Saturday August 4th 2001
Southbourne – Hordle Cliff
Dorset – Hampshire
We set out today to begin to fill in the gap between Bournemouth and Hythe with a 9-mile walk heading east from our previous starting point at the end of Bournemouth promenade. We caught the train to Christchurch and once again had a taxi to Southbourne. While waiting for our train at Reading station we saw a steam train heading from London to the southwest, which was a lovely sight pulling out of the station under a cloud of steam and smoke.
Bournemouth promenade ends at the foot of Hengistbury Head and we soon found our way onto the southern side of the headland. We crossed it at a place called Double Dykes, which houses the main car park and, on the northern side, an information centre. It is named after the Iron Age fortification consisting of two large mounds and two ditches still very much in evidence. We had a brief loo and ice cream stop before heading along the lane that runs alongside Christchurch Harbour on the northern side of the headland. This lane also carries a Dotto Train, which takes people to the holiday chalets and beaches at the far end of the head. Several trains passed us as we enjoyed the quiet path winding between woodland and sea. Parts have been allowed to become completely overgrown as a bird sanctuary and were very wild.
The beach huts at the tip of Hengistbury head are the most expensive beach huts in the country. They are indeed special and larger than normal as, unlike most huts, overnight sleeping is permitted. In fact they are more like chalets than the conventional wooden huts seen in seaside resorts everywhere. They open onto a sandy beach to the south and a harbour on the north. Many had boats tied up beneath them with the chalet number painted on the hull. We bought a copy of the first issue of the “Hengistbury Head Times”.
At the end of this sandy spit is a landing stage and a tiny ferry to cross the entrance to Christchurch Harbour. The crossing was very quick and we soon found ourselves in Mudeford. The village takes its name from the River Mude which empties into Christchurch Harbour here and was originally a fishing village. These days it is a popular tourist spot and the quay was very busy as there is a huge car park here as well as toilets, cafes etc. For us it was also significant as it marks the beginning of The Solent Way long distance path which runs from here to Emsworth where Hampshire ends and Sussex begins.
We moved as quickly as we could through the throng along a concrete esplanade right on the edge of the sea, feeling as always, somewhat overdressed among holidays makers in swimming trunks and bare feet.
A little further on we came to Friar’s Cliff, home to a sandy beach, again very busy, and two strings of beach huts. We sat on a bench outside the second set of huts and ate our lunch. It was very much quieter here with only the occupants of the beach huts and their families using the beach. We were entertained by a little girl creating made-to-measure burrows for her Beanie Babies. All we could see of them was a row of heads sticking out of the sand!
Soon after this, the concrete path ran out and we had to walk on the beach for a while. Shortly we spotted some steps up to Highcliffe Castle way above us on the cliff so we climbed the very steep, very uneven and very long staircase into the castle grounds.
There we discovered that the castle is not open to the public although the grounds are as is a splendid café located in the conservatory. So we had a cup of tea and a cake to finish off our lunch. Jen managed to consume the biggest rock cake I have ever seen and I had much more respectable chocolate caramel shortcake! We enjoyed watching a wedding party in progress in the castle as we were eating. The bridesmaids wore burgundy dresses and we watched the bride pose for photographs in her dress with its long white train. Jen had a go at translating the Latin Motto carved in stone over the front door.
We very gingerly descended the steep steps again back onto the beach and struggled through the sand for a while before finding ourselves on a wide gravelled path which soon joined the bottom of a gentle slope running down from the back of the castle cafe!
The gravelled path continued between the sea and cliffs for quite a distance. The sea is obviously extremely wild at times here for there were groynes made of huge boulders sticking out to sea and more huge boulders behind the path at the bottom of the cliff. We decided that the path resembled a tank track because it was so wide and flat but eventually decided it must have been constructed to allow earth moving machines access to repair storm damage. We were fascinated by the groynes which were numbered from H0 to H11, where we left the path.
And promptly got lost. At the end of the path we had expected to climb up a valley called Chewton Bunny beside a stream, cross the stream a little way inland and come back down the other side of the valley as far as the cliff top. However, a bridge had been built across the stream at sea level and a wide access made, again, presumably, for earth moving machinery. We could not see a way to get up onto the cliff top and the path did not continue along the beach so we did what is always the best thing to do in this situation, and asked some local people. They said the best way was to follow the path on the far side of the stream, which would take us to some steps and up into a holiday park. If we walked through the site, we would end up on the outskirts of Barton-on-Sea. As Barton was where we were heading we followed their advice only to lose ourselves once again inside the holiday park.
It proved impossible to follow the cliff path because most of it had collapsed and keeping away from the edge seemed like quite a good idea. There were paths fenced off where their ends had fallen over, evidence of chalets that were no longer there and even one in pieces half way down the cliff. Eventually we meandered round to where we could see proper houses beyond a fence and found a man who was with his granddaughter playing cricket perilously close to the cliff’s edge. We asked him where the rest of his fielders were and he asked us whether we knew the cricket scores, (England were playing Australia in the Ashes). And no we didn’t! He directed us to a gate in the fence which would bring us out into Barton.
We emerged from the campsite onto wide open lawns running from houses to the edge of the cliff. By now, the wind had freshened and was blowing very hard and, as we walked along admiring the view, a coastguard helicopter swept in and turned very low over us before heading out to sea once more. The wide lawns continued into the centre of Barton and we rested on one of the many seats dedicated to relatives who had died but had “loved the view”. We called into the toilets in the village so that Jen could plait her hair to try to stop it blowing about quite so much. On the lawn near the toilets a summer fete in aid of the RNLI was in progress but the wind was giving them a very hard time as everything was blowing, including the poles holding up the tents!
We were forced inland soon after this because the cliffs had fallen away once more but soon came out onto more wide lawns with dozens more benches. The line of houses ended at a golf course and we found the path heading along the cliff top next to it. All along the path were signs warning of cliff erosion and crumbling so we were very careful and walked away from the edge as much as possible. These cliffs were very much higher than the ones before and there was no one else about apart from an odd dog walker. The wind had increased even more and a real storm was blowing which made progress slow was beginning to affect us quite badly.
We had to cross two more streams, which meant sharp descents into valleys and steep climbs up the other side, all the time buffeted by strong winds. The first stream at Beckton Bunney had a rickety wooden bridge crossing it. By the time we reached the second stream were more or less exhausted, cold and dehydrated but could see the houses of Milford-on-Sea not too far away so pushed onwards.
The last lap was the hardest because the cliff was the highest yet and the wind was so strong it nearly blew us off our feet. Finally we came to civilization in the form of a car park complete with an ice cream van and a café at Hordle Cliff on the edge of Milford on Sea.
We established from the ladies in the café that a bus stop was close by for the bus into Lymington and that we had half an hour to wait. Salvation had arrived in the form of hot chocolate and a seat inside a warm building for the duration.
From Lymington Bus Station we had a painful downhill walk on cobbles to the station then a fairly tortuous journey home. Glyn was persuaded to meet us at the station for a very welcome ride home where we set about dealing with aching thighs, sore feet and windburn.
Running total 51.4 miles