Five miles west of Bournemouth, the bay ends at Hengistbury Head, a headland, which has the English Channel to the south and Christchurch Harbour to the north, with Mudeford Sandbank at its far end. This nature reserve is also a Stone and Iron Age archaelogical site. It is a beautiful place to spend some time wandering.
From Bournemouth, Hengistbury Head can be reached on foot or by bike. Follow the prom to the end, then turn right and following the road for a further mile. You can technically cycle the length of the headland, but I wouldn’t recommend it; it can get congested and there are a lot of out of control dogs to contend with. Better to park up and enjoy the area on foot.
If you travel by car, there is plenty of parking in the pay & display car park close to the Visitor Centre (cost approximately £2.20 per hour), plus limited free off road parking (time restrictions apply).
Buster’s Beach Bus
Buster’s Beach Bus runs along the cliff top from Bournemouth to Hengistbury Head and on round the harbour. The bus timetable, like most things in Bournemouth, is seasonal. At peak times it runs every 30 minutes. There are a variety of ticket options; a Zone A/B day ticket covers Hengistbury Head and costs £6.50. If you’re cycling watch out for the Beach Bus, as the driver takes no prisoners!
A Land Train runs from outside the Hiker Cafe to Mudeford Sandbank every day except Christmas Day. The land train departs every 30 minutes from 10-5 at peak times, with a reduced service at other times. A single journey costs £2.30.
Hiker Cafe is situated at the entrance to Hengistbury Head. It has an indoor area plus outdoor seating. Note, if you sit outside, you will be mobbed by starlings.
A five minute walk from the end of the road brings you to the Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre covers a range of functions; there is a gift shop, information about the area, wildlife cameras where you can watch wildlife and an art gallery. You can see displays of artefacts found in the area and learn all about the wildlife that lives on this local nature reserve.
As well as a range find sustainable gifts, toys, jewellery, homeware, books and cards, the gift shop has tasty local produce, including craft gins and beers, biscuits and condiments. It’s a great place to pick up a souvenir of your trip, or a gift for that special someone.
The centre is open from 10.30am to 4pm daily (except Christmas Day) and until 5pm in the summer.
Exit through the rear of the Visitor Centre and you will find yourself in a pretty garden with some ‘interesting’ woodcarvings.
Hengistbury Head is home to over 500 plant species, 300 types of birds and a variety of insects, reptiles and small mammals. The reserve has several different habitats for wildlife, including woodland, heathland and saltmarsh. From the head there are amazing views across the Bournemouth area and beyond.
From the cafe, you can continue straight on a shared pathway, which is shared use and reasonably flat, all the way the the sandbank. This takes you along along the edge of the River Stour and Christchurch Harbour, along a pretty and accessible route.
Altenatively, you can turn right and walk along the coastal patch. This goes up and over a steep hill and rejoins the main path (via uneven steps) at the end of the headland. Note, bikes are not allowed on this route and it is a more strenuous walk. However, the view from the Trig Point at the top are pretty spectacular. On a good day you should be able to see Bournemouth and Christchurch, and possibly the Isle of Wight and the Purbecks.
The area in between the two main paths contains smaller trails, a lagoon and plenty of flora and fauna. Note that this is a conservation area, so dogs need to be kept on a lead to avoid harassing the wildlife which resides here.
The sandbank is a narrow stretch of land, sandwiched between the sea and the harbour, where you will find some of the country’s most expensive beach huts. There is a lovely beach on the east side where you can relax between the mega expensive beach huts on the beach and the mega expensive yachts in the harbour. Facilities here include public toilets and a cafe. Note; you need to locate the correct toilets – one block is for beach hut owners only.
Beach House Cafe
Beach House Cafe is located on Mudeford Sandbank.
When you reach the end of the headland, your options are to turn round (obviously) or you can continue by catching a ferry to Mudeford Quay. Buster’s Beach Bus also stops at Mudeford, so you can choose to return to Bournemouth from here.
The Mudeford Ferry operates across the harbour connecting Mudeford Sandbank with Mudeford Quay. It’s operation is seasonal, running from April until October, plus some additional weekends. During peak times it runs approximately every 15 minutes from 9 am to 8 pm. The crossing costs £2 each way (cash only). If you are cycling, and you have reached the sandbank without being taken out by a dog, you can take your bike on the ferry for £1.50.
Hengistbury Head is one of my favourite places. If you’re staying in Bournemouth it really does warrant getting off your deckchair and spending some time here…