The Double Dykes to Mudeford Quay

Arguably the Stour Valley Way ends at Hengistbury Head but it seems such a shame to miss four very different but delightful trails down from the Double Dykes to the tip of Mudeford Spit!

Looking North-East across Barn Bight

Looking North-East across Barn Bight

The Double Dykes are an ancient Iron Age fortification which protected the base of an Iron Age trading port and industrial centre on Hengistbury Head. The design of this defence of two earth ramparts, separated by a ditch was common during the Iron Age and is similar to a number of other Iron Age sites. Today the ditch is partially filled in with wind blown sand. In its operational days the ditch would have been much deeper than it is today.

On the Harbour side of Hengistbury Head you share the walk with cycles and a Noddy train so some care needs to be taken especially with small children. After walking through a cutting in the Double Dykes, the path leads you round a small inlet known as Barn Bight. From here you can follow a scenic well made path through a small but ancient natural forest. Or you can walk along the harbour side beach. The harbour side beach is perhaps the most difficult of the trails and is arguably the least scenic.


A view from near the top of Hengistbury Head down over Barn Bight


The path up to to Warren Hill, the summit of Hengistbury Head

Alternatively you can invest in a gentle climb up well made footpaths to the top of Hengistbury Head. There is an old Ordinance Survey triangulation point just at the top of the footpath. This is the highest point of Hengistbury Head. The small slightly sloping field in front of you is known as Warren Hill. Past the Old coastguard station and about half way along Warren Hill there is an old abandoned open-cast Iron Ore mine dating from the 1850's. Today the top half has been turned into an attractive lake. It is a popular picnic spot. One continuous feature on any walk over the top of Hengistbury Head is the fabulous views over Christchurch Harbour and the Solent. Few places can beat the panoramic view you get from Hengistbury Head.


Purple Heather adorns the thin sandy soil by the main path up Hengistbury Head

There is a slightly steeper descent to Mudeford sandspit. Looking down Mudeford sandspit from the eleveated position on Hengistbury Head you can see directly in front of you is the old abandoned dock where iron ore was shipped out in the 1850's. Today it looks simply like a large pond with a narrow channel leading to the harbour. When walking in along the harbourside beach there is a bridge that spans the entrance to this Dock. Today this is a reserved area for wildlife, so view it from afar.

Hengistbury Head supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. However the soil is thin and sandy and easily damaged. Before the construction of substantial paths, a great deal of damage was done by holiday makers who scrambled over the thin sandy escarpments. There are a number of places where this damage is still visible today.

The final route is the longest taking you round the sea side of Hengistbury Head. Here you can see the spectacular crumbling cliff face with its clearly deliniated strata. From top to bottom the cliff face is about 60 million years old.


The Cliffs of Hengistbury Head


One of the Stone Groynes protecting the base of Hengistbury Head

There are a number of rock groynes acting as beach defence and there have been attempts to secure the base of the cliff with special grasses that grow well in the dunes.. These are very fragile so they are best left alone. The long groyne at the eastern tip of hengistbury Head extends out to where the beach was before the calamatous damage caused by the mining in the 1850's. The long groyne was built in the late 30's but this still did not stop the erosion from the Eastern tip. Now this area has had substantial defences built to prevent further erosion. One of these rock groyne defences is shown on the right.These rock groynes are designed to slow the movement of sand from the base of Hengistbury Head. They also absorb energy from the waves and so reducing the damage to the cliff base.

Continuing round the end of Hengistbury Head brings you to the beach side of Mudeford Sandspit. This is a very popular area during the summer.


The path around the Eastern base of Hengistbury Head


Holloways Dock as seen from the main path

Holloways dock was where iron ore was loaded from the open cast mine onto coal barges returning to Southampton in the 1850's. The Iron Ore business was only ever a marginal enterprise. It made money simply by providing a cargo of some worth to act as ballast on the coal barges, replacing the normal worthless ballast of sand and gravel.

Walking down the harbour side of Mudeford Sandspit you are parallel to the flow of the twin rivers. There is a landing stage that serves the ferry boats coming down river from Tuckton bridge and Christchurch Quay. There is also a cafe about half way down the sandspit.

The end of Mudeford Sandspit is separated from Mudeford Quay by the final outflow of the Stour and Avon into the sea. The tip of the sand spit used to move considerably. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the tip extended eastward for over a mile. Today, after the addition of the Rock defence it is more stable.


Mudeford Sandspit ferry


The rock tip of Mudeford Spit. The final end of the Stour Valley way

At the end of mudeford Spit is the Black House built in the 17th century. The Black House has, in its time been a coastguard base and also a ship building centre. Small ships of up to about 100 tons were built alongside it. Today it is used as holiday cottages. On the sea side, Mudeford Spit ends in a rock sea defence. Flowing between Mudeford Sandspit and Mudeford Quay is the final output from the twin rivers and Christchurch harbour. This short rapid flowiing divide is known as "the Run".