Dorset walk around Sandford Heath and Gore Heath
PUBLISHED: 11:15 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:15 14 March 2017
Edward Griffiths enjoys a heathland stroll filled with bird song and the scent of pines, and along the way he glimpses a top secret establishment
Sandford Heath is part of Holton Heath National Nature Reserve where heathland restoration is a major ongoing project. Over the previous 40-50 years, introduced pines and non-native rhododendron have shaded out the natural heath and smothered heather and wild plant seeds with vast carpets of pine needles and rhododendron leaves, resulting in the loss of the heath’s unique wildlife. Selectively felling pines, uprooting rhododendron and planned ‘scraping’ of the deep layers of needles and leaves is bringing back the dormant heather seeds and, in time, the wildlife will return.
This pleasantly varied walk explores Sandford Heath and takes you on a delightful stroll through the productive, pine-scented and bird song-filled Gore Heath in Wareham Forest. Along the way, there are glimpses of a top secret establishment which played an important part in our country’s survival during both World Wars, and open fields where buzzards wheel overhead.
• Distance: 5¼ miles (8.5 km)
• Time: 4 hours
• Exertion: Quite easy. A few gentle ascents. No stiles. Some mud after rain.
• Start: Lawson’s Clump Car Park, Wareham Forest, B3075 (Grid Ref: SY922909)
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
• Public Transport: Wilts and Dorset 40
• Dogs: On leads on roads and from 1 March to 31 July on heaths
• Refreshments: The Sandford Inn for lunches and bar meals
1. From the car park, take Wareham Forest’s track away from the road. This is Gore Heath, swinging left and rising to a tracks’ crossing with pine trees all around. Keep straight on, almost north, before bending left where a narrower track goes straight on. From here, keep following the main track, meandering, undulating and ignoring any side tracks and crossings, for another mile. Over the highest point, drop down to a T-junction on the forest’s edge. Turn right, along the left fence, passing silver birches and half-gates in the fence for ½ mile. Reaching your track’s right bend, go straight on into the bridleway and ‘Poole Harbour Trails’ track.
2. Past left ancient oaks and through a group of oaks with a right ‘swamp’, leave the forest through wooden posts and a bridleway-post to follow a hedged track between fields. In another ½ mile, through facing 1½ gates, pass right and left houses to the track’s T-junction. Turn right. At a right house, go through sleeper-posts onto the path through holly bushes and trees, probably muddy, then between fields. In ¼ mile, at left Pear Tree Touring Park, go left at the T-junction. Along the hedged drive, past right cottages and up to the road, turn right onto the pavement.
3. Past some unusual two-storey 1930 houses with balconies, right Tanglewood Holiday Park and Sandford Holiday Park, reach Wareham Road at traffic lights. Over the pedestrian crossing, turn into Station Road, instantly passing left St Martin’s Hill. Continue down Station Road, along the iron fence of the Royal Navy Cordite Factory (RNCF) where the first batch of nitro-glycerine for the cordite was produced on 12 October 1916 and the last on 18 September 1945. Behind these railings, there was an internal rail system with about five miles of standard gauge track and 15 miles of narrow gauge, together with its own rolling stock. In ½ mile, at the right lay-by, take the signed-footpath past the barrier into a clearing. Follow the footpath along the left edge to the footpath-bridge. Follow the straight path through pines, then with open land right. After 300 yards, just past a ‘UK 1925’ inscribed stone, you can see over to your right an elevated concrete structure where an anti-aircraft gun was sited to protect the RNCF installation.
4. Still with open heath right, descend to a T-junction and footbridge, then continue through pines. Pass the Sandford Heath notice-board, then a housing estate right before leaving the signed footpath at Sandford Labour Club in Keysworth Drive. Turn right and walk up the road to the T-junction with Wareham Road. Cross over and turn left. In 100 yards, at the roadside barrier, take the right Tarmac path through trees to Filleul Road. Bear right and continue along the meandering road. Reaching Miles Avenue, keep right in Filleul Road. At the cul-de-sac turning circle, go through a Poole Harbour Trail kissing-gate onto Herpetological Conservation Trust‘s Nature Reserve. Fork right onto the signed footpath.
5. Follow the right fence until it veers away at a boggy patch, keeping pine trees to your right. Over a sleeper bridge, keep following the path across open heath with boardwalks and a right pond. Reaching a notice board, go through right 1½ footpath-gates onto the Wareham Forest track with left pines and right fenced field. Continue to the first left track with a footpath-post. Go left, rising with the left wood and right grassland and heather-clad hill. Ascending, pass a minor crossing. At the top, cross the angled tracks’ crossing before descending and swinging left to a T-junction. Turn left down the forest track back to the car park where you started.
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