If you’re looking for the tranquillity of a beautiful parkland greenspace but without a long trek from the town, Poole Park might just be your perfect retreat. This large Victorian urban park (established in 1890) borders Poole town’s magnificent harbour and is open all year ‘round all day until dusk. Please note, vehicles cannot access the park between 6am and 10am Monday to Saturday.
You’d barely know you’re right in the centre of industrial Poole from the moment you step into the 110 acres of parkland with its sweeping fields, lush cricket pitches, large play parks and beautiful lakes. But just off the main civic centre road junction you pass through the towering wrought iron gates into a blissful haven of flowers, wildlife and parkland.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to do here besides stroll and relax and enjoy the views but if you fancy a break from the daily grind it’s a change of scenery like no other. Beyond the acres of paths, inviting benches, charming rose gardens and welcoming refreshment kiosks, Poole Park is also home to The Ark, a large entertainment venue complete with soft play, café and permanent ice rink.
Activity at your leisure
A leisurely walk around the lake can turn into a training session using the outdoor gym equipment dotted around its perimeter and there’s ample room to chase the kids on bikes, skates and scooters as they whizz around the running track, encircling the cricket pitch.
Poole Park’s 60 acres of ponds and magnificent man-made Swan Lake attract many visitors for its resident swans, geese and ducks. There is a miniature railway which circles around the lake, delighting kids (and big kids) of all ages too.
Watersports on Swan Lake
Just along the Park’s saltwater ‘Swan’ lake (the largest inland lake of its kind in the UK) you’ll find Rockley Sports, a long-established and family-run watersports business hiring out kayaks, pedalos, paddle boats, Laser Picos, windsurfers and kit, Laser Bahias and Bell Boats (for up to 12 people!) by the half-hour or hour for you to enjoy out on the water.
Dine at The Kitchen
If you’re feeling peckish, The Kitchen right in the centre of Poole Park will whet even the most particular of appetites. This striking, glass-fronted building gazes out across the saltwater lake and opens daily serving breakfast, lunch and post-work drinks and snacks.
Breakfast is served from 10am to midday including a classic ‘Full Dorset’ or vegetarian breakfast, breakfast sandwiches, fruits and grains, eggs, ‘on toast’ options and waffles and pancakes.
The all-day menu is bursting with tasty options including starters, sandwiches and salads, clay oven pizzas, clay oven pies and a variety of grills too. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced from family-run artisan producers. If you’re fortunate to work nearby or you’re coming to Poole on business you can enjoy the set business lunch – two (£12.50) or three courses (£15.00) – price excludes drinks – guaranteed to be served and enjoyed with your colleagues within the hour.
To finish your meal or just as an indulgent snack, The Kitchen has an extensive dessert menu offering lip-smacking ice creams, sundaes and desserts like indulgently decorated waffles and pancakes.
Sunday roast on the sun terrace
On Sundays, there’s even the prospect of a slap-up roast dinner with all the trimmings. You’ve got a choice of three meats and a vegetarian option served between 12 noon and 4pm. If the weather’s fine you can even enjoy magnificent, sweeping park and lake views from The Kitchen’s outdoor terrace while you dine!
Scoops of sweetness
If you’re passing by and fancy a sweet treat, pop into Scoops next door, a dedicated ice cream parlour serving up delicious gelatos and sundaes on the go.
Scoops only uses the creamy Jersey Roskilly’s ice cream and will swiftly whip you up a refreshing Strawberry Flamingo sundae or dairy-free Fruit Fantastic sorbet sundae, the Scoopalicious (for two) jumbo ice cream platter piled high with fruit, biscuits, waffle pieces and marshmallows or perhaps an ice cream milkshake (using any two scoops of your choice). If you’re after something a little healthier they’re always quick to whizz up a smoothie and there is a lip-smacking waffle and pancake menu too if you’re hankering after something a little more filling.
When it’s pouring down outside, why not escape the elements by popping into The Ark? This welcoming leisure venue is open 10am to 6pm 7 days a week (closed on Christmas Day and open till 4pm on 26 December and 1 January).
The café offers a range of food options if you fancy a snack or meal during your visit. There are snack boxes and warm meal options for children, tempting coffee and cake combos, afternoon teas, breakfasts, baguettes, salads, jacket potatoes and more to enjoy in the café or out on the patio overlooking the lake.
Soft play and ice rink
The soft play adventure playground has a spiral slide and tube slides, ball launchers, a huge ball pool and more for the kids to enjoy while you catch up with a coffee. Icy adventurers may prefer The Ark’s permanent ice rink complete with ride-on seals and push-along penguins to help you find your feet! If the kids have a blast you can always book their next birthday party here too, with additional laser tag option. During the school holidays The Ark runs a popular holiday club, providing exciting days of up to 40 all-weather activities for ages 5 to12 between 9:30am to 4:30pm (half days also available).
Come on in!
There are three entrances to the Poole Park if you’re travelling on foot: via Parkstone Road, Sandbanks Road and Whitecliff Road. If you’re coming by car you can access via Kingland Road, Sandbanks Road, Whitecliff Road and Copse Close.
There are three free car parks: 40 spaces next to The Kitchen, 30 spaces in the small car park between Rockley Watersports and The Ark and another 60 next to The Ark. You can also find free parking in marked bays along the roads within the park.
There are many facilities available for your convenience including toilets, with disabled and baby changing facilities, drinking water taps and a variety of benches and picnic areas and a post box and dogs are welcome as long as they are on a lead.
Your pick of play parks
If you’re here with the family, you won’t fail to end up in at least one of Poole Park’s children’s play areas. Cygnet play area is situated right next to The Ark and the train station and has a sandpit, climb-on train, scramble nets, slide, swings, roundabout and more to keep them occupied. The West Gate play area is spread over a wider area and combines activities for toddlers with a thrilling play frame for older kids and teens featuring a mammoth slide and monkey bars.
Poole Park is also home to a crazy golf course, tennis courts and model boat racing courtesy of Poole Radio Yacht Club. In fact, owing to the time it’s been here, Poole Park has got something for everyone. Perhaps you fancy a game of bowls, you’re inspired to get active through the Poole Healthy Walks Scheme or you want to join the weekly Parkrun, an absolutely free timed 5k event held every Saturday morning at 9am, which regularly attracts more than 700 runners.
Poole Park, a history
Poole Park was built in 1890 on a series of saltmarshes bordering Poole Quay. It was formally opened by Edward, Prince of Wales but the launch was marred by severe storms which saw the official speeches merely passed around a meagre assembly of visitors in the station’s booking office! Since this rather lacklustre launch, Poole Park has withstood the ravages of war, savage snowstorms and seen many trends come and go over the course of well over a century.
Many of its traditional attractions and popular events have withstood the test of time – the carnivals, cycling, cricket, bowls and feeding the ducks on the pond still bring in the crowds – but other attractions have since been cast to fond memories.
Poole Park Zoo
Between 1963 and 1994 Poole Park Zoo was a popular venue and home to a Himalayan Black Bear, chimpanzee, lion, puma, leopard, a giant (ride-on!) tortoise and penguins among other animals but the attraction since fell out of favour and the residents were rehomed in the mid-nineties.
You may remember the aviaries, the bandstand, the Russian canon (melted down for armaments in World War 2!), various cars driving into the lake, Gus Gorilla’s soft play and ice skating on the frozen lake back in the days when the whole park would spend the winter under a blanket of snow.
While many of these attractions are condemned to history, the popularity and diversity of Poole Park as a venue for all, the ‘People’s Park,’ remain true over a century later.