The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset — a bird’s eye view — Christchurch Harbour

Photograph by Grahame Austin of Kitchenham Photography; text by John Newth

Christchurch Harbour

Christchurch Harbour

In the foreground is Mudeford Sandbanks with its 300 or so beach huts, which are notorious for being the most expensive in the country; one was recently advertised for £125,000. Part of their appeal is that, unusually, owners are allowed to sleep overnight in them between March and November.

To the right of the sandbank is the Run, the entrance to the harbour. In the 18th century, the entrance was to the left of where it appears in this picture, straight through the sandbank. Then the erosion of Hengistbury Head (at the left of the picture) caused an additional sandbank which stretched over a mile to Steamer Point, well off the right-hand edge of this photograph; entrance to the harbour was down the long channel between this sandbank and the shore. In the early 20th century, sea defences slowed erosion of the Head, the sandbank dispersed and the Run has stayed more or less stable ever since.

The erosion of Hengistbury Head was accelerated by the extraction of iron ore: over 52,000 tons of ironstone were taken out. The area of water behind the left-hand end of Mudeford Sandbank was the dock where ships loaded the stone, and the narrow channel leading into it from the harbour can still be seen.

The green area just above the centre of the picture is Stanpit Marsh, a local Nature Reserve and SSSI, whose wide variety of habitats supports 300 species of wild plants and 250 bird species. A rare remaining Bailey bridge crosses the channel across the marsh called Mother Siller’s channel, named for one of the area’s most notorious smugglers.

The two rivers that flow into the harbour can be clearly seen: the Stour disappearing just beyond the Priory and the Avon snaking across the plain to the right. The administrative boundary between Dorset and the unitary authority of Bournemouth runs down the Stour and straight across the harbour, cutting through the middle of Mudeford Sandbank. The photograph has been taken quite near low tide, revealing the patches of silt and sand brought down by the two rivers.

In the right foreground, across the Run from Mudeford Sandbank, is Mudeford Quay. One of Dorset coast’s most picturesque spots, it is popular with tourists, but darker deeds were done here in 1784, when the Battle of Mudeford took place between smugglers and revenue men.

At the narrowest point of the ‘neck’ of Hengistbury Head is the prehistoric earthwork known as Double Dykes. The little bay on the harbour side is called Barn Bight. Experts are agreed that it is here that at some point, despite coastal defences, the sea will break through into the harbour. Not only will this create Hengistbury Island, it will have a drastic effect on the Stanpit and Mudeford shorelines. So enjoy this view while you can.

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