The completely enclosed and largely drying harbour offers complete protection from all winds. Access requires attentive navigation as the harbour is shallow, has a bar outside its entrance and is subject to very strong tidal streams in its inner entrance. It should not be attempted in fresh to strong winds from the south round to southeast that cause a dangerous swell with a breaking sea on the bar. That said, the harbour is however very well marked during the season for a daylight entry.
Keyfacts for Christchurch Harbour
Summary* Restrictions applyA completely protected location with attentive navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 43.814' N, 001° 46.432' W
This is the old town Quay between Christchurch Sailing Club and the slip.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Plan to be at the initial fix when there is sufficient depth available to proceed across the bar and up the harbour.
- Follow the closely marked harbour buoys in.
Not what you need?
- Christchurch Bay - 1.2 miles E
- Salterns Marina - 4.3 miles WSW
- Parkstone Yacht Club - 4.4 miles W
- Studland Bay - 4.9 miles SW
- Poole Quay Boat Haven - 5 miles W
- Poole Town Quay - 5.1 miles W
- Port of Poole Marina - 5.1 miles W
- Scratchell's Bay - 5.2 miles ESE
- Keyhaven - 5.2 miles E
- Brownsea Island - 5.2 miles WSW
How to get in?
Christchurch Harbour is situated within a natural coastal bay to the north of Hengistbury Head. Its east facing entrance, located about ¾ of a mile northeast from Hengistbury Head, is entered from Christchurch Bay. Formed from the rivers Stour and Avon it has sand and gravel spits at its mouth and extensive mudflats and salt marshes within. The town of Christchurch, situated a little above the junction of the rivers and about 1½ miles northwest of the harbour entrance, was historically an important commercial port. But the harbour then silted limiting its use as a trading port and it is today very shallow. Town Quay now only has a depth of 0.6 metres alongside.
This makes Christchurch Harbour the domain of light draft vessels of 1.1 metres or less, with 1.3 metres being the practical maximum on Springs. The harbour’s deeper pools are largely taken by local moorings pushing visiting anchoring boats off into the margins. It is therefore best suited to vessels that have the added flexibility of being able to take to the mud should this be necessary. There is however a club, marina and boat yard, that have alongside berths and moorings where it may be possible to obtain a vacant berth. The Harbour Authority is Christchurch Borough Council +44 1202 486 321.
Those coming here will also have to work the tides to enter the harbour as its fronting sandbar has a charted Chart Datum drying height of 0.4 metres. This varies in depth and position according to the preceding winter storms but the sand bar normally has 0.3 to 0.6 metres. The narrow inner entrance at Mudeford, called ‘The Run’, is also subject to very strong tidal streams with an average rate of 3 to 5 knots.
The harbour is however well marked each sailing season by the voluntary Harbour Association, once things have settled down at about Easter time. They mark the path in over the bar and within the harbour and River Stour up to its confluence with the River Avon. These buoys remain in place for the summer and are taken up in late autumn. None of the buoys are lit and there is only a single light exhibited on the Mudeford shoreline to aid identification. This Fl.G.2s and is located about 200 metres northeast of the entrance at Mudeford Quay at the eastern end of the car park. Night entry is therefore not recommended without the benefit of local knowledge and a winter entry would be highly challenging without the benefits of the marks.
The best time to enter, or leave Christchurch Harbour is during its high water stand which can last for three to four hours. At Springs, the first high water tends to be higher than the second, whereas at neap tides the second high water is higher than the first. As a general rule, a vessel drawing 1.10 metres should be able to enter or leave for at least one hour either side of the higher of the two tides given in the tide-table.
The Run, the inner part of the entrance channel, is located between Mudeford Quay and the head of the narrow spit of shingle and sand that extends almost a mile northward from Hengistbury Head. The Run leads in a south-westerly direction nearly parallel with the shore and is marked by port and starboard buoys. Tidal streams are strong in The Run with an average rate of 4 to 5kn but they can attain a rate 7kn on a Spring Ebb.
