Toller Porcorum is a village of approximately 300 inhabitants, in the heart of West Dorset, just over 10 miles north-west of Dorchester, and 8 miles north-east of Bridport. It is roughly 120 metres above sea level, nestling in the beautiful valley of the River Hooke, a little way above its meeting with the Frome at Maiden Newton.
Toller Porcorum is situated within the West Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the South Wessex Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and the South Wessex Downs Natural Area. Adjoining parishes are Rampisham, Wraxall, Chilfrome, Toller Fratrum, Wynford Eagle, Powerstock, North Poorton and Hooke. Land use is almost entirely agricultural.
The Parish extends over three landscape types: Chalk Upland, Valley Slope and Valley Floor.
The Parish comprises of the valley of the River Hooke running from northwest to southeast and the adjoining valley slopes and uplands.
The upland forms elongated, relatively narrow ridges which enclose the valley on its north-eastern and south-western sides and from which there are long-distance views across West Dorset. The north-western ridge is flat and meets the valley slope with a clearly visible break in the gradient of the land, whilst the south-western ridge is more rounded with a gradual transition to the valley slope.
Further valleys incise the relatively gentle south-western valley slope, creating a rolling landscape. This contrasts with the steeper and more dramatic character of the opposite valley slope. The variation is due in part to a change in the underlying geology as the chalklands are penetrated by an area of Fullers Earth clay that produces a more gentle, evenly sloping landform.
The valley floor forms a narrow ribbon joined by branching valleys. The former trackbed of the Bridport branch line runs alongside the river and its tributary.
The landscape of the Parish is exceptional in its state of preservation. Due to traditional farming methods over generations, large tracts of land exist as they did between the wars. Whilst arable farming predominates on the upland, with large- scale fields bounded by thin hedges, on the valley slopes and floor of much of the Parish a network of small fields with dense hedged boundaries are found.
Woodland is a feature of the landscape, particularly on the south-western valley slope. Small copses have developed on some of the steeper slopes. At Wicker Coppice and Coles Moor there are extensive areas of mixed conifers and broadleaves.
A ribbon of trees traces the course of the river, often concealing it from view. Contrasting with the informal riverside trees is the linear belt marking the line of the railway. Hedged agricultural fields border the river, mainly pasture, with occasional pockets of semi-improved grassland with a relatively diverse bankside vegetation.
Toller Porcorum Parish is exceptionally rich in wildlife, deriving from its geological diversity and traditional farming methods. The interest is focussed on the meadows and woodlands of the Kingcombe Reserve Site of Special Scientific Interest, where acid, neutral and lime-loving grasslands cover extensive areas, together with woodland and scrub.
Linking and extending the SSSI are extensive tracts of Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI), which, linked to sites in adjoining Parishes, create one of the largest, almost unbroken, areas of nature conservation importance in the District.
The Parish is also rich in biodiversity, deriving from the grasslands (important for a wide range of rare and common grasses and herbs and their associated invertebrate population), the scrub and woodland (important for birds and mammals) and the hedged arable and pasture fields (important for birds, mammals such as the Brown Hare and for invertebrates).
Much of this interest is protected and enhanced through the Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme (ESA) which has been taken up in the southern half of the Parish, and by the continuation of sheep grazing which is essential to the grassland management.
The Parish is typical of many of the chalk landscape Parishes in the area, with a rich archaeological heritage dating from the Prehistoric, often visible and accessible. There are 29 sites and finds recorded on the Sites and Monuments Record.
Prehistoric field systems and other earthworks, together with a find of flints, are just parts of the rich archaeology of Woolcombe.
An Iron Age ditch and other earthworks of unknown date were found around Toller Porcorum village.
A Roman road (now the A356) runs along the north-eastern boundary of the Parish. The Medieval period is extensively represented, with numerous greenways, deserted and shrunken settlements at Kingcombe, Woolcombe and close to Toller Porcorum and ridge and furrow is also visible at Woolcombe.
It is likely that many of the paths and tracks that cross the Parish are of at least Medieval origin.
Hedgerows are an important historical feature, particularly where they form ancient Parish and Manorial boundaries, or border trackways. The intact landscape of the Kingcombe reserve is a significant historical feature in itself.
Many of these remains are in a recognisable form.
Toller Porcorum parish displays many of the characteristics of chalk landscape parishes. The uplands and valley slopes are undeveloped except for occasional scattered farmsteads and barns, and development is concentrated in the valley floor or on the lower valley slope.
Lower Kingcombe and Higher Kingcombe are two hamlets on the north side of the Hooke valley. Toller Porcorum village lies at the confluence of the River Hooke and a tributary stream from the west. At its heart is a crossroads.
The village has a nuclear form, centred on the crossroads, although the former railway line running on an east/west axis severs the village. More recent expansion has been of a linear or cul-de-sac nature, particularly running southwards.
Toller Porcorum lies on slightly elevated ground above the flood plains of the two rivers. It is protected on its northern flank by the river Hooke and by the steeply rising valley slope.
The parish church is situated on high ground between the River Hooke to the north and a stream to the south. In the vicinity of the new parish hall there was archaeological evidence of a Medieval settlement and earthworks, suggesting that an older village surrounded the church. Converging on this village, as is the case today, were the roads from the ridgeways and from either side of the watercourses. At a later stage, after village fires, the Medieval settlement disappeared, and by 1844, the church stood alone with only farms and dwellings dotted about nearby.
In 1765, possibly earlier, there were properties on the High Street to the south of the church, the stream and eventually the railway of 1857. Later, a similar settlement pattern developed further along the High Street.