Highcliffe Castle to Chewton Bunny

Highcliffe Castle from Christchurch Coastal Path

Wednesday was the hottest day this week but the coast at Highcliffe remained pleasant and uncrowded.

Highcliffe Castle is open to the public Sunday to Thursday. The castle’s tea room with outdoor seating is open daily 10am to 4pm.

Coast path at Highcliffe Castle
Isle of Wight from the path at Highcliffe Castle. This is the vista enjoyed from the mansion for over 150 years.
Path east from Castle is near the bottom of the cliff before returning to the clifftop above Chewton Bunny.
Christchurch Bay looking west from Highcliffe during the afternoon
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Mr Justice Maxell centenary

Cover of the first edition.

An important feature of Branksome Chine was the sea-view Branksome Tower Hotel on the eastern bank.

It was built in 1858 as a private house and became a hotel in 1892.

The many famous guests included the prolific author Edgar Wallace who set part of his novel Mr Justice Maxell there. It has never been out of print since its publication a century ago.

Wallace made this ‘solid mansion’ in Westminster Road again a residence. The other location used is Tangier which he also knew well.

In the thriller his main character Timothy Anderson keeps watch in the Branksome Towers garden on the east side of the chine where the author places is a disused well.

The clock which strikes midnight and one o’clock from ‘a distant church’ must belong to St Ambrose, at the top of the chine, in West Cliff Road.

The ‘Parade Drug Store’ is probably Westbourne’s dispensing chemists Taylor’s at 103 Poole Road. It was established in 1893 and had its own distinctive lamp post with a red light outside. Since 2010 the chemist’s, now called Vantage Pharmacy, has been at number 95.

A lodging ‘Vermont House’ is in Western Avenue. The concert featured probably takes place at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth.

The Banksome Tower Hotel, later known as Branksome Towers and demolished in 1973, was advertised as ‘the only Bournemouth hotel with grounds extending to the seashore’ and ‘on its own cliffs in 9 acres of magnificent grounds’. (The hotel was of course not in Bournemouth but within the Borough of Poole which embraced Branksome and Branksome Dene Chines.)

Mr Justice Maxell was republished as Take-a-Chance Anderson but is again available under the original title.

The hotel also featured in the author’s Vote For Tony Newton story published in a magazine in 1923 which was a preview of his The Brigand novel in 1927.

Today’s cover.
Branksome Tower Hotel terrace
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Canford Cliffs flowers

Today was surprisingly misty with spots of rain this morning. But the new growth by the Canford Cliffs path was bright.

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Savoy rebranded as The Nici

The Savoy, now The Nici, seen from the coast path

The Savoy Hotel on Bournemouth’s West Cliff has been refurbished and rebranded as The Nici.

Past guests at the old Savoy include the American monk, mystic and author Thomas Merton (1915-1968) who got to know the clifftop well.

As a teenage schoolboy about to leave his English school for Cambridge he spent the two month 1932 summer holiday at ‘a big, dreary hotel in Bournemouth, standing on top of a cliff and facing the sea with a battery of white iron balconies, painted silver’.

His companions were his maternal grandparents and brother John Paul. His father painter Owen Merton had died the previous year.

Two years before his death Thomas Merton wrote: ‘I suppose I am the same person as the eighteen-year-old riding back alone into Bournemouth on a bus out of the New Forest, where I had camped a couple of days and nights.’

His influential autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, published in 1948, remains in print having sold over a million copies and appearing in fifteen languages.

The Nici is behind West Cliff Green and close to the Highcliff Hotel which can also claim famous guests who enjoyed the sea view.

The Savoy with its new name is maybe no longer dreary but fortunately some familiar architectural features have been retained.

The familiar balcony ironwork is repainted.
The coast path in front of The Nici.
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Blessing of the Waters at Mudeford

Sunday being Rogation Sunday, four days before Ascension Day, it was time for the annual Blessing of the Waters at Mudeford Quay.

Rogation is a time for walking the fields and blessing the coming crops. But on the coast the harvest to come is salmon so every year the priest from All Saints Mudeford comes down to Mudeford Quay to be rowed out into the Christchurch Harbour entrance in a salmon punt.

The priest has a lobster pot for a seat but, having been rowed into the Run, stands for prayers and the traditional casting of silver cross into the water.

Hymn tunes were played by a band and sea scouts were present on land and the Mudeford lifeboat in the harbour entrance.

The cross is retrieved for use again.

Once the first salmon caught was given to the Prior of Christchurch.

The punt and lifeboat in the Run
Holding the cross
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Hurst Castle on international danger list

Hurst Castle is reached by a spit from Milford-on-Sea

Hurst Castle is one of the world’s 25 most significant heritage sites in need of immediate attention says the World Monuments Watch.

The 2022 World Monuments Watch calls attention to Hurst Castle as a warning about the future fate of coastal heritage places.

A year ago a section of the eastern battery collapsed leaving castle open to the sea until emergency repairs took place.

‘The long-term survival of Hurst Castle depends on the ability to protect it from the action of the sea, made ever harder by sea level rise and more frequent storm surges,’ says the report.

‘The heavy nineteenth-century batteries sit on a relatively shallow foundation of brick upon concrete. Typically covered by shingle, the foundation is easily undercut once exposed to waves, which can occur when heavy storms wash away massive quantities of protecting shingle.’

The Tudor castle, in the care of English Heritage and the only European structure listed, joins buildings in Beirut and Benghazi on the list.

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Old Harry and coast path on Country Life cover?

This week’s Country Life has a superb cover picture of Old Harry Rocks.

It is an image of ‘This sceptre’s isle’.

