SWC Walk 74 Bournemouth to Barton-on-Sea via Hengistbury Head

Bournemouth is the archetypal English seaside resort mix of retirement suburbia and a tacky centre, but the town does have a certain Mediterranean charm (mainly due to its pine trees and its chines – steep sided valleys running down to the sea). The local council has also done a good job of tarting up the very centre of the town, and pitching Bournemouth towards a younger, activity holiday and watersports crowd.

Its biggest asset, however, is the best beach within 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 very romantic on a sunny day.

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 cafĂ©/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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