For this walk I’m leaving Dorset and crossing into Hampshire. This means not only have I completed another county I’ve also completed my first region – South West England (cue debate from those that would argue Hampshire is also in the South West!). As with the previous walk I’ve done this walk a couple of times before and hence there are photos from a variety of occasions and also a few different route possibilities!
I was staying near Christchurch, so it was a short distance down to Tuckton where again I parked on the road just south of the Tuckton Bridge. In fact as a coast walker it is not really necessary to come into Christchurch at all – a ferry links Mudeford Sandbank (where I walked last week) to Mudeford. Another ferry links the sandbank with Christchurch quay, so I could use that and not walk around, but it’s an interesting and scenic walk to walk around so I decided to include it.
I crossed the Tuckton Bridge, a blue metal bridge which offers fine views of the Stour.
This the lowest bridge across the Stour which then flows out into Christchurch Harbour and the sea. Once over the bridge I turned right and followed the minor road, Willow Way which goes as close as possible to the river (on the north side, the gardens of houses back right down to the river). The road layout here is odd, Willow Way is a minor single-track road but it is right next to the wider Willow Drive (they are only separated by about 1 metre of grass verge) so the traffic on the road I was walking was at least light because it was mostly using the wider road alongside. The road soon passes a small car park and then I can turn right along a road behind the posh Captains Club Hotel, a modern building. From here there is again a footpath alongside the river side in front of the hotel and then I reach Christchurch Quay.
Passing a childerns play park there is then the grass of the quay on my left (it floods here often in winter) and the river Stour to my right, lined by boats.
It reminds me quite a lot of the river in Wareham.
Near the end of the quay area boats can be hired and there is also a bandstand and beyond this an ancient mill, I think it now mostly serves as an art gallery.
Behind this I can follow a nice tarmac path alongside the old mill stream and beside perhaps the real star of the area, the ancient priory of Christchurch.
You get good views of it from the river path.
But I think it is better to leave this and head for the green alongside where you can really appreciate this magnificent structure. The oldest parts of it are around 1000 years old.
Continuing along the river path in a few metres I come to Constable House, or rather the remains of it.
This is the remains of a 12th Century house which was built with the original castle.
Again the castle too is in ruins, but just the other side of the green. Both sites are freely accessible.
Christchurch is rather a pleasant town to explore with all this history just a minute or two from the main shopping street. The little path beside the mill now has the River Avon on one side and the mill stream on the other so it is a bit like a causeway. Finally at the end of this little path is perhaps the famous view of Christchurch – the ancient bridge with the fisherman in front.
This bridge, which dates from the 15th Century, crosses the second of the major rivers that flow into Christchurch Harbour, the River Avon, which has it’s source in Wiltshire (in fact I think there are two, one in Pewsey, one in Devizes) and flows south to Salisbury and on to reach the sea at Christchurch Harbour.
I’m now more or less in the centre of town and turn right alongside Bridge Street. In fact the land I’m on now is actually an island, because the Avon splits into two channels here, flowing either side of this land, which is linked by two bridge. So I’m soon crossing the Avon again, this time the second of the two water channels on Waterloo Bridge, which is a more modern structure. This marks the edge of the town centre and just across this second bridge is a small car park and mariner which leads to the rather ugly Council offices. From here there are steps around the side of the building through the car park and then onto a lovely area of land known as Stanpit Marsh. This is, as you might expect, marsh and the path is initially a gravel path around the side of a golf course (part of the Leisure Centre, behind the council offices). There is a path off to the right which is the most coastal. I tried to follow this, but soon had to give up because it was boggy and much of the so called path was under water.
So I returned to the gravel path where you can soon round the back of the golf course and then turn right onto a lovely area of the marsh. Here there is a proper path. I’m nearing the New Forest now, and this feels very much like the New Forest, with horses grazing wild and numerous gravel paths over the marsh.
The gravel path soon brings me right to the edge of the harbour where there are horses grazing on the beach – not something you see everywhere! Opposite is Hengistbury Head.
The path runs along the back of the beach for a short while, but then turns back inland to round the eastern side of the marsh where there is a bridge over a marshy stream.
