Brownsea Island

Red deer, Brownsea Island, Dorset, England by John Millar, ShutterstockEnchanted Brownsea Island is a car-free haven for wildlife © John Millar, Shutterstock

Brownsea Island provides an unblemished, car-free sanctuary and a vantage point to watch the harbour’s abundant wildlife.

A car-free haven for wildlife as well as the starting point of the Boy Scout movement, Brownsea is the largest of the islands in Poole Harbour and one of Dorset’s treasures. The journey to the island gives the impression that you are travelling to a magical, faraway land; arriving by boat, the first thing you see is the island’s few stone houses and the castle, with a backdrop of woodland. The first castle on Brownsea was built in the time of Henry VIII as one of a string of defences; in the 18th century it was rebuilt as a residence. In the late 19th century it burnt down and was again rebuilt; today the John Lewis Partnership rents it as a hotel for its employees and it is not open to the public.

The visitor centre is a good starting point and provides information on the island’s history, flora and fauna. Exploring the island independently is straightforward and rewarding; you can download a walking trail from the National Trust website. Alternatively, you can take a guided walk. Buggy tours are available for those with limited mobility. There really is great pleasure in walking around an island where there are no roads and no traffic, and absorbing sea views. Around the quay and visitor centre are traces of the communities that have lived here, including St Mary’s Church, built in 1853 by the island’s then owner, Colonel Waugh. The church has remained virtually unchanged since its construction and there is no electricity and no water supply, but its services are often well attended. A service is held every Sunday at 15.00 from May to September.

Back to the top

Dorset articles

View all

Making the most of Dorset

Dorset's diverse countryside and coastline provide excellent activities and opportunities for exploration on foot, horseback or bike.


Exploring the Dorset coast

From fossil hunting to fantastic walking trails, the Dorset coast has something for everyone. 


Five reasons to visit Dorset

From a dramatic coastline to rural villages, there's plenty to see and do in one of England's most diverse counties. 


Related books

View all