(Wool to Wareham)


WHERE IS IT?: This is a small rural Dorset river flowing from Dorchester to Poole Harbour past Wareham.

PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Launch at the older of the two bridges in Wool village (GR 843872), a quiet lane here is a good spot to park. Map. The buildings beside the bridge were the inspiration for the (failed) honeymoon location in Thomas Hardy's 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'. Which is rubbish.

Another possible launch spot is the bridge (GR 872870) near the railway in East Stoke village; this misses out the two portages on this trip. Map.

Take out at Wareham Quay (GR 924872), directly downstream of South Bridge; there is lots of parking here. Map.

APPROX LENGTH: 16 km? Difficult to measure, the river winds all over the place!

TIME NEEDED: 2-3 hours.

ACCESS HASSLES: The Frome sees few paddlers and no disputes are known of. However, it passes through plenty of expensive private property and past fish farms so only small discreet groups are recommended. Avoid shallows as you may be disturbing spawning beds. A sign upstream of the Wareham bypass notes no boats are allowed above the tidal limit.

I met two anglers on this section in October; both smiled and waved.

WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It is possibly paddleable year-round. However, it is clogged with weed and rather low in summer. Normal winter levels are fine. Avoid high water, as it'd be a horror story, having many low bridges. Every winter, the river floods the surrounding fields for weeks on end...definitely to be avoided.

I paddled at a comfortable winter base level; '3' on the gauge river right below the main road bridge in Wool.

GRADING: Flat water with two unpaddleable weirs.

MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Two awkward weirs. Low bridges. Swans in their thousands.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Not a great deal happens on this trip, but the Purbeck scenery makes it worth it.

After a kilometre you see a low bridge just upstream of Bindon Abbey Weir; portage on the left before the bridge, it's really awkward if you carry on below the bridge and you run this risk of being flushed down the weir gates. The weir isn't runnable, it's bridged by a wooden structure and the water disappears down little gates.

500 metres upstream of East Stoke village (you'll spot the church) there is a fish counter built across the river, which resembles a kind of lethal chipper. Portage on river left. It is possible to climb over the dry concrete side chutes, but this is no doubt going to upset someone and I cut myself on rusty metal...

You then reach East Stoke bridge (GR 872870) which is a possible start point to avoid the two portages.

From here on the river is completely flat, with the only hazard being the swans...

OTHER NOTES: This is rather pleasant and would suit open canoes and touring paddlers. Nearby is the River Piddle.

Ros White and David Chadwick have supplied a report and the following comments....'We did a trip down the Dorset Frome from Wool to Wareham last weekend, October 24th 2010. There were just two of us, one in a canoe and one in a kayak.

• Things have changed - at the first portage (Bindon Mill) there is a new turbine channel where they are installing a screw turbine generator. At the moment the portage is possible, but may not be when the work is complete. Anyone doing the trip should check this portage out first or they could get stuck there!

• There are now a large number of "no canoeing" signs you pass on the way down. The fact is that this is a well-used fishing river where you are likely to encounter hassle.

• We encountered 2 fishermen who were fine and one who told us we should not be on the river (but when we chatted to him he stopped being angry and we discussed (amicably) the problems of access for canoeing.'

CONTRIBUTED BY: Mark Rainsley, also Ros White and David Chadwick.