The best of Dorset in words and pictures

The Dorset walk — Purbeck heath and forest

Matt Wilkinson and Mark Bauer find much to admire on Purbeck’s northern edge

Purbeck Heath

The path across the heath, with Poole Bay
in the distance

‘Nothing but a lot of scrubby little plants’ was one walking companion’s dismissive verdict on Godlingston Heath. Compared with the cliffs and downs elsewhere in Dorset, it may be almost a fair comment, but the heathlands have a grandeur of their own and a subtlety of colour nearly all the year round. They also provide reasonably level, easy walking. Naturalists love the heath because plants, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals, while not unique in themselves, combine to produce an ecology that is found in no other habitat.

The isolated settlement at Newton, on the edge of Poole Harbour, owes its name to the fancies of a King. In 1286, Edward I ordered a new town (Newton) built there and even granted it a charter, but it quickly became obvious that such an ambitious development was not viable. Later, clay was dug at Newton and it was on the route of Fayle’s Tramway from Norden to Goathorn.

Edward’s intention was to create a new port for the export of stone, but Ower Quay was already well-established by the 13th century. The old route across the heath is still commemorated by the kicking of a football from Corfe Castle to Ower every Shrove Tuesday. The walk includes an optional diversion to Ower Quay, where the right of way extends right to the water’s edge and provides views over Poole Harbour.

This diversion provided us with a sight which summed up 21st-century Purbeck: a herd of cattle grazing contentedly, while just over the hedge, the wellhead pump of BP’s Site D kept up its incessant nodding to maintain the Purbeck oilfield’s position as the biggest onshore producer in Western Europe.

Distance: About 7½ miles (8½ miles with the optional extension to Ower Quay).
Terrain: Mainly sandy or stony heathland tracks, with some field paths. None of the gradients is particularly steep or long.
Start: About 100 yards north of the crossroads near Rempstone Farm. OS map reference 989829; postcode BH20 5JH.
How to get there: Turn north off the B3351 Corfe Castle-Studland Road just under 2 miles from Corfe Castle or just over 3 miles from Studland. The turning is signed ‘Rempstone’. Go straight across a cross roads in about ¼ mile and park carefully on the grass verge on the right.
Maps: OS Explorer OL 15 (Purbeck & South Dorset); OS Landranger 195 (Bournemouth & Purbeck).
Refreshments: None on the route. The nearest are in Corfe Castle and Studland.

1. Walk back to the cross roads and turn left to pass a wooden building on the left that may have been a chapel in former times. Follow the lane until it bends sharply to the left and, shortly afterwards, becomes an unpaved track. Pass a cottage on the left and continue on a path straight ahead.

The Agglestone,Purbeck Heath

The Agglestone

2. Reach a gate and bear slightly right initially to continue in more or less the same direction on a forest track. Keep straight ahead on this track, ignoring all forks and turnings, to reach a gate. Go through it onto a path which reaches another gate, beyond which there is a warning sign that you are now on a golf course, and the path bends to the left, slightly uphill.

3. Follow the path as it winds along the edge of the golf course, eventually bending right so that you are heading slightly to the left of the green-roofed clubhouse. The path continues to bend and twist through the heather but is not difficult to follow; at no point, now or later, does it actually go onto the golf course. After a patch of woodland with a footbridge in the middle, emerge with the clubhouse quite close by on the right. The path bends to the left, however. Shortly after passing the clubhouse, go across a track and continue straight ahead on the path. Emerge at a T-junction with tees ahead and to the right.

Patch of agricultural land,Purbeck Heath

A rare patch of agricultural land

4. Turn left on a track, straight towards Poole Bay. In about 200 yards, strike off left through the bracken and gorse; it is clearly marked as a bridleway and the main track has a ‘no entry except for golfers’ sign. Once again the path winds hither and yon but is not difficult to follow. Shortly after passing the last of the golf club’s red flags, go through a double gate and continue straight ahead. Shortly afterwards, on breasting a hill, you see the Agglestone for the first time and the track leads down to it.

5. Having admired the Agglestone, continue in the same direction, steeply downhill on a sandy path, with Poole Bay still dead ahead. The path goes down some steps and crosses two boggy patches, then ascends another set of rough steps. At the top, the path bends to the right and goes downhill into some woodland. In the woodland, turn left onto a wider path. The path runs parallel with a track on the left, which strictly speaking is not the right of way at this stage. Crossing a track, bear slightly left to keep Poole Harbour away to the right. Shortly, the path joins the wider track coming in from the left and follows it for about 700 yards to a footbridge, a slight rise and then a broad grassy area.

A heathland pond, Purbeck Heath

A heathland pond near the end of the walk

6. Go straight across this grassy area to a gate. Beyond, bear half-right to aim for a gap in the trees about 250 yards to the left of an agricultural building. Reaching the trees, turn right and follow a track which initially runs just inside the edge of the woodland and then passes behind the agricultural building which was the previous landmark. Follow the track to a gate, where turn left on a rough track.

7. Cross a bridge, go up a rise and through a gate, and continue straight ahead. Immediately after the next bridge, the track forks; take the left-hand option. Where the track meets a paved lane, turn left. Shortly after the next right-hand bend, the land curves to the left and a track forks off to the right. Take the track and follow it to the bottom of a slope in front of a gate, where turn left onto a path between tall trees to the left and gorse bushes to the right.

8. In 100 yards bear right to a gate. Follow the path straight across a grassy area, with Newton Bay, Green Island and Furzey Island beyond on the right. The path goes through a gate, then rises and bends to the left. Go through another gate and left onto the track beyond. At the next cross-tracks, there is the option of turning right to visit Ower Quay. Otherwise continue straight on to reach a paved lane, where turn left. In ½ mile the main lane bends to the left, but continue straight ahead, to reach your car in about 1 mile.

The woods,Purbeck Heath

The way through the woods

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