Mudeford Sandbank

Mudeford Sandbank

Exclusive Mudeford Sandbank

Mudeford Sandbank, or Spit as it is also known, is a fairly unique place, making a day at Hengistbury Head a family trip unlike any other. It is home to some of the only overnight beach huts in the UK. When they do change hands, the huts sell for eye-watering sums of money – an amount that would buy you a permanent home in the local area. Even though property prices around there are far from cheap.

For that reason alone it would be interesting to visit – you know, see how the other half live, like people do at Sandbanks. Which, incidentally, isn’t that far away. If you look from Hengistbury Head towards Poole, and squint, you may just be able to make out the footballers’ mansions in the distance.

A unique environment

Hengistbury Head is visited by busloads of school children, as well as tourists and local visitors. It has geological and archeological importance – in addition to beauty in spades. Home to hundreds of species of plants and birds as well as some small mammals, reptiles and insects. There is a lovely old thatched barn housing the Visitor Centre, opened in 2014. Since then, it has been liberally endowed with environmental and conservation endorsements. There is also an on-site wildlife garden at the centre.

Our party made our way from Christchurch via car and bike. Those travelling by car had to leave their vehicle in the large pay and display car park by the Hiker cafe, and chose to take the land train from there out to the sandbank. It’s not too far to walk, but the land train is good fun, especially for the children. It’s a lovely route to cycle, too, at a leisurely pace. If, as I did, you get stuck behind the land train, just take your time rather than trying to pass. The train clears the scenic route ahead for you very effectively, while ensuring that you see a bit more of the sights around you.

Hengistbury Head land train
The ‘Noddy Train’ departs from Hiker Cafe

Slow down

Mudeford Sandbank is not a place to rush, in any case – anyone who did so would entirely miss the point of their visit. It’s a place to kick back and enjoy the sunshine – if you’re lucky enough to be blessed with any, that is. Throw down a beach towel, crack open a beer or whatever, unpack your picnic and unwind.

We had three children with us, aged eight, five and three, and the real wonder of the place was that it really did the childcare for us. Once we were there, the kids ran free. They had a great time clambering up and down the rocks and scampering across the sands, building castles and collecting shells. Looking for rock pools to poke about in.

Inside the huts

As for me, I’d have loved to have a poke around some more of the beach huts when we were there. But I was really very lucky to see properly inside one, owned by a friend of a relative. They are a lot bigger than the huts that line the beaches in Christchurch, but are not exactly spacious. Especially when you consider than some folk – families of four or more – holiday in them for a week or more.

Many have converted the roof space to provide more beds, but the hut we saw slept just two in the daytime seating area. The rest of the compact interior was taken up by a kitchenette, storage area and a glorified cupboard housing a chemical toilet. Oh, and they did have a telly – albeit a very small one.

Mudeford beach huts
Beach life

Otherwise my foray into the beach huts – and other people’s lives – were restricted to snatched glimpses as we passed by in search of the toilets or to nip to the shop. An under-hut storage bunker left open, revealing bodyboards, buckets, spades and snorkels stashed within. People sitting out on their deck, sipping chilled rose, their mirrored sunglasses glinting in the sun. Boats pulled right up by the huts or floating just a few metres out on the water. Bikes leaning against walls, or lying on the tufted grass in tangled heaps.

Praying for sun

If the sun isn’t shining, I imagine that there won’t be an awful lot to do. There’s one cafe/restaurant on the spit and a small shop. Otherwise, I guess you must look to your hut for entertainment. Unless you walk, cycle or take the land train to the car park to collect your car for the day. There is also a ferry service, which most of us took across to Mudeford Quay, ready to do a spot of crabbing before our return to Christchurch.

Just as quaint as the land train, the ferry held a surprising number of people. Scores were disembarking, as a long line of us queued to get on. We hadn’t seen many people on our stretch of beach. So where had they all been, we idly wondered? One thing was evident – everyone had sand-encrusted feet and happy, relaxed faces. Content after a lazy day spent at this unique, delightfully old-fashioned spot.

Step back in time…

…for that is where the attraction of Mudeford Sandbank lies. It’s like a step back in time, away from the world of endless screens and tinny ringtones, into a place where the simple things in life – good food, wine and company, a bike and a bucket-and-spade – are all there is to think about. Even though we don’t live that far away and have great beaches nearer to us, there is something special, but difficult to define, about the sandbank. A day spent there is purely for fun and relaxation. With the kids content and worn-out by the end, what more could anyone ask for than that?

It’s possible to enjoy unique views of the beach huts from your hotel room at Christchurch Harbour Hotel. The only hotel directly opposite, over the water.

This is a lovely guide to the Dorset area:

VIEW Slow Travel Dorset

Why not check out my posts on Coastal Breaks for Couples or the Best Sandy Beaches near London to discover more about British seaside breaks – in this area and others? There are more local reviews under ‘Eating Out‘, too, including newcomer Kala Thai in central Bournemouth.

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