Cranborne Chase & West Wiltshire AONB

Whitesheet Hill, Wiltshire, England
Whitesheet Hill, Cranborne Chase AONB, Wiltshire - © Tracy Adams CCWWD AONB

Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in south west England in the counties of Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Designated a AONB back in 1983, the AONB covers 383 square miles of scenic English countryside consisting of primarily of chalk downland. The AONB covers an area from close to Warminster in the north to Wimborne Minster in the south to Salisbury in the east and Shaftesbury in the west.

The area consists of Cranborne Chase in the south characterised by its chalk landscape, downs and dry valleys and the Wiltshire Downs located in the north characterised by a varied topography that includes whaleback ridges. The area is home to some fine landscapes including downland, fen and woodland and includes the remnants of the former Royal Forests of Gillingham and Selwood. The area is both a living and working area of countryside and farmland.

The area is essentially rural in nature and is home to a number of scenic villages located in the AONB. The area is important for local wildlife and biodiversity, the site is important for nature conservation and includes in excess of 50 Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

The area is popular for horse riding, wildlife viewing, fishing, golf, day trippers and walkers and cyclists with a number of routes to explore. Visitors can enjoy the scenic landscapes and tranquilly whilst enjoying the best in the great outdoors.

Quick Facts

Cranborne Chase & West Wiltshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1983

Population: 33,000

Scheduled Ancient Monuments: over 550

Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): over 50

Size in square kilometres: 983

Main Settlements Nearby: Blandford Forum Salisbury, Shaftesbury and Warminster .
Located in: Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Highest Point: Win Green at 277 metres.


Cranborne Chase & West Wiltshire AONB is located in south west England spread across four counties. The area is mainly rural with narrow roads and a number of small villages, the relative lack of commercial development makes the area ideal for those seeking a quiet, rural haven away from the hustle and bustle of large towns and cities. The location means the AONB is easily assessable from southern England and the Midlands and is approx 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours from London, taking it assessable as a day trip destination from London and much of south west and south east England and the Midlands. The area is home to some of the finest elements of the English landscape and countryside with ancient woodland, rich chalk grassland, chalk riversand valleys.

The area provides a place here visitors can enjoy wide open spaces in the great outdoors relatively close by to a number of built up urban areas ensuring the importance of the AONB. The areas rural nature and relative lack of commercial development offers an interesting alternative for visitors and would be especially appealing for those after a rural haven that has been mostly untouched by large commercial and industrial developments. The Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership is charged with implementing the management plan for the area that conserving, maintaining, enhancing and improving the area. The area is noted for its historical attractions along with footpaths, bridleways and byways making it a popular area for walking, cycling and riding.

The special qualities relating to the areas landscape, cultural heritage and history, range of habitats and nature conservation make Cranborne Chase AONB a special place. The local economy includes agriculture, mineral extraction and commercial forestry. The tourist industry in the AONB is less well developed when compared to other AONB and National Parks however the demand for accommodation as the area become more well known is increasing.

Local accommodation includes a mix of historic and contemporary hotels, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, charming cottages along with a number of caravan parks and camping facilities. There is accommodation available in the nearby city of Salisbury in Wiltshire and the towns of Blandford Forum in Dorset and Shaftesbury and Warminster in Wiltshire all of which are located close by to the area of the AONB.

Tourist Information Centres are located at various locations close to the AONB area. Visitor centres are located at Blandford Forum, Mere, Salisbury, Fordingbridge, Shaftesbury, Warminster and Wimborne Minster, each has knowledgeable staff with local knowledge on local attractions, things to see and do, local tips and advice. The centres include books, maps, gifts, stationary, leaflets, brochures and more. A visit to the visitor centres and village information points provide a good first port of call for visitors and can help to better plan, organise and enjoy your trip.

Visitor attractions in the area include Longleat located 25 miles west of Salisbury. Set in 900 acres of scenic parkland, Longleat House is regarded as a prime example of Elizabethan architecture and is among the most striking and beautiful stately homes in the UK. Back in 1966 Longleat opened the Safari Park that it has since became famous for, the safari park is home to a number of animals for around the world and the safari park is firmly established as one of the leading wildlife attractions. There are a choice of attractions suitable for visitors of all ages, there is the Longleat Hedge Maze and Adventure Castle, Longleat Railway and Safari Boats offering plenty for the whole family to see, do and enjoy.

