Cranborne Chase is a Chalk plateau in central southern England, straddling the counties Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. The plateau is part of the English Chalk Formation and is adjacent to Salisbury Plain and the West Wiltshire Downs in the north, the Dorset Downs to the south west and the South Downs running south east. The scarp slope of the hills is to west, such as at Shaftesbury, and to some extent along the edge of the Vale of Wardour to the north. To chalk gently slopes south and dips under the clays and gravels.
981 km² (379 square miles) of Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the sixth largest AONB in the country. The highest point is Win Green, in Wiltshire, at 910ft (277 metres).
History and Archaeology
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 millenia. 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 Rings. During the Saxon invasion of England the Romano-British kept the invaders out of Dorset by building Bokerley Dyke, a defensive ditch, across the Roman Road that runs across the downs from Dorchester to Old Sarum.
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 Cranborne, 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 Kings 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 Lacy
- Countryside Agency: Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB (http://www.countryside.gov.uk/LivingLandscapes/finest_countryside/aonbs/aonb_cranborne.asp)
- Dorset County Council: Cranborne Chase AONB (http://www.dorsetcc.gov.uk/index.jsp?articleid=3314)
- The Dorset Page: Cranborne (http://www.thedorsetpage.com/locations/Place/C400.htm)
- Pitt-Rivers, Michael, 1968. Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.