Today, I set off with my husband and his mother. The first thing we do on this sunny morning, is park near the lifeboat station at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour. We are going to take the ferry (as shown by the magical words ‘Ferry P’ on the Ordinance Survey map) across the mouth of Christchurch Harbour.
This is the ferry, below.
Unfortunately, the day does not go entirely to plan. Getting across the harbour mouth to Hengistbury Head is easy.
I had assumed my husband and his mother could stay on board and carry on into the centre of Christchurch. But, although there is a ferry that goes into Christchurch, we discover it is not this ferry.
The Christchurch ferry runs infrequently. A quick calculation, and we decide the timings are not going to work out. I am only planning a short walk today. I need to be in London by late afternoon.
I leave my husband and his mother behind. They are disappointed and go in search of a cup of tea (and, I suspect, ice-cream). I head off on my own, walking along the sandy beach towards the headland.
This stretch of beach is lined by beach huts. Most appear to be closed, despite the sunny weather. It is midweek in mid September after all. Or perhaps it is too early for people to have arrived, being just after 10am.
I realise this area has been the site of ancient settlements for hundreds of year. I think of the stone age people who lived here, and their primitive dwellings, and I wonder what they would have made of our ‘beach huts’.
The path is lined with bushes. Their leaves are beginning to turn – autumnal colours glowing warmly in the sunshine – contrasting with the bright blue of the sea below and the jolly colours of the beach huts.
I feel almost overwhelmed with the expansiveness of the vista and the beauty of the colours. I stop constantly to take photographs and make very slow progress.
Here is just one of the photographs I take, showing the strip of beach below me, the ferry jetty sticking out, the narrow harbour mouth hidden beyond this, the cluster of buildings on the other side where the lifeboat station is, and then the coast curving away.
As I climb higher, I can trace the route, with my eyes, that I walked along yesterday. Despite the haze beginning to develop, I can see all the way back to Barton on Sea and the slipping cliffs.
When I reach the top, I can see ahead to the curving beach of Poole Bay and the distant buildings of Bournemouth.
It looks no distance to the centre of Bournemouth. On this beautiful day, with only a short walk ahead, I am in no real hurry.
At the top, I meet walkers and birdwatchers and fellow photographers. And on a bench, I see this artist. She is facing Christchurch Harbour and it is a beautiful scene, with many small sailing boats out on the blue water.
I would very much liked to have crept up behind her, to see what she was painting. I wonder if she is a professional (who probably wouldn’t mind) or an amateur (who might be very embarrassed by an observer). I have done a fair amount of watercolour painting myself, all of the strictly amateur kind.
I keep my distance. But I hope she comes away with some great paintings.
When I reach sea-level, I walk along in the dunes for a while. The going is very soft and tiring – but I am reluctant to leave the beach and follow the easier path that winds through the grassland along the edge of the shore.
Eventually, I reach the promenade. The sun is high and there is not a breath of wind. I stop and have some water.
Compared to the area I walked along yesterday, where the sea is eating away at the coast, here the waves and wind seem to be intent on covering the concrete of the walkway with drifting sands. I notice the sand is piled up high along the edge of the promenade. Someone has been clearing it. It looks like a snow plough has passed along and the piled heaps remind me of snowdrifts.
As I walk further into Bournemouth, I come across beach huts and people. At first, a few young mothers with pre-school children are setting up ‘home’ within their huts. Further along, and I find older people and the elderly.
Apart from the huts and an occasional shelter, the promenade is open to the elements. There are no shops or cafes. The sun beats down from a cloudless sky. Under my little rucksack, my back is hot and I am sweating. I stop for a drink from my water bottles. There is no shade. There is no wind, not even a breeze. The sun bounces off the pale sand and I am surrounded by light and heat.
I have been watching the pier for some time. There are two piers in Bournemouth. This is the lesser one, the one to the east of the resort, in an area called Boscombe. The pier is my marker of progress as it grows steadily larger. But I am not planning to meet my husband here. I have arranged to meet him at the main pier, further on.
When I finally arrive at the first pier, I find a roundabout, car park and a pub. Beyond here, I realise there is no road, just more hot promenade. It is after 1pm, I have been walking for more than 3 hours without a proper break. I am hot, tired and thirsty.
Time to stop. I call my husband and ask him to collect me from this pier. He is lost, driving around Bournemouth. He finds me eventually.
Distance walked: 5 miles in 3 hours (slow, even by my standards!)
Weather was unusually hot for this time of year: even the Daily Mail said so, so it must be true.