Having now walked around Poole Harbour I’m continuing east along the coast. Having left the South West Coast Path at Shell Bay I wondered if navigation might become difficult with no formal coast path yet. But the Poole Harbour Trail provided a long distance route around the harbour. Now I’m round that I find that the familiar green diamonds of the Ordnance Survey map continue (mostly) along the coast east around Poole Bay and beyond. Beyond Poole Harbour these trace the route of an ambitious path, a product of the European Union to create a coast path along much of the Northern Europe coast, starting from Portugal and following the north coast of Europe to Estonia taking in a stretch of the English south coast on the way. It seems that only small stretches of this path have been completed and waymarked and this is one of them. If you were working on such a grand plan of a path such as this you would think you would want a suitability grand name to go with it. The Trans Europa coast path perhaps? Or perhaps the Biscay to Baltic trail? (These are names it took me two minutes to come up with). But no, what we have instead goes by the dreary name of “E9 European Long Distance Route 2“. No doubt we can thank some bureaucrat in Brussles for such an unimaginative name.
This walk follows Poole Bay a roughly 11 mile wide bay which has Poole Harbour at it’s western end and the smaller Christchurch Harbour at it’s eastern end. It takes in 3 large towns, Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch (heading west to east) and is the most built up area of Dorset. In fact it is partly as a result of this urbanisation that it is all in Dorset at all, for Dorset used to end at Poole. Bournemouth and Christchurch were once part of Hampshire, but were moved in to Dorset in 1974 when it was decided it made sense to have the whole built up area administered by a single country.
On to the walk and there are two possible routes you can follow, as can be seen on the map. The “E9 European Long Distance Route 2” mostly sticks to roads and existing cliff top paths, but this does mean it heads a bit inland when there are no roads along the coast. However for most of the length of Poole Bay there is also a lower level path, at the base of the cliffs (the promenade) which you can also walk and cycle on and it is marked with the orange dots (permissive cycle path).
For convenience reasons as much as anything I did this walk from east to west so I ended this walk at Sandbanks. However whilst I did this walk in December, it was grey and overcast, so I’ve sometimes used photos from other occasions too, when the weather was better.
I started this walk from the Tuckton area of Christchurch just on the south side of the Tuckton Bridge. The Tuckton Bridge crosses the river Stour, which runs from Stourhead (best known for the National Trust gardens) to reach the sea at Christchurch harbour (along with the river Avon). There is free parking along Wick Lane on the south side of the Stour, in the marked parking bays, which is where I parked.
I headed down steps into the gardens by the Tuckton Tea Gardens and then follow the surfaced path beside the River Stour, along it’s south bank.
This area is a nice park which follows much of the south bank of the river and borders an area of Christchurch called Wick. The river is pretty here with the boats reflecting in the calm waters. The modern building is a luxury hotel.
Just past this is the slipway for the Wick Ferry. This is a small passenger ferry which crosses the River Stour to reach Christchurch quay, a short walk from the town centre. The views from here though are lovely, with the towns ancient priory now visible. Although not a cathedral it is the longest parish church in the country, is larger than 21 English cathedrals. The oldest parts of the building date from 1150 so it is not far off 1000 years old!
Sadly not long after this the path on this side of the river turns away from the river and heads south between fences into a field where there is a flooded area suggesting this is a flood plain.
The path I’m following is part of the Stour Valley Way a long distance path that follows the Stour Valley for most of it’s course. The path now continues between hedges as a gravel path until I emerge at the road by the Hengistbury Head outdoor centre now owned by Brockenhurst college. Here I turn right on the road but only for a couple of meters after which I can turn left onto a path which soon reaches the main track around Hengistbury Head. This is used by a land train that links Mudeford Sandbank to the main car park. I followed this for a short distance with nice views over the marsh over to Christchurch priory.
Soon there were steps down on the left to the shingle beach that runs right around the edge of Christchurch Harbour. This part is not marked as a public right of way but it’s the grey dotted path you can make out on the Ordnance Survey map which runs through the marsh on the north side of Hengistbury head (alongside the harbour).
