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Wareham Forest and Bloxworth

Matt Wilkinson and Pat Sheehan LRPS take to some woodland trails

Forest scenery near the start of the walk

Wareham Forest could hardly be more different from what one might think of as classic Dorset walking country: the coast path or the downs, for example. There are no wide vistas, none of the springy turf and bracing air of a ridgeway path. Yet the compensations are many, including easy going underfoot, no major climbs and easy-to-follow tracks.

The forest has its own flora and fauna, too, especially reptiles and heathland birds. There is enough variety of tree species, interspersed with open spaces, to put right any preconceived notions about monotonous stands of conifers. A pylon line marches across the forest, disfiguring it to some extent, but there are reports of peregrine falcons using some of the pylons as nesting-sites. It can be a useful navigational aid, too.

One of the joys of the forest is that the Forestry Commission are pretty relaxed about walkers wandering where they will. However, this walk follows established rights of way, not least because this is a working forest and the minor tracks can be blocked by timber-harvesting operations or by the deep, water-filled ruts that are their legacy.

Ferns and rhododendrons show that there is more to the forest than just conifers

The walk passes Woolsbarrow, one of Dorset’s least-known hillforts. Its 2¼ acres are hardly recognisable as a hillfort because of forestry operations and gravel extraction, but it is an atmospheric spot with panoramic views. North of the A35, the route touches Bloxworth, a refinedly pretty village. The church of St Andrew has an 18th-century hour-glass on the pulpit for timing the sermon and a 13th-century font, but was largely spoiled by Victorian restorers.

Distance: About 6 miles
Start: The parking space just under a mile south-east of the A35 east of Bere Regis (OS ref SY873933)
How to get there: One mile east of Bere Regis, turn south-east off the A35 on an unclassified road signposted to Wareham. There are parking spaces on both sides of the road in just under a mile, inside the edge of the forest.
Maps: OS OL 15 (Purbeck & South Dorset); OS Landranger 194 (Dorchester & Weymouth) and 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck)
Refreshments: None on the route. The nearest are in Bere Regis or Wareham

1. If you have parked on the left-hand side of the road, coming from the Bere Regis direction, cross the road and walk down the track straight ahead. Ignore a turning to the right in about ? mile and go straight across a cross-tracks in about a further ? mile. In about ? mile again, go under the pylon line and ignore a turning to the left but in about 150 yards, where the track swings to the left, continue straight ahead along a footpath. This emerges onto a paved lane, but turn left almost immediately, to the right of Bere Lodge, on a drive signed to Pear Tree Cottage and Hyde Beeches.

The route clips the edge of Woolsbarrow

2. In just over ½ mile, with a fence, double gates and buildings ahead, turn left on the drive leading away from Hyde House and its associated buildings. This runs for almost 1¼ miles up to a road. Turn left on the road and in 50 yards right into a parking area. Three tracks leave the area: take the middle, most conspicuous one of these and follow it up a slight gradient. At a track junction in a little under ½ mile, continue straight on towards a pylon a few hundred yards ahead. Just past the pylon and under its wires, turn left, signed to Woolsbarrow Hillfort. In about 250 yards, at a cross-tracks, a diversion to the left leads up onto the fort, but the main route of the walk continues straight ahead. Ignore a turning to the left at the end of the hillfort and continue straight ahead. In ? mile, the main track curves to the left but continue straight ahead on a path. Follow this path as it emerges from the conifer forest into a grove of silver birches and continues to reach the A35.

Approaching the A35 and Bloxworth, the forest gives way to more open deciduous woodland

3. Cross this busy road carefully to the track straight ahead. Walk up this track, which bends to the left and then sharply right at a track junction. About 200 yards after the junction, turn left on a paved drive. This becomes a rough track, at the end of which go straight on into a field. Follow the right-hand edge of this field. At the next corner, cross a bridge into a large open field and turn right to follow the right-hand field-edge. Turn left at the next corner and in about 200 yards turn right over a plank bridge. Continue up the left-hand side of the field beyond. In the next corner, leave the field between two large oak trees to reach the road through Bloxworth.

The junction in the middle of Bloxworth

4. Turn left. At the thatched shelter on the right, you may go straight on to inspect the rest of the village and especially the parish church. The walk turns left here, though, following a road which leads down to the A35. Again, go straight (and carefully) across and follow the track immediately ahead. At a track junction in a little over ¼ mile bear slightly right and follow the track back to the start of the walk.

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