Given that my last walk ended at the Sandbanks Ferry and you can take this across the mouth of Poole Harbour, you might be expecting me to cross that to continue my walk. However there is also a long distance footpath, the Poole Harbour Trail that runs around (as close as possible) Poole Harbour. Since Poole Harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world and much of it is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) I decided it was worth exploring and including in this walk. My rules allow me to walk around a harbor or estuary if I choose to do so, as I did here.
This is a fairly recent path, I think the work of an individual who publishes a number of PDF files giving directions on the website. He has aspirations to make this a National Trail too or an extension to the South West Coast Path. Whether that will ever happen or not I don’t know (I suspect it is much more likely it might be included in the England coast path) but the good news is that it was added to the most recent version of the Ordnance Survey Map of the area, published a few months ago, which makes the route much easier to follow. You might also think that now I have finished the South West Coast Path, route finding might get harder, but thankfully this path means I can continue along a well signed route.
In fact I walked this path beginning from Poole town centre, so I’m not writing it up quite in order and hence this post is an almagamation of two walks, one from Poole to Studland and another a circular walk from Corfe Castle, which between them took in the first part of the Poole Harbour trail from South Haven Point to Corfe Castle.
I set off from near Christchurch and headed for Corfe Castle, via the A35 and A351, a journey which can be very time consuming in summer due to dreadful congestion but thankfully in the winter, as it was, is a fairly easy journey, taking me around 45 minutes.
On reaching the castle, there is a National Trust car park on the left, but unfrotunately this no longer allows all day parking, it is now limited to (I think) 4 hours. If you are a National Trust member, it is possible you will get away with parking longer. However if you turn right on the road to Church Knowle and Kimmeridge there is a parking area on the right with space for around 20 cars which is free, and I was fortunate to get the last space here. In summer, there is the West Street car park in the village (which does allow all day parking, but is not that big) or a park and ride at Norden Station. This is unusual in that it uses the Steam Railway to Corfe Castle, but the downside this is only around hourly for most of the year, so you might prefer to park and walk instead!
I couldn’t get a good photo of the castle because the sun was low, so here is one taking later in the year instead.
From my parking space I headed back to the busy A351 and crossed the road to the castle visitor centre and car park. Corfe Castle is very beautiful and well worth a visit, the ruins are now in the care of the National Trust and open to the public. The village too is beautiful, made of Purbeck Stone, but the Poole Harbour trail from here to Studland does not go through the village, so I didn’t go there on this walk. The visitor centre has a shop and toilets and I took the steps up from the far end of the car park to the railway track. This is the site of the Swanage Railway, a steam railway that runs from Norden Park and Ride, just north of Corfe Castle, to Corfe Castle and Swanage. Trains run daily for much of the year and almost every weekend all year round. It is a very good service and well worth the ride and next year, trains are due to begin running between Wareham and Swanage, connection with the main London to Weymouth railway line.
The path initially runs parallel with the railway to my right but soon crosses the track via a pedestrian crossing, then continues on the left hand edge of a field, still alongside the railway line, which is to my left. The path then heads alongside the edge of woodland, sitll beside the railway line, to reach a small picnic site next to a rusty old bridge across the railway line. Here I can look north along the track to Norden Station, the current northern terminus of the line where there is an assortment of rolling stock in the sidings.
From here I turned right and follow a path through the edge of the woodland, now alongside the parking and picnic area of the Norden Park and Ride to my left. On my right there is woodland with lakes and information boards about the use of this previously, I can’t remember what it was exactly, but the land had been quarried. The path then took me down steps to a minor (private?) road and across it into a field. The path was a bit boggy here but it was not far to the small area of woodland which I headed through, though it was boggy in places. Once out I emerged into a large field which was again boggy and the route onwards was not obvious at all. I headed for a house I could see on the other side and then on reaching the northern edge of the field, realised I had gone wrong and so turned right where I managed to find the correct route of the path. Signage of this route is certainly not as good as the South West Coast Path!
Once past the house I headed through more boggy areas of woodland and out onto New Mills Heath. Much of the land around Poole Harbour and Purbeck is very beautiful especially when the heather and gorse are in flower. Although not at it’s best in January, it was still pleasant.
I soon came to a gate signed as Hartland Way where the path continued north. I was a bit surprised to see this marked as “Tour De Manche” a long distance cycling route through northern France and South West England. I was also a little surprised to come across this sign.
I must have gone very wrong to end up so close to Scotland! In fact, this is a farm house called Scotland. From Scotland (I think a National Trust owned farm) I headed north on the minor road to the Arne road. The Poole Harbour Trail follows this for around half a mile until it forks off right, a route shared with National Cycle Network 2. This heads over more heath to Sharford Bridge and along a boggy area of ground to reach a private road. Poole Harbour has quite a lot of oil under it and as a result there is quite a bit of oil extraction going on. I have already passed a small “nodding donkey” at Kimmeridge but there are also some large works at Wytch Heath, off to my right which are mostly hidden by woodland. I initially therefore have to follow the road leading to one of these sites but can then fork off to the left to the track leading to Wytch Farm. If you have been paying attention you might have noticed that I have not yet seen anything that might be considered coastal yet. This changed here, where I finally got a glimpse of the water of Poole Harbour, which flows up to the edge of this land, just to my left.
The path went through the in places muddy farm yard of the farm and I was glad to leave it, I never like walking past farms. The path soon brought me back to the private road past the various oil wells, with a glimpse of one.
Thankfully, as you can see, it is not that intrusive. Ahead the road forked half left but when it turned half left again I could fork off onto a path over Rempstone Heath. This was a lovely area of open heathland mixed with areas of pine woodland.
