Today, walkers, off-road bikers and dogwalkers use Hambledon Hill as a popular place from which to view and appreciate the Vale.
The hill is an exceptional place; imbued with historical interest, and one of the few areas where Dorset’s once common chalk grassland, with all its rare associated flora and fauna, can be found. A place from where the whole of layout and structure of the Blackmore Vale can be seen. Not many locations can claim to be a Scheduled Ancient Monument, an area of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve – a special place indeed.
This spur of chalk overlooking the Jurassic Vale is east of Child Oakford, south of Shaftesbury. The area escaped advances of intensive agriculture over the centuries, which mean earthworks and burial features are exceptionally well preserved and clearly visible on the ground. These have not only provided evidence of the earliest British farmers over 5,500 years ago, but also revealed an early enclosure where, at the southern end, a Neolithic long burial mound was built high on the central spine. By 1000 BC this structure had evolved into a Bronze Age settlement where several round burial mounds were created. By 700 BC the Durotriges tribe developed the site into a major Iron Age hillfort to protect their land and trade routes along the River Stour valley. Hambledon Hill is just one of a series of local Iron Age earthworks which also includes Hod Hill, Spetisbury Rings, Buzbury Rings, Badbury Rings and Dudsbury Camp. The Iron Age port at Hengistbury Head forms the final Iron Age monument in this small chain of sites.
History hadn’t finished its association with the site. In 1645, during the English Civil War, Hambledon was the site of the last known British battle on a hillfort. The Dorset Clubman defended the ramparts against Oliver Cromwell’s army, but they were captured after a fight which included a cavalry charge against a hail of musket fire from the ramparts.
Clubmen were countrymen who were weary of war. They tried to live out their lives as normally as possible but, caught in the middle of both Royalist and Parliamentarian troops, repeatedly suffered deprivations as plundering forces from both sides looted villages, damaged crops and land. There was little sympathy for either the monarchy or Parliament and so, with a view to protecting their interests and declaring Dorset a neutral zone, a third faction, consisting mostly of ordinary tradesmen, clergy and yeomen, came into existence.The surrender of the Clubmen is
an interesting story. Suffice to say Cromwell’s rout was humiliating, swift and easy – some Clubmen escaped by sliding down the hill on their bottoms. Reports of death vary fromtwelve to fifty, and around three
hundred were taken prisoner.
Cromwell locked them up in Shroton church overnight referring to them as ‘poor silly creatures’ and then, with an unexpected display of leniency, he merely lectured them before releasing all but the ringleaders the next day and allowing them to return to their homes, having promised that they would ‘be hanged before they come out again’. Ten days later, the Parliamentary army stormed and claimed Sherborne Castle; although Corfe and Portland castles held out until early 1646, Royalist resistance in Dorset was a hopeless cause. The Dorset Clubmen kept their promise and disappeared from history.
A final flourish came in 1756 when General James Wolfe trained his army at Hambledon before successfully climbing the Heights of Abraham to defeat the French during the Battle of Quebec, Canada.Explore the ramparts, ditches and terraces today and you’ll be retracing the footsteps of people who lived, feasted, fought and were buried on this extraordinary site. You won’t be disappointed.
By: Paul Birbeck Sherborne Walks & Blue Badge Tour Guide