Dorset walk - Studland Heath
- Credit: Archant
Edward Griffiths enjoys the gorse-clad heath, song-filled woods and vast empty beaches of Studland on this early spring walk where you may even spot a deer
When I was out checking this wonderful walk, it was an unseasonably warm for the time of year, and consequently hazy day. March is probably the perfect month to enjoy the gorse-clad heaths, song-filled woods and vast empty beaches of Studland peninsula. Don’t wait until the summer - the beach and car parks will be packed with visitors. Do it now, whilst everywhere is quiet.
With few visitors to the area at this time of year the Sika deer are apt to be wandering freely over the heath, you may also spot some over-wintering birds still ‘at home’ on Little Sea, and Exmoor ponies will be quietly grazing the sparse grassland. On my visit, a gang of starlings were harassing the ponies until a sparrow-hawk suddenly dived out of the sky and flew off with a squawking victim. All nature is here on Studland Heath!
• Distance: 5 1/4 miles (8.5km)
• Time: 4 hours
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• Exertion: Quite easy but with some sandy tracks. Some mud after rain.
• Start: National Trust’s Middle Beach Car Park at Studland (Grid Ref: SZ036828)
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
• Public Transport: Wilts and Dorset 50*
• Dogs: On leads near Exmoor ponies, where requested and on roads
• Refreshments: NT Knoll Beach Café and Visitor Centre for lunches, snacks and teas
1 After viewing the majestic sweep of Studland Bay, its beach and impressive dune system, from the viewpoints in Middle Beach car park, walk back out of the entrance and turn right. Past right thatched Beach Cottage and the opposite left turning, take the right signed ‘Ferry Road’ sunken footpath down into trees and back up to the road. Turn right. Past Coombe House and Morval, cross into the path through trees to the ‘Agglestone Rock’ Wadmore Lane track heading left between hedged fields. In 400 yards, pass between a bridleway-post at a left wood and a right gateway. Continue past left Wadmore Farm into the narrowing sunken track down into woodland. Through 1½ National Trust (NT) bridleway-gates onto ‘Godlingston Heath’, fork left and cross ‘Agglestone Rock’ footbridge.
2 Turn left onto the rising track through trees and pass two footpath/bridleway posts. The footpath heads off left to Agglestone Rock, which you can see on the skyline. Keep following the bridleway up onto the sandy heath. Passing an angled crossing, keep going straight up. It’s just like the Yorkshire Moors! Now more stony than sandy, cross another track and go up over the highest point where it’s a double track for a while with views right to Brownsea Island. Descending slowly now, then undulating through boggy heath, cross a sleeper-edged bridge. There are skylarks and Sika deer about. About ¼ mile before the approaching Newton Heath woods, all becomes grassland. Pass a right fork and right turning towards a fence-gate. Reaching the fingerpost, bear half-right across the grassland, signed for ‘Greenlands’, to the corner 1½ NT bridleway-gates.
3 Through, turn right at the fingerpost, along the track then grass track passing a right barn and becoming clearer towards facing 2½ NT gates. Through here, join the fenced track, swinging right at Greenlands Farm. Between left fields and Poole Harbour glimpses and right heath, continue for ½ mile to 1½ bridleway gates onto Ferry Road, signed back ‘Rempstone Ride to Norden Park and Ride’. The number 50 bus stops* here. Cross into the orange ‘tern’ path meandering up through gorse and scrub to National Trust Studland Heath base. Go up onto the plateau before the hide for fine views over Little Sea. Now turn left and follow the track above Ferry Road. Pass a right turn before descending to the track alongside Ferry Road. Now turn right parallel with the road, ignoring any side turnings, for ¾ mile. Across another orange-posted ‘tern’ path, continue along the meandering path by the right wood before joining the roadside verge. Continue to another 50 bus stop and opposing NT gates.
4 Turn right into ‘Studland Peninsula’ and follow the meandering track through trees, ignoring lesser paths. Continue across gorse-clad heath and over two stream footbridges for ½ mile. Meeting the dune system, keep straight up and over onto the magnificent spread of Studland Beach. Walk down to the sea’s edge to find the firmest sand and turn right. This is the easiest part of the day. Enjoy the stroll for 1½ miles with Old Harry and Ballard Down ahead and the Isle of Wight on the horizon. Pass Knoll Beach Café and continue to Middle Beach. Approaching Middle Beach Café up to your right, the building on the facing cliffs is Fort Henry which overlooked the hectic preparations for the Normandy landings. Now, turn up the steps or up the lane back to Middle Beach car park where you started.
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