Discover the sandy peninsula of Arne. Reaching out into Poole Harbour, this stretch of land is managed by the RSPB and home to all six British reptiles. Wander through the ancient woodland, minding out for the odd WW2 bomb crater, to reach the white shell beach of Shipstal, it’s bordering trees clinging to life by their roots.
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.
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 to the south the heathland of Studland. 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 developed into rich heathland with gorse and heather surrounding your feet. This environment is perfect for all six of the UKs native reptiles. Silver birch and ancient oak also fill the landscape, sitting alongside sandy beaches with calm waters lapping at the edges. The bustling town of Poole can be seen across the water, but does not impinge in anyway on the peace this little area can provide. However it is popular and at certain times can become busy. Venturing out into the landscape guarantees a little more quiet.
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 their requirement of 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 farm, a few cottages, a parish church and the school house. During World War II, at nearby Wareham St Martin, a rather vulnerable cordite factory was in operation. Arne was one location which was used as a decoy. A number of barrels were put in place and set alight, deceiving enemy planes, on a mission to destroy the factory, that was their target. In 1942 a 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 left of 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 and 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. In about 50 yards or so, 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 little 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. The wildlife, at all times of year, is rife; a keen bird watcher would rarely be disappointed. 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 more heather as you travel backwards through natural succession.
When you meet a crossroads on a sandy path, turn left to head to Shipstal Point. This white beach is a stunner. It is covered by light coloured shells and oysters, another resource favoured by the Romans. The shoreline’s bordering trees are miraculously surviving the force of erosion by clinging on to the remaining land by their tough, resistant roots. But the calm waters show no aggression. The view to the north is decorated by the sparkle from buildings of Poole, but as you cast your eyes elsewhere, all becomes nature, the odd boat and wooden platoon being the only man made things to litter the scene. Long Island and Round Island are across the water and to the south are the flat marshlands leading to the River Corfe. In the far distance rise the Purbeck Hills.
At the beach turn right and follow the water’s edge until the landscape widens out. 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. Continue to follow the path parallel to the beach and then turning inland. At a junction of paths turn left, also marked with a red post. Follow the path around to the right to go deeper into the trees.
The route takes you back through some ancient woodland, the branches, which were once gnarly, have grown strong and thick, and the perfect playground for any scrambler. The path continues straight ahead and brings you back out onto the village road, Turn a sharp left to return to the car park.