This is the last part of the Poole Harbour trail and means I’ve finally linked up the walks from the end of the South West Coast Path at South Haven Point and the start of Poole Bay at North Haven Point, by walking round Poole Harbour and a sojourn to the Channel Islands!
I’ve actually walked this walk a few times, so the photos are from a mix of occasions and a mix of weathers, but the text from the most recent time I walked it, a few months ago in January of this year.
This is the last part of the Poole Harbour Trail I have been following around Poole Harbour. It is probably the most urban of the stretches too, as the coast is built up all the way. Despite this, there is still a lot to see, although a lot of the walk is next to roads (even if those roads are often also next to the sea).
I started by driving down to Sandbanks and parking on the road near the chain ferry over the mouth of the harbour. This is because there is free car parking on the road at Sandbanks, although unfortunately the greedy Poole Council is determined to change that. For they have announced plans to turn these roads into essentially an extension of the large pay and display beach car park a bit further along the coast, by making the existing parking bays in these roads all pay and display, and at the same tariff charged in the car park – a whopping £15 a day. More controversially, these charges will also apply to residents (and their visitors) too – there will be no residents parking permit, instead residents will be forced to either pay by the day or buy an annual beach parking permit. There have been a couple of petitions about it, so I hope these plans are dropped, but I doubt they will be.
So I made the most of the free parking whilst it lasts – it is not as if this area has good public transport links either, with two bus routes, both running hourly for most of the year serving Sandbanks, which is quite poor for an urban area that is also popular with visitors.
Once parked at Sandbanks I had timed my arrival for the bus, so I took the bus from Sandbanks to Poole, so that I could walk back to my car. This takes around 25 minutes (see the link at the bottom) and dropped me at the rather utilitarian Poole Bus Station, which does not seem to have changed much since the 1960s. Fortunately, the rest of the town is more pleasant.
I headed through the main shopping area and then down the pleasant part cobbled street that took me back to Poole Quay.
The quay is a bustling place with the pleasure part of the harbour based on this side where boats leave for Brownsea Island and trips around the coast or to Wareham. On the other side of the narrow strip of water is the more commercial port, where large freight boats can be seen unloading.
I continued along the little promenade past some more modern flats, with shops and restaurants at the bottom and a large marina to my right. Poole is well known as being a wealthy area, and much of that is on show on this walk.
Past the flats the quay becomes a little more commercial with part of it roped off for the unloading of boats. Ahead I come to the RNLI Lifeboat museum housed, as you might expect, in the old lifeboat station. The RNLI are based in Poole (and a charity I support).
The path goes in front of the lifeboat station, past a small car park and then reaches Parkstone Bay. This is part of Poole Park and a much visited local area, with an easy surfaced path around the bay backed by a large green. There is also a bit of a beach here, although it is mostly shingle. Here is the view back to Poole and ahead to Parkstone.
The tarmac path continues, passing a large car park. It seems to be used mostly for that oh so British custom of sitting in your car by the sea, drinking tea, reading the paper and falling asleep (not necessarily in that order).
Beyond the end of the car park the path continues as tarmac but with a line of boulders to my right presumably as a defence against the sea. The path follows the edge of the bay, heading a bit inland and is now alongside the railway line, which runs along an embankment here with the large boating lake of Poole park behind, accessed by going under the viaduct. I always enjoy this bit when taking the train here. Houses are now closer to the left and soon the green area becomes mostly sports fields, as I head further from the town centre and more into the residential areas. The views out to sea are still lovely, though.
I soon reach the far end of the park where there is tree-lined residential road. Turning right here is a footpath which heads down to the coast, into a marina, but it is a dead-end. So instead I turn left, with the Poole Harbour trail.
At the end of the road I reach the B3369 Sandbanks Road which as you might expect heads to Sandbanks, and is quite a busy road. There is a pavement alongside the road at least, but this is not a fun part, with houses on both sides of the road, no view of the sea and traffic passing close by. A bus layby, seperated from the road by some grass provides a very brief respite before it is back to the road.
After a while I pass a parade of shops useful if you want something to eat I suppose, but after this I can briefly leave the main road, turning left along Dorset Lake Avenue which runs behind the main road. The houses here are now very large and detached with much development going on. This part of Poole is extremely wealthy. At the end of the road I emerge back onto the main road, but it is now tree-lined and rather more pleasant.
Very soon on the right I can turn off the busy road to a lovely area called Evening Hill. It does not seem to be that well known but it is a little hill with a few paths heading down through gardens to the waters edge. The views of the harbour here are lovely and I believe it is also a good place to watch the sun set over the harbour.