Stourhead House & Gardens is located approx 28 miles from Salisbury in Wiltshire. The country estate includes the famous Palladian mansion, impressive landscaped gardens, farmland and woodland. The estate that is over 2,600 acres in size is under the care of the National Trust, visitors can explore the estate that includes historic woods, farmland and chalk downs. The mansion dates back to the 18th century and is noted for its Palladian style, the gardens have been referred to as ‘a living work of art’ and includes St Peter's Church, the Grotto, the Cascade, lake and tulip trees, visitors can enjoy a relaxing walk through the gardens in scenic surroundings. There are a number of events and activities held at the estate during the course of the year including guided walks.

Wilton House is located a few miles to the west of Salisbury in Wilshire. There are in excess of four centuries of history here, the house has been the home to the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years. The house is located in the scenic Wiltshire countryside providing an ideal country setting for an enjoyable ay out for the whole family. Highlights in the house include the impressive art collection that include works from Rembrandt, the interiors in the house date back to the 17th century, guided tours are available for visitors to learn more about the house and its fascinating history.

There are in excess of 20 acres of gardens and parkland for visitors to explore providing an ideal place to enjoy a picnic in beautiful surroundings. There is an in house restaurant that serves a range of hot and cold drinks, snacks and meals. The gift shop offers a choice of gifts, mementos and souvenirs.

The Ashley Wood Reserve is located a few miles from Blandford Forum. Once part of a large woodland area, visitors can see a wide range of woodland flowers and birds in the area along with bluebells and wood anemones in spring time. The reserve has plenty to see throughout the year, there are a number of woodland bird species in the area.

Martin Down National Nature Reserve is located are located 13 miles from Salisbury, covering an area of over 340 hectares of downlands, it is one of the largest areas of chalk downland in England. The nature reserve is home to a number of plants, animals and a range of habitats. There are a range of plants here including early gentian and lesser centaury. in the area, local birds include grey partridge, skylark and yellowhammer among others.

Horse Riding is a popular activity in the area, there area number of routes available varying in instance and terrain offering horse riding enthusiasts some great routes to try across the scenic countryside and landscape in the AONB. Horse Riding provides a great way to discover more about the varied landscape and nature in the area.

Walking is one of the most popular activities in the area, there are several popular walks in the area for visitors to try, these include a number of long distance trails that go through the AONB including The Stour Valley Way, The Jubilee Trail and The Wessex Ridgeway.

Cycling is a great way to explore Cranborne Chase and the surrounding area in an environmentally friendly way, get fit and see the attractions and places of interest, landscapes and wildlife up close. There are a choice of cycle routes in the area, including the Pamphill Dorset, Verwood Dorset and Wilton Dorset offering mixed terrains, historical attractions, charming villages and some splendid views.

Visitors to the Cranborne Chase AONB can enjoy a scenic haven with open spaces, a varied landscape, charming villages and towns. The rural nature of the area and lack of large towns and cities mean the area is not as commercially developed a is the case for some of AONB and National Parks. The tranquil location provides a great place to relax and get away from it all, get closer to nature and enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits.

How to Get There

Cranborne Chase AONB is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

The cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire is located next to the AONB, Salisbury is located approx 90 miles from central London. From London, take the A4 then the M4 up to junction 4B and take the M25(S) exit towards Heathrow/Gatwick. Continue on M25 until junction 12 and exit on to the M3. Continue on the M3 up to junction 12 and exit on to the A303 towards Salisbury/Andover. Exit the A303 at the junction with Salisbury Road (A343), continue on to the A30 and A36 that goes to Salisbury. The approx journey time is 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Salisbury has regular services with London Waterloo station, the journey time is approx 1 hour 30/40 minutes.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular buses available from London Victoria Coach station to Salisbury. The approx journey time is approx 3 hours. Coach services to Salisbury are provided by services are provided by National Express.

Contact Details

Cranborne Chase AONB Office
Stone Lane Industrial Estate
BH21 1HD

Telephone: +44 (0)1725 517417

Website: Cranborne Chase AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: Cranborne Chase (AONB) Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to Cranborne Chase ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the AONB, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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