Walks: Bournemouth to Barton-on-Sea via Hengistbury Head, Branksome to Swanage or Corfe Castle.

Bournemouth is is the best beach within day trip reach of London – a glorious eight mile stretch of sand, very gently shelving, and with clean blue waves breaking onto it. With a sandy ridge topped by pine trees behind, it can seem positively Mediterranean on a sunny day. It also has a bit of a microclimate, being more prone to blue skies than other spots, and a sea temperature that is often a degree or so warmer than further up the Channel.

Train services from Waterloo take two hours, and you arrive in Bournemouth’s fine arched station. But outside of it you are in a wilderness of multi-storey car parks, supermarkets, and the way to the seafront is not obvious.

  • The shortest and nicest way to reach the beach is to turn left along the front of the station to the main road: cross this, and carry on along St Swithun's Road. Where this turns right in 100 metres veer left (following the larger road) into Southcote Road. In about 350 metres turn right into Derby Road, a pleasant residential street. Follow this for 400 metres to a junction with a main road (Christchurch Road): cross this and keep on down Derby Road until it ends in a roundabout: here carry on down a footpath. This emerges onto the cliff top road, East Overcliff Drive, on the opposite side of which is a zig-zag path down to the beach.

  • Alternatively you can get bus number 50 from Bournemouth station, which after many meanderings goes to the beach at the bottom of Branksome Chine, Sandbanks and Studland Bay (see Studland Bay and Swanage below).

Other ideas for getting to the beach include:

  • Get off the train at Christchurch, just before Bournemouth. Refer to these directions for how to get from there to the beach. This route takes you along the beautiful River Stour, round the edge of Christchurch Harbour, a fascinating area of marsh and open water with excellent birdlife, and to the wonderful scrubland wilderness of Hengistbury Head ahead, which is also surrounded by a wild and unspoilt beach. This is definitely the best bit of the whole Bournemouth beach and worth spending a day exploring. There is a cafe in the car park at the start of the headland, and if you go beyond and to the north of the headland you find yourself on the fascinating Mudeford Spit, which has wonderful beach houses and an upmarket café/restaurant. There are also ferry boats in summer from Mudeford Spit back to Christchurch, which has a pretty old centre and waterfront.

  • Get off the train at Branksome. The area around the station is dull, but if you find the nearby entrance to Branksome Chine (a wooded valley), you can follow this for a mile or so to the sea. You emerge onto the western end of the beach, about a mile from Sandbanks – the chic area of fancy houses at the mouth of Poole Harbour.

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