After the effects of Covid, Dorset is experiencing a massive boom in tourism. The beaches can fill up quickly, but there are plenty of other places, away from the crowds, to escape the high temperatures! It can even be possible to find your own little spot.
(For coastal swimming see the Jurassic Coast page)
Of course, care is needed. These hidden little spots are not made for human pleasure! They are natural, they do not adhere to health and safety regulations. If parking is full or difficult, find another place to visit, there are plenty of options (not all spots have vehicular access). Please be safe, respect the environment and stick to the footpaths.
The River Stour is Dorset’s main river, almost splitting the county into two. Starting at Stourhead in Wiltshire, it travels though villages and hamlets of Thomas Hardy’s literary landscape of The Vale of the little Dairies, known in reality as the Blackmore Vale. Passing the small towns of Sturminster Newton and Blandford Forum and then larger conurbations of Wimborne, Poole and Bournemouth, it eventually reaches the sea at Christchurch harbour, and escaping out into the world past Hengistbury Head.
Scattered along it’s banks are many fishing spots and there are a few locations where access is possible and the river is shallow. It makes these little havens perfect for a refreshing escape.
Access is limited to footpaths and small, narrow country roads. However, the increasingly popular North Dorset Trailway follows the majority of the meandering route of the Stour and is a handy bike route.
Dorset’s second largest river is the Frome running through Dorchester to Poole Harbour. The River Piddle runs parallel to it, both of which curve through their own low lying flood plains, skimming past Dorchester and through Thomas Hardy’s Vale of the Great Dairies.
Here is a small list of walks/rides with wild swimming locations (as well as some paddling!):
On the River Stour
On the River Frome
Other rivers perfect for paddling!
If visiting White Mill, be sure to look out for the missing Knowlton bells! Many years ago Knowlton was known for it’s beautifully sounding bells. But the church fell into disrepair (now in the ownerships of English Heritage and free to visit today). Many years ago the villagers of Sturminster Marshall just so happened to require some bells for their own church and decided, in the middle of the night, to steal Knowlton’s.
Traipsing across the southern part of Cranborne Chase they were able to stealthy dismantle them. The Knowlton villagers were woken by the disturbance, but not until the thieves were escaping. They followed in hot pursuit back across the Chase. On reaching White Mill Bridge the thieves threw the bells over the edge to hide them in the flowing water below. When the Knowlton residents arrived, knowledge of any stolen bells was strongly denied, they had no option but to return empty handed.
After a while, and once believed to be safe, the thieves returned to the bridge to collect the bells. However, the silty bottom had sucked them down and every heave was useless, the bells only sunk deeper.
Today, they are still there. Whereabouts exactly, we don’t know. But who knows what other treasures might lie at the bottom of the River Stour!