, and the shadows had assumed the look of sharp-tipped tentacles, reaching out into the fields with a whisper of menace. Two paintings in an exhibition, both of the same subject, separated by fifty years and a generation – The View from Boveridge Farm, 1992, by Tim Nicholson, and Boveridge, painted by the artist’s mother E,Q. Nicholson in 1943, at the height of the Second World War.
Artists have been visiting and settling around Cranborne Chase for a century or more. Elisabeth Frink, Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud, Henry Lamb and various members of the arty Nicholson family are among those who found room to breathe and mighty inspiration in this great expanse of forest and downland at the meeting place of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset. Salisbury and South Wiltshire’s summer exhibition of the work of Cranborne Chase artists past and present, ‘Circles and Tangents’, set me off exploring the landscape around Cranborne, across the border in Dorset, that inspired the Nicholsons.
Cranborne was an English idyll on a hot afternoon, with sun on the brick walls and children running home soaking wet from paddling in the River Crane. The cornfields began on the edge of the village, from where I looked back through a hedge gap over Cranborne’s roofs, some red-tiled, some thatched, in their wooded bowl of ground. Up at Boveridge Farm tractors roared in dusty fields. I caught immediately what Nicholson mother and son had represented so magically – the essence of downland, a working landscape of dull gold barley, crop and stubble, beautiful but far from twee or cosy.
A green lane packed with butterbur and the drooping purple bells of comfrey led me through Stone Hill Wood and on by Boulsbury Farm, a self-contained huddle of farmhouse and barns where mallow flowers grew through an old hay turner. In Stony Lane I got a wave from a girl in a red singlet at the helm of a giant new tractor. All the farming world was out and double-busy in this harvest weather; but at Alderholt Bridge all was cool and still, with the millstream gurgling under the nearby mill.
Here EQ Nicholson lived during the war, entertaining the likes of Lucian Freud and John Craxton, and painting all she could see. Her picture The Stream at the Mill House showed willow branches reaching like fingers across the blue mill stream; Craxton’s Alderholt Mill stood old and strong against a stormy sky, the wall of the mill race sinuating below. If I’d been a painter I’d have wanted to capture the scene here, too – red brick against blue sky, bottle-green water bubbling, and a proper sense of place.
Start: Inn at Cranborne, near Wimborne, Dorset BH21 5PP (OS ref SU056133)
Getting there: Bus 97 (Dorset Community Transport), Fordingbridge – Alderholt – Cranborne (0871-200-2233).
Road – A338 to Fordingbridge, B3078 to Cranborne.
Walk: (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL22 and 118; detailed instructions – essential! – more walks, online map: christophersomerville.co.uk):
From Inn at Cranborne, right along Wimborne Street. Follow ‘Damerham’. After 2 bends turn right down Penny’s Lane (057134) past recreation ground. In ¼ mile pass concrete trough and turn left (060133) up field edge and on for 350m to road (061136). Right for 40m; left through gates and keep straight ahead along track through Burwood for ⅔ mile to road (062145). Left; in 100m, right up path (fingerpost/FP, yellow arrows/YA). In 100m, cross stile (062147); left over gate; right up fenced path. At top, bear right to road (062150); right. Between barns, just before tree surrounded by staddle stones, left (064150) past Boveridge Farm. On (YA) along green lane.
At gate into Stone Hill Wood, bear right (066156, YA) along wood edge. At top of rise, bear left (069155) and follow deeply rutted track. In 200m it becomes hard-surfaced track. In another 200m (072156) keep ahead (not right) at fork, soon descending. At T-junction at wood edge (074156), ahead through hedge. Left for 100m; right across field, up to stile in far hedge (077159, FP). Forward along track to pass Boulsbury Farm. Just past farmhouse, right at fork (079163). At Boulsbury Cottages (082162) fork left along tarmac lane. In ¼ mile, round right bend; in another ¼ mile road bends sharp left; keep ahead here (089161; bridleway FP; cycle trail blue arrow/BA) in tunnel of trees. Cross road at Four Corners (093159, BA); on along Stony Lane under power lines for ½ mile.
Arriving at Ashley Park Farm complex and stables (097153), left past Manor Farm House; on along lane for 600m. At T-junction (103154), right for 20m; left along hedge (FP) on path in tunnel of trees. At road (106155), right, and follow tarmac lane to Hill Farm. Pass farm nameboard; in 100m, right over stile (108155; FP, YA) and follow stiles and YAs. After 3rd field cross footbridge (109152); on along lower edge of next field with hedge on right. At post with YAs (110151), forward with hedge on right and stream beyond. At the end of this long field, ahead through hedge. Cross jungly bit to reach T-junction of paths (114148). Right (YA) and keep ahead between hedge and fence for 300m. At kissing gate (116146) fork right across field. Through chain-link stile, then the following kissing gate (118145)). Keep ahead (YA) through trees to road at Alderholt Bridge (120143). Right past Alderholt Mill. Continue along road (take great care!) for 300m. Pass Little Thatch on right, and take next right along farm drive (118140; ‘No Through Road’). Pass cottages at Alderholt Park (113133); on through High Wood for ½ mile to reach B3078 (112125). Left to Churchill Arms PH and bus stop (across road).
Walk: Inn at Cranborne – Burwood (062125) – Boveridge Farm (064150) – Stone Hill Wood (066156) – Boulsbury Farm (079163) – Boulsbury Cottages (082162) – Four Corners (093159). Stony Lane – Ashley Park Farm (097153) – road at South End (103154) – Hill Farm (108155) – field path just to north of stream and lakes to Alderholt Bridge and Mill (120143). Alderholt Park (113133) – High Wood – B3078 opposite Churchill Arms PH, Charing Cross, Alderholt (112125).
Refreshments: Churchill Arms, Alderholt (01425-652147)
Lunch/accommodation: Inn at Cranborne (01725-551249; theinnatcranborne.co.uk) – very friendly place
Circles and Tangents Exhibition: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum (until 29th September) – The King’s House, 65 The Close, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 2EN (01722-332151; email@example.com) – Cranborne Chase painters, sculptors, potters etc., past and present
Information: Fordingbridge TIC (01425-654560); Salisbury TIC (01722-342860)
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