The village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire, which is often cited as ‘the prettiest village in England’ was the location of a weeks filming for War Horse in September 2010. With the thick stone walling and split natural stone tiles that typify the architecture of the Cotswolds, the buildings of Castle Combe – which are listed as ancient monuments and are many hundreds of years old – lend themselves perfectly to the Hollywood ideal of the quintessential English village.
In fact, though some temporary cosmetic alterations were required for filming parts of the village (street lights, roads, windows etc.), many locations such as the medieval Market Cross were left intact; such is the remarkable history on show in this ancient village. The surrounding area features many historical sites of interest to visit too, including the Stonehenge and Avebury sites, the Wiltshire White Horses and the beautiful Georgian city of Bath close by. Click here to learn more about Castle Combe.
On the borders of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, near the towns of Luton and Harpenden lies the Luton Hoo Estate. This former stately home (now a luxury hotel) was used as the setting for the mansion house in the film. Counted among its proud features is the Luton Hoo Walled Garden, a stunning five-acre octagonal garden that dates back to 1760’s. The estate hosts events throughout the year including the Children’s Literacy Fair, Art Exhibitions and numerous horticultural events. Shooting for the film began here in October 2010 and lasted for two days. Scenes from Empire of the Sun, Eyes Wide Shut and Four Weddings and a Funeral were also shot there.
Bourne Wood, Surrey
Bourne Wood is a largely coniferous woodland to the south of Farnham. The wartime camp scenes in War Horse were filmed amid the forest’s heathland and lasted for about two weeks. Numerous other films have been shot in the wood, including the opening battle scene from Gladiator. The wood itself is an enjoyable and undemanding place to explore with a variety of wildlife inhabiting much of the area. Its tracks and footpaths are accessible throughout the year and a headland above a clearing in the woodland offers some impressive views of the surrounding forest. Nearby Farnham is also worth a visit, with Farnham Castle’s keep (managed by English Heritage) open to the public.
Stratfield Saye Estate, Hampshire
In 1817 the First Duke of Wellington acquired Stratfield Saye Estate in Hampshire as a reward for his success at the Battle of Waterloo. A cavalry charge scene from War Horse involving 130 extras was filmed here in August 2010 – coincidentally, the Duke’s own favourite charger Copenhagen is buried here too. The house is popular with visitors and offers a range of activities to enjoy throughout the year, from viewing its collections of paintings and artifacts to the Wellington Exhibition that chronicles his military and political life. The wider estate provides plenty to see and do including the Wellington Farm Shop, Riding Centre and Country Park.
Filming in and around Dartmoor in Devon had initially only been scheduled to last around four days, but it is said that when Spielberg saw the location scout’s photographs of Dartmoor, he decided to cut other parts of the story from the film and spend more time shooting on the Moor that he described as having been ‘gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty’.
Ditsworthy Warren House is a Grade II listed building dating from the late 18th century that sits on the easterly edge of Ringmoor Down. It was used as the location for the Narracott family’s farmhouse in the film. Standing isolated and exposed upon the wild, rolling Dartmoor landscape near to the village of Sheepstor in Devon, the house was built for the Ditsworthy Warren keeper to live in whilst tending a square kilometre of ground in which rabbits were once commercially breed. Dartmoor was considered to be an excellent location for rabbit breeding as no crops were grown in the area. Ditsworthy Warren was once the largest warren in England and large artificial stone burrows called ‘pillow mounds’ can be seen scattered around the nearby fields. The surrounding area offers a superb place to walk and there are numerous sites of interest in close proximity such as the Drizzlecombe complex monuments and Langcombe kistvaens; plus numerous tors and cairns that provide a nice change of pace to the lonely yet altogether magnificent views encountered.
Ringmoor Down is an area of moorland located in the southwest corner of Dartmoor. The location overlooks the village of Sheepstor at the foot of Sheeps Tor and with the Burrator Reservoir beyond. The down was used in the film as the scene of a race between the horse Joey and his owner versus a newly invented car. Whichever direction you choose to travel in from Ringmoor you are sure to encounter some remarkable sites, including the Legis Tor settlements and Tin Workings to the south, and Trowlesworthy Row and still further south the Cairn Circle just over the River Plym. The down itself is home to the ancient Ringmoor Down Stone Row & Cairn Circle.
Commanding an excellent view of the Dart Valley below, the Combestone Tor is a popular site for visitors. With parking only a short distance away, it is also one of the more easily accessible sites on the Moor featured in the movie, making it a popular destination for picnickers and ramblers. If you visit on a windy day you might hear the legendary ‘cry of the dart’ as the river crashes its way through the rocky valley below; which in combination with the Druidical ceremonial basins dotted around the area and stories of the piskies (pixies) that live in the tor, can give the area an almost otherworldly quality.
Haytor and Haytor Rocks are arguably one the more popular destinations for visitors of Dartmoor. Previously known as Itterdown until the late 1800’s, its huge granite mass sits on top of a hill overlooking the nearby village of Haytor Vale and can be walked to from the nearby road. Although steps were cut into the rock sometime in the 1800’s to make the ascent less difficult, it is still regularly visited by rock climbing schools due to the generally easy grade of its climbs; nonetheless, spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area make it well worth the climb to the summit.
Another location featured in War Horse is the Bonehill area. This area – namely Bonehill Rocks – has the highest concentration of boulders on the Moor and because of this it has become a hotspot for climbing and bouldering in recent years. Located near the village of Widecombe in the Moor in the east of Dartmoor National Park, the Bonehill Rocks are close to parking and those visiting the site are recommended to include it as part of a longer walk incorporating Bell Tor, Chinkwell Tor and Honeybag Tor. A superb viewpoint of the surrounding moor is also possible from climbing nearby Hamel Down – also within reach from Widecombe in the Moor.
Also featured in the film is Hexworthy Bridge. The bridge crosses over a peaceful section of the West Dart River, nestled in a quite corner of the Dartmoor Forest by the small hamlet of Hexworthy – from which the bridge takes its name. If you’re quiet, then following the river on foot might reveal some captivating moments of wildlife along its banks. Also located here is the Forest Inn, a country inn that dates back to the 1850’s. Visitors to this area can stay at the inn, which offers a bed & breakfast service. A quick walk down the road from here, almost hidden away is the only Anglican chapel in country that is dedicated to Saint Raphael (incidentally the patron saint of travellers) and the chapel presents an ideal place for tired feet to stop for a while, rest and enjoy the serene surroundings.
Shots of Dartmoor in War Horse also included Cadover Bridge and the nearby area of Brisworthy. As with most of Dartmoor, this presents another fine place to explore, with the River Plym undulating at a measured pace through its rock-strewn riverbed in this calm and peaceful part of the world. The Brisworthy stone circle located here is another example of the prehistoric sites that are scattered around Dartmoor.