If you’re looking for a weekend break or longer holiday in England, Christchurch in Dorset offers many possibilities, whether you’re the active kind or looking for something more sedate.
Many people hammer down the M27 heading for Bournemouth, West Dorset, or on to Devon and Cornwall. Turning off at Junction 1, however, will lead you to Lyndhurst, and if you can get through that traffic bottleneck without delays, it’s just another 10 miles on to the borough of Christchurch.
The medieval town was founded in 650 AD and many visitors are happy to occupy themselves with the historic bridges, buildings and castles of the area, or to take a stroll along the banks of the rivers Stour and Avon. Christchurch has a smuggling heritage dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries when boats of all shapes and sizes brought contraband to England from France, often pursued by Revenue cutters. Indeed, many of the fine local pubs have walls adorned with paintings of local nautical history, including the Battle of Mudeford of 1784 – a famous standoff between the revenue men and the smugglers.
The Ship Inn on Stanpit, The Cat and Fiddle on the A35, and The Haven on Mudeford Quay all hark back to smuggling times and are worth a visit to get a sense of the haunts of highwaymen and smugglers – and also to catch up on a pint of local ale (Ringwood Best is popular) and some pub grub. If you are travelling from abroad and are tired once alighting your plane, you can also stop off at a local hotel. AirportHotels.com offer Luton Airport Hotels so if you are travelling from around London AirportHotels.com is where to go for your great hotels.
The natural history of Christchurch is also unique and beautiful. There are a number of nature reserves and sites of special scientific interest to check out and the tourism office in the centre of town has all the details. Walks are often organised, not only as a good way to learn more of the local wildlife, flora and fauna, but also to understand some of the threats faced by some of these fragile eco systems. Hengistbury Head, a sandstone headland and nature reserve situated at the mouth of the harbour, is a good place to head for a walk and admire views of the Isle of Wight, the beaches of Poole and Bournemouth, and the rocks of Old Harry at Studland.
Christchurch is served by many cafes, restaurants, bed and breakfast businesses and a few hotels of varying standards. The Captain’s Club Hotel in Twynham is a contemporary-style hotel, frequented by many top stars who use it as a retreat before performing at the Bournemouth International Centre 10 miles away. The hotel overlooks the River Stour and it’s a nice place to have coffee or breakfast before setting off on a walk. The Rising Sun restaurant back towards the harbour at Purewell is excellent for Thai food with good service and friendly staff, and the pub grub at The Haven on The Quay is good value and perfect in the winter with its quiet atmosphere and roaring fire.
The harbour itself is beautiful, relatively unspoiled, and surrounded by white cottages and apartments nestled amongst the trees. In the summer, the area gets very crowded by beach goers, boating enthusiasts and holiday makers. Out of season visits are less stressful – but even then look out for parking charges and other stealth costs in and around this area.
The harbour and bay is a Mecca for sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and pretty much any water sport imaginable. Unlike nearby Poole, it is not particularly well served by hire and instructional services, but the beaches are safe and well patrolled by lifeguards if you wish to venture out.
We’ve only touched the surface of possibilities in this unique and quintessentially English town, but whatever the intention of your visit, an early morning walk from the historic Priory in the centre of town, to the harbour and on to the beaches, should have you nodding with approval.
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