Corfe Common history walk, Dorset
Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5EZRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
This gentle short walk explores Corfe Common, a sandstone ridge south of the picturesque village of Corfe Castle. Look out for signs of the human activity that shaped this interesting archaeological landscape over thousands of years, and enjoy the wide range of wildlife which now makes its home here.
- Bus stop
Start: Corfe Castle ticket office, grid ref: SY961821
From the Corfe Castle ticket office, walk along West Street, once the main road through the village. It was known as Duck Street due to the number of animals driven along it on to the common and the mess they left behind.
There are spectacular views on this walk as the imposing keep of Corfe Castle rises dramatically over the village. William the Conqueror began building the castle in 1086. It was destroyed in 1646 by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War.
Turn right towards West Street car park. At the end of the car park turn right again through a kissing gate. Once through the gate, turn left and follow a path along the edge of the field. This is the Halves or Haws, communal land, once used for strip and furrow farming. Families would each have had a strip on which to grow their own food, much like allotments.
Go through the stone kissing gate and stop at Copper Bridge. Built in the 1800s, this small humped back bridge used to be on the main road to Church Knowle. Animals would have walked through the ford at the side of the bridge.
Turn left up the slope (almost going back on yourself) and follow the hedge. When you get to the top of the slope bear right to join the road.
Walk down the dip and up the other side. At the top, leave the road and follow the path left to the top of the ridge. In the 18th century, smugglers carried contraband such as fine French brandy and ladies' silk gloves across the common on their way from the Purbeck coast to London. Some villagers still have common rights and graze their cows or horses on the common for an annual fee. Each year a Hayward (someone who, in the Middle Ages, oversaw the harvesting of crops) is appointed to collect the fee and to make sure the animals are well cared for.
Corfe Common is Dorset's largest area of common land. It's an important place for acid-loving flowers and grasses, and is the best spot in England to find the rare wild chamomile. The bright yellow blossom of gorse can be seen from May to October. Have a sniff and you'll notice its strong coconut aroma. Gorse was once used as a fuel for bread ovens.
Along the ridge you'll find a series of low humps. These are the remains of 4,000 year old Bronze Age burial mounds. From here you can enjoy views of the Castle to the north and the village of Kingston to the south.
Turn left at the large, low burial mound at the end of the ridge and make your way to the bottom of the slope walking down the hollow ways towards the lower common. They are all that remain of old tracks which led from the quarries to Corfe Castle. Over time, carts laden with limestone wore away the track and it became a deep muddy gully. When it became impassable they just moved to the side and started a new track.
Follow the path towards the gate at the top corner of the common, along the path between the houses and onto Middle Halves. Signposts then mark the way back to Corfe Castle.
The village of Corfe Castle probably started out as a work camp for the later building programme started by King John. Cob, or wattle and daub, houses would have surrounded the square, creating a bustling hub for workshops and a weekly market. King John decreed that all fish caught locally had to be offered for sale in Corfe Castle market first before being sold elsewhere.
End: Corfe Castle ticket office, grid ref: SY961821
- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 1.5 miles (2.5km)
- Time: 30 minutes
- OS Map: Explorer OL15
Circular walk mostly on the level. There are a few slopes, gates and boardwalks. Some areas can be muddy after wet weather so sensible footwear is advised. Please keep to footpaths to avoid eroding this beautiful landscape.
- How to get here:
By foot: Purbeck Way runs from Wareham to Corfe Castle
By bike: Purbeck Cycleway passes through Corfe (starts and finishes in Wareham)
By bus: Wiltshire and Dorset 40, Poole to Swanage (passing Wareham station)
By train: Wareham, 4.5 miles (7.2km). Corfe Castle station (Swanage Steam Railway) is a few minutes walk away
By car: A351, Wareham to Swanage, runs through Corfe Castle village. Pay and display parking (NT members free) at Castle View, off A351. Norden park and ride, and West Street in the village (pay and display), neither National Trust
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