In Saxon times Wareham was an important cross-channel port. Its commercial role made it a target for attacks from the Vikings so defensive walls were built around the town. The sea has receded so it is no longer a busy port but you can hire boats for a leisurely row along the River Frome. Wareham is an excellent base for exploring the Purbeck countryside. All around the town is a network of public rights of way taking you through prime birdwatching habitat. Down near the River Frome on South Street you’ll find the informative Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre with a whole host of information on Wareham and the surrounding Purbeck countryside as well as guides on local wildlife, history and places to visit.
Trails & Boat Hire
Wareham has two town walks – the Walls Walk that takes you along the Saxon walls that surround the town on three sides, or the Town Walk which takes you past some of the historic locations in the town including the site of the castle that once stood here. Both walks are clearly signposted around the town and leaflet guides are available from the Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre. See beautiful Wareham from the water and hire rowing boats, kayaks, canoes and even paddle boards from Wareham Boat Hire on the quayside.
Wareham lies between the River Piddle to the north and the River Frome to the south. Around the time that the Stone Age settlers would have lived here the land would have largely been marshland and bog. Successive settlements tamed the landscape with ditches and drains converting the land into more suitable pastureland and meadows interspersed with reedbeds – all of which provided food and resources for making homes or feeding families. The traditional management of this landscape gave rise to water meadows where water levels were controlled by sluices and weirs. Although that traditional management system has largely been abandoned you can find out more about these methods and the rich plant and wildlife that survive in them at Priory Meadow where a circular walk, bird screen and interpretation boards highlight the particular interest of Wareham’s water meadows.
Town Museum & T E Lawrence
Wareham Museum holds collections relating to the town’s history from prehistoric times right up to the present day. Exhibits include pottery that was made in Wareham during the Roman occupation, details of Wareham’s role as a port and market town and a range of fossils, rocks and minerals that tell the story of the Jurassic Coast’s geology particularly in the Purbeck area. Look out for the cast of a footprint of a dinosaur estimated to be about 150 million years old! Wareham Town Museum is essential visiting for Lawrence enthusiasts. It contains a whole section on Lawrence of Arabia displaying photographs and documents relating to his life both in Dorset and the Middle East. There is also a life-sized effigy of Lawrence in Arabic dress at St Martin Church in Wareham. This was sculpted by war artist Eric Kennington and had been intended for his tomb at St Paul’s Cathedral. However, at the time of his death the political unrest meant that they wouldn’t accept it and it eventually found a home in this 11th century church.
Wildlife Reserves & Forests
Around the coast and rivers of Wareham is a network of protected wildlife sites that spread out into Poole Harbour. The mix of water meadows, grazing marsh and reedbeds provide an excellent habitat for wading birds. Extensive areas of heathlands and wildlife hotspots surround the Purbeck capital, many of which fall into the Dorset Heaths National Nature Reserve which contains Stoborough Heath and Hartland Moor to the south of Wareham. The Dorset Heaths are home to some of Britain’s rarest wildlife including sand lizards, adders, grass snakes, common lizards, slow worms, smooth snakes, Dartford warblers and nightjars, as well as all the specialist plant species of heathlands. Arne Reedbeds NNR is an excellent birdwatching reserve over on the Studland peninsula where you’ll spot nightjars, Dartford warblers, avocets and hen harriers. North west of Wareham is an extensive area of Forestry Commission conifer plantations. Within these runs the Sika Trail, a walking or cycling trail, that takes you through forest and heathland where you might even spot a Sika or Roe deer. The cycling route is suitable for all ages and abilities.
Where to Stay
Accommodation in and around Wareham includes some charming B&B guest houses in the centre and along the quayside. Attractive cottages also nestle in the Piddle Valley around Wareham, ideal for exploring inland Dorset, the heritage coast at Lulworth and nearby Poole Harbour. You’ll also find a selection of all-inclusive, family friendly holiday parks around the town featuring onsite leisure facilities such as fishing, play areas and outdoor swimming pools. Popular attractions nearby include the Bovington Tank Museum just to the west and Corfe Castle to the south.