At the far western end of Bournemouth's beach is Sandbanks (actually you are in Poole now, but let's not split hairs). Here you will find the Sandbanks ferry across the narrow mouth of Poole Harbour (which has fabulous and very visible currents when the tide is running), and beyond this the wild and wonderful beach of Shell Bay. The South West Coast Path starts here and carries all the way around the coast of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall to Minehead in Somerset.
Swimming in Shell Bay is not advised due to the strong currents at the mouth of Poole Harbour, but walk around the bay and turn the corner and you find the immense two mile curve of Studland Bay, which is completely undeveloped and backed by endless sand dunes (which are well worth exploring). This is a wonderful swimming beach, with soft flat sand and shallow water, though note the nearer, northern end of it is a designated naturist beach. Towards the far, southern end of the beach is a National Trust cafe, and the village of Studland – charming, but touristy, and with at least one pub.
- From Studland you can get the number 50 bus (last bus 6pm-8pm depending on season) back to Sandbanks. This continues to Bournemouth station, though by a somewhat slow route.
- Beyond Studland it is a very pleasant mile long cliff walk to Old Harry Rocks, whose chalk arches and stacks mark the far end of the bay. At a pinch you can even carry on from here and do the wonderful three mile walk over Ballard Down to Swanage. The 50 bus also goes from here to Sandbanks, or you can get a later bus from there to Wareham, which is on the South West Trains main line beyond Bournemouth. This really is the furthest you can expect to get from London on a day trip: better to stay the night in Swanage and explore the wonderful Purbeck coastline beyond.