Thursday, 15 August 2013

Hengistbury Head to West Parley (Stour Valley Path 1)

Hengistbury Head from the west

 Christchurch Harbour and Mudeford Spit

We had a free day in Poole, so it seemed like a good idea to begin another Long Distance Path, the 64 mile Stour Valley Path from Hengistbury Head to Stourhead in Wiltshire. We know Hengistbury and indeed Christchurch quite well, but this route will eventually take us into the north of Dorset, which we don't know at all.

We started at Hengistbury Head (the photos above we taken last year when we were walking the Bournemouth Coast Path - it was too dull to get a decent picture today) and followed the west side of the harbour - i.e the mouth of the Stour - towards Christchurch. After a while there was a nice view towards the Abbey, clearly showing the early Norman part as well as the later Gothic main body.

Soon after this we reached the centre of Christchurch and gained our first clear view of the river, basically full of boats. We once had an excellent lunch with our friends Chris and Jill at the Captain's Table opposite.

We skirted the river bridge at Tuckton and followed the river bank and then a road to come to the picturesque old bridge at Iford.   

Beyond the workaday new bridge, there is a path with the river on the right. There was a nice view towards a weir.

Now you enter Iford Golf Centre, with its lurid artificial greens. Crossing the course, we were misdirected by a sign pointing half-right, when the true route was left. We eventually realised our error and found our way to the footbridge over the A35 with its "Welcome to Bournemouth" banner.

On the other side, we were soon in the hamlet of Holdenhurst, with St John's church. We have seen its elaborate bell tower many times from the main road and it was a delight to see it up close. The church dates from 1837 and was added to in 1873.

On the village green there is a lovely thatched cottage and next to it a fine mansion, wonderfully named The New House (late 17th century according to Pevsner). They would have made a nice photographic group, but for the scaffolding.

We followed the road from Holdenhurst to Throop, rather enjoying the old-fashioned lamp-posts which lined the way.

At Throop there is very unusual choice to make: according to the OS map there are two alternative branches of the Stour Valley Way which reunite at West Parley. We decided on the right fork which took us past a former mill, and across a weir. There were a great number of mallards, almost all female, having a meeting on the bank.

We then crossed Throop Gauging Station to walk on the opposite bank of the river for the first time. I wondered what a gauging station was: it seems that there is a national network of such stations which measure river flows and provide advance warning of flood risks etc. 

This brought us, after a pleasant stretch of open country - the first really on the walk so far -  past Adventure Wonderland and into the Parley estate: golf centre, lake ..

 ... equestrian centre, barns, Parley Manor, where a wedding was taking place. I snatched a guerrilla snap through the young beech hedge which will in future prevent such things.

All I can find out about Parley Manor is that it dates from the early 1700s.

The last section involved a track across open fields and a bit of road to return to the Dudsbury pub where we had left the car. It had taken us so long however that it was too late for lunch and we had to content ourselves with a cold drink and a bag of crisps.

Conditions: cloudy and grey, becoming warm and sunny

Distance: 11 miles.

Map: Explorer OL 22 (New Forest).

Rating: three stars.

First impressions

It was to be expected that this first part of the Path would be a bit limited as it is all within Christchurch and Bournemouth. It was disappointing however to see how haphazard the signposting is, with many signs faded into unreadability and many places where you might expect a sign or a waymark but found nothing. The sign on Iford gold course pointing in the wrong direction was the low point. It seems clear that you need a map (of course, you should always have a map!) and that you need to keep a careful eye on it.

Next time we will pass near to the pleasant town of Wimborne, with its wonderful Minster, and we have high hopes that the route will be much more rewarding.

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