A historic market town with a beautiful river frontage, located at the gateway to Purbeck
If you spotted the signs for Wareham on your way to Swanage, you’ll probably have added this Saxon walled town steeped in history to your must-visit list.
Being almost equidistant between Swanage and Poole, Wareham is perfectly placed for exploring what the Isle of Purbeck and wider Dorset county has to offer. You’ll find unique gift shops and an array of cafés, pubs and restaurants, and throughout the year you can pick and choose from a wide range of events including live music and food, art and literary festivals in and around Wareham. With its fascinating mix of heritage and natural beauty, this charming market town, nestled between the River Frome and the River Piddle, is an inviting gateway into the heart of the Jurassic Coast where visitors can explore its rich historic architecture alongside a wide variety of dining options and easy access to nature with views across to the Purbeck Hills.
Exploring Wareham town
A quick wander around Wareham opens up its intriguing history, excellent dining options and unique things to do.
Discover the heart of Wareham
Live like a local while you’re here and wander down to get your fresh fruit and baked goodies for breakfast at the weekly Saturday market on the quay or the bi-weekly farmers’ market in the town hall on a Thursday. Stop for a coffee at one of the many cafés (or a bacon butty – we know we can’t always resist!, although there are plenty of tempting veggie options too). You can always walk it off with a gentle stroll along the riverbank. Or for the more adventurous you can grab a kayak or hire a boat to work up an appetite for lunch in one of Wareham’s many popular eateries.
There’s plenty to explore in Wareham town itself. Why not walk in the footsteps of the Saxons and explore the Wareham Walls, or stroll down the picturesque side streets with their hanging baskets and colourful house fronts.
You’ll find coffee shops interspersed with art galleries and gift shops along the main streets, and the selection of riverside pubs offer a spectacular setting to kick back with a drink at the end of a long day exploring.
The town’s museum will reveal a wealth of historic local facts and if, after visiting the sculpted stone effigy of Lawrence of Arabia that lies in St Martin’s-on-the-Walls church, you’re inspired to walk in his footsteps, his famous rural retreat at Clouds Hill is a short drive away, surrounded by walking trails through forest and over heathland.
Walks in and around Wareham
Wareham and its surrounding area has long been popular with hikers, dog-walkers, cyclists and horse riders. You can find out more on our Walks page, but some of the closest places to Wareham to don your walking boots include:
Four-legged visitors to Wareham
Dogs and resident wildlife
Whilst dogs are very welcome in most areas of the Dorset countryside, the county is lucky enough to be home to a wide variety of nesting birds, sika deer and important wildlife habitats.
If your dog is fond of following his nose and/or having selective hearing! it might be best to use a long lead in certain places.
Dog are also welcome in many cafes and pubs throughout Purbeck – and some even have special doggy menus!
Check out the local dog-friendly beaches in the area, too. Some have summer restrictions and some make a great place to stretch those legs all year round.
Purbeck Pets & Equestrian stocks a wide range of pet food, toys and accessories.
9am – 5.30pm Monday – Friday
9am – 4pm Saturday & Sunday
There are three vets in Wareham: the Wareham Veterinary Centre, Lynwood Veterinary Group and the Pet Health Partnership, as well as Medivet in nearby Wool.
Feeling active? Explore sport and recreation
Keep up your regular exercise routine with the options in and around Wareham, or try something new:
- Wareham Boat Hire – You can rent a kayak or paddle board for the afternoon from here, or plan a boat trip along the Frome – sit back, relax, take in the scenery…and of course stop at The Old Granary for a restorative snack on your return. Regular pleasure boat cruises also run to and from Poole.
- Purbeck Sports Centre – Wareham’s sports centre is a short walk from the town and offers regular classes for you to keep up your exercise routine during your stay in Purbeck, as well as a swimming pool with family fun and senior sessions.
- Cycle hire – Bicycles are available for hire from the Sika Trail in Wareham Forest, as well as from Purbeck Park in Corfe Castle.
- Bovington Equestrian – The British Horse Society (BHS) approved riding centre in nearby Bovington Camp near Wool offers tuition and hacking for beginners to advanced riders. Find out more about horse riding in Purbeck here.
Feeling creative? Try these classes and activities
A range of workshops and classes run throughout the year in and around Wareham, including:
- Furzebrook Studios, just outside Wareham, offers a range of art, pottery and craft classes
- Metal Clay Ltd, situated near Wareham Station offers jewellery-making taster sessions and multi-day courses with international tutors
- The Olive Tree cookery school – take a taste of Dorset home with you with short courses ranging from summer entertaining to coastal foraging and cooking
Whether you live here or are visiting, shopping at local markets helps support local producers – and means you’ll have a truly ‘Dorset’ experience.
