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Watermills, hillforts and a winding river— hiking the Stour Valley Way

Stewart Black (CC BY 2.0)

Watermills, hillforts and a winding river— hiking the Stour Valley Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P



3-6 h

/ day

66.0 mi

3,075 ft

2,525 ft

The Stour Valley Way is a long-distance hike that winds through some of Dorset’s prettiest countryside past watermills, Iron Age forts, Roman towns, nature reserves and countless picturesque villages.

At 64 miles (103 km), the Stour Valley Way does a rather comprehensive job of showing picturesque Dorset and a sliver of Wiltshire. There’s no shortage of River Stours in England and this particular one bubbles up from the ground at Stourton, in Wiltshire. It meanders around, crossing Dorset from north to south, and flows into the Channel at Christchurch Harbour.

Starting from the south, this glorious hiking trail heads uphill for most of its course but the first two stages are fairly flat. The final three stages are increasingly undulating but there’s nothing particularly challenging involved. You'll mainly ramble through quaint villages and countryside, though the Way does pass by some larger towns.

Hengistbury Head is your starting point, an impressive peninsula which is a scheduled ancient monument, a nature reserve and a site of special scientific interest. Humans have been present here since at least the Late Stone Age and it’s no wonder, the beach is wonderful. The path quickly joins the River Stour where it pays to keep an eye out for the resident wildlife, like kingfishers and water voles. In summer, the river here is verdant with reeds and marshes and lively with boats, waterside pubs and kayakers.

Roman-built towns, hillforts and old mills are abundant and once you reach the halfway mark, you’ll start encountering gentle hills that provide lovely views. At Hod Hill, you’ll even hike straight through a Roman fort and be in no doubt as to why they settled here. When you reach the northern extent of Dorset, you’ll cross into Somerset for a whole mile before dipping into Wiltshire for the grand finale.

Finish the Stour Valley Way at the National Trust Estate of Stourhead which, handily, sits right on the source. The gardens are exquisite and designed to evoke a sense of Greek mythology. With Palladian bridges, a Pantheon and an 18th-century mansion, this isn’t a bad way to finish a hike.

While I’ve created this Collection to take five days, you can choose to do it in less or more with ease. There are several large towns en route, such as Blandford Forum and Gillingham, and with plenty of villages as well, it’s not difficult to find accommodation, food or public transport.

Getting to the start is simple; catch the train to Christchurch or drive and take a short walk to Hengistbury Head. At Stourhead, walk the mile to Zeals and catch the X4 bus to Gillingham, which has a mainline station.

On The Map


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Stour Valley Way

61.6 mi

3,025 ft

2,425 ft

Last updated: November 3, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Hengistbury Head to West Parley — Stour Valley Way

    11.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    175 ft
    100 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The mouth of the River Stour is a world away from the source and this 12 mile (19 km) hike begins at Hengistbury Head on the edge of the busy Christchurch Harbour. The river is wide and popular at this end, with kayakers, paddle boarders and boats all making use of it. This stage is flat and rarely leaves

    by Kit P

  • Difficult
    13.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This 13.1-mile (21 km) hike leaves behind the hum of Bournemouth and sets you off into the Dorset countryside proper. There’s very little in the way of hills on this Tour and instead, you’ll be rambling along the River Stour, passing through fields and spotting the odd sign of ancient times. There’s

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    12.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    600 ft
    550 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    While stages one and two of the Stour Valley Way are almost entirely flat, this Tour sees a few hills, although it’s nothing too strenuous. The first half of this 12.7 mile (20.4 km) hike is low-lying until Blandford, just over halfway. You’re never too far from civilisation either, so you can always

    by Kit P

  • Difficult
    13.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    925 ft
    800 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Unlike the first three stages of the Stour Valley Way, this hike takes you away from the river up to great viewpoints from major hillforts. 13.4 miles (21.5 km) long, this Tour gets most of its hilly bits out of the way at the very beginning and stays largely rural, passing a few small villages and towns

    by Kit P

  • Difficult
    15.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,000 ft
    725 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is the most undulating stage on the Stour Valley Way and you gain elevation throughout. At 15.4 miles (24.7 km), you’ll ramble through patchwork landscapes with the young Stour meandering wildly about nearby, never knowing which way it wants to go. You’ll pass plenty of villages on this Tour and

    by Kit P


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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    66.0 mi
  • Duration
    27:55 h
  • Elevation
    3,075 ft2,525 ft

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