River Stour, Dorset

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

River Stour
The Dorset Stour at Little Canford.jpg
The Dorset Stour at Little Canford, just west of Canford Magna
Stour (Dorset).png
CountyDorset, Wiltshire, Somerset
DistrictSalisbury, South Somerset, North Dorset, East Dorset, Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch
TownsGillingham, Sturminster Newton, Blandford Forum, Wimborne Minster, Christchurch
Physical characteristics
 • locationSt Peter's Pump, Mere, Wiltshire
 • location
Christchurch Harbour, Christchurch, Dorset
 • coordinates
50°43′41″N 1°46′23″W / 50.72796°N 1.77295°W / 50.72796; -1.77295Coordinates: 50°43′41″N 1°46′23″W / 50.72796°N 1.77295°W / 50.72796; -1.77295
Length61 mi (98 km)
Basin features
 • leftAllen, Moors River

The River Stour is a 61 mi (98 km) river[1][2][3][4][5] which flows through Wiltshire and Dorset in southern England, and drains into the English Channel. The catchment area for the river and its tributaries is listed as 480 square miles (1,240 km2).[6]


It is sometimes called the Dorset Stour to distinguish it from other rivers of the same name in Kent, Suffolk and the Midlands.[7][8] According to Brewer's Dictionary of Britain & Ireland, the name Stour rhymes with hour and derives from Old English meaning "violent", "fierce" or the "fierce one".[9]


The river burst its banks during the 2013–14 winter floods and 100 residents were evacuated.[10]

Prehistoric archaeology[edit]

The Stour valley has produced rich evidence for early human (Palaeolithic) activity. Gravel pits in the lower reaches of the river (many underlying modern day Bournemouth) produced hundreds of Lower Palaeolithic handaxes when they were quarried, particular during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.[11] Archaeological investigations around 2010 near Corfe Mullen suggested that some of the artefacts from those quarries may be around 400,000 to 500,000 years old.[12][13]


The source of the river is fed from greensand springs at Stourhead, in Wiltshire,[14] where it forms a series of artificial lakes which are part of the Stourhead estate owned by the National Trust.[15] It flows south into Dorset through the Blackmore Vale and the towns of Gillingham and Sturminster Newton.[16]

At Marnhull the Stour is joined by the River Cale and then (two miles downstream) by the River Lydden.[17] At Blandford Forum the river breaks through the chalk ridge of the Dorset Downs, and from there flows south east into the heathlands of south east Dorset. At Wimborne Minster it is joined by the River Allen, and at its estuary at Christchurch it is joined by the River Avon before it flows through the harbour into the English Channel.[7]

From source to estuary, the river falls approximately 750 feet (230 m) over its 60 mi (97 km) length.[18]

For many miles the river is followed by the route of the now disused Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, which bridged the river four times in a 9 mi (14 km) section between Sturminster Newton and Blandford Forum.[19]

Because much of the river's course is across clay soil, the river's waterlevel varies greatly. In summer, low water level makes the river a diverse and important habitat, supporting many rare plants. In winter, the river often floods, and is therefore bordered by wide and fertile flood plains.[20]

A number of towns and villages in Dorset are named after the river, including East Stour, West Stour, Stourpaine, Stourton Caundle, Stour Row, Stour Provost, Sturminster Newton, and Sturminster Marshall. Sturminster Newton is famous for its water mill and town bridge,[16] which still bears the notice warning potential vandals that damaging the bridge is punishable by penal transportation.


The river flows through a myriad of differing settings and scenery (reed bed, open water, coastal, estuarine, river, streams, lowland heath) and as such is host to species such as the pipistrelle bat, harbour porpoise, great crested newt, medicinal leech, Desmoulin's whorl snail and the starlet sea anemone.[21]

There are many fish that live and use the river, which include; barbel, bream, chub, dace, grayling, perch, pike, roach, rudd, salmon, tench & trout.[14] The harbour at Christchurch has also been used to land oysters, crab, lobster and cuttlefish, all of which were fished from the harbour itself. Bass and mullet are known to use the estuary for feeding and as a nursery.[22]

Downstream of Blandford Forum, the Stour is host to an insect known as the Blandford Fly (simulium posticatum) which is known for leaving painful bites on humans. Attempts have been made to rid the fly from the area with a special spray used on the larval habitats of the fly.[23]

Recreation and amenity[edit]

The harbour at Christchurch and the lower reaches of the Stour and the Avon are host to a multitude of marinas, boat clubs and landing stages. The Stour is navigable as far upstream as Tuckton (the tidal limit)[24] and whilst there is a low bridge at Iford, it is possible to navigate as far as the rapids which are 0.9 miles (1.5 km) upstream of Iford Bridge.[25] Spring tides have been known to penetrate a further 0.9 miles (1.5 km) upstream, as far as Blackwater Bridge (the A338 road).[26] Boats can be hired from several yards and landings in the harbour and estuary area[27] with kayaking and canoeing being popular on the river too.[28]

