Poole, Bournemouth & the East - A view from our expert author

Brownsea Island Dorset England UK by CoolR Shutterstock
Brownsea Island is a completely car-free sanctuary © CoolR, Shutterstock

Poole and Bournemouth, Dorset’s two largest towns, virtually combine into one large conurbation, with Christchurch as an appendage to make this by far the most densely populated part of Dorset. Although heavily urbanised, it has Slow corners to be discovered and I hope to help you find them.

The historic town of Poole sits on the second-largest natural harbour in the world, after Sydney, and its sheltered waters offer ideal conditions for all manner of watersports. Eight islands are dotted around the harbour, most of them privately owned, but the National Trust’s Brownsea Island is open to the public and provides an unblemished, car-free sanctuary and a vantage point to watch the harbour’s abundant birdlife. Many visitors, however, are drawn to the island by the possibility of catching a glimpse of the red squirrel as this is one of the few places in Britain where it remains.

Mudeford Spit Hengistbury Head Dorset England UK by Helen Hotson Shutterstock
Colourful beach huts line the beach at Hengistbury Head  © Helen Hotson, Shutterstock

Seven miles of sandy beaches stretch around Poole Bay from Sandbanks to Hengistbury Head near Bournemouth. Sandbanks is a small spit jutting out across the mouth of Poole Harbour, mirroring Studland on the Isle of Purbeck; a useful chain ferry links the two and replaces a long drive around the harbour. Sandbanks is the pick of the Poole Bay beaches: glamorous and well known for its exclusive real estate.

Rural East Dorset offers a pleasing mix of open rolling countryside, cherished heathland and forest.

Bournemouth and Christchurch are relative newcomers to Dorset – until 1974, when the county boundary was moved, they were part of Hampshire. It is said that in Dorset terms it takes around 40 years to be accepted as a local, so they should be feeling just about settled by now. Bournemouth was created as recently as the 19th century and quickly developed all the accoutrements of a British seaside town: the pier, beach huts and souvenir shops. Christchurch has a very different feel as it dates from Saxon times, lies on the sedate rivers Stour and Avon and has as its focal point the magnificent Priory Church. 

Wimborne Minster church Dorset England UK by Mike Charles ShutterstockThe church at Wimborne Minster dates from the 8th century © Mike Charles, Shutterstock

Rural East Dorset offers a pleasing mix of open rolling countryside, cherished heathland and forest, while just over the border into Hampshire is the gorgeous New Forest National Park. Wimborne Minster is a pleasing historic town with a minster church dating from the 8th century. A short distance from Wimborne Minster is the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy Estate with one of Dorset’s most imposing houses at its centre. Badbury Rings, an Iron Age hillfort, lies on the estate and offers some pleasant walking; a popular point-to-point course is nearby.

Back to the top

Dorset articles

View all

Britain’s best beaches

Whether you want to find the freshest fish, go rockpooling with the kids, or simply want to escape the crowds – we’ve picked some of our favourite beaches in England.


England’s most unusual events

From cheese rolling to worm charming and just about everything in between, England has its fair share of unusual events.


England’s best heritage railways

Very few people aren’t moved to a wistful nostalgia at the sight and sound of an old locomotive in full steam – here are some of the most popular places in England to enjoy the experience. All aboard!


Related guides and other books

View all