The paths through the woodland were however numerous and although the signage was reasonable I had to keep checking my map and GPS to ensure I was still going the right way.
The wide forestry tracks made for easy walking though and it was at least dry underfoot. However there were no more glimpses of the coast. At the end of the heath I emerged to a track going left. The track to the left heads for around half a mile to Ower Heath but is a dead-end. I did follow it once to see if you can get to the edge of the harbour, but you can’t (legally) because the right of way stops just before a house and you cant get past this to the coast. So here I crossed and follows the track to Ower Farm. A few metres after joining this, I forked right with the path and got a brief glimpse of the waters of Poole Harbour, this part being Newton Bay.
The path continued along a track to the rather nice looking house of Newton.
Around here I once again got a glimpse of the harbour to my left.
The track continued into the woodland of Goathorn Plantation. To the left is a thin peninsula that juts out into the harbour, Goathorn Point. There are more oil wells hidden in the wood here but sadly no public paths, so I was not able to explore this. The path continues on track passing Goathorn Farm and Greenlands Farm, where I reach the Studland estate, more land owned by the National Trust.
This heads to Ferry Road, but just before the Poole Harbour trail turns left on a track adjacent to the road. This gave a further view over the water of the harbour and Bournemouth beyond.
The track was wide and easy to follow.
However at the point the path reached the road on this circular walk I headed south over Godlingston Heath to Agglestone on over the Isle of Purbeck Golf Course and up onto the ridge of Nine Barrow Down back to Corfe Castle. That is off the Poole Harbour trail so I won’t cover it, other than to add a photo of the castle and village just as it had got dark.
I’ll now switch to January 2014 where I walked from Poole town centre to North Haven Point (to be written up in a later blog post), followed the coast path to Studland then followed the track back to this point of the Poole Harbour trail. Here is the view over the harbour.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a path off to the left to a bird hide (Brands Bay Hide), but there was not a lot to see, sadly (the path to it is a short dead-end). However I was now at the banks of the harbour and decided that rather than stick with the Poole Harbour trail, which runs close to Ferry Road, I would try to make my way around the edge of the harbour on the beach instead. Poole Harbour is very sandy and much of it is shallow, so I was able to make it around the coast from here to the ferry.
The whole area is desginated access land from here to the ferry, so it is also perfectly legal to walk this way. It was initially fairly easy going along a good sandy beach.
I followed this around the edge of Brand’s Bay to Redhorn Quay. This was presumably used for something in the past, but all that remained now was a small bit of jetty and the rusting remains of part of a boat.
I had a small area of saltmarsh to make my way over here which was very boggy.
I could soon make it back to the sands at the waters edge though although I did have a bit of a tight squeeze to get between this little cliff and the sea.
I was now passing the National Trust owned Brownsea Island off to my left, although it is closed in January, as it was, which is why I was a bit surprised to see one of the yellow Brownsea Island Ferry boats making it’s way through the harbour.
I could also look around the harbour to see Sandbanks and the mouth of Poole Harbour.
Ahead I had a bit of a problem – the sea was now reaching right to the land so I could no longer walk along the beach and had to find a rough path over the heath.
Ahead there was then a shingle beach again so I could walk on this and I passed a number of Oyster catachters who seemed to be enjoying it.
I had now reached Bramble Bush Bay, the last bay on the harbour side of the peninsula here. It is not hard to see how it got it’s name, being backed by many bramble bushes. It is also the bay after which the current Sandbanks ferry is named. A few houses boats are moored up in this bay, presumably making use of the nearby road access.
It did not take me much longer to reach once again the southern edge of the mouth of the harbour and the famous red telephone box on the beach.
From here on this particular day I crossed the harbour mouth on the chain ferry and took the bus back to Poole. However to do this as one walk, you will need to change buses in Swnage, one of the reasons I did much of this walk as part of a circular walk from Corfe Castle!
This walk was a bit different to my walks on the South West Coast Path as I was following the shallower and calmer waters of the harbour. However I was a little disappointed to get so little view of the harbour. Though a pleasant and enjoyable walk, much of it is through woodland and over heath, with only limited views of the harbour.
Here is the details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
You will need to take Purbeck Breezer route 50 from South Haven Point to Swanage and then change onto either bus 40 or the steam train from Swanage back to Corfe Castle. If using the buses it is recommended to buy a day ticket covering both the “Purbeck Breezer” routes, which costs £8.50, as this works out the cheapest ticket.
Purbeck Breezer route 50 : Bournemouth Station – Bournemouth Centre – Westbourne – Canford Cliffs – Sandbanks Ferry – Shell Bay Ferry (South Haven Point) – Studland – Swanage Bus Station. Hourly Monday – Saturday during the winter, increasing to every 30 minutes during the summer. Once every 2 hours on winter Sundays rising to hourly during the summer months.
Purbeck Breezer route 40 : Swanage Bus Station – Langton Matravers – Kingston – Corfe Castle – Stoborough Green – Wareham – Wareham Station – Holton Heath – Organford – Lytchett Minster – Upton – Poole (Bus station). Hourly Monday – Saturday. Once every 2 hours on winter Sundays, hourly on summer Sundays.
Swanage Railway : Swanage – Herston (on request only) – Harmans Cross – Corfe Castle – Norden Park and Ride. Runs weekends only all year round (diesel services only on some winter weekends). Daily from late March to the end of October. From 4 to around 15 trains a day, depending on the season. A single ticket from Swanage to Corfe Castle or Norden costs £7 or £4 after 6pm when the “yellow” timetable is operating, where trains run until around 1opm.