Monday, 23 April 2012

Bournemouth Coast Path Section 3 Christchurch - Milford

Christchurch Priory
A week after my trip to the Peak District was my birthday and in keeping with tradition I absented myself from work and headed out to enjoy the sunshine. As it was such a lovely sunny day it seemed appropriate to have a seaside walk and the last section of the Bournemouth Coast Path beckoned. I had been saving this for just such a day, for this section is the ‘country’ end of the walk, along the rather less developed section between Christchurch and Milford, where the path forms an end on connection with the Solent Way.

Priory Ruins
I parked in Milford after a fairly straightforward run and managed to get there in good time for my intended bus. For a journey that is supposed to be an express service and given the mileage between the two places I was surprised that it took well over an hour! Still, I had a good seat on the top deck and the views out across the sea at various points on the way were adequate compensation. As well as being sunny, it was quite warm although this also meant that the cloud bubbled up a bit while en route, which was a bit annoying.

Avon Bridge

I got out just off the main street in Christchurch, which was enjoying market day. Even though most of the morning had gone, the market seemed to still be in full swing and there was an air of buzz about the place. I wandered through, enjoying the atmosphere and half wishing I had more time at my disposal to buy a few things. At the far end of the street, the famous Priory loomed large and I took the opportunity to have a look around the grounds. I often think that these holy places look at their very best during spring bulb season. Not sure if this is deliberately timed to coincide with the Easter celebration or just my perception? Anyhow, the old place looked mighty fine surrounded by daffodils in the bright spring sunshine.

Next door to the Priory is the ruined castle. Surprisingly although the two significant buildings are next door to one another there is no way to go from one to the other without going out on to the street once again. Still it was only a minor quibble since the street is a joy to behold as well, with mostly buildings of hundreds of years old lining the road. I enjoyed wandering around the old castle, which now sits among several leisure facilities including a very well manicured bowling green. I wonder if the mediaeval warriors that garrisoned the castle had time for such frivolity?

Silvery Sea

Next to the castle is the River Avon, a beautifully clear looking river surrounded by willow trees just starting to come out for the season. I crossed both arms of the river and turned right down the side of the Council building, thinking what a nice place that must be to work. The section beyond here was rather forgettable as I headed around first the leisure centre and then a large golf course that was shielded from view by some bunding. I was now very much in the positioning phase of my walk as I negotiated the residential areas that butt up to Christchurch Harbour. It wasn’t hugely interesting and an attempt at following a path along the harbourside proved to be futile as I found it to be a dead end. Grrrr!


I was pleased to reach Mudeford, more or less a stone’s throw from the beach huts that I had admired last summer. The weather suddenly turned quite similar to that day, courtesy of a large black cloud that temporarily blocked the sun. Fortunately this was quite short-lived as within a few minutes of me turning and heading eastwards the cloud passed and I had about half an hour of glorious sunshine once again. Inland was a different story, with some very inky black clouds covering the urban hinterland. The promenade was surprisingly busy, with plenty of people wandering up and down and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.

Mudeford Quay

The Council were obviously gearing up for the coming season too, for on the beach were a couple of diggers re-profiling the beach following the winter storms. I watched in fascination as they went about their work and soon realised that I wasn’t alone, with just about every pair of eyes on that stretch of the beach also watching what was going on. In particular I was interested to see how the digger turned by using its bucket to lift the body up and re-position itself. Sounds made but it never occurred to me that was probably the only way a tracked vehicle could turn easily.

Beach Profiling

Beach huts are a feature of the whole of the Bournemouth Coast Path and the next half mile has quite a concentration, with rows 3 or 4 deep from the coast. Unlike the uniform colours of some resorts these were in a whole range of bright colours, making for a seaside full of character. Yet this wasn’t always a coast of pure pleasure, for above the beach huts was a rather strange looking circular monument.  This was the former Ministry of Defence Signals Research Station, now long gone save for a trig point type pillar with a large circular pad of concrete around it.  This was once the site of a satellite dish that tracked military craft, but which ceased to be in 1980 when the site was moved to Malvern in Worcestershire.
Steamer Point Huts

I climbed up on to the low sandy cliff at the far end of the beach and entered the nature reserve rather intriguingly called Steamer Point.  This apparently was named after an old paddle steamer that was moored here and used as a site office for the construction of Highcliffe Castle.  I was soon met by a cheeky little robin that spent some time following me and almost urging me to take its picture. It was a delightful walk though the woods, which were dominated by Scots Pines, my favourite tree. Every so often were peepholes out from the cliff edge for sea views. In the distance the white cliffs of western Wight and in particular the Needles gleamed in the sunshine with no cloud seeming to bother the island.

Sun's Up!
As I passed through the woods I came upon a car park and through the trees just beyond I could make out what looked like quite an impressive building. Curious, I wandered through to find out more but was quite unprepared for the sight I got. This was Highcliffe Castle, a gothic pile built in the 1830s. The castle has had a chequered history since being built by Lord Stuart de Rothesay, becoming a seminary later in its history and burning down at one point.  Now happily restored it is in the care of Christchurch Borough Council and I imagine is the jewel of their estate.  The castle is licensed to hold weddings and I should imagine would be a very popular venue for that purpose.  I took a good look around the grounds and enjoyed looking at the gardens but decided that I needed to press on as the afternoon was already disappearing.

