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Encyclopedia > Cranborne Chase
Ashmore pond
Ashmore pond

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 km (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

Badbury Rings
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 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

External links

  • 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.

  Results from FactBites:
Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase (2336 words)
Cranborne Chase is characterised by woodlands, shelterbelts, clumps and copses containing ancient hazel coppice and by enclosed areas of arable pasture and parkland.
In the east, Cranborne Chase was a royal hunting ground from at least the time of William the Conqueror until the 17th century.
Today many perceptions of the Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase have been coloured by the writing of Thomas Hardy: Cranborne Chase was the 'venerable tract of forestland' in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
Cranborne, Dorset, England (450 words)
Cranborne, was the setting for a true Dorset love story worthy of the pen of Thomas Hardy.
Cranborne Chase is where British field archaeology developed in its modern form.
Cranborne Chase, first recorded in the early 13th century and called 'the king's chase of Cramburne' in 1461, takes its name from Cranborne, since in medieval times the lords of the manor of Cranborne were always lords of the Chase.
  More results at FactBites »



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