Dorset walk around Poole’s Canford Heath Nature Reserve
PUBLISHED: 16:15 12 March 2018 | UPDATED: 16:21 12 March 2018
Edward Griffiths enjoys a walk on a surprisingly wild heath that is a stone’s throw from both Poole and Bournemouth
Poole Borough Council’s Canford Heath Nature Reserve is one of the largest heaths in Dorset. Around 3,500 years ago, Bronze Age settlers cleared the birch and oak woodland which covered much of south east Dorset to create fields and pastures, and you will pass several of their burial mounds or barrows on the heath. Although building encroachment on the southern area of heath between 1962 and 1986 greatly reduced its size, it still covers 850 acres, equivalent to 532 Wembley-sized football pitches. Sand and gravel have been excavated at several sites and the pits left behind used for landfill but these are now being carefully restored to heathland habitat.
The diversity of the heath’s habitat favours a variety of wildlife. Wetter areas of bog are home to cotton grass, bog asphodel and sundew flytraps, whilst adders, rarer smooth snakes and sand lizards all live amongst the common heather, bell heather, bristle bent grass and gorse. Keep your eyes peeled for rare Dartford warblers which are here all year enjoying this beautiful wild heath, as will walkers.
• Distance: 4½ miles/7.25 km
• Time: 3 hours
• Exertion: Several ascents. Sand and gravel tracks.
• Start: Old entrance to White’s Pit and Landfill in Arrowsmith Road off Gravel Hill A349 Park close to edges. Grid Ref: SU017964
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
• Public Transport: Morebus 4, 32
• Dogs: On leads from mid February to end of August due to ground nesting birds
• Refreshments: The Goods Yard, Broadstone Station Approach for good bar meals
1. Walk up the wide gravel track with birch and pine-clad banks, with some heath views opening out left before the final rise to the heath top. Swinging left with 1½ bridleway-gates right, take the left bridleway half-gate onto a narrow path through ferns and gorse. Joining a wider track coming up from the lower heath, go right, passing a cattle-pen. Cross the high heath with the grass-clad former tip right, already returning to nature. Throughout the walk, starting from this point, don’t take any side tracks or paths unless instructed. Through scattered pines and entering woods, the path gets narrower.
2. Past a left barrow, go through the bridleway half-gate. Keep to the clearest path through the wood, descending soon through rhododendrons into a valley and up the other side, where it becomes wider with the tip’s fence right. Then, descend into wider track with older pines and left high-fenced properties in the trees. Join the old W H White’s entrance track. Continue under trees for ¼ mile and ignore the left bridleway path on a sharp right bend. Keep following the track, rising gently with rhododendrons and pines left and White’s embankment right. Passing a White’s gate, continue very slightly down to pass a left turning. In 100 yards, cross White’s main drive into the ‘Footpath and Bridleway’ track.
3. Instantly, take the left fork to 1½ gates. Through, keep straight on, along the left fence at first, and through pines before becoming more open heath. Pass a right track before the four-way ‘Gas Corral’ signpost, and go left for ‘Bearwood 1¼’ after it. Up open grassy heath and up the hill, there are fine views back. On the level again, pass a left barrow and keep straight on at the fork. Meeting another track from the right, keep straight on alongside the sparse left wood. Approaching 1½ gates and four-way post at ‘Beechleys’, turn right for ‘Canford Heath Estate 1¼’ to enjoy some high open heath. Joining another track coming from the right, keep straight on, and again passing a right fork.
4. The track rises to high ground. Seeing Tower Park’s water-tower ahead left, take the next right fork to a four-way post at ‘Crossroads’. Cross over into the track for ‘Canford Heath Estate 1100 yards’. Ignore the facing gate but go around the left sweeping bend, rising slowly through gorse with the water tower still ahead. Reaching ‘South Walk’ signpost, turn right for ‘Gravel Hill 1½’. From South Walk track, there are great views over Poole Harbour to the Purbeck hills. Pass the ‘Culliford Crescent’ left signpost on ‘Lodge Hill’. Over the right fence, see the grass-covered tip on the horizon. Keep following the main track. Past 1½ right gates, descend into pines.
5. At ‘Dog Leg’ signpost, ignoring the 1½ gates ahead, fork left to pass the fenced left drop. Descend the steep Strawberry Hill stony path into trees and to 1½ gates. Don’t go through but double-back right. This is Longfleet Drive. Reaching ‘Hotchkiss Cross’ signpost, go through the facing 1½ bridleway-gates and take the main left-fork track up through birches and pines to emerge back into heath. There’s the covered tip, quite close again. Keep straight on, still ignoring side tracks, over the heath to the left ‘Pit Road’ signpost. Go past it and through the 1½ bridleway-gates. This is where you came up earlier, so turn left down the old pit road back down to your starting point.
• Things to do in Dorset this month - We round up some of the best events and things to do across Dorset this month