Wareham Quay Market: Every Saturday from 8am. Stalls range from fresh meat and fish to flowers, cheeses and collectibles.
Wareham Farmers’ Market: Held in the Town Hall on East Street every second and fourth Thursday of the month, with the exception of December, which is the first and third Thursday.
There are also weekly markets in Swanage on a Friday 8am – 5pm, held in the Main Beach car park on Victoria Avenue.
Local produce can also be purchased in local farm shops, such The Salt Pig in Wareham, Holme Nurseries Garden Centre, just outside Wareham, Corfe Castle Village Stores and various artisanal shops in Swanage such as the Purbeck Deli.
How to get to Wareham
Wareham Station is on the London Waterloo – Weymouth line and is less than a mile from the town centre.
Trains run twice hourly each way.
Local taxi services also run from the station.
- Take the number 40 from Poole (or First Bus X54). If you’re coming from Bournemouth you can hop on to this at Poole bus station by taking the More Bus M1 or M2
- From West Lulworth: take the More Bus number 30 or First Bus X54
- From Weymouth: take the More Bus number 30 or First Bus X54
Via the A351 from the West, the A352 from the East, and the B3075 from the North and South.
Car parks in Wareham
As well as various free 1 hour parking spaces along the main streets, there are a number of car parks in the town, as well as all-day parking at Wareham Station.
- Wareham Quay (pay and display only.) (Note that this will be unavailable on Saturday mornings due to the weekly market)
- Bonnets Lane – BH20 4JN
- Connegar Lane – BH20 4NQ
- Howards Lane – BH20 4NN
There are also car parks behind the two supermarkets in the town:
- Sainsburys – Rempstone Centre (Church Street, behind Sainsburys) BH20 4NE
- Co Op – Streche Road, BH20 4QF
Essential services and amenities
There are public toilets situated on The Quay and at Howards Lane car park.
Both are open from 7am – 7pm daily and have disabled facilities.
The town is served by two supermarkets (Co-Op and Sainsburys) as well as a variety of independent shops that sell local produce – there are three butchers, three bakeries and a health food shop.
Co-Op is situated on North Street and has a small car park to the rear (accessed via Cow Lane).
Sainsburys is on South Street. Parking is at the Rempstone Centre.
Library and tourist information centre
Find out about all the club, groups and societies in the area at Wareham Library on South Street, which is also home to the Discover Purbeck Information Centre.
The library is open from 9.30am – 1pm daily, except on Wednesdays and Sundays when it is closed.
Wareham has a Citizen’s Advice Bureau on Mill Lane (BH20 4RA).
Their opening hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays between 12pm – 2pm, (contact number: 0344 245 129)1. You can also contact the county-wide service, Dorset Adviceline on 03444 111 444 on weekdays between 10am – 4pm.
Household Recycling Centre
The tip at Wareham is located just outside the town, past the train station and just off the Bere Road – which is very close to the Sika Trail car park of Wareham Forest, which is handy for combining a trip to the tip and woodland walk in one morning.
9am – 6pm Monday – Wednesday
10am – 4pm Thursday – Sunday
For your SatNav: BH20 4SN
There are various health services in Wareham, including a GP surgery, dentist and optician, as well as a number of pharmacies.
Wareham Community Hospital provides various services and clinics – the nearest urgent and emergency treatment centres are at Poole Hospital, Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester, and the Royal Bournemouth Hospital.
- Wareham surgery – Located on Streche Road. Opening hours: 8.30am – 6.30pm (closed 1pm – 2pm). Contact: 01929 553444
- Sandford Surgery – In nearby Sandford, the surgery is open: 8.30am – 6.30pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; and 8.30pm – 7.30pm on a Tuesday. Contact: 01929 554490
- Wareham Dental Surgery – an NHS dentist at 16 West Street. Opening hours 8.30am – 5pm Monday – Friday. Contact: 01929 552363
- My Dentist – NHS and private dental centre at 29 West Street. Opening hours: 9am – 8pm Monday – Friday. Contact: 01929 554760
- MouthPeace dental practice – on Chalk Pit Lane in nearby Wool. Opening hours: 9.00am – 6pm (weekend appointments are available). Contact: 01929 462269
- Christine Webster Opticians – Located at 10B North Street. Opening hours: 9.30am – 5pm Monday to Friday (closed 1pm – 2pm). Saturday 9.30am – 12pm. Contact: 01929 556062.
- Shaylers Vision Centre – Optician and vision therapist on West Street. Opening hours: 9am – 5.20pm Monday – Friday (closed 1pm – 2pm); Saturday 9am – 12.30pm. Contact: 01929 553928
- Boots – 4 North Street. Opening hours: 9am – 5.30pm Monday – Saturday. Contact: 01929 552737
- Wareham Pharmacy – 11-13 South Street. Opening hours: 9am – 5.30pm Monday – Friday, and 9am – 1pm on Saturdays. Contact: 01929 552384
- Sandford Pharmacy – St. Helen’s Road, Sandford. Opening hours: 9apm – 6pm Monday – Friday (closed 1pm – 2pm). Contact: 01929 551164
Wareham has both a primary and a secondary school, as well as various others in nearby villages and surrounding areas.
