For a long weekend away, we wanted to return to the south coast in Hampshire, but stay somewhere we hadn’t been before.
We finally settled on the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Centenary site near Bransgore, a small village four or five miles to the north-east of Christchurch. Amazingly for a British summer, the sun actually shone for the whole of our stay!
Once we had checked into the site (and dusted down the barbecue), we went off to explore the local area and stock up for the next few days. We discovered a large supermarket on the outskirts of Christchurch and made our purchases before heading back to the site to soak up the pleasant late-afternoon sunshine.
This is quite a large site, but has been thoughtfully split up into several different sections, with names such as Spitfire, Mosquito and Mustang – very apt, as the site is in the middle of a former WWII airfield.
Holmsley Airfield opened in September 1942, and during the war it was used by the RAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Air Force. The airfield closed in October 1946, but parts of the original runways can still be seen in the surrounding fields.
The imposing New Forest Airfields Memorial is a short walk from the site. It was dedicated on 16 August 2002, to commemorate the many sacrifices made in the New Forest during WWII.
Heading for the coast
The following day was bright and sunny, so before it got too hot, we headed through the cool of the forest towards the coastal town of Lymington, a busy sailing centre and one of the departure points for ferries to the Isle of Wight. A train runs almost to the ferry terminal for foot passengers, while the ferry also accommodates cars, motorhomes and goods vehicles taking supplies to and from the island.
Lymington is a pretty, bustling place, with its main thoroughfare a pleasant mix of the usual high street shops and a rather eclectic assortment of local traders.
A weekly street market, known as the Charter Market, is held here every Saturday. We parked at the top of the hill and worked our way down the High Street towards the harbour.
At the bottom of the High Street is Quay Hill, a charming cobbled street leading to the harbour, past the colourful hanging baskets adorning The Kings Head, a famous inn with a history dating back some 300 years. The street opens out onto the main harbour, full of yachts of all sizes, together with a number of traditional small fishing boats.
Enjoying the sunshine, we opted for morning coffee in The Ship Inn, which has a lovely outdoor seating area overlooking the Lymington River. From here, we could watch the boats coming in and out of the harbour, and the trains crossing the bridge en route to the ferry terminal.
Over the border
Leaving Lymington behind, we drove back towards our site along the A337 and after half an hour or so, found ourselves in Christchurch. This pretty little town is now part of Dorset, rather than Hampshire, following county boundary changes in 1974.
We parked up on the outskirts and took a walk around the town, soon finding ourselves in the shadow of a very large and impressive church.
We later learned this was Christchurch Priory, one of the largest parish churches in the country, bigger than many cathedrals. We then wandered down a shaded narrow path and emerged by an ancient watermill, known as Place Mill. Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, the building is now a popular centre for the area’s arts and crafts.
Back in the summer sunshine, we found ourselves at Christchurch Quay, a local beauty spot and home to a thriving sailing and boating community.
The nearby Place Mill derived its water power from the River Avon, where it joins the larger estuary of the River Stour, and all along the waterfront there was a fine display of yachts, dinghies and sailing craft.
Searching for somewhere to eat, we soon spotted the Old Mill Tea Rooms, occupying an enviable position overlooking the Town Quay. Grabbing a table outside, we placed our order and settled down to relax, eat and watch the world go by. Some time later and needing to walk off our excellent lunch, we followed the meandering waterside path, past a very traditional and pleasantly green park, with a bandstand and benches.
For the youngsters, there is a great play area and waterpark here, and lots of ducks and swans eager to be fed. There are also small boats for hire, which come with the benefit of an outboard motor.
Palm trees, blue seas
No tour to this part of the south coast would be complete without a visit to the grand seaside resort of Bournemouth. We arrived in good time next morning, but rather than trying to park in the town centre, we diverted towards the eastern side and parked on the roadside, quite close to Boscombe Pier. It’s a good half-hour walk along the promenade from there to the centre, so best foot forward!
