Warm waters on white beaches round the shore of Poole Bay
Breathtaking cliffs and isolated caves where smugglers once landed their contraband bring the Dorset Coast Path to a dramatic end. Eastwards the character of the coast changes abruptly, with the busy natural harbour of Poole and the seaside resort of Bournemouth. In the bays of Poole, Studland and Swanage, some of the warmest seawaters in Britain wash over sandy beaches, while seafaring traditions are maintained by small-boat sailors.
The beautiful Norman church of St Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of sailors, cottages of grey Purbeck stone and a central village pond give Worth Matravers an atmosphere of tranquillity. One cottage is named after Isaac Gulliver, an 18th-century smuggler who was revered as a hero by the people of his locality who shared in his spoils.
The village is a good starting point for an excellent 4 mile walk along a fine stretch of the coastal path. A signposted footpath from the village leads to coves at Winspit. From there, a walk along the coastal path to the west leads past the fine viewpoint of St Alban’s Head. It is possible to return to Worth Matravers by another signposted footpath from Chapman’s Pool but landslips make the path hazardous and the pool is closed to the public. The path often runs close to the cliff edge and is hazardous in windy conditions.
DURLSTON COUNTRY PARK
Sea-bird colonies along the cliffs are the most notable feature of the varied wildlife of this 260 acre country park. An interesting man-made feature of the park is the Great Globe, a sphere of Portland stone 10 ft in diameter and weighing 40 tons, which has the features of the Earth’s surface carved upon it. It was placed there in 1887 by John Mowlem, Swanage-born founder of the building contractors firm. Near by is the 19th-century Durlston Head Castle, built in 1890 as a restaurant and still used as a cafeteria. Further westwards along the coastal path is Anvil Point lighthouse.
Swanage Bay was the scene of a great naval victory by King Alfred over the Danes in 877. Eleven hundred years later, the features of the bay are its safe bathing and sailing, except for the south side where the tidal race over Peveril Ledge is dangerous to small craft. Swimmers should not, however, venture too far north of the bay, for the sea close to Ballard Cliff is treacherous.
At the pier, boats can be hired and deep-sea fishing expeditions organised. There is also fishing from the pier itself and the shore, the catches including flounder, plaice, sole, bass and mackerel. Windsurfing can be arranged there, and the pier’s diving school is one of the oldest in the country.
The nearby Wellington Clock Tower once adorned the southern approach to London Bridge, but having been declared an ‘unwarrantable obstruction’ by the Metropolitan Police, it was moved to Swanage in 1867. Swanage Town Hall, built in 1883, also originated in London – its carved stone facade was once the front of the Mercers’ Hall in Cheapside and is reputed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The oldest building in Swanage is the 13th-century parish church of St Mary the Virgin, in a picturesque setting next to the Millpond. Almost next door to the church is The Old Tithe Barn Museum, housing many relics of the town’s past.
The village of Studland is close to woods, sea and downs, and its quiet unspoiled character is exemplified by the unrestored Norman church of St Nicholas of Myra. Many winding lanes and footpaths lead to the excellent sandy beach, owned by the
National Trust, and fine bathing area of Studland Bay, where warm shallow waters are protected from all but strong easterly winds. The bay is deep enough only for small craft, but there is a good anchorage for larger vessels in the small bay towards The Foreland. There, too, stand the isolated stacks of chalk, the Old Harry Rocks.
North of the village, Studland Heath National Nature Reserve contains wildlife ranging from wildfowl to lizards. The heathland is the home of the rare and harmless smooth snake; the adder is also found there, so walkers should wear strong shoes and keep to the marked footpaths.
There is a good 1 mile walk from Studland to the Agglestone, a 17 ft high triangular mass of natural ironstone. According to legend, it was carried from the Isle of Wight by the Devil, who planned to drop its 400 tons on Salisbury Cathedral. The burden proved too great, and the task was abandoned.
A settlement of the early Britons and then a Roman town, Wareham achieved importance during Saxon times because of its situation at the head of the River Frome. The Danes made the town their headquarters in 866, but after a treaty in 876 they agreed to leave, having reduced the town to ruins. Wareham was then sacked fountimes in 100 years by the returning conquerors. Later, the town had barely recovered from the strife of the Middle Ages when it was taken by the Roundheads during the Civil War. A section of the Town Walls is known as Bloody Bank, the scene of executions by order of Judge Jeffries after the failure of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.
The Saxon church of St Martin houses an effigy of T. E. Lawrence (’Lawrence of Arabia’), who spent his last years at Clouds Hill Cottage, 6 miles to the north-west. In the Town Museum in St Johns Hill there is a pictorial record of Lawrence’s life, as well as many items relating to the town’s history.
Reached by passenger ferry from Sandbanks or Poole Quay, the 500 acres of heath and woodland on Brownsea Island are open every day from Easter to September. Visitors, for a fee, may land their own boats at the western end of the island; dogs are not allowed. The island is owned by the National Trust, and elaborate steps are taken to maintain the nature reserve and bird sanctuary on the north-east side. Its splendid April daffodils, lush rhododendron avenue and rare colony of red squirrels make the island a haven for nature lovers.
Brownsea Island is best known as the birthplace of the Scouting movement – Lord Baden Powell held an experimental camp there in 1907. Branksea Castle was built on the island by Henry VIII as a military fort to defend Poole Harbour.
The natural harbour of Poole might have been specially designed for the yachtsman, fisherman and watersports enthusiast. With a double high tide – a characteristic of this stretch of coast – the harbour has about 14 hours of high water each day. Marinas, sailing clubs and yacht clubs abound on the north-west shores, though small craft should steer clear of the larger vessels using the harbour’s main channel.
For the more conventional seaside holiday there are 3 miles of golden beaches extending from Sandbanks to Branksome Dene Chine and on towards Bournemouth, and bathing spots in the harbourside parks. The Poole Arts Centre – a multi-entertainments complex – and a full range of amusements contribute to the town’s growing reputation as a holiday resort.
At Poole Quay, small craft and fishing boats contrast with the activities of a modern port. Poole Aquarium, on the quay, includes a collection of tropical fish, two sharks, piranhas and a reptile house that includes crocodiles and venomous snakes. A craft centre and National Model Museum also form part of the aquarium complex. At Poole Pottery, visitors can buy its products in the adjoining showroom.
Buildings of interest on the quay include the Georgian-style Custom House, old warehouses, and the old harbour offices and three museums. The Maritime Museum reflects the town’s seafaring history; the old Guildhall in Market Street houses local history exhibits; and Scaplen’s Court Museum features local archaeology.
Behind the lively quay waterfront is the old town, now a conservation area, whose well-preserved Georgian character evokes the days when Poole was a principal port for trade to the New World, particularly Newfoundland. Poole’s High Street has shops and daily markets, and the Arndale Centre provides undercover shopping, restaurants and cafes and a sports centre. Poole Park provides a variety of amusements, including a zoo and miniature railway. Upton Country Park is a good setting for a quiet picnic or a leisurely stroll, and includes a nature trail.
This beach area at the entrance to Poole Harbour is one of the best bathing spots on the south coast. The peninsula has sailing facilities and a windsurfing area on its harbour side. Swimmers and surfers should keep away from the harbour entrance, since strong currents make the waters hazardous.
A car ferry from Sandbanks to Studland and the Isle of Purbeck operates all year round.