Angry Sky
At the other end of the Castle grounds I was rather disappointed to be leaving the cliff top so soon as the path took a winding staircase to a promenade at the bottom. I decided to take a path that was not quite at the bottom but gave me a little elevation so that I could have a better view. The clouds that had bedevilled the walk so far began to roll away for the final stretch of the day. In the distance I could see the target of my walk at Milford, seemingly just a pin prick on the horizon.

Pond Reflections

However, progress on the next stretch was actually quite quick, for I had nice flat and easy terrain for the most part. Eventually my path worked its way down to the beach but all along the foot of the cliffs were spring flowers starting to come out, complemented by the bright yellow flowers of the gorse that was now in full flush. My path at one stage got quite tricky to follow because of the landslips that had engulfed the promenade. As I got to an easier stretch once again I came upon a sign instructing walkers that the path was closed due to health and safety! Clearly this was only an issue heading east to west though as I hadn’t seen any signs in my direction…


My battle with the cliffs was as nothing compared to the battle being waged by the elements on the clifftop houses.  There were lots of futile looking attempts to hold back the forces of erosion, but all that remained in most cases were bent pieces of metal and crumbled lumps of concrete.  The constant slumping of the soft sandstone down the cliffs carried on regardless.  It was quite a sobering sight. 

Isle of Wight View

Further on and there was a promenade of sorts once again; this time more of an unofficial one and some way up the slope of the cliff.  It was bordered by a ragtag group of beach huts, all sorts of different shapes and sizes but mostly resembling garden sheds.  It was not the more regimented and ordered huts seen in the more popular parts of Bournemouth!  This unofficial promenade seemed to be quite popular with walkers but none of them explained to me that the headland in the distance effectively ended this section of walking!  The path sort of stopped at a pile of rocks being used for coastal defence and I was forced down on to the beach.

Highcliffe Castle

It wouldn’t have been my first choice but I got lucky.  The tide, although coming in, was still far enough out that I could make my way along to the gap in the cliffs called Beckton Bunny.  This was sort of a mini-Chine and there was enough of a path up the side of the cliff that I could scramble up to the top.  I was massively relieved as without this escape route I could have faced a lengthy detour and retracing my steps or an uncomfortable walk along the top of the shingle above the high water mark.  As it was I had instead a rather pleasant stroll for about two miles into Milford.

Beckton Bunny
This was probably the best section of the entire walk.  The clouds had finally rolled away almost entirely and the late afternoon was creeping up, meaning long shadows and golden light as the sun dropped lower in the sky.  The Isle of Wight was seemingly almost touchable now it was so close and the sea was a wonderful shade of royal blue punctuated by the odd whitecap.  I did finish this part of the walk in double quick time though, principally because the going was so easy and I didn’t really notice how fast I was walking!

Heading along the beach
Milford seems a fairly agreeable place with a few pubs and low key seaside air about it.  It looks like a favoured place for retirees for there are lots of blocks of flats, which do spoil the place a little.  Not all the local businesses looked to be faring particularly well, which was a shame.  I did get the sense though that this is slightly off the tourist trail, being not in the New Forest or close enough to Bournemouth to get much in the way of spin-off trade.  Still, it has served me well for a couple of walks; being also the start of the Solent Way, which I completed in 2006-07.

Back to the clifftop

This part of the Bournemouth Coast Walk was surprisingly rural and wild in places.  A look at the map will not suggest that, but for the most part I completed the walk out of the sight of houses and the coast really had my complete attention.  The section from Christchurch to Mudeford is largely forgettable, but worth doing just for the look around Christchurch, which is a fascinating town.  Although modest in length, I really enjoyed walking the Bournmouth Coast Walk.  It was a surprising journey!

Heading into Milford

For more pictures from my walk please see My Flickr site


  1. It was particularly great to read your experiences on this stretch of coast as this is where my own coastal project was born back in 1991. Angela and I were on holiday in the New Forest with our two sons Edward (13) and Alex (5). From time to time I would escape and over about 4 circular walks, travelled from Christchurch to Milford. I shall write about this in one of my retrospectives - if I can remember that far back!

  2. Lovely write up of an area I know very well. I find the coast west of Barton-on-Sea to be very beautiful with those golden sand stone cliffs but it is surprisingly off the beaten track. I can relate exactly to your problem with the footpath at Mudeford that suddenly becomes a dead end, been caught out by that a couple of times myself. The Bournemouth coast path I believe officially ends at Chewton Bunny, an odd name for the little valley and stream beside the Cliffhanger cafe on the cliff top. This marks the border of Dorset and Hampshire and is also the point where the good cliff top path ends. As you found west of here you either have to join the main A377 road (there is a pathup the Chewton Bunny valley to the road) then back round to the cliff top at Barton on Sea. You can if the tide is write and erosion not dumped too much clay on the beach make it round on the beach but you end up climbing over the large boulders and areas that are a mixture of very wet soft clay and rock (and it's not always easy to tell which is which).

  3. Thanks both for your kind comments! Sounds like I got lucky with the tide here on that day. It certainly was a memorable walk, especially the views across to The Needles. Champing at the bit to do some more coastal walking now!