The land fronting Christchurch Bay is low and especially so in the vicinity of Hurst Point the eastern most point of Christchurch Bay. The 35 metres high dark reddish headland of Hengistbury Head on the bay’s western end, which divides Poole Bay from Christchurch Bay, however provides a ready mark for the harbour. A prominent coast guard station is situated on a hill near the shore, about ½ mile west of Hengistbury Head. The highly conspicuous 40 metre high tower of Christchurch Priory, 1½ miles to the northwest of Hengistbury Head, will also be seen from many miles out to sea.
Christchurch Ledge is the main hazard in this area. It is a narrow rocky ledge that runs out south by southeast from Hengistbury Head for about 2½ miles. Overfalls will be encountered over it on the ebb and formidable breakers when a seaway is running up on it. Hengistbury Head’s immediate coastal area is foul. Off the head of the Victorian stone groyne, The Long Groyne extending southward from the headland’s southernmost point, are the Beerpan Rocks that dry to 0.4 metres. Further out, about a ½ a mile off the headland and close to where a seasonal race mark is positioned, Christchurch Ledge has a particularly shallow patch with only 0.3 metres of cover.
Vessels approaching from the east should leave the Solent via the North Channel. Then come across the bay to approach the entrance to the harbour to the north of Christchurch Ledge.
Vessels approaching from the west can cross the ledge to enter the bay in two ways. The safer option is always to give the headland a wide berth especially if there is any seaway running. Depths vary so much across the ledge that it is best to pass more than ¾ of a mile off the coast. This keeps a vessel in at least 3 metres of water to ensure a safe crossing. It may however be necessary to go further to the southeast to clear any breakers encountered if a big sea is running.
The line of bearing 333°T of the tower of the Priory Church at Christchurch, open southwest of the coastguard lookout station on Warren Hill, a little over a mile southeast, leads along the west side and outer part of the ledge. When passing offshore this clearing mark may be used to position the ledge and pass clear to the southwest of it. The ledge also has a large number of fishing floats over it that serve to provide a good indication of its outer limit.
Once north of Christchurch Ledge the 2 metre contour will be found a ⅓ of a mile out from the narrow spit of shingle and sand that extends almost a mile northward from Hengistbury Head to the harbour’s entrance. The shore here is characterised by sand and shingle fronted by a variety of coastal defence structures. Inshore traffic should note the position of Clarendon Rocks, a sunken 18th century breakwater that dries to 0.7 metres. Its outer end is marked by a steel post with a red can top mark.
In very settled conditions and at high water it may be possible to cut into the bay very close south of the headland. This is achieved by passing near to the head of the old stone Victorian Long Groyne to cut in close north of the Beerpan Rocks that are situated about 100 metres to the south. Then continue eastward for about a ½ mile before turning up for the harbour entrance so as to pass well south of a shallow rocky patch located 400 metres to the northeast of the pier.
The initial fix is set ½ a mile westward of the entrance to The Run, on a line of bearing of 285° and in about 2.5 metres of water. The most seaward of the entrance channels buoys, a pair of conical and can shaped buoys on a black buoyancy chamber base, should be visible from this location.
When sufficient water is available pass between these marks and follow the succeeding line of round red and green channel buoys across the bar and into The Run. The channel is narrow but the buoys, about 0.6 metre diameter, are so closely spaced as to make it unmistakable. Don’t be surprised to see breaking water in the surrounding area when crossing the bar.
From April to October a bathing area runs parallel to this beach from Hengistbury to Highcliffe 1½ miles to the northeast. Clearly noted on all charts it is marked by 14 yellow 'byelaw buoys' laid about 250 metres out from the low water mark, except over the bar, and about 350 metres apart. Within this area vessels are not allowed to anchor, nor to exceed a speed of 8 kn, and should at all times proceed with extreme caution giving way to swimmers.
The inner part of the entrance channel, called The Run, is 250 metres wide and leads in a southwest direction. Formed by Mudeford Quay on the north side and the head of the shingle spit to the south, it lies nearly parallel with the shore. It is well scoured and relatively deep with its best water to be found off the Mudeford wall, northern, side of middle.
Prepare to turn to port when a prominent black house on the southern sand spit comes abeam. The house is made conspicuous by its signposted speed limit and no bathing billboards. Once beyond the house the channel immediately turns southward to pass alongside the inner shore of the shingle spit that closes in Christchurch Harbour from the south, to port, and a mooring area for the ferries and local small boats, to starboard. The first green spherical buoy is in shallow water and should be given a wide berth to starboard.
