Another Tern around Poole Harbour.

It is nice occasionally to vary the way we do things, so during my recent visit to Dorset I decided to spend a day birdwatching on the waters of Poole Harbour. The harbour is the second largest in the world (after Sydney) and has a number of Islands.

In the morning I took a boat from Poole which did a circular circuit of the Harbour. we passed Brownsea Island, famous at the birthplace of the Scout and Guide movement, with its Tudor castle built to defend the anchorage from French raiders and now a nature reserve. It is home to a colony of breeding Sandwich Terns and these could be seen flying out to the sea to fish. There were also Shelduck, Geese and a few Oystercatchers which could be seen from the boat. Brownsea is also the home to one of the last surviving colonies of native Red Squirrels in England but you need to venture into the island’s woodlands to see them.

Sandwich Tern. Photo by Doug Greenberg (

The Harbour has been in use since ancient times as a place of importing and exporting goods. The Romans built a port here and also used some of the islands as prisons. the invading Vikings used it as a base to harry Anglo-Saxon England. There is a rich history of piracy and a number of pirates have used the Harbour as a base including Harry Paye, who terrorised the English Channel in the 14th century. More recently it has become a centre for boat building and as a ferry port. It is also the location of the headquarters, training college, museum and boat building yard of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

After lunch, I took another boat sailing out of the harbour and down the coast towards Swanage. The cliff here are magnificent, but very fragile as chalk is easily eroded by the sea. One notable feature is Old Harry Rocks, named after Harry Paye, the pirate. Paye pirated Spanish and French vessels in the Channel and he was so successful that a combined French / Spanish fleet was sent to Poole in 1405 to destroy the pirates base and ships. It caused some damage to the town before it was driven off. Harry Paye was not present at the time but his brother was killed during the raid. Paye retired and died in Kent in 1419 and was buried in Faversham. Harry Paye Charity Fun Day is held in Poole every June.

Harry is also remembered by Old Harry Rocks, chalk stacks on the coast between Poole and Swanage. The outmost stack is said to be Old Harry himself and the next his wife. Unfortunately at some point the wife stack has become unstable and crashed into the sea, leaving only a stump.

Swanage was originally but became a seaside town during the Victorian period. The clock Tower near Peveril point originally stood at the south side of London bridge in London. It was erected in 1854 to commemorate the Duke of Wellington, but within 10 years it was deemed an obstruction to traffic and so was removed and sold to Swanage where it was re-erected in 1867 on the sea front. sadly the clock faces and mechanism never arrived in Swanage and so there remains no clock in the clock tower.

On the way back to Poole we pass the Aunt Betty buoy, reputed to be named after a lady who did her best to keep the sailors entertained.

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