The Lawrence of Arabia Walking Trail is a 7 mile circular walk which begins and ends at the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset. During his later military career T.E. Lawrence was based at Bovington Camp and then, following his retirement, he lived in nearby Clouds Hill. This seven mile trail takes you through a part of rural Dorset to various points of interest closely associated with Lawrence’s life and death.
Lawrence of Arabia is the name that was given to the Welsh born Thomas Edward Lawrence as a result of his various exploits in Palestine and Syria. A thesis on Crusader Castles first took him to the area in 1909; a few years later he would work in Syria as an archaeologist. However it is as a member of the British army and for his involvement in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I for which he is better known. His life has been immortalised in the blockbuster movie, Lawrence of Arabia.
Throughout his life Lawrence sought to escape public attention and this was certainly true when he retired to Clouds Hill in 1935, a remote rural spot in Dorset. Earlier in his military career he had been based at the nearby Bovington Military Camp; Bovington is still an active military base today, and is also home to the Tank Museum.
The Tank Museum is where the Lawrence of Arabia Walking Trail starts and ends. This seven mile (just under 11 kilometres) trail takes you through a small part of rural Dorset to various points of interest closely associated with Lawrence’s life and death.
We walked it on a chilly January day but still found plenty of interest in our surroundings and liked the variety of places on the trail
1. Start at The Bovington Tank Museum (w3w: basically.sugars.octopus)
The first of the trail plaques is near the entrance to the car park.
Walk out of the car park through the vehicle exit, keeping the museum on your left.
Cross the main road, head right and after a few metres you reach a small track with a wooden signpost which says Lawrence Trail and Moreton, 2 miles. (w3w: items.fearfully.february)
Follow this, cross over Menin Road and continue straight on with Cranesmoor Close on your left (w3w:squirted.reduce.shackles).
Keep going straight ahead, where you are now walking through woodland.
The trail can get boggy in winter - walking boots are a must at this time of year!
HISTORY: BOVINGTON CAMP
The Bovington area has been inhabited since Saxon times; Bovington means ‘the farm of Bofa’s descendents’. In 1776 it formed part of a larger estate which was sold to the Frampton family, who were Lords of the Manor at nearby Moreton House. In 1899, Mary Frampton was paid £4,300 by the War Office for 1000 acres of heathland, to be used as a rifle range.
A firing range was built and soldiers arrived in their hundreds. Huts could not be built fast enough to accommodate them all and many were billeted out with locals, until 1915 when the huts were finally finished.
Trenches were constructed on the land and the soldiers trained constantly. Tanks were invented in late 1915, based on an idea of Winston Churchill’s who thought that developing ‘land ships’ would break the deadlock of trench warfare. Bovington was considered a good place for developing, training and testing them, in the remote heathlands where secrecy could be maintained. When the tanks arrived from nearby Wool, the locals had to close their curtains when the iron giants rolled into town for the first time. By the end of 1917 there were 300 tanks in Bovington and The Tank Corps was officially formed.
T.E. Lawrence had left the RAF in 1922, where he had been stationed at Uxbridge as Aircraftsman Ross, until his alias was discovered. He joined the army as T.E. Shaw and was stationed at Bovington in 1923. When he arrived, the camp was just a muddy main road, lined with shops and cafes, known as Tintown. Now it looks like many other military bases, filled with identikit housing, barbed wire lined fencing and the signs of military life all around.
2. Moreton Ford
At a T-junction in the track (w3w: puppy.flatten.corporate) , all of which are signposted Lawrence Trail, take the left and keep on going.
A narrow bridge (w3w: complain.northwood.pictured) takes you over the wide shallows of the River Frome and then you arrive in the village of Moreton.
Moreton is a tiny village of old thatched cottages and narrow lanes. With a manor house, a pub, a cafe and a tiny train station, it is remote and well off the beaten track. Moreton is Anglo-Saxon for ‘the farmstead on the moor’ and was originally owned from 1300 by Sir John Hussey, until it was handed down to the Frampton family in the 14th century. The Framptons were cousins of T.E. Lawrence and it was from them that he at first rented and then bought Clouds Hill, his sanctuary away from the camp.
The Frampton family are best known for one of their members, James Frampton, who was responsible for the transportation of the Tollpuddle Martyrs. In 1833, six men from the nearby village of Tollpuddle formed a Friendly Society, a union to protest about the reduction of wages for agricultural labourers. As the local Squire and magistrate, Frampton complained to the Home Secretary who recommended he use an obscure law to get the men transported to Australia. Over 800,000 people in Britain signed a petition to protest their treatment and they were eventually returned home.
3. St Nicholas Church
On the left (w3w: stew.hazy.downs) is a small path to the church, St Nicholas of Moreton. The second Lawrence plaque is outside the entrance to the church.
The second plaque is outside the church on the right. Go in if it is open as it is well worth a visit.
HISTORY: ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH, MORETON
The first church was built on this site around 1190. It was only a small chapel as the village was so small it was unable to sustain a church. Dedicated to St. Magnus, in 1410 it was re-dedicated to St Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in Syria.
The church was rebuilt in 1776 by James Frampton. Bombed in 1940 by a stray German bomb probably intended for nearby RAF Warmwell, much of it was destroyed. It was rebuilt ten years later in 1950.
The church was visited by the Oxford architectural historian Howard Colvin, who heard how much the parishioners disliked the windows and he suggested that they ask Laurence Whistler to submit designs for new windows.
He initially designed just the five windows for the apse, but over the subsequent years he designed them all, making this church unique in that it is the only one to have all of its windows designed by him.
There are 13 windows in total, and for many years the local parish council rejected the 13th window, as it featured Judas. Laurence Whistler came up with the offer himself, saying that Judas was the 13th disciple and a perfect fit for their 13th window. He called it forgiveness and it implies that even Judas can be forgiven.
When the council rejected it, he placed it in a museum on the understanding that if they changed their minds, they could have it installed in the church at any time. Fortunately they saw sense and it was installed in 2013, 13 years after Whistler’s death.
The church is only small but it is amazing and really worth a visit. It is light and airy, with a colourful tiled floor and central font. It is the windows that really stand out though, and photos do not do them justice. With vivid depictions of nature from tumbling leaves to swirls of stars, they are spectacular.
T.E. Lawrence’s funeral was held at St. Nicholas Church and was attended by many famous writers and statesmen
It was here that Lawrence’s funeral was held, attended by well-known people such as Winston Churchill, Bernard Shaw, Augustus John, Siegried Sasson, and Lady Astor.
4. St Nicholas Cemetery
After visiting the church, go back to the main road and turn left. Bear left at the road junction and a little way along on your right is the entrance to the cemetery (w3w: overt.headliner.pursuing).
HISTORY: ST. NICHOLAS CEMETERY, MORETON
The New Cemetery was opened in 1930 with land donated by the Framptons, as the church graveyard was full. The entranceway has a large porch, which was once the porch to the kitchen gardens of the Manor House. Badly damaged by a tank, it was removed and used for the cemetery. It has two marble tablets inside it which once formed the pedestal of a nearby obelisk, erected in the memory of James Frampton.
Follow the brick path which takes you right through the cemetery to T.E. Lawrence’s grave. It is small and simple and makes no mention of his army career or his exploits in the middle East, purely his academic career, at the request of his mother. Apparently, there are always flowers on it.
There is a story that from 1974 onwards, a bunch of 46 white roses were delivered to the grave on 16th August, h