Poole Harbour is one of the biggest natural harbours in the world, second only to Sydney, so it is pretty dam big. So big in fact, it has got 12 islands inside the harbour. Most of them are privately own with houses that match the status of the ones on Sandbanks, the spit of land coming from the town of Poole, where the rich and famous live, it is estimated to be one of the most expensive places to live in the UK.
But one of the islands is Brownsea island. Where it is said to be the birth of the Scouting Association, all started by Lord Robert Baden-Powell.
Now I wasn’t part of the Scouts when I grew up, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have earned a few badges. I have always been interested in the outdoors and forged my work and lifestyle to be able to do the things I love every day in the outdoors. So Brownsea island and everything it stands for, is pretty important to me.
Traditionally, only Scouting or Duke of Edinburgh groups, have been allowed to camp on the island, but this year The National Trust (who look after the island) have thrown the gates open to the general public for prebooked pitches.
I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to camp out on this prestigious site, so I set about organising a trip to canoe over for a night and back again the next day.
Launching from the North side of the Harbour, near Lake Pier, not far from the town centre, we had the use of a public slipway and a safe place to leave the van for the night. After filling countless drybags with all of our kit, and trying to split it as equally as we could for the two boats, we set off.
There was four of us in total and we paddled two, 16-foot Canadian canoes, which meant we could carry the kit pretty generously, with some extra room for emergency sandwiches.
We launched about midday, and used the ebbing tide (outgoing) to our advantage, as we crossed almost the whole length of the harbour, from West to East.
Looking at the geology of the whole area, it is easy to see how the harbour was formed over millions of years, which would have once been a huge flood plain. This means the harbour is massive, but surprisingly, extremely shallow in most areas, making it a great place to paddle and explore.
We used the flow of the tide to take us all the way to the south side of the island, with a small cross wind it didn’t take long at all. Landing on the slip way right next to the campsite.
After checking in with the outdoor centre on the island, we chose our pitch site and put up our tents for the night.
Now, The National Trust have a strict no fires and cooking stoves policy on the island, as a fire would quite simply ruin the island and kill all of the beautiful wildlife that it supports.
In 1934, exactly that happened, and the fire raged on for 3 days! But they do have ‘cook tents’ placed around the campsite. A large canvas tarp with cookers on tables and gas bottles, to keep the flames away from the ground for all of the campers to use.
So, after cooking up some army style ration packs to replenish the calories burn for all the hard work, we decided to walk off our dinner and explore the island.
The island is nearly 2 kilometres square, so there is lots to see and explore, with plenty of wild and not so wild life living on it.
The peacocks were very interested so see what we were cooking for dinner, but the famous Red Squirrels were harder to spot. We did, in the end find a scurry of squirrels, but they were far too fast for the camera.
The island is steeped in history, not just from Lord Baden-Powell, but there was once a pottery on the island and even a village, which was supported by a farm and a church which are both still there today.
The whole island is now a nature reserve, owned and looked after by The National Trust, so it is in good hands and they do a great job of balancing the need to make the island accessible to the public, as well as, protecting the wildlife and sustainability of the area.
John Lewis and Partners even own a castellated hotel on the East side of the island, where only the employs and partners can stay!
After our evening stroll, we returned to the campsite and put up the slack line for some twilight entertainment, before watching the sunset and playing some cards while sipping hot chocolate.
I have sea kayaked around the harbour many times and landed on one of the beaches for lunch or a quick stretch many times, but what really struck me while staying, was just how quiet it was once the last foot passenger ferry left, and only the island night time inhabitants were left.
The next morning, we woke to blistering sunshine streaming into our tents, so it wasn’t hard to get up and get backed away. We had a tide to catch home!
We managed to get all the kit away into all the drybags in record time and were on the water by 9 am. We had time to circumnavigate the island clockwise, before the tide started flooding (coming in) and make our way back to the van.
As we got to the East side of the island, we timed our trip to land on ‘Stone Island’ which is an island that only forms at low tide. We stopped for a quite bit to eat and a long game of catch with a bouncing ball, while watching the chain ferry cross back and forth across the mouth of the harbour. Taking cars and campervans over to the Isle of Purbeck and the Jurassic Coast, and boats and cruise ships come in and out, before jumping back on the water and catching the tide.
After getting round the last bit of Brownsea island, we were in the open water section of the trip, just in time for a force 4 side wind to roll into action. This made the last part hard going, having to aim off to keep us on line making sure didn’t miss our landing spot.
With the hard work complete, we managed to navigate our way through the moored yachts and motorboats back to the pubic slip way and our van to drive home.
It was a fantastic trip and a great challenge to canoe across the harbour with all of our kit.We felt like true explores and worthy of sleeping under canvas, at the site where Lord Baden-Powell started the Scouting Association and so much history surrounding it.
I can definitely say I will be back for more adventurous when the camping season opens again!
If you fancy a night at Brownsea Island, check out The National Trust website for more info.