We had last visited the town before the storms of 2016 and were shocked to find that the sandy beach was now level with the roadway, and the steps, which used to take you down to the beach, were now almost covered in sand. Halfway along the promenade we came across the West Cliff Funicular Railway – or what remains of it. Unfortunately, a serious landslide caused major damage to the railway and associated buildings at both the top and bottom of the cliff.
A sign giving information about the event suggests that if might be at least a couple of years before the railway can be safely reinstated to normal operation. Let’s hope this unique feature of the West Cliff is returned to its original glory in future.
After our long walk along the promenade, we relaxed over a welcome coffee, sitting outside the Oceanarium aquarium close to the pier. Basking in the sunshine, we could almost imagine we were on some exotic beach abroad. The palm trees, golden sands and shimmering blue sea made for a picture-postcard scene.
Nearby, a large group of children on a clearly well-organised school trip were playing on the sands before being ushered off the beach and into the aquarium for the next part of their day out at the seaside.
A stroll through the charming Central Gardens led us into the town centre, where we discovered a street food festival in full swing. Tents and stalls catered for every taste, and the tantalising smells emanating from the kitchens made us wish we had not already packed a picnic lunch!
After wandering around the shops, we walked back to where we had parked to collect a couple of folding chairs and our picnic, then onto the sands to enjoy a late lunch, followed by a siesta in the glorious sunshine.
All too soon it was time to return to our site – we were glad we left before the rush hour, as the roads around Bournemouth seem to be busy at most times of day!
Elaine and I love the sunshine but for those who don’t, there are many places of interest to visit in the area, such as Christchurch Castle and Norman House, or Highcliffe Castle – a fine, Grade-I listed mansion dating from the 1830s.
For shopaholics, there is the usual range of out-of-town retail parks – we called in at Castlepoint Shopping Park, off the A338 four miles from Bournemouth, where just about every major national retailer is represented. Be warned, though, that it gets packed out here when the weather changes for the worse, as we had discovered on a visit earlier in the year – and there are height and weight limits on some of the car parks here.
For the final day of our long weekend, we fancied somewhere a little quieter,. After consulting my dog-eared OS map, we drove towards Milford-on-Sea.
Milford is a delightful village boasting a smattering of pubs, shops and cafés, but the lure of the sea led us further down to the coast road, and we soon passed several car parks with access to the coastal path.
We eventually stopped at one, mainly because of the presence of the enticing Needles Eye café, which was doing a roaring trade dispensing Sunday-morning cooked breakfast to an eager clientele.
Looking out across the sea as we drank our coffees, we had a wonderful view of the Isle of Wight and the famous Needles, with their distinctive lighthouse.
After a bracing walk on the coastal path along the clifftops, we returned to the car park, got out our chairs, and enjoyed another picnic lunch in the afternoon sunshine.
All too soon, it was time to return to the campsite and pack for our departure next day. Sitting outside the ‘van that evening, we reflected on how much there is to see and do in this country.
When to go
In the UK, it is obvious that the summer months provide a better chance of fine weather, but realistically, it is now possible to tour all year round, with a number of sites offering hardstandings and heated washblocks. We went for four nights in summer.
Way to go
Travelling from South Wales, we always head along the M4 as far as Newbury, and then southwards on the A34 to pick up the M27, giving us access to the New Forest.
An alternative route from Wales, slower but prettier, is via the M4, bath and then cross-country towards Salisbury and onto the A338 towards Ringwood.
Where we stayed
New Forest Caravan and Motorhome Club Centenary Site
- Forest Road, Bransgore, BH23 8EB
- Web www.caravanclub.co.uk
- Tel 01425 673 638
- Open April to November
- Pitches 275
- Charges From £29.30 (inc 2 adults). Set in beautiful countryside, this charming campsite is home to the Club’s Centenary Gardens. There is an excellent dog-walk and a play field for younger visitors. The site is a great base for exploring the area on foot or by bike.
Find out more
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Basking in the sunshine, we could almost imagine we were on some exotic beach abroad. The palm trees, golden sands and shimmering blue sea made for a picture-postcard scene