Brownsea Island – A Day Trip in Dorset

If you are at all like me, then I am sure there are certain places you’ve often heard of or thought you ought to go to, but have never had the chance to visit. So I was pleased this week to finally tick one off the list – Brownsea Island near Poole – a little further afield than my usual posts but still a manageable day trip.  It is well known for 2 things, the delightful red squirrels and being the place where Baden-Powell held the first ever Scout camp. It’s also owned by the National Trust which was a bonus as we are members.

Brownsea Island National Trust heathland

Tranquil Heathland and Walks in the Woods

Brownsea Island squirrel
Brownsea Island peacock chick
Brownsea Island last boat

The trip with my girls was under the guise of being a parent helper with their Scout pack. The only downside to this whole outing was having to take on some responsibility, which meant I didn’t get a chance to review the National Trust tea shop (I do love a good NT cream tea!) but rest assured there is one there, along with the usual slightly overpriced gift shop.

Brownsea Island Scouts with a view

Before we arrived the children started to ask questions about Brownsea Island, so I had to admit I knew absolutely nothing about it  – not its size or what to expect – so I’m here to help enlighten you if you happen to need my help.

Let’s start at the beginning.  It’s an actual island off Poole Harbour, that means you need to take a passenger boat to get there (no sea sickness tablets needed as it’s less than a 10 minute journey). The island is approximately 1.5 miles long and not quite so wide, about 500 acres (thank you Wikipdia).

Brownsea Inland Ferry

There are numerous walking tracks (no pushbikes) and no cars,  so this trip does involve walking unless you spend all day in the cafe. Many parts are pushchair friendly and you can even borrow good “off road” buggys from the NT shop (call ahead to reserve one, details here).

“The island is really one big nature reserve roughly divided into two. You will spot birds, animals,  bugs galore and the occasional wild Scout!”


Brownsea Island sikka deer

Roughly half the island is managed by a Dorset Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve (a £2 donation to enter),  a bird watchers paradise with bird hides based around a lagoon, reed beds and salt marshes.

The landscape is incredibly varied for the small space, on the National Trust side there are areas of deciduous woodland, pine woods, heath land, open grassy areas, narrow beaches and cliff top views across the bay.

Going with the Scouts did add to the interest of the trip as there are various landmarks relevant to them; this includes a flag and information boards marking the spot of the campsite where Baden-Powel held his first experimental camp in 1907 – (an unfortunate turn of phrase I think), that ultimately led to the formation of the Scout movement. There’s a Baden Powel memorial, a small information room (with tea and coffee) and a Scout shop (more history plus lots of badges and woggles for sale). Some Scouts and Cubs were camping on the island and others visiting for the day so be prepared to come across a few lively groups, especially in the school holidays.

Brownsea Island Scouts on beach

The NT have put together a children’s trail “Get sticky on Brownsea” – it’s a bag you can buy with a Stick Kit activity trail where children have to find different sized sticks at various numbered spots to complete the trail (genius idea lasting 2 – 4 hours!).  There is also an excellent map of the island for older children or adults to follow.

However the island has other history as it was once well known for its pottery and there are remnants of the kilns and bricks to be found along the beach, as well as the ruins of cottages that once housed the workers.  There is a castle (of sorts) that is privately owned by John Lewis for staff holidays, so not accessible and also a church.

Brownsea Island Scouts

My girls are delighted to reel off the list of wildlife we saw for you – peacocks and their chicks (hold on to your sandwiches!), Canadian geese, chickens, a fleeting glimpse of a red squirrel and we were lucky enough to watch a sikka deer for about 10 minutes from just 15 feet away. Down on the shore they discovered minute crabs and small fish.

Brownsea Island natural play area

As well as the freedom to run around and explore the island there is a fantastic natural playground where tree trunks and logs have been used to create everything – see saw, monkey bars, balancing beams, even a coconut shy.

We spent over 4 hours on the island – you may not need that long but we could have stayed longer as we didn’t get to see the nature reserve (or have a cream tea!), although to be honest we were all pretty done in for by then.

Brownsea Island National Trust

Somehow I don’t feel like I have painted the best picture I could have to do this pretty place justice. Brownsea is quite enchanting and offers so much variety of landscape in a relatively small space. Visitor numbers are limited so there are plenty of quiet places to walk or sit and enjoy the views.  The island’s history is fascinating and I think we should be very grateful that it has found its way back into the hands of the National Trust and Dorset Wildilfe Trust who have made Brownsea Island what it is today and available for everyone to enjoy.


Cost of the trip – there are entry fees to the Island if you are not a National Trust member (£7.00 adults, £3.50 children) and also a separate cost for the ferry Brownsea Island Ferries   – please check for up to date departure dates, times and prices. It is a bit cheaper to take the ferry from Sandbanks,  (£6.50 adults and £5 for children) rather than Poole. Take cash.

Flip flops or Wellies ?

Dry accessible tracks easy for walking and fine with a decent buggy but some optional parts involve inclines, steep steps or cross country. There is a special ferry that you can book for wheel chair users.

So that’s it – another activity for you to consider – thank you for reading my blog!

We were staying in Christchurch so it was not a long drive for us, but it would be quite achievable for a day trip from the Axminster area.

There are two ferry ports, Poole Quay which is 1 1/4 hours drive from Axminster or Sandbanks which is approx 1 1/2 hours from Axminster. Have a look at the NT directions as I only have knowledge of the Sandbanks option which is a little further round the harbour.  Link to National Trust Directions.

Brownsea Island ferry ticket office

Take a look at another great blog by Extraordinary Chaos


Mini Travellers blog looks like fun  – a different view of Snowdonia for the kids.