The Saxon town of Christchurch is steeped in history. Nestled between the coast and the New Forest, and between the Rivers Avon and Stour, it is a pretty town with plenty to explore.
It is situated just off the A338, some 5 miles east of Bournemouth. There are several Pay & Display car parks, which tend to get more expensive the closer you get to the harbour. It is easily accessible by public transport, with direct trains from London and Bournemouth. I usually park at Bank Car Park; this avoids congestion if the town is busy – which happens in summer, as visitors flock to the south coast. Parking costs £1 for 2 hours. This is sufficient time for a meander around town and pop into M&S to pick up some lunch as well.
This tour starts at Bank car park, behind Marks & Spencer. In the alleyway next to the store, you can find this wonderful pigeon mosaic.
Old Town Hall
Turn right and walk down the High Street. On the other side of the road is Saxon Square and the Old Town Hall.
On the right is the Regent Centre. This beautifully renovated Art Deco theatre and cinema recently celebrated its 90th birthday. It also houses the Tourist Information Centre, so why not pop in and find out what’s on.
At the roundabout, continue into Church Street to Christchurch Priory. This church, dating from Norman times holds the title of largest parish church in England. Building work began in 1094.
You can visit the church between 10 and 4 (as long as there is no service taking place) to admire its grandeur and its spectacular stained glass windows. Friendly ‘Welcomers’ are on hand to provide information about the priory and answer any questions. Guided tours can be arranged in advance on the website (£6).
The Norman arches of the nave tower above you. It is believed to have been raised to its current height in 1350.
The 15th Century Lady Chapel has a 19th Century stained glass window depicting the life of Mary, mother of Jesus.
The Miraculous Beam
At the rear of the church you will find The Miraculous Beam. According to legend, when the church was built in the town of Twynham, a mysterious carpenter appeared and helped to cut timber beams for the room. One day, someone cut a beam too short. The next day, the beam had miraculously lengthened. The mysterious carpenter was never seen again… It was believed that this carpenter was in fact Jesus, so the town changed its name to Christchurch.
Red House Museum
|Place||Red House Museum|
|Opening Times||10-4 (Wed-Sat) 12-4 (Sun)|
Exit the church and turn left, which brings you to Church Lane. In front of you is the Red House Museum. Housed in the former workhouse, the museum documents the history of Christchurch. When a new, bigger workhouse was built the ‘Red House’ ended up in the hands of avid collector Herbert Druitt, who turned it into his own private museum.
Church Lane looks like its climbed right off the lid of a chocolate box, with some lovely old houses. My favourite is Sundial Cottage.
Turn into Quay Road and walk to the end, where you will find Place Mill, inbetween the River Avon and the River Stour. As you will see from the blue plaque, it was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, with a value of 30 shillings a year. It no longer operates as a mill. It was repurposed as an art gallery, but has not yet reopened post-Covid.
Christchurch quay, otherwise known as The Quomps and the bandstand are in front of you. This is a hive of activity in summer when events such at the Christchurch Food Festival and Stomin on the Quomps jazz festival take place.
Turn round and turn right at the gap in the wall just past Place Mill, into Priory Gardens. Follow Convent Walk through the gardens.
This walk follows the edge of Mill Stream, past the rear of the Priory, ending at the foot of the ruins of Christchurch Castle.
If you look up at the church, you will notice some recently renovated gargoyles. These were completed in 2021 and have been brought up to day with modern day images. The first time I looked up and spotted a gargoyle in a surgical face mask I thought I was hallucinating! The sculpture was inspired by architect Columba Cook’s niece, an intensive care doctor. It’s quite high up, so here’s a close-up picture I borrowed.
Also in Convent Walk, is this beautiful Remembrance Bench.
Pass through the gap in the wall to reach the caste. The castle ruins date from the 11th Century. To be more accurate, this is just a tower which remains from what would have been a much larger castle.
An English Heritage signage gives a brief history of the castle. It was begun by Richard de Redvers, a Norman baron who accompanied William the Conqueror to England, in about 1100. During the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops attacked and took Christchurch, a Royalist town. In 1645 a troop of 1,000 Royalists counter attacked Christchurch, forcing the Parliamentarians to seek refuge in the castle. They retained both the castle and town throughout the rest of the war. Its defences were dismantled by order of Parliament in 1651. Local people helped themselves to the building materials and the castle fell to ruin.
Norman House Ruins
Next to the castle are the Norman House ruins. This addition to the castle was built in the mid-12th century, providing luxury accommodation for de Redvers’ nephew, The Earl of Devon, and his family.
In the castle grounds you can find the old village stocks. I couldn’t resist having a go!
Cross Castle Street into the alleyway opposite, this will bring you to the Ducking Stool. I couldn’t resist having a go!
Turn into Millhams Lane, past the multicoloured terraced houses.
At the end of the road, an alleyway will bring you into the rear of Saxon Square.