The River Path
The River Stour
"And there came Stoure with terrible aspect,
Bearing his sixe deformed heads on hye,
That doth his course through Blandford plains direct,
And washeth Winborne meades in season drye..."
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spencer
The River Stour is a substantial river which runs 96 km (59 miles) from south east Somerset and west Wiltshire through north Dorset and the Blackmore Vale into east Dorset , the eastern fringe of Bournemouth and Christchurch where it meets the Hampshire Avon and empties into the sea at Mudeford. Its catchment covers a land area of 1,3000 km with a population of nearly 400,000.
It has about six main sources, the most well known being St Peter's Pump in the valley known as Six Wells Bottom in the National Trust's gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire. Professor Eilert Ekwall, in his book 'English River Names' (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1928), concludes that the original meaning of Stour is 'the strong, powerful one'.
The catchment is mainly agricultural land (dairy farming) which has been heavily drained and degraded over the past 20 years. The river is fast losing contact with its floodplain. The clay Blackmore Vale is a patchwork of fields which lost its hedgerow elms in the 1970s and is now dominated by oak, alder and field maple. Land drainage has led to huge declines in the populations of snipe, lapwings and redshank.
The Stour is still a stronghold of White-legged damsel fly and Scarce Chaser Dragonfly and is seeing the return of the otter after years of persecution and removal of bankside cover. It is mainly a course fishery, salmon and trout being confined to the lower reaches. The most abundant species are roach, pike, dace, chub, barbel and perch. 'The lower Stour is nationally renowned for its barbel population. Grayling are found in the River Crane and Shreen Water, and pike in the more acidic Uddens Water. Eels, minnow, gudgeon, stone-bach and bullhead are ubiquitous. Marine species such as the thick-lipped and thin-lipped mullett, bass and flounder frequent the tidal river downstream of Iford Bridge.
Aquatic plants that thrive in slow flowing rivers such as the Stour - the Arrowhead and Yellow Water Lily abound in the main reaches, where as Water crowfoot can be found in the chalk feeder streams.
The nature of the land surrounding the river changes completely when it enters the outskirts of Bournemouth. Fields give way to gardens and houses, boats and tidal water. The river takes on a holiday mood.
A riverside walk has been created called the Stour Valley Way. It originally ran from Christchurch to Sturminster Marshall, but has recently been extended to follow the river for the 64 miles between Christchurch Priory and the source of the river at Stourhead. The walk is marked by signs bearing a kingfisher symbol.
Between 1998 and 2001 the Stour was the focus of Confluence, a project run by Common Ground helping and encouraging local people to make their own new music in celebration of the river and its tributaries, springs, wells, flora and fauna. You can read more about it on the Common Ground web-site.
EXPLORE THE STOUR AND ITS TRIBUTARIES ... Look at the Stour map.
Customs, Events and Celebrations
Stories and Legends
Songs and Writings
Bridges of the Stour
Mills of the Stour
Stour Water Features
The Stour in Bournemouth