The gravel path gives me a good view of this large harbour, with the large amount of birdlife to be seen enjoying the shallow waters. However as I neared the beach huts at the sandspit the path was becoming increasingly difficult to follow. It was high tide and there were numerous little streams and points where the water was crossing the path.
Most of these I could step or jump over, but soon just before the sand spit I neared a bridge over a wider channel. But the bridge seemed to have malfunctioned – it wasn’t long enough! There was about 1.5 meters of water beyond the end of the bridge. There was a rock, but even that was submerged. I debated trying to jump onto the rock, but if it was slippery, I’d end up falling over into the water or cracking my head on the end of the bridge. In the end I decided to resort to shoes and socks off, (not pleasant in December, it’s cold), but it was at least gravel under the water not mud. Once across I stopped to put my shoes and socks back on and headed to the sandspit.
This sandspit is a quite remarkable place. A narrow sandspit with water on both sides, the harbour on the west and the sea on the east, with two beach huts, one facing over the harbour and the other over the sea. These aren’t any beach huts though. They are unusual in that the planning conditions for them allow you to sleep in them and so many have a little mezzanine level at the top with small beds in. They also mostly have solar panels to provide electricity whilst residents of the beach huts get a key to the public toilets which also include private showers and a drinking water supply. All of this makes them very desirable – they change hands for well into 6 figure sums – quite incredible for what is really a glorified shed. They also seem very vulnerable out on a narrow spit of sand with the sea on both sides, as well as no road access. I can certainly see the attraction in summer though, with fine views over the sea to the Needles on the Isle of Wight and along the Dorset and Hampshire coast.
I turned left and follow the path right to the end of the sandspit, where there is a large house covered in black paint or tar. This is I think an old custom house, but is now split up into holiday flats. There is a fine view over the water to Mudeford Quay which is split by just a small stretch of fast flowing water which marks the mouth of Christchurch Harbour and the waters of the Avon and Stour flow out to the sea.
From here I rounded the corner and followed the beach right the way to the edge of Hengistbury Head. Many of the beach huts were boarded up for the winter, although the road train was still running.
And a similar view at dusk.
I soon reached the steps and followed these which give a wonderful view over the narrow sandspit and it’s vast numbers of beach huts – a unique place.
Indeed it got me thinking that either end of Poole Bay has these locations where there is a huge amount of money.
The path over the top of the headland is good, with fine views of the Solent, Isle of Wight and the coast to Bournemouth ahead. I have walked over this headland many times and it is always enjoyable.
This view from the top shows quite well that amazing sandspit with it’s long row of beach huts.
At the far south east corner of the headland is a large breakwater which can provide some spectacular sea conditions in winter weather.
At the top there are also good views over to Chrsitchurch Priory and the harbour.
The headland itself is mostly heather clad at the end although it later becomes grass as you then descend back down to just above the sea.
It is also possible to walk all the way round on the beach for most of the year if you are careful and this gives nice views of these natural and unspoilt cliffs.
It might surprise you that the photo above was actually taken in April!
From the top you have fine views all around Poole Bay to Bournemouth.
Heading down the steps from the top of the headland I continued along where the path soon became boardwalk over a large expanse of dunes, it was lovely.
The boardwalk soon ended though at the old Point House Cafe, where I briefly had to join the road but then could head down to the promenade which starts here. I could now follow the promenade all the way to sandbanks, making for an easy (if not terribly varied) walk.
I’ve now moved from the borough of Christchurch to Bournemouth. The centre of Bournemouth is only a couple of hundred metres from the coast. The area to the west of it is called Westbourne. So you might expect this area, east of it, to be Eastbourne. But no, it goes by the name of Southbourne (perhaps to avoid confusion with the East Sussex coastal town?).
I soon began to pass beach huts which line the coast all the way to Sandbanks now although the numbering system is very odd, with numbers in the thousands!
I past a fairly horrible 1970s development, housing the Bistro on the Beach.
Then for a while, it was back to the fairly undeveloped promenade, although the wind was fierce and blowing sand into my face for much of the time. It is nice here to head down onto the beach from time to time for a change too.
It was now an easy walk for a mile or so along the promenade to the first of many cliff lifts, which take tourists up to the promenade. I continued past many more beach huts and zig-zag steps back up to the top.