Schools within Wareham
- The Purbeck School – A mixed, 11 – 17 community secondary school on Worgret Road in Wareham. Contact: 01929 550077. Visit the school website: https://www.purbeck.dorset.sch.uk
- Wareham St Mary CE Primary School – A Church of England primary school on Streche Road. Contact: : 01929 552517. Visit the school website: https://www.warehamstmary.dorset.sch.uk
Schools nearby to Wareham
- The Swanage School – An 11-16 secondary Academy school in Swanage. Contact: 01929 500599 https://www.theswanageschool.co.uk
- Lytchett Minster School – An 11-18 mixed comprehensive school in Lytchett Minster, Poole. Contact: (0)1202 622413 http://lytchett.org.uk/wp/
- Stoborough CE Primary School – Contact: 01929 552974 https://www.stoborough.dorset.sch.uk
- Sandford St Martin Primary – Contact: 01929 552949 http://www.sandfordprimary.dorset.sch.uk
- Corfe Castle Primary – Contact: 01929 480428 https://www.corfecastle.dorset.sch.uk
- Wool CE Primary school – Contact: 01929 462569 https://www.woolprimary.com
- St Mary & St Jospehs’ Catholic Primary school – Contact: 01929 462565 http://www.stmaryjosephswool.dorset.sch.uk/website
- Bovington Academy – Contact: 01929 462744 https://www.bovington-aspirations.org
Specialist & residential
- Purbeck View School – a mixed, residential school for students with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Students who live locally may attend as day pupils. Purbeck View School is part of the Cambian Group and offers specialist and individualised education.
Wareham is home to several sporting facilities and groups.
Clubs based at Purbeck Sports Centre
- Swanage & Wareham Rugby Club
- Swanage Hockey Club
- The Bowmen of Lytchett Archery Club
- Wareham & District and Bere Regis Swimming Club
- Wareham & Purbeck Badminton Club
- Soccer Solutions Football League
- Wareham Rangers Youth Football
- Purbeck Triathlon group
Find out more and see what exercise classes are currently running at the Purbeck Sports Centre: https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/sport-leisure/leisure-centres/purbeck-sports-centre/purbeck-sports-centre.aspx
Swanage & Wareham Rugby Club
This active community rugby club is based in Wareham on Bestwall Road.
As well as regular matches, the club hosts several events throughout the year, such as fireworks nights.
Visit Swanage & Wareham RFC website: https://www.pitchero.com/clubs/swanagewareham/
The history of Wareham Town
Evidence of human activity dating back to 9000BC is found – most notably at an archaeological dig at the Bestwall quarry site.
Various items ranging from Mesolithic through to Iron Age, including flint, Bronze Age pottery and tools are unearthed, along with later Roman artefacts.
Wareham is best-known for its Saxon connections.
In 875, Wareham is captured by the Danes, but King Alfred arrives to reclaim it – this is known as the Siege of Wareham.
Alfred commissions the building of earth banks (the Wareham Walls that you can walk along today), creating a ‘burh’ – a fortified settlement to defend against future invasions.
Due to its position in the county and being by two rivers, Wareham becomes an important port – it even has its own royal mint by the end of this period.
The town flourishes until the nearby Poole port begins to take away some of Wareham’s trade.
13th & 14th Centuries
In 1418 a man named John Streche leaves money for almshouses to be built to help the poor.
The Black Death hits Wareham in 1348, further damaging livelihoods. If you visit St Martin’s Church you’ll see the red stars on one of the internal walls – painted on in memory of those who lost their lives to the plague.
Wareham suffers a major blow in 1762 when a huge fire tears through the town, destroying many of its buildings. It is referred to as The Great Fire of Wareham.
Many residents who lost their homes are housed inside St Martin-on-the-Walls church.
But houses are rebuilt – much of the architecture you will see is Georgian – and the community keeps going.
A workhouse is built in Wareham as many traditional industries are declining. Rural communities are struggling with high rates of unemployment.
However new industries such as brewing, clay and pottery works begin to come to the area, boosting employment greatly by the middle of the century. One of the largest employers at this time was the Sandford Clay and Pottery Works.
Another boost to the town is the introduction of the railway to Wareham in 1847.
There are now several public houses, a busy market, and businesses including butchers, shoemakers and a draper.
The Oddfellows Hall is built in 1889, and hosts travelling theatre shows, banquets and concerts – now a 1920s-style cinema.