I continue on the path and just past this is a recently opened visitor centre, in an attractive wooden building, giving information about the marsh and the wildlife to be seen here.
The gravel path along the marsh continues here, alongside a field to the left and emerges by a Scout hut onto the main road (Stanpit). Sadly once more there is no path along the coast as the backs of houses go down to the river.
Thankfully after a couple of hundred metres, there is a footpath marked running along the shore, so I head down to this.
This goes behind houses, on the edge of the green where many of the residents have their own boats.
Many of the houses have their own jetties, too.
This continues but the map is not clear if it-rejoins the road. Sadly it turns out the last part of the path is in fact a dead-end, which is rather frustrating. So I made my way around the side of some garages (not sure if it is private or not), along a residential road (Costguard Road) and back to the main road. The next half a mile follows this busy road, but at least there is a pavement. I pass a pub and another large and expensive looking hotel (Avonmouth Hotel), taking me back to the Somerset coast, where I passed through Avonmouth (near Bristol). Soon the road crosses over a small river, the River Mude, which gives the area I am coming into now, Mudeford, it’s name. Soon I reach the road that leads down into the large, popular (and expensive) car park at Mueford. There is briefly a nice grassy path beside the harbour here, which offers fine views over the harbour.
At the end is Mudeford Quay a collection of pretty little cottages.
I can look out to sea now at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour and the end of the Mudeford Sandbank.
I’m now back along the sea front and re-joining the route of “E9 European Long Distance Route 2” which crosses the harbour via the ferry and so continues here. This area is known for it’s seafood and Lobster pots line the shore and I soon pass a fish stall. Beyond this I’m passing the car park, with a little pavement separated by railings from the car park. The area is popular with people crabbing and the water flows fast, as the mouth of the harbour is quite narrow. At the end of the car park there is a sea wall and a choice of path below it or above, I opt for below (they come out to the same place). To the left is a caravan park, though it is nicer than some, with a lot of trees and spaces between the caravans. The main draw though is now the beach on my right, a mixture of sand and shingle.
The beach is split by numerous rocky groynes, presumably an attempt to control the erosion.
I’ve now reached another beach, named Avon Beach, where there is another car park, cafe and shop. Beyond this there is now a nice promenade lined with identical green beach huts.
They certainly like their beach huts in this part of Dorset (I’ve heard people sleep overnight at New Year here, to secure a lease for the year ahead).
The green beach huts soon give way to more colourful huts as I pass into the area known as Friars Cliff.
I passed another cafe and then reached another cafe. Here the promenade ahead ends suddenly, with steps down to the beach and a gravel path at the back of the beach.
But just back from this you can follow a wide track past some rather ugly buildings on the left (used by the coastguard I believe) now climbing gently uphill and into woodland. This is an area known as the Steamer Point nature reserve, and it is lovely. There is a small visitor centre and this path is open during daylight hours (the gates are locked at night). The path continues through woodland to emerge into the grounds of Highcliffe Castle. This is not really a castle in the defensive sense of the word it is more a stately home castle. It was built in 1831 and the gardens laid out by Capability Brown. This had various aristocratic owners over the years including a period where it was lived in (and leased from it’s owners) by Harry Gorden Selfridge, who set up the Selfridges department store. However the castle began to decline in the 1950s when it was bought from the previous owners and turned into a children’s convalescent home. In the 1960s, it suffered a serious of devastating fires. After further decline and a series of disputes, it was eventually compulsory purchased by Christchurch Borough Council, the present owners. They have set about restoring the exterior of the castle and the beautiful gardens, as well as a few rooms of the interior, which are now open to the public for a small fee (though often used for weddings at the weekend). There is also a shop and cafe here.
The building itself is very beautiful and I believe the Council have recently recieved heritage Lottery funding in order to restore more of the castles interior.
From Highcliffe Castle the path soon comes to a zig-zag path leading back down to the beach where there is a path at the bottom of the cliff and another part way up, as the cliffs here are slumped. This area has suffered a lot from erosion over the years, and large stone groynes have been built to try to prevent this and the shingle on the beach is often replenished. You can also clearly make out the Isle of Wight now ahead.
