Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bournemouth Coast Path Section 2 Bournemouth Pier - Christchurch












A frustrating week culminated in me being able to wangle a morning out away from the folks several days after I had planned to initially go for my latest expedition. The weather had been awful for most of the week and I was champing at the bit to get out by the time Sunday morning came along.The weather wasn’t great in Sussex so I headed west to Bournemouth, which looked to have the best of the meagre sunshine that was on offer.I was keen to do some more of the coast path that I had commenced in March and figured that this would be a good walk to do, especially as the end to end transport would be nice and easy.Frustratingly I had to wait until 9.15am for the first train of the day from Christchurch to Bournemouth.Thestation at Bournemouth is a fittingly grand station for such a well-visited seaside resort.

Although the station building is lovely, the same cannot be said of the way into town from outside. I was greeted with a large (and closed) shopping centre which I had to find my way around before plodding on down to the seafront. The streets had a decidedly hung over feel about them with litter blowing around from the debris of a tough Saturday night. Many of the people wandering about also looked a bit gaunt too, although there were a couple of anti-social blokes wandering about who were trying to wake up everyone with their boom box. I was very surprised to see such a sight – one I hadn’t for possibly 20 years.

Eventually I made my way down to the seafront and circled around the hotel I had stayed in during March to meet up with the clifftop path. As I turned on to the seafront I immediately felt the full force of the wind! It was a grey day yes, but I already felt exhilarated just walking a short stretch along the coast. It certainly was going to blow the cobwebs away.The first point of interest was the Russell Cotes Gallery, with a rather festive looking lion gracing its entrance.The building itself was presented to the people of Bournemouth in 1916, a rather odd year I thought considering that most attention at that time was focused on the battlefields of Northern France and Flanders. The fence on the seaward side of the path also caught my eye.Embedded within it were all manner of miniature objects and pictures that make Bournemouth famous, including sticks of rock, kites, beach huts and even a metal detector!It made for a rather more interesting piece of street furniture than plain old black railings…

Once at the top of East Cliff I wandered along a road full of hotels of varying descriptions including a fine art deco looking place called The Cumberland and one with very well-tended gardens called the Miramar. The latter also had a lion within the grounds – perhaps this is part of a theme? Far below me the waves crashed in on a very choppy and grey looking sea. I am sure it was a day beloved of surfers but not swimmers! Above the din of the waves I heard the rumble of what I took to be a train and on getting closer I discovered it was another cliff lift, in use this early Sunday morning. Looking down the cliff it did seem pretty steep and I could see that this service could be pretty popular!

Eventually I reached a very large car parking area and sensing that the path may not continue beyond it, I headed down into Boscombe Chine Gardens. This immediately seemed like a different world to the cliff top as the wind died down. There were plenty of people about on their early morning jog and the children’s play area was already quite popular.It was immediately apparent that the gardens had had some investment judging by the quality of the paths and other street furniture and I soon discovered that it had been funded as a Heritage Lottery project.It was surprising to learn that the original pleasure park had been developed as long ago as 1868, so I guess this really is a piece of local heritage!

The other end of the gardens opened out onto Boscombe Pier. This has obviously been fairly recently refurbished and the landward end of the pier looked really good, with newish looking shops, yet still retaining their heritage look. I understand that there was a pavilion on the seaward end but this has now been replaced by a fishing deck, giving the pier a rather different look and feel. The pier was awarded the Pier of the Year title in 2010.As I passed the land train came sweeping round, adorned with Peppa Pig motifs and perhaps explaining why it was quite popular. I felt the first spots of rain at Boscombe Pier and hoped that it would not develop into much as I still had a long way to go! I also discovered another model lion – this time wearing Bermuda shorts! It was obviously something going on that I hadn’t been aware of.

Adjacent to Boscombe Pier was a very large development of new flats and shops and I am guessing that this was the catalyst to the refurbishment of the pier. It all looked very pleasant and the shops appeared to be doing some reasonable business. I smiled at the would-be surfers being taught moves on the beach opposite the flats – I guess surf schooling is big business in these parts following the installation of an artificial reef offshore designed to make the experience even better. I also became fascinated with the antics of a black headed gull, which spent a lot of time scuttling around looking for titbits to eat. I did wonder whether some of these resort gulls even know what their diet is supposed to be?

My onward walk for the next couple of miles was a bit samey. Although I enjoy wandering alongside beach huts and gorse covered cliffs, the monotony did get to me after awhile. Luckily the sand blowing around on the promenade and the different light patterns dancing their way across the sea at the sun tried to punch through the clouds kept me somewhat entertained. Ahead of me was the lump of Warren Hill that never seemed to get any closer!

Tiring of the flat promenade, I took the opportunity to climb the cliffs once again for a different perspective. Immediately I felt my spirits rise as the views were instantly better. It didn’t take long before I came across yet another cliff lift, this one called Fisherman’s Cliff. I paused here, not because of the lift (it wasn’t yet open), but to watch a kestrel hunting on the side of the cliff. Far below me were a group of small boys playing rugby – one sport I have never before seen being played on a beach!

I wandered along the nature reserve at the top of the cliff until the cliff ran out! At this point I ran into housing that occupied the now thinning piece of land and was rather disappointed to have to walk along a road for a bit. There was a mish-mash of housing along here & one or two of the early build properties had been or were in the process of being replaced by new more palatial ones. I suspect this will be an ongoing theme for some years to come, especially as the originals don’t look too well appointed.

