Independent guides for the modern tourist
Independent guides for the modern tourist
Highcliffe is a pleasant and relaxed beachside town that stands atop the massive cliffs of the east Dorset coastline.
Highcliffe is an affluent town filled with sprawling residential estates, that are populated with retirees or act as holiday homes for the super-wealthy.
The main draw of Highcliffe is the coastline, and this is where all of the tourist sights are found. These sights include the beautiful beaches of Avon and Friars Cliff, the neo-gothic Highcliffe Castle, and the quaint fishing harbour of Mudeford.
Highcliffe extends around a 4km bay, with sandy beaches to the west and massive cliffs to the east
For day trips and holidays, Highcliffe tends to attract older visitors or families with young children, due to its calm and peaceful atmosphere. If you are in either of these groups, you will love your time in Highcliffe.
As Highcliffe is a relatively new town, it does not contain a quaint or historic centre (such as with Lymington). Any day trip to Highcliffe will always be focused on the coastline and the excellent beaches.
Highcliffe Castle – A majestic 19th-century mansion inspired by Gothic architecture and set in tranquil forested grounds.
Mudeford Quay – A traditional fishing quay at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour, with a ferry to the pristine beaches of Mudeford Spit and Hengistbury Head
Friars Cliff and Avon beaches – A gorgeous stretch of beach, with clean seawaters and colourful beach huts, which is a favourite with families.
Highcliffe beach – A dramatic section of coastline, with 300m high cliffs, huge sea defences and pretty coastal paths.
Highcliffe is not a common destination for a day trip, but there are sufficient sights and activities to easily fill a day of sightseeing.
Usually, visitors to Highcliffe come for one of three aspects; spend time on the beaches, explore Mudeford harbour or to have a coastal walk.
The interactive map below shows the sights of Highcliffe, and two suggested walking routes.
Highlights of Highcliffe: 1) Highcliffe Castle 2) Steamer Point Nature Reserve 3) Mudeford Quay 4) Town centre
Beaches: 5) Highcliffe Beach 6) Castle beach 7) Friars Cliffs beach 8) Avon beach 9) Mudeford Sandspit beach
Walking routes: 11) Highcliffe Beach to Highcliffe Castle 12) Avon beach to Steamer Point Nature Reserve
The Mudeford ferry crossing the fast-flowing "run" estuary over to Mudeford Sandspit and Hengistbury Head
The peaceful ambience and calm nature of Highcliffe make it a good holiday destination for families with young children or for older couples.
Highcliffe is often overlooked in favour of its more famous and flashier neighbours (Bournemouth, Poole or Lymington), but there is a lot of good aspects for a holiday to Highcliffe.
Highcliffe boasts some of the best beaches of the region, along with scenic coastal walks, and the pretty harbour at Mudeford. As Highcliffe is an affluent town, there is a very good selection of restaurants, pubs and cafes, and everything is of a very high standard.
While on holiday to Highcliffe, there are many enjoyable day trips close by. These include charming coastal towns of Lymington and Milford on Sea, the sea-fort at Hurst Castle, and the Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
Highcliffe sits is on the southern edge of the New Forest National Park, and is easily accessed by the A35 road. This road leads to some of the best areas of the national park, including the villages of Burley and Brockenhurst and the forest walks around the Ornamental Drive, while avoiding the awful traffic in Lyndhurst.
Related articles: The best of the New Forest
Highcliffe sits on one continuous bay, and each of the “beaches” is just a section of the same coastline.
To the west is Mudeford Quay and Mudeford Sandspit beach, which can only be reached by ferry.
At the mouth of Christchurch harbour is Avon beach, and this excellent sandy beach, which extends into Friars Cliff beach. The most pristine section of the coastline is below the castle and the Steamer Point Nature Reserve, and is known as Castle Beach. Highcliffe beach is to the east of the town and is where the cliffs are at their highest (300m high!).
To the east of Highcliffe is the village of Barton-on-Sea, and this section of coastline has the same high cliffs, but have been left to erode
The eroded cliffs of Barton-on-Sea
The beaches of Highcliffe are a mixture of pebbles and sand, with the most sand found on the western side, close to Friars Cliff beach. There are sections of sand found on all of the beaches, but winter storms and strong currents means that the coastline changing.
Our favourite beach of the region is Mudeford Sandspit. This beach offers beautiful sands, and the unspoilt scenery of Hengistbury Head, and is significantly quieter than Avon beach. The only downside to Mudeford Sandspit, is that it is on the opposite side of the Christchurch harbour estuary, and a ferry must be caught to reach it.
Mudeford Sandspit beach
The most popular beaches of the region are Avon or Friars Cliff beach. These two connected beaches provide soft sand, safe seawaters, and are without the steep cliffs to climb up or down. If you are planning a beach day to Highcliffe, then Friars Cliff or Avon are the beaches to head to. The only downside is their popularity, which means the car parks will be permanently full during the summer.
The beach gets less crowded heading east towards to Castle beach, and this section of beach is the favourite with locals. If you are based in Highcliffe and can walk to the beach, Castle beach is the better option in the summer.
Forest envelopes the cliffs at Castle Beach but there is much more shingle here than at Avon beach
Highcliffe beach is to the east of the town, and sits at the base of the high cliffs. These fragile clay cliffs are in an area of high coastal erosion, and major sea defences have been constructed to protect them. There are sections of sand at the water level, but most of the beach are huge banks of shingle.
From Highcliffe beach, it is easy to walk to Barton beach, and there is more sand here, but the beach almost disappears at high tide.
There is sand at the base of Highcliffe beach, but it’s a long walk uphill to the car park!
Highcliffe is a fantastic location for coastal walks, and there are three excellent paths within the town. The good thing about the coastline is that it is varied, and a relatively short distance provides very different landscapes and settings – it is just 2km from the holiday atmosphere of Avon beach to the relative tranquillity of Castle beach, and a further 1km to the rugged cliffs
The three suggested routes are:
• Avon beach to Highcliffe castle (3.5km return and park at “Avon Run Road Car Park”)
• Highcliffe Beach to Highcliffe castle (3km return and park at “Highcliffe Cliff Top Car Park”)
• Mudeford Sandspit to Hengistbury Head (5km return, park at Mudeford Quay and catch the ferry to Mudeford Sandspit)
Related articles: Hengistbury Head guide
The entrance to Steamer Point Nature Reserve
The name of “Highcliffe castle” is a bit deceptive of what the actual building is. It is a lavish Gothic-styled mansion, which was constructed in 1835 by Lord Stuart de Rothesay. Incorporated into the building is medieval stonework taken from the ruins of a Normandy abbey.
Highcliffe Castle was gutted by two fires in 1964 and fell into ruin during the 1970s, and was only restored in the late 1990s. The restored staterooms can be visited, and the admission fee is £7.00 (adult).
The gardens and grounds are free to wander, and these lead into Steamer Point Nature Reserve. This small nature reserve protects the clifftops behind the golf course and the cliffs, and is a very tranquil area of Highcliffe. https://www.highcliffecastle.co.uk/
Mudeford Quay sits at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour, and has a pretty fishing harbour along with being a centre for water sports (sailing, windsurfing etc).
Departing from the quay is a ferry to Mudeford Sandspit and the Hengistbury Head coastline and nature reserve. Hengistbury Head is the only protected section of coastline along the east Dorset coastline and is a wonderful location for a coastal walk.
Related articles: Mudeford guide