I followed the medium height path which soon leads back to the top of the and another large car park beside which is the Cliff Hanger car park. There is a nice view from beside the cafe over the coast ahead.
A path leads down from the coastal side of the cafe back to the sea, where a stream flows out to sea. This goes by the odd name “Chewton Bunny”, Bunny apparently being a term often used for streams in the New Forest. It has more significance though in that it is now the border between Dorset and Hampshire (as Christchurch and Bournemouth were moved from Hampshire to Dorset in the 1970s). I have now finished walking the coast of Dorset and indeed South West England as I move into the south (or South East) and enter Hampshire.
The beach ahead is again a mixture of sand and shingle, though mostly sand initially. The coastal defence stop here (perhaps another sign of a county border) so it is noticeable that erosion means the coast ahead is quite a bit further back than where I’m standing. Unfortunately it also marks the end (briefly) of a cliff top coast path.
You can cross Chewton Bunny at the mouth of the river (as it goes into a pipe before it reaches the coast) and there are paths up both sides of the valley. Here there is a choice of 3 different routes (and I’ve done all 3). The most coastal is to continue along the beach to Barton-on-Sea. However this is not always possible, depending on erosion. The cliffs here are eroding and not defended, so at times cliff falls make the route along the beach impossible. In addition, it is often impossible at anything but low tide or when there have been storms and near the end you have to climb over some rocky groynes. There can also sometimes be mud flows and soft clay, so when climbing over the rocks, it is best to put a little pressure down first to feel if you are about to stand on something solid! The first path up the cliff at Barton is also closed.
The safer official route is to follow the bank path along the western bank of the little Chewton Bunny valley up to the A337, then follow this east for around 1/4 of a mile and return through a maze of residential roads back to the cliff top. This is the official route of the “E9” coast path and it is in fact a lovely walk up as far as the busy A337 road. This is the route I followed on this occasion. The path through Chewton Bunny is lovely, especially in Autumn.
At the top of the valley the river tumbles over a small weir under the road, which goes just above.
From here you have to join the busy A337 but it does have a pavement, as you walk past the caravan site. At the end you can follow paths through a new housing estate. I followed a route, but I’m not sure if it is the best route as it is not well signed. Soon though I ended up in Western Avenue, which is a long straight road I can follow back down to the cliff top.
There is another route though, which I have followed before, but you end up trespassing to do so. This is to follow the eastern bank of the Chewton Bunny stream and then take the tempting looking steps up the cliff. There is no sign to indicate the status of these steps, but a sign listing the wildlife that can be seen in the area gives you some encouragement it is a public path. Until that is you get to the top of the steps, where an obvious CCTV camera is pointing at you and a sign warns you have now reached the Hobourne Naish Holiday Village and it is private and for residents or visitors only. But they don’t put a sign to tell you this at the bottom, but wait until you’ve go to the top. However if it’s in the summer months there are usually enough people walking around the caravan park that I don’t think the owners could know who is resident or who is not so I have walked this route to and continued along the coastal edge of the caravan park where at the end another gate takes you out to the end of the public road (Marine Drive West). I hope the England Coast Path might persuade the owners of the holiday park to make this a proper right of way.
Either by these top two routes you end up on the cliff top at Barton-on-Sea. This is the sort of place that is not a holiday resort, more a small town that just happens to be beside the sea! It has suffered greatly with erosion over the years (I remember having to come on a Geography field trip here at school to study the cliffs) although defence works seem to have reduced the rate of erosion (I note the Cafe my Geography teacher predicted would soon fall over the cliffs in a few years time is still there!).
Barton is quite a sleepy sort of place with a large green along the cliff top and the houses set a distance back. Looking at the crumbly cliffs you certainly would not persuade me to buy a house on the cliff top though! You can see the remains of metal sheeting near the bottom of the cliffs, presumably the failed attempts to stabilise the cliffs in the past.
The first path down to the beach is now closed too (but if you have followed the beach you won’t initially know this and you can still follow it, albeit there are large cracks in the path in places). So all 3 of the possible routes now end up on the cliff top at Barton.
