Independent guides for the modern tourist
Independent guides for the modern tourist
Hengistbury Head is a wild and unspoilt headland that separates the Bournemouth and Christchurch bays.
The area of Hengistbury Head comprises of Warren hill, the salt marshes of Christchurch harbour, Withybed Wood, Hengistbury beach and the sandbar peninsular known as Mudeford Sandspit. This diverse coastal region is referred to as Hengistbury Head, and is the only protected stretch of coastline within the overly-developed east Dorset coastline.
This is a wonderful region to visit, if you enjoy nature, rugged scenery and the outdoors. Contained within Hengistbury Head are, coastal footpaths, nature trails and pristine beaches lined with colourful beach houses.
Mudeford Sandspit with Christchurch Harbour to the left of the image
Hengistbury Head is also a popular destination for families. The sandy beach at Hengistbury is one of the quietest of the Bournemouth bay, while children adoring the road-train to Mudeford Sandspit or the ferry ride to Mudeford.
Hengistbury Head may be tranquil today, but the headland was once a major Iron Age town, and later one of the first major ports in Britain (around 100bc). The Iron Age town was protected by two massive earthen walls, and these slopes today are known as the Double Dykes.
This article will provide an introduction to Hengistbury Head and help you get the most from your day trip here.
Related articles: Mudeford Quay
The view over Bournemouth bay from the summit of Warren Hill
The sandy beaches of Mudeford Sandspit
A ride on the road train to Mudeford Sandspit
The peaceful footpaths and nature trails around the western side of Christchurch harbour
Note: Private vehicles are banned from Hengistbury Head, and cars must park to the west of the headland. This means any trip here will involve a lot of walking!
An enjoyable day trip could be had at Hengistbury Head. A suggested day trip would follow the coastal footpath to the summit of Warren Hill, and continue on to Mudeford Sandspit. At Mudeford Sandspit, you could visit the Mudeford Sandspit Lagoon or relax on the beaches, before catching the road train back to Hengistbury.
The day trip could be further extended by catching the ferry to Mudeford Quay and exploring this charming fishing quay. Another option would be to visit the town of Christchurch (3km away) with its impressive gothic church and pretty harbour front.
The interactive map below displays this suggested route and the major sights of the region. The green marked route covers 4.4km.
Sights of the day trip 1) Double Dykes (Iron Age defences) 2) Hengistbury Head Visitor Centre 3) Hengistbury Head viewpoint 4) Quarry Pond 5) Mudeford Sandspit viewpoint 6) Mudeford Sandspit beach 7) “The Run” Estuary 8) Mudeford Sandspit Lagoon and salt marshes 9) Ferry to Mudeford Quay 10) Natterjack Toad pond 11) Hengistbury road train 12) Withybed Wood
Eateries: 13) Hiker Café 14) Beach House Café
Mudeford Sandspit Lagoon was originally dug in the 19th century as a harbour to transport ironstone mined from Hengistbury Quarry. This iron quarry has now filled with water and is "Quarry Pond"
There are two main stretches of coastline at Hengistbury Head; the southwest facing Hengistbury Head Beach, and the southeast facing Mudeford Sandspit beach.
Mudeford Sandspit beach is the better beach, with soft sands, clean seawaters and the pretty backdrop of the colourful beach huts. The beach extends for over 1km, and the southern section tend to be less busy.
As Mudeford Sandspit beach faces an easterly direction, it is slightly more sheltered from the prevailing winds than Hengistbury Head Beach. The only downside to Mudeford Sandspit beach, is that it is 1.7km from the car park, and the road train must be caught to reach it.
The tranquil southern end of Mudeford Sandspit
Hengistbury Beach is the quietest beach of the Bournemouth bay, and it is difficult to believe that bustling Bournemouth is only 7km away.
As most people to Hengistbury Head, come for the walking or scenery, it does mean that Hengistbury beach is often deserted. The beach is a mix of shingle and sand, but there is plenty of sand for children to play. The only downside to Hengistbury beach is that the beach is very exposed to the prevailing wind; if there is any wind inland, it will feel very blustery on the beach.
The unspoilt coastline at Hengistbury beach
Note: Christchurch harbour is surrounded by mud and silt, and is not suitable as an alternative to the sea facing coastline.
Hengistbury Head is a great destination for children and families.
The beaches of the region have clean sea waters and are safe for families, while children will adore riding the road train to Mudeford Spit. The paths that cross Warren Hill are concreted and suitable for bikes, prams, scooters.
One unique activity for Hengistbury is to flying (small) kites, due to the near-constant wind.
Note: There is a ban on professional kites, with a maximum span of 3.5m.
Best of all for parents, a day trip to Hengistbury need not be that expensive. Playing on the beach and walking to viewpoints is free, while a family ticket on the road train is only £5.50.
At Hengistbury there is an outdoor activity centre, and further details of their courses can be found on their website: hengistburyoutdoorcentre.co.uk/
Due to the protected status of Hengistbury Head, there are only a couple of cafes and eating options within the region.
Close to Hengistbury car park is the Hiker Café, which sells light meals and refreshments (hikercafe.co.uk), also within the complex is an ice-cream kiosk.
On Mudeford Spit is the excellent Beach House Cafe, (beachhousecafe.co.uk), the restaurant has a superb reputation for it’s food, but it tends to be very busy in the summer.
There is a decent fish and chip shop (Simon's Fish and Chips) on the main road to Hengistbury, and is 1km inland from the car park.
Our opinion: Hengistbury is a destination to bring a picnic and enjoy it on the beach or after a walk.
The Hiker Café
Hengistbury Head is free from motor vehicles, and the only transport of the region is the road train. The road train connects Hengistbury car park with the beach huts on Mudeford Sandspit. The journey of 2km takes around 10minutes and passes through Withybed Wood on the leeward side of Warren hill.
A single fare is; £2.20/£0.60/£5.50 (adults/child/family), and the train runs every day, except when the weather is very poor.
One of the main protected species within the Hengistbury Head “Site of Special Scientific Interest” (SSSI) is the Natterjack Toad. This rare amphibian is unique as it runs to catch its prey, while the male has a loud "croak" call that can be head up to 1mile away.
There are protected ponds within Hengistbury Head to encourage breeding. You're unlike to see the Natterjack toads, but you may certainly hear them during the spring mating season!
The privately-owned beach huts along Mudeford Sandspit are all lovingly decorated and meticulously cared for, and they should be considering how expensive they are!
This tranquil beach setting has become one of the most sought-after areas of the south coast, and each of the single room huts costs upwards of £350,000.
Many of the huts have been converted to have a tiny bedroom in the roof
There are two car parks at Hengistbury, the main one near Hiker Café and a secondary overflow car park 200m away on Southbourne Coast Road. The car parks will quickly fill up during the summer months or at sunny weekends.
Carparking at Hengistbury is expensive during the summer with rates of £2.20/£4.40/£5.60/£6.80 (up to 1/2/3/4 hours). In the winter (Nov-Mar), the parking is much more reasonable at £1.90 for 2 hours or £3.80 for 24 hours.
The ticket machines only accept card, or parking can be paid using the "RingGo" parking app.