Wareham is a beautiful Dorset town with a rich but, at times, bloody past.
This picturesque, ancient and walled town has grown up over millennia in a natural fork between the Rivers Piddle and Frome. A mere mile or so to the East of the town, these two, pretty and meandering rivers converge and drain into the Wareham Channel and beyond that, Poole Harbour and the sea.
No doubt Wareham’s closeness to this magnificent natural harbour and its easy access to the rivers that feed into it made it naturally attractive to the Romans and Vikings who once made Wareham their home.
Doubtless too, it made the area equally appealing to the indigenous locals who tried, and often failed, to keep invaders out - because even the Roman invaders of Wareham, who arrived in Britain around 43 AD, were comparatively recent interlopers compared to the ancient Britain’s, who first made their mark on what is now Wareham a good few thousand years before that! And despite Wareham’s now peaceful and homely countenance, it seems people have spent much of the last 2,000 years fighting over it.
In the 9th Century, Alfred the Great got so annoyed with the Vikings hopping over the North Sea from Denmark and walzing up the Frome to sack and otherwise pillage the local populace he had a wall built around Wareham. Much of it still remains and makes a pleasant walk.
Sadly for Alfred the Great the Vikings thought it might make a pleasant walk too and decided not to invade up the river but marched from Cambridge instead, whooping the inhabitants of Wareham once again. This may have set a trend. Wareham was invaded again by the Danes in the 11th Century.
But it wasn’t just invaders who fought over the town. During the English Civil War Royalists and Parliamentarians had several bloody episodes in Wareham. And it would seem that it was usually the defending group that came off worst!
There’s much more on the history of Wareham to be found on the Wareham Town Council web site, including the town’s role as a garrison during the First World War for troops heading off to the trenches and as a training area during the Second World War. It also has an interesting Lawrence of Arabia connection as well as an historic church and a priory.
Modern Wareham, to the extent that “modern” can be applied to such a characteristic and quaint town, is a pleasure to visit. It would be wrong to describe the town as “sleepy”, because it is actually a fairly vibrant, working community but, in a relaxed, town-meets-country kind of way.
Visitors should not miss “The Quay”, where cars can be parked for a reasonable fee next to the River Frome. From here, you could take a boat trip up or down the river. Or you could enjoy good food, coffee, or beer at one of the pubs and eateries.
Across the bridge, there’s a wonderful walk along the Frome, with views across the river to the North and across water meadows to the South and out towards the Isle of Purbeck.
Within the town itself there are more good pubs and places to eat as well as a mix of everyday-necessity-shops and arty-crafty-boutiques for the more affluent souvenir hunter. Not to mention fishing tackle shops, for those who like fishing.
Wareham is also blessed with two particularly good bread and cake shops. William’s of Wool, at the cross roads opposite the Wareham Museum, offers particularly tasty bread and a wide selection of traditional cakes and savoury pastries farther along the same street, you’ll find Wareham’s historic, gas-lit, cinema, The Rex.
Wareham’s the sort of place you can visit in its own right or simply drop into on your way somewhere else.
At its simplest, for under a pound you can park by the river (provided there’s space) and feed the ducks.
Or, you could do the whole Wareham local history package and visit the Museum, walk the town walls, stroll along the river and then indulge in some retail therapy and local refreshment.
Either way, you may want to use a visit to Wareham as a spring board to the rest of this part of Dorset and Purbeck...You won’t be the first “invader” whose done it! Places of interest nearby include Corfe, Swanage Steam Railway, the Tank Museum, Monkey World and Tyneham, to name but five!
It’s a welcoming town, and so are the people.
Wareham is a beautiful Dorset town with a rich but, at times, bloody past..."