Dorset walk around Upper Parkstone

PUBLISHED: 13:49 15 December 2016

Alder Hills Nature Reserve's flooded clay pit

Alder Hills Nature Reserve's flooded clay pit


On this urban walk Edward Griffiths discovers the industrial heritage that helped build Bournemouth and finds a relic of ancient heathland that provides a wild oasis

In 1801, the population of Parkstone was only 200 and most of the countryside between Purbeck and the New Forest was still ancient heath with few settlements. Below the heath were extensive beds of sand, gravel and clay and, in late-Victorian times, with Bournemouth rapidly expanding and the massive railway viaducts being built at Branksome, there was huge demand for bricks and stoneware drainpipes.

The railway, clay and pottery drew workers up the hill from Poole, and Kelly’s Directory of 1898 describes the hills of Parkstone as: ‘clothed with trees of the fir tribe, which afford shelter from the wind and secure an equable climate, and here a number of good residences have been erected’. By 1914 there were 10,000 people in Parkstone.

In the area we’re exploring on this walk, clay pits were dug into the heath to supply the major brickworks. The largest was Sharp Jones and Company Bourne Valley Pottery, located at what is now ‘Redlands’, site of the Poole Commerce Centre and John Lewis’ store. Starting in 1886, Bourne Valley Pottery had its own railway system hauling clay to the works and finished goods to the main line at Branksome Station. Photographs as late as 1926 show the heather-clad valleys without a single property where there is now extensive development. Up on the ridge, house building really started in late-Victorian times, and we finish the walk in what is now relatively old Upper Parkstone.


• Distance: 3¾ miles (6 km)

• Time: 3 hours

• Exertion: Not too strenuous. A few hills, mostly on pavements

• Start: St John’s Church, corner of Churchill Road and Ashley Road, Parkstone (Grid Ref: SZ047922)

• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195

• Public Transport: Innumerable Yellow Buses and Wilts and Dorset along Ashley Road between Poole and Bournemouth

• Dogs: On leads at all times

• Refreshments: Some on Alder Road

The walk

1. From St John’s, walk down Churchill Road, noticing the older cottages in amongst the more modern houses. Pass ‘Brightside 1886’ on the corner of Creech Road. Past Victoria Crescent, one of the roads first on the 1902 map, the hill becomes steeper. Cross Sunnyside Road and continue up the steep road with the stepped pavement. At the top, continue to Rossmore Road. Turn right and keep straight on.

2. In ¼ mile, follow the left bend round to Herbert Road. Turn right. Pass the Star Inn. Over the pedestrian crossing, turn into Northmere Road. Past left Sancreed Road, cross to the right and go down the hill under pines which mark the Sharp-Jones Clay Railway embankment. Cross Northmere Drive and continue to meet Arne Avenue. In this area, were most of Bourne Valley Pottery’s clay-pits. Turn right into Aspen Road around the allotments. Bending left, take the first right and continue to Alder Road T-junction.

3. Cross Alder Road on the crossing. Past McDonald’s, turn into Sharp Road. Straight through the Industrial Estate, go through the fence into Dorset Wildlife Trust’s ‘Alder Hills Nature Reserve’. This five-hectare heathland reserve, with its flooded clay pit, is a designated SSSI. Turn left up the path. Up steps to a T, go right, along Sainsbury’s fence and above the pond. Keeping high up, pass a down to the pond. Then, keeping right at a left-corner fork, continue under pylon cables. Go left up the path and steps to the exit gap. Through, cross half-right over grass and a birch-clad green to Farnham Road. Continue to Winston Road.

4. Turn right and cross over. Continue to the roundabout. After the left ‘Bourne Valley Greenway Coy Pond ½’ signs, pass right Bishop Aldhelm’s School and take Talbot Heath Nature Reserve’s ‘Footpath 38 Dalling Road’. Continue to the kissing-gate into the road. Take the right ‘Bridleway 37 Cornelia Crescent’ up to Cornelia Crescent. Cross into the ‘Bridleway 37 Alder Road’. Walk down this track under trees, passing left gas storage tanks, into Guest Avenue. Cross into ‘Bridleway 37’ and walk up and over into the undulating path to Alder Road traffic lights.

5. Turn right and cross over. Take left Morrison Avenue. Through the end bollards, turn left along Northmere Drive to Herbert Avenue. Cross over and turn right. In 50 yards, go through the fence gap and down the steps, Continue down Central Avenue. Cross Connaught Avenue, Kent Road and Playfields Drive into the Recreation Grounds. Cross past the changing rooms and the iron fence. Up steps into Recreation Road, cross to Library Road and walk up the hill.

6. At Shillito Road junction, turn right past the 1901 Library. Reaching Layton Road, turn right, then first left into Sunny Hill Road. At Albert Road, turn right, then left into Cromwell Road. Pass right Beaconsfield Road. On the far left corner, at Maple House, continue into the footpath. Keep straight on and past left Jubilee Road. Pass where Beaconsfield Road reappears. Reaching Churchill Road, turn left back up to your starting point at St John’s. 

Alder Hills Nature Reserve

This unusual urban reserve, managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust, features a lake which was dug in the 1920’s to supply clay to the local pottery industry. In 1948 the clay pit was flooded and it is now home to newts, frogs, toads and 13 different species of dragonfly; kingfishers, woodcock and cormorants are regularly seen around its fringes. The surrounding SSSI heathland is a tiny relic of the Great Heath which once stretched from Christchurch to Dorchester and is home to reptiles such as smooth snake and sand lizard.

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