The Stour Valley Way is a designated long-distance footpath that follows almost all of the course of the river.[29]

White Mill, an 18th-century watermill on the river near Sturminster Marshall, is owned by the National Trust and open to the public.[30]

The River Stour passing under Crawford Bridge

Literary associations[edit]

Thomas Hardy wrote about Overlooking the River Stour,[31] while William Barnes similarly referenced the "darksome pools o' stwoneless Stour" in his The Water Crowvoot.[32]

The Stour also appears in more occasional fashion in The Faerie Queene.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stour (headwaters)". catchmentdataexplorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Stour (upper)". catchmentdataexplorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Stour (Middle u/s Pimperne Brook)". catchmentdataexplorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Stour (Middle d/s Pimperne Brook)". catchmentdataexplorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  5. ^ "Stour (lower)". catchmentdataexplorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  6. ^ "Dorset Stour - Summary". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Dorset Stour Catchment Flood Management Plan" (PDF). gov.uk. Environment Agency. June 2012. p. 6. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  8. ^ Roberts, Steve. "The Dorset Stour". riverdays.co.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  9. ^ Ayto, Crofton 2005, p. 1059.
  10. ^ "UK floods: more than 100 people evacuated as river bursts banks". the Guardian. 25 December 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  11. ^ Davis, R.J. (2015). "Concerning the earliest Acheulean occupation of Britain: the geological context of a handaxe assemblage from Foxholes, Bournemouth, southern England". Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic Studies Society. 35: 33–39.
  12. ^ McNabb, J.; Hosfield, R. (2009). "Re-investigations of Lower Palaeolithic archaeology and deposits at Corfe Mullen". Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society. 130: 195–198.
  13. ^ McNabb, J.; Hosfield, R.; Dearling, K.; Barker, D.; Strutt, K.; Cole, J.; Bates, M.; Toms, P. (2012). "Recent work at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Corfe Mullen, Dorset, England". Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 78: 35–50.
  14. ^ a b Blackmore, Mike (2014). "River Stour at Stourhead" (PDF). wildtrout.org. The Wild Trout Trust. p. 4. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  15. ^ "Stourhead". nationaltrust.org.uk. National Trust. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  16. ^ a b Ayto, Crofton 2005, p. 1069.
  17. ^ Chaffey, John (January 2008). "The Stour: Stourhead to Sturminster Newton". dorsetlife.co.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  18. ^ "Dorset Stour - First Annual Review" (PDF). environmentdata.org. Environment Agency. December 1998. p. 2. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  19. ^ Hawkins, Mac (1999). The Somerset & Dorset; then and now (3 ed.). Somerset: Grang Books. p. 155. ISBN 1-84013-321X.
  20. ^ "The Rivers Stour; five contrasting rivers". cleanriverstruct.co.uk. Clean Rivers Trust. 24 March 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  21. ^ "Dorset Stour action plan" (PDF). environmentdata.org. Environment Agency. January 1998. p. 20(29). Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  22. ^ "Dorset Stour consultation report" (PDF). environmentadata.org. Environment Agency. January 1997. p. 63. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  23. ^ "Dorset Stour consultation report" (PDF). environmentadata.org. Environment Agency. January 1997. p. 56. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  24. ^ "195" (Map). Bournemouth & Purbeck. 1:50,000. Landranger. Ordnance Survey. 2016. ISBN 9780319262931.
  25. ^ "The River Stour, Dorset. England". stourvalleyway.co.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  26. ^ "Dorset Stour Catchment Flood Management Plan" (PDF). gov.uk. Environment Agency. June 2012. p. 14. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  27. ^ Richards, Alexandra (2012). Slow Dorset. Chalfont St Peter: Bradt. p. 278. ISBN 9781841623931.
  28. ^ Court, Maria (12 July 2014). "Paddle power: what it's like to explore the river Stour by kayak". Dorset Echo. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  29. ^ "Stour Valley way (Dorset)". ldwa.org.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  30. ^ "White Mill". National Trust. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  31. ^ D. Wright ed., Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems (Penguin 1978) p. 346
  32. ^ R. Nye ed., William Barnes: Selected Poems (Manchester 1988) p. 56
  33. ^ P. Cullen, Speser Studies 12 (1991) p. 207 and p. 211


  • Ayto, John; Crofton, Ian (2005). Brewer's Britain & Ireland. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-304-35385-X.