Terrain – Sandy and stony tracks. Can get very muddy and boggy if wet.
Map – OL 15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Start – There are a few car parks along Sugar Hill. Gore Heath also has its own car park. There are also a number of pull-ins scattered around the forest.
Refreshments –The Silent Woman Inn, owned by Hall and Woodhouse, is the nearest pub. On occasions you can also have a coffee or ice-cream at the pop-up café at the Sika Trail car park. Alternatively, travel into Wareham for fish and chips!
Bike hire – You can hire a bike from Sika Trail Cycle Hire.
Wareham Forest, a small forest of about 12 square miles, is situated next to the A35 road between Dorchester and Poole. It is an area consisting of open heathland including Decoy Heath and Gore Heath to the East, and the plantations and conifers of Morden Heath and Bloxwoth Heath in the North. The National Nature Reserve of Mordon Bog, one of the largest valley mire habitats in England, sits in the North East corner.
The site is managed by the Forestry commission for conservation and recreational purposes. The Forest’s ecology attracts a number of rare species generating the title of a SSSI. The sandy soil and low lying foliage of the heather and gorse provides the perfect environment for all of the British reptiles, from the adder and smooth snake to the sand lizard and slow worm. The heath provides a safe environment for ground nesting birds too like the nationally scarce Dartford Warbler. The heather and the grasses also provide grazing fodder for the large population if sika deer in the area. At dawn and dusk throughout summer, you may catch a glimpse of nightjar hunting for insects or hear the distinct song of the birds within the forest. You may also see grey squirrels, woodpeckers, woodlark, tree creepers and birds of prey during your visit.
In Wareham Forest there are two dedicated cycle routes, marked by posts with either a red or yellow band, but providing that cyclists keep to the main paths, access is generally permitted. The rules seem to advise that cyclists are welcome on tracks which are 2 metres or wider. Horse riders are also welcome but require a permit from the Forestry Commission to travel off the bridleways. The terrain of the Forest is generally level with a few inclines but with many areas to explore. Just to the East of the Forest, separated by a road, is Gore Heath, another popular walking, horse riding and cycling destination
There is a another route for cyclists called the Sika Cycle Trail, marked by blue arrows, taking its name from the deer that roam the woodland. It is a 7 mile family cycle trail. There is also the Woodlark Trail (2 mile walking trail) which can be followed from the Sika Trail car park off the Bere Road or via the Northport Greenway. The Northport Greenway is a safe and pleasant walking and cycling route into the Forest from Wareham Quay via Wareham Railway Station. The Wareham Forest Way is a track that passes through the site that leads from Wareham to Sturminster Marshall. The route is waymarked with various signs and markers, all showing the distinctive pine cone logo.
It is the whole landscape that is the attraction of Wareham Forest, however there are two specific points to visit. The first is Woolsbarrow Tout. Sitting at the northern end of the Forest is the Iron Age hillfort, one of the smallest in Dorset but by no means less important. At one of the highest points in the forest, it can provide some wide reaching views from the summit across the Purbecks, in all directions.
The second place is a memorial stone called Parsons Pleasure. It is dedicated to the man who drained most of the Forest in the 1950s. The plaque reads: “This experiment was designed by Frank Parsons M.B.E., Chief Forester at Wareham from 1950 to 1968. The water-logged heath in this area is one of the worst sites in Europe. The experiment demonstrates a practical way of making it plantable by mechanical drainage and fertilising. He died in 1968 and this plot is dedicated to his memory.”
Nevertheless, The Forest can fight back. Recent tales from the woods have proved to demonstrate what a volatile and fragile landscape this is. In 2012, a married couple walking their dog over the heath had to be rescued by the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service, after they became stuck in a freezing swamp. More seriously, earlier this year a devastating fire spread across the heath causing irreparable damage to the rare birds, plants, reptiles, and invertebrates that usually thrive here. It will take many decades to restore and regrow the acres of the forest.
There are a number of campsites that operate throughout the year, some all year round, that can provide you with a base when exploring the area:
- Wareham Forest Tourist Park
- Birchwood Tourist Path
- Trigon farm Caravan club site
- Wooders campsite
- Hunters moon campsite
- Phillois farm campsite
- Ashoaks caravan Park
I cannot speak about Wareham Forest without a quick mention of Wareham itself. The small market town is over a thousand years old with its circular earthen ramparts, dating from Saxon times, still clearly visible today. Within these ‘Wareham Walls’ the architecture of the main streets is mostly Georgian, dating from the 18th Century. Wareham Quay, which was up until the 14th Century a busy port, is now the haunt of pleasure boats coming up the River Frome from Poole Harbour and further afield. A perfect spot to enjoy fish and chips and meet the swans.