Soon I was reaching Boscombe, an area that was once considered pretty posh but these days is generally the poorer cousin to Bournemouth. There were some fairly ghastly modern flags built below the cliffs, which doesn’t seem like a good idea to me (there has been a fairly large cliff fall just west of here in recent weeks, for example).
Beyond this is a newer development of beach huts, an attempt by the council to create an area for surfers here, the showpiece of which was a Surf Reef. Millions was spent on this surf reef, which never worked properly, later became damaged by a boats and the company behind it went bust. For a time the entire beach in front of it was closed for safety reasons. It has since been re-branded as a “Coastal Activity Park” with the emphasis on diving, snorkelling, wind and kite surfing (but not traditional surfing, I note). It is hard to see how Councils can justify cutting public services citing “lack of funds” whilst at the same time they blow at least £3,000,000 of public money on projects like this.
Past this I came to the pier at Boscombe (one of two in Bournemouth). This is now a simple affair, simply a wooden promenade out to the sea, with a shelter along the centre. No amusements, no theatre, nothing. I rather like it’s simplicity and the fact it hasn’t gone out to try to grab as much money as possible from passers by. It is also good to see it has been restored as I believe part of it was closed for a while.
Beyond the pier the promenade now had a road and car park beside it although few people were using it on a day like this and sand had blown over much of it anyway.
After a while the beach huts ended to be replaced by a long building which I think houses the road trains that run along the promenade during the summer, but at least they powers that be had made an effort to make it more attractive by painting beach huts and images of the trains on the front. Past this there was another zig-zag up to the cliff tops and out to sea I could watch the increasingly rough sea, as foam created by the heavy seas was now blowing about.
As I approached the next pier, Bournemouth Pier, just a little over a mile or so west of Boscombe the beach huts changed. I rather liked it! Someone had installed some new huts, but rather than paint them all the same colour it looked like they had taken the colour chart from a paint shop and painted each hut in the colours in order, making the huts looks like a large colour chart. I liked it.
I was now approaching the pier in Bournemouth, which is larger and brasher than it’s neighbour in Boscombe. This one used to have a theatre on it, but it closed last year, to be converted into an Indoor Activity Centre. A long zip wire had also been installed from the cliff top to the end of the pier which looks like it might be fun but at £15, it is certainly expensive. Here is the pier in it’s theatre days.
And now with the Activity Centre and zip-wire which goes from the tower to the right of the building.
At the shore end are the more usual pier attractions, namely a large amusement arcade. Although I took advantage by using their change machine so I had enough change the buses back at the end of the walk. There are also nice views both ways from the pier, this one taken in the busier summer months.
You briefly have to leave the promenade here to go around the landward end of the pier, where there is a large square with some rides on it. This leads up through the Lower Gardens past the theatre to the town centre.
Now back on the promenade it was also now back to pedestrian use, with the car parking having ended along this bit. It was a rather bleak section of the walk, with the strong wind blowing the sand about and into my eyes at times. But in the summer it is lovely.
I was soon back to the usual lines of beach huts – I do wonder how many Bournemouth has?
The area above the cliffs houses gardens again and the coast began to feel a little more rural again. A feature of the coast west of the town centre is a number of small valleys called Chines, where little streams flow out to the coast. These provided a nice wooded oasis up to the roads behind. The first of these, Durley Chine, is marked by a large Harvester at it’s coastal end, whilst the path up the valley is largely given over to a car park, a shame. The next chine, Middle Chine, a short distance ahead was more to my taste, being quiet and unspoilt. It was only a few metres onto the last of the 3 chines in Bournemouth, Alum Chine which is the longest and has a suspension bridge over the valley at the land end.
A short distance after this I passed the sign that welcomed me to Poole, a sign I had now left Bournemouth behind. There seemed to be a bit of a change ahead too, with the next chine, Branksome Dene Chine having a more attractive ice cream kiosk, with a blue tiled roof. The beach huts had also changed, with concrete and brick built blocks of beach huts replacing the more traditional huts I had passed so far.
