Hengistbury Head is a dramatic headland located close to Bournemouth and to the south of Christchurch harbour. It’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a local nature reserve.
There are two large car parks near to the start of the walk situated next to the popular Hiker Cafe. For the less energetic, a land train usually operates from outside the cafe along the access path to the Mudeford Spit but is out of action for the foreseeable future.
At the entrance to the trail there’s a modern visitor centre which explores the area, its history, wildlife and geology. The centre is free to visit but sadly only the gift shop was open on the day we were there.
We chose to take a looped trail which followed a level path along to the spit taking us around 20 minutes. No vehicles are allowed on the nature reserve and we just shared the path with other walkers, cyclists and numerous children on scooters. From the footpath there are some splendid views of Christchurch harbour. It’s shallow waters are ideal for water sports and we found it amusing to notice a dog happily sprawled out on one of those Stand Up Paddle boats.
The trail hugs the coast and passes meadows and goes through shaded woodland before continuing towards Mudeford Spit. In this absolutely beautiful location there are 348 of the most sought after beach huts in the country with a 12ft x 10ft wooden hut selling for a whopping £330,000 three months ago. To put this into perspective, one could buy a five bedroom house in some parts of the country for this!
The Mudeford Spit beach huts really are in an idyllic spot between the sea on one side and the sheltered harbour on the other. Although it’s more like glamping as there is no mains water, WC or electricity supply in the huts.
It was fun to take a glance at the way the owners had imaginatively designed the interiors with no expense spared for internal furnishings and equipment. Several owners have had solar roof panels installed to provide electric lighting whilst in their small kitchens, stoves run on bottled gas and have battery operated fridges.
We could see that extra sleeping areas had been built into the loft space creating a mezzanine floor with ladder attachments and small windows installed on some of the huts. Large decking areas for alfresco dining and to watch the world go by complete the picture. Not quite so luxurious is the fact that water has to be collected from standpipes where communal shower blocks and WC facilities are also to be found.
Facing the harbour is the Beach House cafe which is the hub of life along the Spit. This attractive large cafe has a sheltered terrace overlooking the water and alongside it, an ice cream kiosk which had a long, snaking queue. There’s also a small grocery store from where the beach hut community can buy fresh milk, bread and other daily necessities.
A small ferry runs from near the cafe and operates at regular intervals between the Sand Spit and Mudeford Quay. There are also frequent ferries along to Christchurch Quay slightly further away.
We followed the path along to the end of the spit from where we had views of Mudeford Quay which lies just across the water and is another local beauty spot. Leaving the sheltered harbour we wandered over to the sandy beach on the eastern side facing the sea. Another row of beach huts sit on the sand dunes there with views across to the Isle of Wight.
After walking along the beach front passing the last of the pastel coloured beach huts we followed a steep path up the Warren Hill steps that brought us out at the top of Hengistbury Head.
Do remember to turn around after reaching the top of these steps as the view of the spit with the harbour to one side and the sea to the other is one of the best around and definitely worth the effort of climbing up the hilltop for.
Once up on the headland, the path follows a gently undulating trail through heathland with stunning clifftop views. Five cruise liners could be seen anchored in the bay with a board outside the old coastguard listing their names. I wonder for how much longer they will be marooned off shore.
Continuing slightly further still and we had reached the Rotary Club viewpoint. Another spectacular hilltop view, this time of the coastline stretching west to Bournemouth and beyond and in the other direction across the harbour to Christchurch with its beautiful priory church in the distance.
After taking lots of photos we made our way down the hill by means of a steep path interspersed with flights of stone steps. Back along the shoreline we watched people enjoying an afternoon on the beach before making a right turn through some meadows returning us to our starting point by the Hiker Cafe.
Our 3 mile (4.8km) walk had taken around 90 minutes including several short stops, making a lovely place for a stroll on bright, sunny day. It’s an easy walk but if you don’t fancy the uphill stretches you can just retrace your steps on reaching the spit along the level access track or take the land train if it’s running.
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