Reaching out into Poole Harbour, this sandy peninsula is home to all six British reptiles, managed and protected by the RSPB. Wander through the ancient woodland, minding out for the odd WW2 bomb crater, to reach the white shell beach of Shipstal, lined with trees clinging to life by their roots. Admire views across the harbour to the town of Poole and another internationally important nature reserve of Brownsea Island. Return by exploring the heathland, bordered by the silver bark of the young birch trees and the gnarly trunks of the older oaks.
Distance: 3 miles/ 5km
Duration: 1.5 hours
Max Height: 100ft
Min Height: 0ft.
Total Climb: 100ft
Terrain: Path, track, road and beach. Access is suitable for many and off road buggies are also available.
Map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Start Point: RSPB Arne visitor centre (Postcode: BH20 5BJ, Grid reference: SY971877, What Three Words: yards.bride.camps)
How to Get There: From Wareham, head south to Stoborough. Travel through Stoborough, turn left onto New Road. Turn right at the cross roads and follow the road for approximately 3 miles, the car park is located on the right just before entering the village.
Dogs: To be kept on a 2m lead due to the environmental sensitivity of the area. There are also no dog bins so please be prepared to take your rubbish with you.
Refreshments: Café at the RSPB centre.
Neighbouring Walks: Wareham, Blue Pool, Corfe Castle, Kingston, Rempstone and Studland
Arne is a chubby peninsula situated on the western edge of Poole Harbour. It guards the reed filled exit of the River Frome to the north and the heathland of the Isle of Purbeck to the south. It is set within the Dorset Area of Natural Beauty and is a dramatic landscape in all seasons. The sandy soil, encouraged by careful conservation and management, has grown into rich heathland with gorse and heather carpeting the floor. This environment is perfect for all six of the UKs native reptiles (The Common Adder, the Grass Snake, the Smooth Snake, the Slow Worm, the Viviparous Lizard and the Sand Lizard). Silver birch and ancient oak also fill the landscape, sitting alongside sandy beaches with the calm and protected waters lapping at the shoreline. The bustling town of Poole can be seen across the harbour, but does not invade in anyway the peace this little area can provide. However, Arne can get popular and at certain times become very busy, accessible down a narrow single track road. Venturing deeper into the heathland guarantees a little more solitude.
Life on the peninsula started many centuries ago with the evidence of Bronze Age barrows and dykes nearby. Additionally it is quite likely that the Romans would have taken full advantage of the easy access to the water, due to a demand in salt. The salt industry was extremely important and, as it was so valuable, it was used as payment to the soldiers. This was called ‘salarium’, the Latin word for salt being ‘sal’, and is the origin of our own word ‘salary’.
Arne village is only a small hamlet, consisting of a farm, a few cottages, a parish church and the school house. During World War II, at nearby Wareham St Martin, a vulnerable cordite factory was in operation. Arne was one location which was used as a decoy. A number of barrels were put in place across the heathland and set alight in an effort to deceive the enemy planes on a mission to destroy the factory. In 1942 the decoy was put into action, successfully preventing an attack. Sadly, Arne was badly damaged, the village also, and on the 10th August of that same year, the village was abandoned. The scars and craters left from the war have since grown into natural havens. It is only in the last 50 years or so that the village itself has slowly come back to life and now the majority of the land is under RSPB management.
There is no strict route to this walk; the reserve offers a number of options. This particular route follows the red banded posts, venturing through Big Wood to Shipstal Point.
From the car park, head up the road towards Arne village centre. The church appears on your left hand side, high up above the road. It is dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of sailors, and dates from around 1200. The school house opposite was opened in 1832, but with so few children in attendance, it had to close less than 100 years later in 1922.
Wrap around the school and take the track off to the right. After the barns, turn left through a small gate, following the hedge on your left hand side and into woodland. The paths are easy to follow. The forest becomes quite thick; hence its name ‘Big Wood’, but every now and then, depending on the level of leaf, small, shimmering glimpses of Poole Harbour shine between the tree trunks.
Continue to follow the path, keeping left at any junction, and the eyes peeled for the leading coloured posts. As you turn a sharp left, a bird hide appears ahead, well worth a little look out across the water to Brownsea Island. The wildlife, at all times of year, is rife; a keen bird watcher would rarely be disappointed, the harbour being a perfect pit stops for thousands of migrating birds. Return back to the path from the hide and follow the route to the left. Continue along the path and the trees start to give way to heather as you travel backwards through the natural succession.
When you meet a crossroads on a sandy path, turn left to head to Shipstal Point. If feeling fit, it is worth climbing up the hill to the viewpoint but, to visit the beach you must retrace your steps back down to the path. Alternatively you can continue along the hilltop joining the path later on.
Shipstal Beach is a true gem, whatever the weather, glowing white against the blue of the water. It is covered by light coloured shells and oysters, another important resource favoured by the Romans. The shoreline’s bordering silver birch are miraculously surviving the force of erosion by clinging on to the remaining land by their tough, resistant roots, but the calm waves show no aggression. The view to the north is decorated by the sparkle from the buildings of Poole, but as you cast your eyes elsewhere, all becomes nature, the odd boat and wooden platoon being the only man made elements to litter the scene. Long Island and Round Island are across the water and to the south are the flat marshlands leading to the mouth of the River Corfe and, in the far distance, rise the Purbeck Hills.
At the beach turn right and follow the water’s edge until the landscape widens. A small path on your right guides you, reluctantly, away from the shore and up to another path, returning to the heath and sliver birch. Bear left and continue to follow the path parallel to the beach to gently turn inland. At a junction of paths turn left, also marked with a red post. Follow the route around to the right to go deeper into the trees.
The path takes you back through some ancient woodland, the branches, which were once gnarly, have grown strong and thick turning into the perfect playground for any scramble. The path continues straight ahead and brings you back out onto the village road. Ahead is the cafe and shop or turn left to return to the car park.
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