If you're dreaming of a day out in the great outdoors, then why not plan a visit to Cranborne Chase? Cranborne Chase is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that straddles the counties of Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Whether you’re planning a day out or a weekend away with your family, friends or other half, jump on a train to Salisbury or Tisbury and get ready for a truly rural escape. Read on to find out more about Cranborne Chase, including how to get there, things to do in the area and places to eat and stay.
Cranborne Chase covers 380 square miles of countryside in the south west of England, and is situated across four counties: Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. It sits with Warminster to the north, Salisbury to the east, Shaftesbury to the west and Fordingbridge and Blandford Forum to the south.
Once you’re in the vicinity, the best way to get around Cranborne Chase is by bus. Bus numbers D1, 20, 25, 26, 26A and 29 all service the area.
Things to do in Cranborne Chase
With rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys, this AONB is a varied landscape just waiting to be explored. It’s dotted with tranquil villages and friendly pubs, and it’s the perfect place for a countryside stroll, a scenic cycle, wildlife spotting and stargazing.
It takes its name from the Saxon Village of Cranborne, and the word “chase” comes from the historic hunts that used to take place on the downs. And speaking of history, there’s plenty of historical sites to explore in the area too. Find out more about what Cranborne Chase AONB has to offer.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or prefer a gentle stroll, there are walking trails to suit all ages, abilities and preferences in Cranborne Chase. One of the most popular circuits is a nine-kilometre circular walk starting in Tisbury village, which follows quiet lanes and tracks, offers spectacular countryside views and passes the magnificent Old Wardour Castle (more on that below).
If you fancy a two-wheeled adventure, then bring your bike on the train with you and head off along one of the many cycling routes in the area. Try the 18km Tisbury and Downs route for stunning scenery and dramatic views, or give the 16km family-friendly Tisbury to Semley route a go. Both of these options start and end in Tisbury village, right by the station.
In 2019, Cranborne Chase was awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status, meaning that it’s a fantastic spot for stargazing and one of the best stargazing spots near London. If you look up on a clear night, you can even observe the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies with the naked eye!
There are various historical sites scattered around Cranborne Chase. There’s Old Wardour Castle – 14th Century castle ruins set beside a lake, Stourhead House & Gardens – a world-famous 18th century landscape garden and Palladian mansion, and Pythouse Kitchen Garden – a beautiful 18th century walled garden where you can enjoy a stroll followed by a taste of the garden produce.
Wildlife and landscape
The chalk grassland, chalk streams, arable fields and ancient woodlands form a stunning landscape, and they’re also the perfect habitat for a diverse range of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for rare birds as well as hares, deer, and incredible insects.
Tips for enjoying Cranborne Chase AONB
You are free to enjoy this AONB to your heart’s content, but there are a few rules to pay attention to in order to preserve the beauty of the park and keep it safe for other visitors:
- Park only in car parks
- Avoid fire risks – no fires or barbecues
- Keep dogs on the lead near livestock at all times
- Stick to defined walking paths
- No wild camping
Food and drinks
There’s nothing quite like a picnic to accompany a trip to the countryside, so pack some sandwiches and snacks and find the perfect spot on your walk or cycle to stop for a leisurely lunchbreak.
If you’d rather call into a restaurant or pub while in the area, then Allium, near Salisbury station, is a family-run restaurant and a lovely place to stop for a bite to eat. It specialises in modern British cuisine and overlooks the bustline market square, so it’s the perfect place to refuel after a day out in nature. For something a little spicier, Lah Koh is an Asian-inspired eatery that caters particularly well to veggies and vegans. If you’re in the Tisbury area, head to the Tisbury Delicatessen for fine Mediterranean offerings.
For a coffee stop or a slice of cake, Beatons Tearooms and The Old Coal Shop are two of the best spots in Tisbury. In Salisbury, head to Culture Coffee or Henderson’s Artisan Bakery for a caffeine and sugar fix.
Places to stay in Cranborne Chase
There are accommodation options to suit every budget in and around Cranborne Chase. If you fancy truly connecting with nature and spending a night or two in the great outdoors then pitch a tent at Salisbury Camping and Caravanning Club, Salisbury Campsite at Bake Farm, Chalke Valley Camping or Stonehenge Campsite and Glamping.
If you’re more in the mood for a hotel then check out (and check into!) The Chapter House or Milford Hall Hotel & Spa, or for self-catering accommodation book a stay at Thimble Cottage, The Mews Cottage or Peartree Service Apartments.
Cranborne Chase accessibility
Cranborne Chase has many accessible spots that are ideal for people of all abilities, including specific walking trails that are suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.