I continued on the easy promenade past Branksome Beach where the road briefly meets the coast and hence has a car park and toilets. I stopped to use the latter and then continued along the promenade. This area was far more pleasant now feeling quite rural, with trees and heather along the top and even the face of the cliffs.
Although there was still housing on the top of the cliff top, it was large and set much further back – clearly a wealthy area. I was now passing through Canford Cliffs and soon there was another small chine, Canford Cliffs Chine. I could see that the cliffs were soon ending.
Another half mile or so along the nice promenade and I reached the last chine, the oddly named Flag Head Chine. I continued on the promenade to soon meet the main facilities of the beach at Sandbanks. This peninsula is famous, or perhaps infamous, as one of the most expensive places to buy land, not just in the UK but in the World, I think it is now the 7th most expensive place in the world. Whilst it is, undeniably very nice that it is quite so expensive does surprise me. It does after all have a busy road through it and is quite exposed, with water on both sides.
Here I could look out to sea to the Old Harry Rocks I had passed previously.
This also marked the end of the promenade, with the beach now the only way to continue ahead, as the cliffs had ended and the gardens of the houses now backed right onto the beach. Thankfully the tide was out so there was still easy walking along the beach. Soon however the rocky groynes, no doubt built to protect the houses, made it a bit more tricky as I had to keep climbing over the large boulders or head up nearer the shoreline on the soft sand to get around each one.
I soon passed the beach polo course, looking rather bleak and unloved on this windy day.
The Groynes continued.
Ahead I could see the Haven Hotel which I know is the last building along the shore on the Sandbanks side.
Here there is a rough path along the front of the hotel, under the sea wall which heads past the hotel car park and finally to the public car park, where a ladder can be used to gain access to the car park. This used to be signed as a permissive path only (saying it was closed for 1 day a year) but I’m happy to note that it has now appeared as a public footpath on the most recent Ordnance survey map.
I had reached the ferry just as it was beginning to get dark.
I hadn’t checked the bus times coming back I only knew that the bus was hourly. Happily, the ferry was on the other side of the harbour and I could see that the bus was already on it, meaning I would not have long to wait. This is an unusual bus route in that it crosses on the ferry. The bus soon arrived and I took it as far as Bournemouth.
At Bournemouth I got off at what is called The Square, but is no such thing. Instead it is a road where all the buses stop with bus stops the length of both sides of the road. This narrow space makes it tricky for the buses to manoeuvre past other parked buses, it is usually chaotic and there is often someone having to marshal the buses. I wonder if it was a good decision to demolish the old bus station? I only had a few minutes to wait for my onward bus to Tuckton. Once it set off, it took about 25 minutes to get back to Tuckton.
This walk is a pleasant surprise as despite being through an urban area (it is mostly on a tarmac promenade) there is still much to see and in winter it is a pleasant un-crowded walk (it is very different in summer). My favourite area is around Canford Cliffs and particularly the area around Hengistbury head, which is undeveloped and very beautiful.
Here is the details of the public transport needed for this walk. You need to changes buses at Bournemouth Square onto either the 1B or 1C (I think the 1B is a little quicker). As the buses are run by different companies the cheapest ticket is two singles.
Purbeck Breezer route 50 : Swanage – Studland – Shell Bay – Sandbanks (Ferry) – Canford Cliffs – Westbourne – Bournemouth (Square) – Bournemouth Station. It runs hourly Monday – Saturday during the winter and twice an hour in the summer. On Sundays it runs once every 2 hours in winter and hourly in summer.
Bournemouth Yellow Buses route 1B : Poole (Bus Station) – Upper Parkstone – Branksome – Westbourne – Bournemouth Square – Boscombe (Bus Station) – Tuckton Bridge – Christchurch. Every 15 minutes Monday – Saturday, every 30 minutes on Sunday.
Bournemouth Yellow Buses route 1C : Poole (Bus Station) – Upper Parkstone – Branksome – Westbourne – Bournemouth Square/Gerivs Place – Boscombe (Bus Station) – Pokesdown Station – Southbourne – Tuckton Bridge – Christchurch – Somerford. Every 15 minutes Monday – Saturday. Twice an hour on Sundays.