I’ve never been to Hengistbury Head. Always fancied it, never got round to it. When I did GCSE geography, there were six groups. Five of them went to Hengistbury Head and did something with measuring the beach. One group went to the local village and looked at land use by colouring in a map. Guess which group I was in. Guess whether I’ve ever forgiven my geography teacher for that.
We started at the land train outside the Hiker Cafe. It’s an odd-looking little thing but not really all that different from all the other little land trains that chug along the seasides and it takes you two miles or so down to Mudeford sandbank on the south side of Christchurch Harbour, which isn’t so much a harbour as a muddy river estuary.
There are beach huts on this sandbank and they’re the most expensive beach huts in the country, if not the whole world. Number 23 is for sale for £25,000 right now – that’s nearly $32 USD. They’re cute but that’s a lot of money for a purple shed with a view of some water but no electricity or running water itself.
We walked down the sandbank, past the small jetty (scene of some controversy over a gate that was installed last year – and then hastily uninstalled after the fuss) for the ferry over to the north side of the harbour/river. It’s maybe thirty metres across the river, a minute or so to swim if not for the violent currents that can occur there and the fact that swimming in the sea is unpleasant. When I was there, the tide was doing something and the waves were pretty incredible. Yes, I’ve lived by the sea for my entire life and I can’t work out if the tide was coming in or going out.
At the end of the sandbank is a big square brick house coated in a thick layer of something black and shiny that looks like it was sprayed on, to protect it from the elements, presumably. It houses four holiday apartments, each named after a different knot.
We walked back up and took the train back to Hengistbury Head where we stopped for some lunch. This is fun! If you’re going to get harassed by birds at the seaside, it’s usually gulls or something pigeons, which are more prone to being annoying inland. At Hengistbury, it’s starlings – starlings so bold they’ll hop on your plane while you’re eating and help themselves to whatever they fancy. They come close enough that you could touch them if you weren’t too scared of this big sharp beaks.
However, more entertaining than the birds are the dogs. As we sat and ate, a golden retriever came bounding over the hill behind us. Then another – then another and then another and they bounced down and began causing havoc around us before the owners settled them down at the next bench. Charlie, the naughty one of the group, pretended to be deaf before being hauled back and tied up and then proceeded to drink the entire bowl of water before the others were allowed. The communal dog bowl was borrowed and when the others had had a quick lick, Charlie finished that off too, despite his owner’s wails that she didn’t want him to drink out of that because it was dirty because other dogs had been drinking from it.
After we’d eaten we went down to the beach, just to have a look. The Isle of Wight is right there, the Isle of Purbeck is right there in the other direction, the sea is blue and green and beautiful and – I don’t get to climb Hengistbury Head because my mum is about to retire and has already turned into one of these old ladies who walks from the car to the cafe and Absolutely No Further. One day though.