Looking to the left I can see out into the wider harbour, over to Brownsea Island, and my destination, Sandbanks.
At evening hill I drop down on the path through the park to the wall alongside the harbour at the bottom – good to be back beside the water and away from the road. This area is quiet and popular with fisherman. At the end the path emerges back onto the road by East Dorset Sailing Club. Once past that building I am back on the road but there is now a very wide pavement, more a promenade really and fine views of the harbour.
The shallow sheltered waters of Poole Harbour make this a popular area for a variety of watersports and there are numerous VW vans parked up along the harbour with boats, kiaks etc being loaded or unloaded. As I follow the road south there is a bit of beach and dunes beside the harbour and I have a nice view back where I have come – the sailing club is at the far end, with evening hill behind.
As the tide was out I headed down on this beach to walk for a while, but soon had to return to the road. I’ve now reached the Sandbanks peninsula.
If you didn’t know, this is an area of exceptional wealth. According to this BBC article the peninsula is the 4th most expensive place to live, not in the UK, but in the world. That article is quite old and whilst I’m not sure it still holds that title, the average property price across all of Sandbanks was £800,000 in 2013, I imagine it has risen since then. It is not a cheap place to live. Whilst I can certainly see the attraction I can think of more attractive places on the coast to live then here. I soon reach the most expensive part of the peninsula. Here there are houses which have the water at both their front and back, with the backs of the houses looking over Poole Harbour and the front over the coast at Sandbanks. They are though very exposed and I wonder if one day erosion will claim them. It is also the sort of area where if someone buys a house they usually end up pulling it down and building a new one, so a lot of the property is rather “Grand Designs” style.
Enough about the property though, the coast is why I’m here and the views over to my right now are lovely with all of one side of Brownsea Island now visible just off to my right.
There is soon a lower path which is right beside the harbour and separated from the road by a little grassy bank, making for more pleasant walking.
Off to my left I’m soon passing the main car park and facilities of the beach. At the end of this my nice little promenade ends at the North Haven Yacht Club. I must now join the road again, as property now lines the harbour again, so there is no public access along the coast. I pass another little promenade of shops on my right, but the shops are rather upper class, as you might expect. I remember there used to be a takeaway here before it became so exclusive.
I now have to join Panorama road, perhaps rather ironically named because there isn’t much of a panorama to be seen from it, unless you like large houses. Here the road, the B3369 goes in a 1-way loop around the tip of Sandbanks. This means as you approach the chain ferry traffic queuing for the ferry can use the left hand lane allowing through traffic to use the right hand lane. This does mean though that many of the houses have lines of queuing cars, often with engines running outside for most of the day. As I said, I find it surprising this area is so exclusive.
The side of Panorama Road where I am walking is after the ferry, so the traffic largely comes in bursts whenever the ferry arrives. Although there are a couple of footpaths off to the right from the road they are all dead ends, so there is really no alternative but the road here. There is a variety of architecture here, from 1960s blocks of flats to luxury mansions. I’m soon rounding the corner and now heading south east towards the ferry.
Finally I reach the slipway and get a view of the coast once more. Here the chain ferry crosses the mouth of the harbour. It has to be secured in places by chains because of the strong currents at the mouth of the harbour. Other than when the ferry is out of action for a refit, it runs every day of the year, even on Christmas Day.
It is not the only ferry to run from here either as Brownsea Island ferries operate the main service over to Brownsea Island from the yellow kiosk alongside the car ferry slipway. They go from this wooden jetty, but were not operating at this time of year, as they only run from roughly early March to late October.
Over the other side is Shell Bay, where I started my walk around the Poole Harbour Trail.
So there we are, I walked almost 40 miles, to end up around 300 metres from where I started! But it was actually a rather enjoyable walk. This particular walk was rather urban, but it had it’s most moments, particularly Parkstone Bay and Evening Hill. The whole trail itself though is a lovely walk and if they can sort out a good route in the area around Holton Heath it will be even better. I’m glad I decided to walk the Poole Harbour Trail, it was more enjoyable than I had expected and more scenic too.
Here is the details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
If you are doing the walk on a Sunday it is still possible to return to Poole, but you will need to take two buses to do so – route 50 from Sandbanks to Westbourne where you can then change onto route M1/M2 back to Poole. If doing this ask for a “Zone A” day ticket (which costs £4.10 at the time of writing) and is valid on both bus routes.
Purbeck Breezer route 50 : Bournemouth (Station) – Bournemouth (Square) – Westbourne – Canford Cliffs – Sandbanks – Shell Bay – Studland – Swanage. This bus runs hourly on Sundays from March to late September and once every 2 hours during the winter. (It also runs Monday – Saturday up to every 30 minutes).