Sunday, March 7

Hengistbury Head & Fi(a)tness Trends

As promised earlier (and following some mild reflection \ toning down) where did all the Nordic Walkers come from so suddenly? And more to the point, what do some of them hope to achieve? (The clue was in the photo - walking poles and cafe seat BTW)

Saturday's duties took me into the Christchurch area. So for a change I took a walk out over Hengistbury Head, along Mudeford Sandspit, before tracing a route along the shore of Christchurch Harbour and back to the car.

Its not a long trip, less than 5 miles even taking the longer alternatives. However it manages to include a short but steep ascent & some superb coastal views.

To the east is The Needles Lighthouse drawing the eye beyond to the Isle of Wight.

And turning westwards a sweep across Bournemouth Bay. Swanage in the far distance, with the dowdy sprawl of the Poole/Bournemouth conurbation as one's gaze tracks the beach back towards your position.

Quickly turning to the north what remains of the Dorset heathland these days, along with the New Forest in the distance, is laid out before your feet. Twinkling distant in today's sunlight are the Rivers Stour & Avon, their floodplain meanderings finally joining up as they reach Christchurch, its Priory clearly silhouetted against the town.

Sounds idyllic doesn't it? A pity then the local council charge prohibitive amounts to use the car park. But despite that the area this Saturday morning was teeming with people, dogs, kids etc etc.

Well I should have known really. Its not a place to come for a quiet walk, not unless there's a gale lashing rain inland from the English Channel. Which for some reason tends to deter some people.

Not so your humble scribe. Although it has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few places where I had a (well fitted) cap ripped from my head and discarded some 50m away. Mind you it was a bit gusty that day - and I did seem to be the only one on the headland tasting salty raindrops. The rain actually wind sped spray spat up from the sea some 300m distant at the foot of the cliff 30+m below.

But that's another tale.

As usual I parked in one of the side streets to avoid the parking charge & avoid the predatory Traffic Wardens that roam the area. As I walked towards the headland track contouring the coastline the unexpected drone of bagpipes was wafted on the stiff breeze.

Well I say wafted.

Common to most bagpipe enthusiasts, interested in remaining on good terms with their neighbours, the only practice sites seem to be far out in the wilds as the skirl(?) of the pipes does have a tendency to carry some considerable distance.

Especially true today. Turning a corner the hedgerow on my right dropped away to reveal two of the buggers playing a spirited duet (whilst trying not to look as if they were up to no good in the bushes)

They needn't have worried - their playing was accomplished. Although quite what a brace of pipers were doing here on the south coast was another question entirely. Particularly when dressed in full Highland Regalia.

Nearing the Head the amount people increased - and with it an increasing number of those carrying/using walking poles. At first I thought nothing of it. That is until I noticed the strange outdoor regalia being worn. Trainers, jeans, tracksuits. It felt like a poorly funded fashion show. But the poles were clearly in pristine condition sporting brand names I'd not previously come across before.

And so it continued as I strode purposefully up to the OS trig point on the Head itself.

Onwards across the headland, wind blowing hard as usual, to eventually descend the far side, a spur of the moment decision made to head for the cafe on Mudeford Spit.

Note I've carefully not mentioned the cafe's name, or provided a link. If you're in this area use the Hungry Hiker next to the car park, which has a good reputation. Avoid the Spit's cafe unless you happen to like slow service, costly but poor quality food & the dubious distinction of queuing for a table whilst staring out over all the empty spaces!

This was the first (and last) time my business will be remitted at said establishment. A pity as its sister premises on Christchurch Quay is a long time & favourite haunt of mine, although recent visits suggest a subtle drop in ambiance & service.

Sitting in the cafe and awaiting my order, my attention was again drawn to the frequency of fellow diners with nice shiny walking poles leaning haphazardly by their tables.

It seems that Nordic Walking as a fitness regime has hit this area big time. Quite how or why this has happened remains a mystery to me.

Now please don't take my skepticism as a negative feeling. I'm all for anything that gets people outdoors and enjoying the landscape. But judging by the amount of food being consumed today's exercise benefit was for fast being negated by a mass intake of carbs, fats & sugary substances.

As I pushed away my half eaten meal (a salad - naturally) I made for the exit and a more solitary route back to avoid the excess of humanity working hard at working hard. But I couldn't help but wonder as I passed the "Noddy Train" stop, its lengthening queue of people awaiting the 5 minute ride back to the car park, just how many of the Stick Brigade would take that option for their return journey. Full bellies complaining at the thought of the reasonably short walk back.

Maybe I was right.

My route back followed the edge of the harbour. A quiet & solitary amble with not a soul met along the way until I neared the tarmac track
to exit the headland. And with it the inevitable bottleneck of people, sticks & wandering dogs.

Now I remember why I avoid this area like a plague during the summer months; And most of the Winter ones as well.

A good walking route, like a good wine, is to be enjoyed & savoured for inner contentment. And regrettably the well intentioned aims to make this area into a 'Visitor Attraction' has instead created a strange sort of venue.

My tip - it can be an enjoyable walk with superb veiws. But go when the weather is foul & the Stick People are more likely to stay away.

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It baffles me why ANYONE needs to use the Noddy Train, the path back to carpark is so easy. No wonder there is an obesity problem in the UK!

And I agree with you about the food at the cafe on the spit. Woefully overpriced. They should replace it with a chippy.
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