I remember arriving at the quay in Mudeford last summer and getting excited about the short ferry ride across the mouth of Christchurch Harbour to Hengistbury Head. But it’s now winter and although I wake up to blue skies and bright sunshine the ferry is hibernating. The next best thing is to approach from the other side so at 8.30 am I find myself on the headland a little way south of where the ferry would have taken me. I have forgotten to buy water so, along with a group of chatty young hikers, I stand outside the shuttered Hungry Hiker Cafe impatiently waiting for it to open.
A little later I set off into the wind, over a patch of grassland and onto the beach. I’ve not seen the sea for what seems like a long time so I enjoy a deep breath of salty air as I stand and stare at the horizon – the faint outline of chalky cliffs I can see in the distance must be the Isle of Purbeck.
I walk on, enjoying the first nice day we’ve had since the storms and floods which hit Chichester particularly badly. Moving up from the beach onto the concrete promenade the effects of these storms can be clearly seen. Attempts have been made to clear the sand that has washed up onto the path – this was to be feature of the whole walk into Bournmouth.
I am not alone on my walk today as the promenade gradually fills up with families, joggers and cyclists – I move down to the beach again where hundreds of dogs (only allowed on the beach in the wintertime) are scampering after balls – into the sea and out, only to stand quivering with expectation of the next laconic flick of the plastic sling. I envy their effortless energy and enthusiasm – I would like a dog, but not in London. As I stand and watch the show, a pretty Dalmation decides to do its business on the sand and its owner walks unconcernedly away despite the plethora of bins for dog waste. I stare pointedly at her, to no avail.
Further on a cliff lift stands abandoned for the winter and approaching Boscombe the ubiquitous beach huts (I’ve quite gone off them) and intensive seafront building dampens my spirits. In the distance a grey concrete pier stretches out into the sea – I prefer to be under it than looking at it.
Further on there’s more evidence of storm disruption – there are warnings of washed up oil and the beach looks like a building site.
It’s all rather depressing but I really shouldn’t be feeling this bad. I realise my throat is a little sore and I have the beginnings of a headache. The sneezing I ignored yesterday now becomes more portentous – I am getting a cold. Stopping for a cup of tea in the sunshine I stop to have a chat with my daughter in Denmark who funnily enough is in bed with a heavy cold – we cheer each other up.
Bournmouth Pier appears and although I’m starting to feel lousy I decide that there’s plenty of time to walk along the coast to Sandbanks – the area reputed to have the most expensive real estate in Britain – here’s one hiding.
Eventually I reach Sandbanks and am tempted to take the bus back to Bournemouth and train home. However, I am curious to see where the path will lead from Swanage (the walk from Sandbanks to Swanage was done with the Banzhaffs on a hot day in August) so I catch a bus to Swanage. The bus drives onto the ferry and we grind across to Studland. From there I get my first intimation of what the South West Coastal Path is going to be like – the bus trundles up and down hills on a windy narrow road until we reach the cafe on the seafront where we stopped in the summer. I am delighted to find the Tourist Information Centre open and a very helpful lady provides me with local maps and bus timetables for my next section of my walk – I walk back to the cafe to go to the toilet and leave all the paperwork behind. Menopause is a force to be reckoned with…….