Hengistbury Head

Hengistbury Head is in the Borough of Bournemouth, but is included here because is closest to Christchurch and a beautiful place for residents and tourists to visit. There are some great views of the sea and Christchurch from the top, and harbour and marsh views from lower down. The header picture shows Christchurch Priory with St Catherine’s Hill in the background, and some boats In the harbour.

Hengistbury Head is easily accessible via the ferry at Mudeford (above), a journey of about five minutes. View their website to see some excellent videos, and lots more information about it, including sailing times. There is a large car park on the quay near the ferry, but be aware that this gets very busy in summer. You can also drive to the Head from the Bournemouth side, and there is a bus service and another ferry. Full details are here. When you are there, you could even ride on the land train though as I write (January 2020) it has been out of action for over a year. Interesting fact – it has been running since its first trip on April 1, 1968. It remains to be seen what will happen to this: progress has been slow and information sparse.

Click the map below to see their excellent website (obviously not relevant now).

Hengistbury Head
Information board at the Visitors’ Centre
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Hengistbury Head
The Mallard, version 2.
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Some users’ opinions of the train, but see this article:

  • Karen Taylor: ‘I love the land train. I have so many fond memories. One time when I was little we were on the train, and mum’s dog jumped off and we had to jump off and chase him. Even on rainy days like today we’d always get a closed cabin and hope we didn’t have to get in an open one. I even signed the petition to keep it when it was at risk of being gone forever.’

  • Liz Brown and family: It’s good for the little ones because they get tired quite quickly. It’s so nice in the summer to relax for a little bit on the train. It’s a very good idea; it’s quite a step from Hengistbury Head to Mudeford, so it’s so handy to have this.’

  • Land train guard, Caroline Williams: ‘I’ve been working here for the past 18 years, so we have always enjoys the land train and its services. I’ve got fond memories myself. It’s good to have it here; it’s always been good family fun!’

Some of its history:

The train started running on April 1, 1968. Before that cars had been able to get an all the way along to the head, but this was stopped because of erosion, which was becoming a serious problem.. However, without the cars people still had to be able to get their luggage to the beach huts at the end of the head, a distance of about a mile.

There were a lot of objections to this, and there was quite a bit of vandalism, including nails on the path, causing punctures. Over the years the service had quite a few improvements, with bigger carriages, doors, windows and simple suspension. It was increasingly popular, and in August 1977 was already carrying quarter of a million passengers annually.

One of the early trains

In 2014 Bournemouth council decided to terminate the contract and run the service itself. This was not a popular idea and a petition received 20,000 signatures. However the council does run the service now and it is still as popular as ever. There are three engines: Dunlin (green), Shelduck (blue) and Mallard (orange).

Note that the land train is currently out of action (January 2020) because of heather safety concerns after an accident in October 2018.

Mallard, racing along!
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Hengistbury Head
Black tailed godwit, in winter plumage. Click for larger version
‘The black-tailed godwit is a rare, large and elegant wading bird with a very long straight bill.’
Hengistbury Head
From the top, looking towards Southbourne. The beach huts are behind us, down the hill.
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If you go by ferry there is a very pleasant cafe and a little gift shop:

Here is a Daily Mail article about the famous beach huts, which are the most expensive in the country. The one in the article was sold for £280,000. There are lots of them, and just a few are shown in the picture below, taken from the top of the Head on a misty day,

You can stroll along the sand spit and find wilder places, but still very close to civilisation.

Here are some more pictures of the track, heading towards Southbourne, near Bournemouth. Click to see the complete gallery. Note that it peters out after a while and becomes heavy going at times across sand and stones.

If you go by car, you will probably park in the main car park at the west. It is possible to park free of charge on the access road, but time there is limited.  Venturing towards the Head you come to the Visitor Centre. Going through, do visit the Dr Yvonne Atkinson Wildlife Garden, pictured lower down. You go through the centre and the doors opposite. There are tables and seats there, and while being small it is idyllic.

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Outside the Visitor Centre is a wooden statue of a Stone Age man. I very rarely criticise things on these pages, but I paid £1 to hear the background information to living in those times.

Unusually for me, I am critical of the soundtrack: I am afraid it is not very good. It lasts around two minutes; 55 seconds or so are shown below, so you can judge for yourselves. It is obviously just being read out loud, as from a textbook.

The picture on the right was taken before the audio experience had been created. It is certainly very impressive.

Why didn’t they get some local drama students to do it? Anyway, here is part of it:

The Visitor Centre is impressive inside, with information about the history and geology and a beautiful garden at the back. Click the images below to see a high-resolution gallery.

Stanpit Lagoon. Click for a larger image
View across Stanpit Lagoon. Click for a larger image