What does WAFA offer?

The aim of WAFA is to enable anyone, regardless of age, ability and experience, to gain the skills that will enable them to confidently and responsibly explore the past.

For adults we want to impart transferable skills that once learnt at Ash Farm can be applied to help local groups or individuals in other areas carry out their own independent explorations.

For children we want to create a connection with the past, with those who have shaped this landscape. And above all we want to show that exploring the past can be exciting and fun.

Our teaching will all be carried out within the context of a multi-period landscape study of Ash Farm and its immediate surroundings.

Where is WAFA based?

WAFA is based at Ash Farm, Stourpaine near Blandford Forum in Dorset. The farm is 320 acres of rolling Dorset chalkland, much of it in a dry valley that runs down to the valley of the River Stour. It is farmed, a mixture of organic crops and farmed deer, by the Russell family who have generously offered their farm as a classroom where archaeological investigation can be taught. Ash Farm is located on the lower Blandford to Shaftesbury Road (the A350), 1 mile north of the village of Stourpaine. On Event Days, look for the WAFA sign, which will direct you into the farmyard.

Micks Barn
Ash Farm
Blandford Forum
DT11 8PW

Link to Google Maps


The Project

Although it is surrounded by archaeological sites, Ash Farm, with the exception of a reference to a Domesday settlement and a couple of Saxon coins, is a blank canvas. It is perhaps not the most obvious choice for a landscape study but the project will eventually show, by systematically using all available techniques of investigation, what lies hidden at Ash Farm. There is also the possibility that we will be studying a 320 acre archaeological ‘black hole’ – but this seems unlikely!Starting in the Summer of 2014 we will bring together all existing archaeological and historical records. The information from maps, documents and aerial photographs will be plotted into a uniform map base and we will walk the entire farm to identify and record any surviving earthworks. A start will made on geophysical survey and on the excavation of test pits, some around identifiable areas of historic settlement. Other test pits will be dug as part of an investigation into the environmental and land use history of the farm, led by Dr Mike Allen, an expert in the study of chalkland environments.

But this is just the beginning. In the autumn surface collection (’fieldwalking’) will start to target cultivated fields and the project will evolve as discoveries prompt new questions and avenues of enquiry. This website will highlight discoveries and evolving ideas and, through a forum, allow those who are involved with the project to express their ideas and take part in debates.

Courses Available

A series of day schools, details of which are given below, provides an introduction to the Wessex Academy for Field Archaeology (WAFA) and to its home at Ash Farm, in Dorset. The landscape of Ash Farm, 320 acres of rolling chalk downland which lies in the shadow of the Iron Age and Roman fort of Hod Hill, is the project’s classroom. Here, on a working organic cereal and deer farm, we can teach techniques of field investigation, from fieldwalking and geophysical survey to excavation, finds analysis and environmental archaeology, all as part of a genuine landscape study.
Our basic questions are:

  • Who has lived at Ash Farm since prehistoric times; and
  • How have they shaped and changed the landscape?

Ash Farm is a blank canvas: with the exception of some documentary evidence of a Domesday settlement and a few metal detected finds, we will be starting from scratch. If you become involved at Ash Farm you will be signing up to a unique project, not to investigating an already well-studied landscape. But this means that although we can teach the ‘how to do’ aspects of investigation, we have no idea what, if anything, we will find.

This is the excitement of archaeology!

While geared to studying this particular landscape, the skills developed by those that take part, particularly those who can follow the whole series of day schools, will equip them to carry out their own landscape study, either individually or as part of a group. The emphasis will therefore be on participation, doing as well as just talking and listening, and on developing skills. As far as possible equipment used will be simple and therefore not beyond the means of the individual or group while advice will be available about grants that can be applied for to facilitate investigations.

The venue for the days schools is ‘Mick’s Barn’, the project HQ on the farm. Part of each day (the timetabling of which will be flexible according to weather conditions) will be spent indoors here and part out on the farm. It is essential to bring warm and waterproof clothing and suitable (sturdy) footwear. Unlimited tea and coffee (and if you are lucky cake) will be provided during the day. We will not be leaving the farm at lunchtime though, so please bring something to eat.

If time allows we are intending to end each day with an indoor ‘de-brief’ to answer questions that may have arisen during time in the field and the discuss the implications of findings on subsequent stages of the investigation.

In some cases day schools which take place on a Saturday will be followed by a practical application session on the Sunday.
We will repeat these day schools if there is sufficient demand.

Accommodation 2015

For those who wish to stay in the area while attending a course at WAFA we can suggest a number of options. WAFA is located in an area of North Dorset that is very popular with tourists so there is a range of accommodation but not much at a budget level. If you are happy to pay £65 plus a night then there is quite a choice of bed and breakfasts in and around the Blandford Forum area. This is the location that you should use if carrying out an independent accommodation search.

Searching for more reasonable accommodation we have come across the following. All prices are as quoted on websites, we have not tried to negotiate any discounts.

The Charlton Inn, Charlton Marshall (6.5 miles from WAFA) Singe room from £35 a night, single occupancy of double room from £40. Bournemouth Road, Charlton Marshall, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 9NH 01258 453160 www.thecharltoninn.co.uk

Hilltop Barn, Winterbourne Zelston (11.9 miles from WAFA). Double room from £80, single occupancy from £55. 01929 459665 enquiries@hilltop-barn.co.uk

Gorcombe Farmhouse, Thornicombe, Near Blandford Forum DT11 9AG (7.6 miles from WAFA) From £35 per night – also extreme sports if you have any energy left after digging and pool/jacuzzi for hire! 01258 480088 www.gorcombe-bb.co.uk

Park Lodge Bungalow, White Cliff Mill St, Blandford Forum, DT11 7BN (4 miles from WAFA) Single from £45 per night 01258452834 e mail contact@park-lodge-blandford.co.uk

Oaklands, East Orchard, near Shaftesbury SP7 0LQ (6.5 miles from WAFA) £30 per person per night for stays of over 3 days 01747812365 e mail philippacf@gmail.com


If you have your own caravan/motorhome there are two options.

7 miles from WAFA there is The Inside Park, a touring caravan and camping park. DT11 9AD www.theinsidepark.co.uk where costs will be about £20 for a single occupant, up to £35 for 4.

Or there will be very basic camping at Ash Farm itself. This will be a level field with good vehicle access, a water supply and a ‘welfare unit’ with toilet and shower. Electric charging facilities will be available at ‘Mick’s Barn’. There will be a £5 per person per day charge to cover the provision of these facilities. We have a large 2 bedroom family pod tent (and others) which we can erect here if anyone wishes to use them (donations welcomed) and can also arrange for caravan hire from a local firm. Four and five berth caravans are from £250 a week plus delivery. Please enquire through bookings for details of this service.