The Dorset Walk/Cycle Ride – Wareham Forest and Woolsbarrow Fort
Teresa Rabbetts on a dual-purpose, waymarked walk/ride in Wareham Forest
Published in September ’14
Wareham Forest provides a fantastic and varied landscape for walkers and cyclists.
From woodland, heathland to the Morden Bog National Nature Reserve on the east of the forest, the area supports important wildlife habitat; on the heath slopes of Woolsbarrow Fort sand lizards bask in the sun and occasionally nightjars can be glimpsed hunting at dusk, while the conifer plantations and mixed wooded areas are home to sika deer, grey squirrels, woodpeckers and treecreepers.
Surrounded by forest and on the side of the road from Wareham to Bere Regis sits the Silent Woman pub. Originally a hostelry called The Angel, the pub changed its name in the 1930s in deference to Thomas Hardy’s reference to the pub that he called The Quiet Lady in his novel The Return of the Native. The pub is situated in an area known as Coldharbour – intriguing considering its distance from the coast, however etymologists suggest that it derives from Anglo-Saxon and means shelter, asylum or haven constructed for wayfarers or travellers.
Located on a gravel knoll, Woolsbarrow Fort can be found at the steepest point of Wareham Forest. It is a little-known hill fort, being the smallest in south east Dorset; much of the site has been disturbed by gravel quarrying and erosion and, although the archaeologist Charles Warne wrote in his 1872 book Ancient Dorset that the north east mound was excavated during the 19th century by a local antiquarian who examined what he thought was a burial mound but without result, the anomalous form and lack of findings at the fort make its date uncertain. Only 220ft at its steepest point and covering an area of approximately two acres, the single bank fort dominates the surrounding heathland and with views towards Charborough Tower to the north and Poole Harbour to the south east. The hill fort is surrounded by plantation and can only be reached from footpaths.
Much of the forest is in the throes of being returned to heathland and cattle have been introduced to help this process. The grazing animals prevent the build up of a dense litter layer and slow down the tendency to scrub over with shrubs and trees. Their dung and bare hoof prints provide micro-habitats for certain invertebrates and plants. Mechanical treatments can be costly and provide no financial return whereas grazing can in some cases be leased out to provide income.
Not only valued for conservation, much of Wareham Forest is undergoing a long-term restoration project, whereby the pine trees that were originally planted for timber are being felled and the land is being returned to heath, but it is also being managed to improve its recreational value.
The Forestry Commission offer a selection of four graded cycle routes throughout the area: follow the green markers for an easy route of tracks that are relatively flat and wide providing a good course for beginners in ‘good health with basic bike skills’; the blue route for sections with small obstacles and for those with ‘basic off-road riding skills; a difficult red section with ‘challenging climbs, tricky descents and technical features such as drop-offs and large rocks’; and the ‘ultimate’ severe black route where the expert mountain biker can experience ‘greater challenge and difficulty’. However with networks of paths providing miles of well-marked trails for walking and a variety of cycling courses, there is much to recommend Wareham Forest as an area for cyclists and walkers of all ages and abilities.
It is advisable to take the maps in this walk with you, in the event that any of the trail waymarkers has been knocked over.
Visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-8yfea4 for waymarked trails.
Distance: Walk – 2 miles; Cycle – 4 ½ miles
Terrain: Mostly good gravel paths and tracks, can be lose in places and become muddy during wet periods.
Start: Walking route – Stroud Bridge (Grid Ref 889916)
Cycle route – Pathway leaves Bere Regis to Wareham road opposite Viridor by Birchwood Tourist Park and proceeds north (Grid Ref 905896)
Parking: Walking route – Small car parking area at Stroud Bridge (on the left just as the 50 mile speed limit begins when travelling from Bere Regis to Wareham).
Cycle route – roadside.
Maps: OS Landranger 195, OS Outdoor Leisure 15 Purbeck & South Dorset
Cycle hire – Cyclexperience Ltd, Wareham Train Station, Northport Wareham BH20 4AS 01929 556601
Refreshments – Silent Woman, Bere Road, Coldharbour, Wareham, BH20 7PA, 01929 552909