Win Green, Cecil Beaton and a hidden history

Common Spotted Orchids in May on the Ox drove bank

Win Green is a beautiful hilltop on the South Wessex Downs in Wiltshire and the highest point in Cranborne Chase. You can enjoy amazing views on clear days and a really unique atmosphere makes this a treasured local beauty spot.

What may be less well known is that Cecil Beaton, the celebrated fashion photographer, lived in Ashcombe House, as it was then known,  at the foot of Win Green between 1930 and 1945.

He entertained many artists of the day, including Rex Whistler and Augustus John. For more information and further reading about Cecil Beaton and his time at Ashcombe, please see: Beaton, Cecil, 1949, Ashcombe: The Story of a Fifteen-Year Lease, published by B.T. Batsford.

Beaton fell in love with his home at Ashcombe and was supposedly devastated when his lease expired and he had to leave. He spent his summer months here picnicking with friends and strolling across the slopes at Win Green and the Ashcombe Estate.

Chalk grassland sward awash with Common Spotted Orchids in May; a perfect place to have a picnic.
Chalk grassland with Common Spotted Orchids
Chalk grassland sward awash with Common Spotted Orchids in May; a perfect place to have a picnic.

Today, Win Green has an almost timeless quality. It feels like Old England, with very little road noise, Skylarks ascending above, hares gracing the grassland below, amongst herb rich grassland teaming with wild Marjoram and Basil to name a few.

Win Green: a place of Skylarks, orchids, history and atmosphere
Win Green Chalk grassland plateau with Yellow rattle in flower
Win Green: a place of Skylarks, orchids, history and atmosphere

On the south west boundary of the chalk grassland bank, running parallel with the footpath leading down to Ashcombe, Jeep tracks and filled in dugout trenches can be seen. A subtle reminder of when the Army was stationed at Ashcombe House and the surrounding slopes during the earlier years of the Second World War.

Looking further back in time, you can imagine a time when drovers walked the nearby Ox drove, taking their cattle, sheep or even geese to market at Salisbury or further away- where Highwaymen may have lain in wait for weary and wealthy travellers in horse drawn coaches – Cranborne Chase had a fearsome reputation for highwaymen in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Highwayman in the 17th and 18th Century may have lurked in the shadows.
The shadow of a tree cast down onto the hillside at Win Green
Highwayman in the 17th and 18th Century may have lurked in the shadows.

King John and his followers would have ridden on horseback through the royal hunting grounds of Cranborne Chase in pursuit of deer, and Fallow deer can still be found roaming at will today.

And even earlier, in medieval times, great blocks of Portland stone may have travelled along the Ox drove on wagons pulled by oxen as they plodded their way to their final destination as the stone used to build Salisbury Cathedral. The winter months would have made this route treacherous and at times impassable.

The Ox drove, originally one of the longest and oldest routes in the country, which runs across the edge of Win Green.
The gated entrance to the ox drove at Win Green
The Ox drove, originally one of the longest and oldest routes in the country, which runs across the edge of Win Green.

The prominent Beech clump sits atop a Bronze Aged Barrow which would have been the final resting place of a person of high status. Often buried with grave goods long since removed as the depression within the boundary suggests. Prior to the trees being planted the barrow was likely excavated by antiquarians, who were the forerunners of modern day archaeologists. Unfortunately, they approached excavation in a very haphazard way and before the science of archaeology was born.

Beech clump atop a Bronze Age Barrow. A landmark and local beauty spot.
A clump of Beech trees atop a Bronze Age Barrow
Beech clump atop a Bronze Age Barrow. A landmark and local beauty spot.

Enjoy a visit to this timeless place, where you can explore and let your imagination and sense of wonder run free.