Wareham plays an important role in both of the World Wars.
In WWI some 7,000 men undertake training at a military site just outside the town – where The Purbeck School is now situated.
WWI soldier and writer Lawrence of Arabia, who has his home at Cloud’s Hill in nearby Bovington, visits Wareham regularly – you can today sit in his favourite seat at the Anglebury House pub, as well as visit his carved effigy, created in 1939 by official war artist Eric Kennington, housed at St Martin-on-the-Walls Church. (1919 war memorial built)
In WWII Wareham Town Council helps rehouse some of the residents of Tyneham. They have been evacuated from their village due to the Ministry of Defence requiring the land for training purposes. Wareham, along with many other parts of Purbeck, also welcomes child evacuees from larger cities.
In 1942 the town is hit by a German bomb, which narrowly misses St Martin’s church. It destroys a number of houses and causes several casualties.
In 1974, Wareham Museum opens its doors for the first time.
Wareham remains a lively market town, and is home to around 5,600 residents. Its historic market town charm and location on the doorstep of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the world-renowned Jurassic Coast makes it a popular tourist destination as well as a lovely place to live.
Look out for evidence of the past at every turn – from walking along the Wareham Walls to enjoying a film at The Rex – one of the country’s oldest-running cinemas, and quirky pockets of the past, such as these:
Wareham Town Pound
A unique slice of Wareham history preserved
You’ll find pockets of history throughout the town, which tell their own individual stories – like the quirky, immaculately maintained medieval Wareham Town Pound.
Now a Grade II listed building, the town pound was once used to hold stray animals until their owners paid a fine to the Lord of the Manor (and sometimes as holding jails for petty criminals).
This mini attraction was a piece of the past that had fallen into disrepair and become heavily overgrown. However it has since been cleared and rejuvenated by the Wareham & District Development Trust and brought back to life by Purbeck School students’ artwork who worked alongside local illustrator Maria Burns – look more closely at the animal-shaped displays and you’ll see snippets of Wareham’s history throughout the ages.
You’ll find this unique little attraction on Pound Lane opposite the Streche Road car park – which is also a starting point for the Wareham Walls walk.
Saxon roundabout monument
A nod to Wareham’s Saxon origins
Despite looking remarkably like Excalibur from the Arthurian legend, the ‘sword in the stone’ on Wareham’s North Causeway roundabout is in fact simply commemorating the town’s Saxon past.
The sculpture is based on the remnants of a real Saxon sword found in the river in 1927 when South Bridge was being rebuilt.
It was installed by the Wareham in Bloom team, which helps keep Wareham looking lovely for locals and visitors alike – you’ll see that, throughout the town, homes and businesses are quite literally blooming, with colourful hanging baskets on all the main streets.
If you’re staying a little longer and want to explore what Purbeck and Dorset have to offer, there is something for everyone just a little further afield.
Some highlights include:
- Swanage Bay – the golden sands of Swanage beach with its wide variety of cafes, shops and entertainment are sure to have you returning time and again
- The Blue Pool and Tearooms – an enchanting lake hidden within 25 acres of heath and woodland between Wareham and Corfe Castle. It derives its name from the clay suspension in this disused clay pit, which makes it a striking turquoise colour
- Corfe Castle – Purbeck’s iconic ruin sits atop a hill at the entrance to the village of the same name. Regular historic reenactments, fairs and family fun events run in its grounds – and a trip to Corfe Castle Model Village is a must while you’re here
- Dorset Adventure Park near Corfe Castle and Splashdown in Poole – a day out for kids and big kids alike not to be missed. Splashdown has indoor flumes and outdoor slides, and Dorset Adventure Park has a giant outdoor floating Wibit Water Park. Both have refreshment options
- Swanage Railway – step back in time as you ride the steam train through the Purbeck Hills. It runs from Swanage to Norden, stopping at Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Herston and holds several events throughout the year
- Lulworth Estate – home to the stunning limestone arch of Durdle Door and enclosed Lulworth Cove where you’ll be spoilt for choice with ice cream parlours, pubs and even a chocolate shop. A visit to Lulworth Castle is also a must
- Studland Bay – there are three beaches and stunning sand dunes and heathland walks just a short drive from Swanage or Corfe (also accessible via the Studland ferry)
- Monkey World – the ape rescue centre in nearby Bovington is home to over 250 rescued and endangered apes. The park is dotted with adventure playgrounds and has a cafe and gift shop making this a fun-packed day out
- Putlake Adventure Farm in Langton Matravers and Farmer Palmers in Organford – bottle-feed lambs or take a tractor ride at these local adventure farms. Both have soft play areas and outdoor fun zones
- The Tank Musem – one of the world’s biggest collections of tanks is just a short drive away in Bovington and is packed with history and interactive exhibitions and activities