Frustrated by the road at the top of the cliffs I took the first opportunity to head back down to the promenade, doing so by the Bistro on the Beach. Initially it looked like the place was closed but when I got closer, I soon realised that everyone was inside! I don’t blame them – it was far to wild to be outside sitting down. I can’t say that the restaurant was the most attractive place in the world – it was a rather a hideous looking 60s building. A pity because its surroundings were lovely!

After wandering along the promenade for half a mile or so more I reached the end and entered the rather wilder and more countrified area known as Hengitsbury Head. This nature reserve centres on the headland and spit of land protecting Christchurch Harbour. As I headed towards the prominent Warren Hill, the weather whipped up again and I faced a squally shower. With the rain at my back and the heavy crashing waves pounding the beach to my right I had to pinch myself and remember that it was the middle of July! As I entered the nature reserve I passed a family with young children who appeared to be backpacking. I cast an envious look – it’ll be several years before my kids are old enough to manage this.

Hengitsbury Head and Warren Hill is an area of much archaeological interest, with many relics of occupation peoples from Stone Age onwards. There are defensive earthworks suggesting that it was a permanent settlement for a long time. Archaeologists have also found numerous tools and other artefacts which point to the rather agricultural lifestyle by the inhabitants. The viewpoint at Warren Hill must have been a strategic place that the local exploited for protection, for a section of coast from Swanage to far into the New Forest can be seen, together with the western end of the Isle of Wight.

The approaches to Warren Hill is very sandy but I was glad that a longish section was on boardwalk, for it made the going much easier. As I got closer to the hill the crowds got bigger and I realised that most had probably made use of the car park at the foot just inland from the path I was using. The poor weather began to abate as I climbed the hill, which was a relief for it meant that my view from the top was really good, albeit that it was a grey and overcast day. Climbing to the top changed my perspective completely.From a largely flat and straight piece of coast I suddenly got a view all round me including into the countryside beyond Christchurch, my final destination later in the day.Ahead of me was a rather forlorn looking Coastguard station, which still seems to be Government owned rather than taken over by the Coastwatch Foundation. Maybe a change of ownership might give it a new lease of life?

I had assumed that Warren Hill would be the last point eastwards but I was quite wrong. There was actually quite a bit more walking to be done before getting to the mouth of Christchurch Harbour. The going was easy, courtesy of the tarmac path presumably provided for the disabled and parents with pushchairs. However, I was plagued with Sunday strollers who seem to have no appreciation for those around them and insist on walking at snail’s pace while simultaneously blocking the whole path. Fortunately the views all around me compensated for the very slow pace I had to adopt for awhile.I was pleased when the crowd ahead of me finally stopped to consider the departure of the Poole Ferry some distance away, which allowed me to get ahead and put some distance between us.

At Hengitsbury Head, the path finally dropped down off the cliff and I took the opportunity to wander a little way along the spit below me. I didn’t walk all the way to the end where the ferry takes people across the harbour mouth, principally because all there was to look at were beach huts and I had had my fill of looking at them today! However, my attempt at a short cut from the spit to the perimeter road was ill-fated due to the state of the tide.A little footbridge I had hoped to use had been circumvented by the tide and so I had to retrace my steps back to the road. The land train looked rather tempting but wasn’t about so I opted to walk along the road. This ended up being a sensible decision as I had completed half its length before meeting it coming the other way.

I was now walking along a section of path shared with the Stour Valley Way (the Dorset version), which finishes here after following the River Stour all the way from Stourhead, some 64 miles away. The weather was really picking up and I even noticed a few breaks in the cloud, hinting I might see some sunshine by the end of my walk after all. I wandered through a wood that afforded fleeting views across the Stour Estuary and finally the substantial church in Christchurch.

I changed direction at Wick Farm, passing what I took to be a visitor centre by the car park. From here I crossed a former landfill site (although to be fair I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t seen an interpretation board). Despite what must be lurking underneath the now restored site was a riot of colour from wildflowers. None were what you call top drawer, but the harebells, ragwort, toadflax, wild geraniums and rosebay willow herb all provided some vibrant colours on this dull day.

Christchurch came upon me sooner than I expected and with it came the sunshine. Since I had parked near the station, I had to make my way all the way along the Stour to the lowest bridge. As I got closer into town the clouds suddenly lifted and for the last half mile or so I had a very bright and sunny walk along the riverside – a very different proposition from earlier! I crossed the Stour by a very busy road bridge and walked along the main road into town, noticing as I did so a very black cloud looming to one side of me. I suddenly sensed a race against time as I approached my car and quickened my pace. It was fortunate I did so as the raindrops just started as I was within 50 metres of the car. By the time I got in the rain started clattering down in bucketloads – what a stroke of luck!

As with so many of my walks this one changes character part way through. From a seaside resort coast, the walk takes a wild turn around Hengitsbury Head before taking a riverside path for the final approach. It is well worth lingering for the views at Warren Hill or perhaps stopping for lunch in one of the cafes along the first part of the walk. It is also a relatively easy walk for anyone to do, for the public transport link is easy (via a 10 minute train ride) and the terrain is virtually flat apart from the modest climb of Warren Hill.


2 comments:

  1. As a Bournemouth resident I thought that I would give you some information on the 'Festive' looking lions that you saw whilst you were here.....

    They are part of a public art event called 'Pride in Bournemouth'. This is being staged throughout this summer- each lion is sponsored by local businesses and will be auctioned in mid September as a way of raising funds for two charities...Born Free Foundation & Julia's House.

    For further information http://www.prideinbournemouth.com

    -Trevor

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Trevor! I did think they must have a purpose but could see no signage anywhere ( a bit remiss if fundraising is the game). They did add a good deal of character to the place - I expect they will be missed when they are gone

    ReplyDelete