I followed the pleasant grassy path along the cliff top until you reach the little promenade which is the only real “resort” part of the town, where there is a cafe, toilets and a couple of shops. These are now so close to the cliff you have to walk on the inland side (though they are still here).
Beyond this you can return to the green beside the sea where there is a car park and a path down to sea level.
It is possible to make your way all the way around to Milford-on-Sea at low tide now (but not at high tide), but the good path you can see (passing some beach huts at the base of the cliffs) soon ends, then it is hard going as the beach is shingle (I have done it, but I don’t recommend it). However there is also a good path right along the coast now and it is much better.
Indeed I think this is actually probably the most spectacular part of the Hampshire Coast and very beautiful, but it is not somewhere you here mentioned very much, which is odd. The path is a pleasant grassy path right along the cliff top and in front of a couple of small car parks, but below are some gorgeous yellow sand stone cliffs.
As you can see they are very soft and erode frequently.
The sea can also be quite rough here during stormy weather.
However if you manage to make your way along the shore at low tide in the summer you can be rewarded with a lovely sand and shingle beach which is probably going to be largely deserted.
Most of the walk so far has been urban, with one town merging into another, but the coast now soon becomes rural as I pass the last of the houses of Barton-on-Sea. Inland from here now is a golf course between the coast and the B3058. But they have created a nice (permissive?) path right along the clfif top mostly separated from the golf course by a hedge. It is a truly lovely coastal walk but one that does not seem so well known. Soon after I reach the golf course there is another little valley, Beckton Bunny. Here there is a path (of sorts) down the valley to reach the beach (also useful to know if you’ve been walking along the beach and had enough, because you can use it to get to the cliff top). It is a peaceful spot and I always make a point of heading down the valley to the beach (I saw an adder on this path once).
Hopefully the people you can just see on the cliff top give a sense of the height of these cliffs! Returning up the valley and back to the cliff top the excellent path continues right along the cliff top still with the golf course to the left along Hordle Cliff.
The cliffs gradually get lower and as the golf course ends, so the road begins to get closer to the coast path. Eventually the beach huts that mark the start of Milford-on-Sea begin to appear at the bottom of the cliffs and there is a path back down to the beach.
Soon the cliff top path reaches the first of the beach car parks for Milford-on-Sea and beyond that it is tarmac again, with a few shelters along the cliff top. I continue on the now busier cliff path to reach the second car park just beyond this, the B3058 reaches as close to the coast as it becomes before turning off inland, so I follow it a couple of hundred metres to reach the bus stop on the edge of the town, where I ended the walk. I arrived 10 minutes before a bus was due (though it was 5 minutes late). This took me into Christchurch, where I changed onto another bus for the short journey on to Tuckton and my car.
I enjoyed this walk. A look at the map would suggest it is a very urban walk but whilst much of it is built up, the coast is still very attractive. This is also an interesting walk from a historic point of view, with all the buildings of Christchurch to explore, including the ancient Priory and ruined castle, and pretty Highcliffe Castle further on. If only the coast path could be properly sorted out around the Hobourne Naish Holiday Park it would be a an excellent walk.
Here is the public transport needed for this walk :
More Wilts and Dorset route X1: Lymington – Everton – Milford-on-Sea – New Milton – Barton-on-Sea – Highcliffe – Hinton Admiral – Mudeford – Christchurch – Iford – Royal Bournemouth Hospital – Bournemouth (Square). Hourly Monday – Saturday, 4 per day on Sundays. It takes around 1 hour to get from Milford-on-Sea to Christchurch.
Bournemouth Yellow Buses route 1B : Christchurch – Tuckton – Boscombe – Bournemouth – Westbourne – Branksome – Upper Parkstone – Poole. Every 15 minutes Monday – Saturday and every 30 minutes on Sunday.
Bournemouth Yellow Buses route 1C : Somerford – Christchurch – Tuckton – Southbourne – Pokesdown Station – Boscombe – Bournemouth – Westbourne – Branksome – Upper Parkstone – Poole. Every 15 minutes Monday – Saturday and every 30 minutes on Sunday.