The Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (RCHM) tells us that Harbin’s Park ‘extends across the east declivity of a dry valley'.

Records of this 115-acre deer park, where deer were traditionally bred for hunting on Cranborne Chase, go back to 1279.

Surrounded by mixed woodland, the park is bounded by banks up to 16ft wide and 5ft high with internal ditches 15ft wide. In the mid-1700s, as well as breeding deer there, Squire Harbin was accused by George Pitt the Third of luring deer from the Chase into his park by scattering pomace - the residue of apple pulp left after cider making.

Once over Harbin’s fences, with the banks much steeper and higher on the inside than the outside, the wild deer would have been unable to escape. Pitt ordered his keepers to break into the park, without success as the hounds didn’t rouse a single deer. Harbin brought an action against Pitt’s keepers at the Dorchester assizes, but a settlement was reached before it came to court. In 1841, doctor and antiquary Thomas Wake Smart published his book Chronicle of Cranborne and Cranborne Chase and included many such court proceedings where the great and good seemed to be forever suing each other over trespass and taking each other’s deer.

Our route meanders through ancient woodland, filled with birdsong as feathered residents seek out a mate in spring, along a shallow valley, and around high downs fields with long views. As we walk alongside Harbin’s Park, look for the deer banks inside the woods.

The Walk

1 Go through the half-gate between right and left farm-gates, bridleway signposted ‘Washers Pit 2¼’. Follow the fenced grass track along the shallow Stubhampton Bottom valley with fields either side, then with staggered bushes. Past a pair of left gates, the track swings slowly right with wooded Earl’s Hill up to your left. Pass another left gate then, swinging left, pass a plethora of gates, the left signed ‘No Access’. The right field is steeper now with lots of hazel bushes. Passing right and left half-gates, continue into Great Peaky Coppice’s wide track with fields outside the right edge.

2 Pass another left half-gate and, as the right field ends, ascend slightly to a fork. Keep left at the bridleway-post, down to 1½ left fence-gates. Go through, off the bridleway, onto the arrowed Wessex Ridgeway footpath. This is the one long ascent, up the fence-enclosed track with right pines and left coppice, becoming narrower nearer the top. This ascent describes a full 90-degree anti-clockwise arc from bottom to top and emerges into a grass track with a fenced-field left and woods still right. Pass a left double-gate and a right gate into the wood. Continue along the track with long views back, with distant Pentridge Hill’s pine-wood prominent. Swinging left on top, then right, meander down past left twin-gates to one very wide gate and half-gate onto the road, Jubilee Trail footpath-signed back.

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3 Turn right, slowly ascending with iron-railed fence left and deep dark pinewood right. At the top, before the left driveway with security barrier, go through the left wrought-iron half-gate at the signpost for ‘Great Peaky Coppice ¼’ and ‘Iwerne Minster 1½’, although the sign for our direction (when I walked this route last year) has broken off. Into the top field, follow the grass track through the newly planted forest with the field left. Meandering to the right wood, take the lesser right-fork path into the wood’s edge. Follow this path through hazels with right trees, then along grass track through new trees again. Cross a gravel driveway and keep straight on through new forest again. Reaching a beech avenue which goes right, cross the track and take the facing wide, fence-enclosed left grass track, not the right field-track. Continue with newly planted woods and long views ahead.

4 Reaching a track T-junction where the left gate has two bridleway-arrows, turn right along the hedge. Past the right gate, continue with new trees right to the next right older wood. This wood surrounds Harbin’s Park. Keep straight on, noticing the continuous long low bank, parallel to our track, in the trees. This is the deer park bank, much steeper and higher on the far side than on this facing slope. At two separate entrance gates and tracks into Harbin’s Park, notice the open grassland beyond the trees. This is the deer grazing park, surrounded on all four sides by woodland. A few yards after the second entrance, take the left bridleway-posted track with left field and right hedge. Continue up and over, then down with pines right and past Harbin’s Park Farm left. At a group of right beeches, join the drive coming from the left barns and continue down, fenced both sides.

5 When the drive turns right, walk straight past the bridleway-post in the left fence and continue down the fenced track. Over the next crossing gravel track, ‘Private’ both sides, continue down the track which becomes all grass after the last left field-gate. Around the left-right bend, walk down to the facing gate. Past it, continue down the sunken track - but for only a few yards. Take the left footpath kissing-gate into the sloping field. Past two fenced beech trees, go through the facing fence’s footpath kissing-gate then follow the field’s lower edge path past the white cottage and two other cottages. Bending right-left, follow the roadside hedge to the far corner footpath quarter-gate. Through, the footpath goes left to the stile by the drive’s gate, but go out onto the road, emerging opposite Stubhampton House with the Victorian post-box. Walk along the road past dairy farm barns, thatched cottages and a walled garden, then hedged both sides with rooks chatting loudly in the trees. Pass right Ashmore Barn Farm’s drive and left Highfield House’s gated drive and you’re back at the chevron parking area where you started.

Compass Points

Distance: 5 miles/8 km

Time: 3½ hours

Start: Off-road parking area by roadside chevrons just north-west of Stubhampton on the Tarrant Gunville road (Grid Ref: ST912142)

Exertion: Moderate. One 130ft meandering ascent through woodland

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195

Public Transport: None

Dogs: On leads when requested, follow The Countryside Code

Refreshments: Langton Arms, Tarrant Monkton (County Winner of The National Pub and Bar Awards 2023) for lunches and fine ales