Poole has the second largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney, Australia, and is a hub of industry. Its commercial history dates back to the mid-15th century, where Poole was the main port of export for wool. The town became very prosperous through its international trade links and by the 18th century it had become the main British port exporting to North America.
Today, Poole Harbour operates a cross-channel Brittany ferry to Cherbourg in France and is home to a number of quayside businesses, from global pleasurecraft manufacturer Sunseeker to local boat tour operators like the Brownsea Island Ferry, Greenslade Pleasure Boats (for trips to Wareham, around the harbour and to Brownsea Island) and Blueline Cruises (to Brownsea Island, around Poole Harbour and along the Jurassic Coast to Swanage). Other operators offering local boat tours from the quayside include Dorset Cruises and Poole Sea Safari.
Where’s the catch?
Poole Harbour is a key location for sea fishing, with mullet, bass, sole, flounder and plaice, and an abundance of shellfish (particularly mussels, clams, oysters and cockles) found in the bay and further waters. More than 100 commercial fishing fleets hailing from Mudeford, Christchurch along to Swanage in the Purbecks are based in the port and boats operating in the English Channel work just out from the harbour trawling for varieties of fish, crabs, lobster and other shellfish.
If you’re not a fisherman by trade but fancy turning your hook to it, there are more than 30 companies operating out of the harbour who will take you out to look for your catch. If you prefer to stay on dry land, why not join the large number of anglers who fish from the shoreline? The Harbour is home to Poole and District Sea Angling Association, which has 19 locally registered clubs and many more visiting ones.
Make a splash!
If you’re a fan of the open water, there are lots of high-octane activities to be enjoyed in Poole Harbour. Take a powerboat out for a spin from Cobbs Quay over to Shell Bay with Poole Boat Hire. Take a thrilling kayak tour to some of the harbour’s inaccessible islands. Try stand-up paddle-boarding, kitesurfing or go on a Jetski Safari around the secluded inlets and coves.
Brownsea Island is the main island just across from Poole Harbour and you will find a number of companies offering boat tours to, and around, this tranquil destination. Brownsea Island is home to a population of red squirrels -a species which is otherwise close to extinction in the south of England. As you roam the grounds of the National Trust visitor centre you can be surrounded by peacocks and curious chickens and you may spot kingfishers, oyster catchers, common and sandwich terns over the course of a day. The island has strong links with the Scouting movement; Lord Baden Powell took the first scouts camping here back in 1907 and eager troops still come and stay over the summer months.
Brownsea Island is one of eight islands in Poole Harbour. The others most notably include Furzey Island, Long Island, Round Island and Green Island.
Furzey Island has a thriving red squirrel population across its six hectares of woodland due to its abundance of Scots Pine. Furzey is situated directly south of the larger Brownsea Island and from the water looks like a patch of wild, pine land. But this thick forest cleverly conceals 22 oil wells and gathering station for the Wytch Farm oil field, linked by pipeline to Hamble on Southampton Water. The well sites are manned 24 hours a day and the tall oil rig is somewhat of a landmark in Southern Poole Harbour if you know where to look. Furzey Island is believed to have once been part of a much larger land mass incorporating Green Island.
Long Island is an uninhabited island spanning 31 acres at low tide and just 9.5 acres at high tide. It lies just off the shore of the Arne Peninsular in the south-west of Poole Harbour, separated from the populated Round Island by a channel of water just a few feet wide. Long Island was privately owned by the Rempstone Estate for 250 years but was closed to the public in 2007 and put up for sale. The Island was sold to a local property developer for an estimated £3 million in 2010.
Another private property, Round Island has a sheltered position in the south west of Poole Harbour just off the shore of the Arne Peninsula. The Island covers 15 acres, mainly comprising grassy paddocks and woodland paths. There are several holiday cottages available to rent here if you fancy having a break away on your own private island. Enjoy views across the Purbeck Hills and Corfe Castle as you wander through the pretty rhododendrons and down to the safe, shallow water by its own small sandy beach. There is a 110-foot pier which leads to a boathouse and slipway. The main house on the island was designed by Sir Edward Maufe, the architect of Guildford Cathedral, and there are a further three cottages each served by the Island’s own water supply.
Green Island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Special Protection Area (SPA) occupying the central south part of Poole Harbour, south of Brownsea Island and Furzey Island. The Island covers 45 acres of land at low tide with the central raised part approximately 19 acres at high tide. It’s covered with extensive woodland, mainly Scots Pine and several small zones of heathland. There is also a large salt marsh, some peaceful glades and also a beach area. The Island is privately owned and has two buildings: a two-bedroom summer house and a single storey cabin known as the ‘Greensleaves.’ This little corner of luxury also has a helicopter landing pad and a private wooden jetty.