The highlight of this walk is surely St Mary's Church (see below). It is is not the easiest place to find, tucked away about half a mile up a farm track and, although visitors to the church are allowed to drive up the track (marked in brown on the map below), parking is very limited.
One possibility is to park in the small lay-by just south of Tarrant Keyneston church and take the path along by the river (marked in green),
but this pleasant short circular walk is probably the most enjoyable way to approach the church and the few remains of the once great Tarrant Abbey, as it enhances the sense of isolation.
Mostly on farm tracks, the second half of the walk can get a little muddy were the tractors have created large potholes, but it is usually possible to get round these without needing wellies.
Not the prettiest of churches, St Mary's, Tarrant Crawford seems to be perched awkwardly on the side of the hill as if it had jumped up there when the river flooded, and can't quite figure how to get down.
Not an entirely fanciful idea as the name Tarrant (more usually rendered Trent) is a word of Latin origins associated with a river prone to flooding. It is related to our modern word Torrent.
These days however, like most chalkland streams, the Tarrant is more in danger of drying up than flooding.
The tower, with its odd pitched roof (built to house the smallest of the three bells) looks a bit too big. Either that or the Nave is too narrow, and the windows seem to have been dotted around at random; five on the north side but only one on the south.
Inside is prettier. But the real glory of St Mary's is the 13th and 14th century wall paintings, many of which are in a remarkable state of preservation.
These cover most of the interior walls of the Nave and Chancel, but it is on the the unbroken expanse of the South Wall that they are at their most impressive.
This wall is completely covered with two rows of paintings:
The upper row depicts various subjects whilst the lower is taken up with a scene showing three kings or princes out hawking, who come upon three animated skeletons who warn them of the emptiness of earthly rank and riches.
St Mary's Church by Christopher Dalton
Churches Conservation Trust Leaflet. Available at the church
These days, the only buildings near to the church are the substantial farmhouse and associated buildings of Tarrant Abbey Farm, but in medieval times this is the site of one of the richest Cistercian nunneries in England.
It was founded in the 12 century by Ralph de Kahaines (of nearby Tarrant Keyneston), but it was under the patronage of Bishop Richard Poore,
that Tarrant Abbey grew to be so important.
Poore was born in Tarrant Crawford and went on to be successively Bishop of Chichester, Salisbury and then Durham. Whilst at Salisbury he was responsible for building the present cathedral on the water meadows below Old Sarum.
He was buried at Tarrant Crawford Abbey in 1237. The following year Joan, the sister of Henry III, Queen of Alexander II of Scotland, was also buried in the abbey.
It is all the more surprising, therefore, that almost nothing remains of this once great ecclesiastical building.
There is a medieval barn and some smaller farm buildings, and it said that the abbey guesthouse was incorporated into the present farmhouse. Apart from that, nothing, we don't even know where the abbey church was, so total has been the obliteration.
External Links and References
The Abbey of Tarrant Kaines
Dry as dust extract from the Victoria County History for Dorset https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/dorset/vol2/pp87-90
Monasteries of Dorset by Alan Miller
A very readable account of the history and remains of the monasteries of Dorset with maps and plans.
Tarrant Crawford Cross
The remnants of this old cross stand on a stone plinth at the junction where you turn off to Shapwick from Tarrant Keyneston to Spetisbury road. The inscription on its base reads:
THIS WAYSIDE CROSS WAS RESTORED & SET ON NEW STEPS ON THE OLD SITE BY MANY FRIENDS OF TARRANT CRAWFORD ANNO DOM MDCCCCXIV