The point is named after the 15th-century Poole pirate Harry Paye although also known as Handfast Point.

Numerous ships have foundered off Old Harry including the Spanish galleon San Salvadore -part of the scattered armada which had threatened Elizabeth I.

Here the Dorset coast path has a fine view of the Bournemouth Coast Path.

Studland, Shell Bay and the entire Poole Bay can be seen as well as Poole bound ships often moving rapidly between small craft. The Isle of Wight over to the east is a continuation of this chalk ridge of Purbeck Hills.

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New Hythe Ferry book

A new book on the Hythe Ferry pier railway will be of interest to those who walk the coast path.

Continue east beyond the Bournemouth Coast Path and all it embraces and after Milford-on-Sea you find yourself on the Solent Way. The ferry is the vital link across Southampton Water.

The landing on the far side is at Town Quay in Southampton where the route continues past Ocean Village and over The Itchen Bridge to Netley Abbey.

Alan Titheridge’s book The Heartbeat of Hythe is a hundred pages plus on the narrow gauge railway which takes you out from land to the vessel at the end of the pier more than a quarter of a mile long.

Fellow historian and local resident Dan Snow is just one of many who have expressed concern about the future of the ferry which has been in doubt. This book includes a brief history of the crucial and delightful crossing.

Hythe has the oldest pier railway and Alan is the only person who could have written such a thorough study with so many photographs old, rare and new.

Hythe Ferry operates daily at least every hour. Tickets are £6.50 single; £7.50 return.

The Heartbeat of Hythe: The story of the Hythe Pier Railway by Alan Titheridge is published by Ceratopia Books (£9.99).

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Sir Walter Scott at Mudeford

This year is the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth on 15 August 1771.

Walter Scott, at one time the most famous writer in the world, was 36 years old when he came to Mudeford in April 1807 staying at seafront Gundimore, built in the shape of a Turkish tent for fellow poet William Stewart Rose.

They had met in London four years earlier.

In 1807 Scott was writing Marmion and his publisher Constable had already paid him £1,100 for the work. At Gundimore he corrected the proofs for Canto III.

It was only through Rose that Scott had heard that prime minister William Pitt liked The Lay of the last Minstrel and this led to the praise for Pitt, who had just died in office, in the first Canto of Marmion which is dedicated to his Mudeford host William Rose.

The two friends enjoyed rides across the New Forest which then reached almost to Mudeford. Together they had a day trip to the Isle of Wight being picked up the Royal Yacht which had anchored in Christchurch Bay.

However, returning via Portsmouth on a smaller vessel, Rose became seasick whilst Scott went below to avoid the waves and eat ships’ biscuits. The bad weather forced the two to put in at Lymington and return by horse to Gundimore.

The Rose brothers were the sons of George Rose MP who lived at adjacent Sandhills where the house, dating from 1785, survives as the centre of Sandhills Holiday Park. It was at Sandhills that the King and Queen enjoyed breakfast in July 1801 before sailing for Weymouth. They returned via Mudeford in October.

Rose’s diplomat brother Sir George was largely responsible for the present look of Sandhills where he added a round wing echoing Gundimore. This can be glimpsed between the caravans from the coast path on Gundimore Promenade.

The tent-like Gundimore had interior walls painted deep red with drapes edged with gold. William filled the house with books and works of art.

It is believed that Scott returned there to begin work on his novel Waverley which includes a character called Davie Gellatley who is based on Rose’s valet David Hinves.

He was more a friend and companion to Rose and even joined him for angling. Scott called him a ‘clown’ but appreciated that he was a bookbinder by trade and always sent him a copy of his new work.

Edinburgh Waverley Station is the only railway station named after a book.

Walter Scott and William Rose were close friends who met often. Scott called him Will, thought he had wit and talent, and recalled the ‘happy days’ in the New Forest when staying at Mudeford.

When Rose was a guest at Scott’s home Abbotsford in Scotland he always had the same downstairs bedroom. He may have felt at home as Rose’s shield was included in the painted decoration round a doorway.

Another of Scott’s friends was Lady Louisa Stuart who followed closely the progress of Marmion. As daughter of Lord Bute who had built the forerunner of Highcliffe Castle she knew Mudeford well from her teenage years. By 1807 the Highcliffe house had been sold and dismantled but her nephew Charles was preparing to buy the site back paving the way for today’s castle.

There is a good view of Gundimore just before the wide coast path meets the road running inland at Avon Beach, east of Gundimore Beach.

The east end of Gundimore is now called Scott’s House.

Sir Walter Scott 250 celebrations continue into next year.

Gundimore from Gundimore Beach
Gundimore’s lookout turret alongside the round Turkish tent room
Gundimore’s adjacent Scott’s House with its round roof is in the foreground
The east wing at nearby Sandhills added by Sir George Rose to echo his brother’s round Gundimore
The view from Gundimore for Walter Scott and William Rose was the Isle of Wight which they visited together from Mudeford
Sir Walter Scott on a Scottish bank note
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Songs of Praise from Swanage Bay

Posters have gone up in Swanage advertising a recording of BBC Songs of Praise.

Aled Jones is the host and the two hour recording on Thursday 29 July which will start in late afternoon at 5.30pm to catch the evening light.

The venue is Prince Albert Gardens, near the Pier, where the Albert Memorial has just been re-erected after being in storage for almost a century.

But the rising grass arena is probably best known for the huge pillars which until 1896 stood in London’s Regent Street where they were part of the Hanover Chapel on the Apple Store site.

The columns will make good television pictures with the sea behind.

Those wishing to take part, especially if associated with a church or choir, should contact [email protected]

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