400 metres south of the black house, off a floating jetty belonging to the Mudford Ferry, the channel then swings west, from which it tends north-westward towards Christchurch. It is mostly shallow from there onward with little more than 0.3 metres and largely comprised of sand and mud.
As with the entrance it is very well-marked and it becomes deeper and prettier as Christchurch is approached. Depths in the two rivers vary from 0.6 metres to 1.3 metres.
Christchurch Harbour has no designated anchoring area and its best anchoring locations are full of local moorings. Anchoring is reduced to finding an auspicious location on the limits of the buoyed channel, and then restricting any swing that would cause the vessel to obstruct the channel, by deploying a second anchor.
Possible locations include the reach immediately inside the harbour and between the Black House and pontoon jetty. No berthing should take place however at the ferry jetty by Mudeford sandbank. Further along, about a ¼ of a mile above the floating pontoon and close north of Hengistbury Head there is an unmarked pool south of the channel with 0.6 metres CD. Continuing up and opposite Grimbury Point, close north of the final port buoy or in the deep pool laying close to the western bank, with 2.6 to 3.1 metres of water. It is also possible to anchor opposite the harbour, on the port hand side adjacent to the reed beds, clear of the fairway. Boats drawing up to a metre should be able to remain afloat here.
Christchurch Sailing Club has limited berthing for visiting yachts on the east side of the club pontoon
which has room for two to three yachts and during quiet periods at the Club wall. There are also a couple of clearly marked visitors moorings. Payments are made to the bar steward in the club. Vacant club moorings may also be available to visitors for short stays. The club gives priority to mono-hull sailing boats under 10 metres LOA from recognised clubs. The Club Steward or Club Office should be consulted on P: +44 1202 483150, E: email@example.com in advance of any intended visit.
Rossiter Yachts Ltd, located on the peninsular between the two branches of the River Avon and overlooked by the Priory, have a 60 berth marina with space for the occasional visitor P: +44 1202 483250 or 01202 473937 from 08:00 to 16:30 Monday to Friday, 09:00 to 13:00 Saturday and Sunday.
Elkins Boatyard, close east of Christchurch Sailing Club and on the western branch of the River Avon, seldom have spare room for visitors but may also be worth a call as a final option P: +44 1202 483141, E: firstname.lastname@example.org. Short term moorings may also be available from Semcorp Bournemouth Water/Royalty Moorings on P: +44 1202 444646 or Christchurch Borough Council P: +44 1202 495061.
Why visit here?Christchurch’s early name was Tweoxneam which came directly from the conjunction of the Old English words betweoxn, meaning between, and éam meaning rivers, ‘the place between the rivers’. By the late Saxon period it was known as Twynham which survived into Norman times in the form of ‘Christchurch Twineham’. Its 11th Century Priory Church then attained such fame that the name of Christchurch finally replaced the older name by 1177.
People have lived in the Christchurch area since at least the Late Upper Palaeolithic period to the Iron Age. Hengistbury Head was known to be home to a large population of reindeer hunters throughout this period. The headland was colonised by the Celts in about 1,000 BC who built a fort there which continued to be manned throughout the Roman occupation. The Celts used iron for weapons and tools and practised new methods of farming that brought such wealth that they could afford to buy and import high-quality products from the continent. Their port of trade for these goods, including Italian wines and French bronze works, was at the meeting of the rivers Avon and Stour from which they then brought the goods to be consumed at their settlement at Hengistbury Head.
The town soon became both a Royal manor and a burgh and the recentl discovery of a substantial number of Saxon warriors buried there point to its importance. Its status as the site of an early minster church, the centre of a large royal estate, and a potential target for invasion during a number of wars, made Alfred the Great, 871 - 899, make it a ‘Burh’. This was one of his system of nine forts and twelve fortified towns, built around Wessex and eastern Mercia. The ‘Burh’ of Twynham was used to protect and dominate the River Avon's lowest crossing point. Edward the Confessor, 1042 - 66, founded a monastery here in 1043. The Saxon church was then associated with seven chapels, within the churchyard, and served a college of 24 canons. During the Late Saxon period Christchurch became one of the most important harbours in England.
This is difficult to understand today but at this time the coastal topography was very different. The long sandbank had not formed, behind which the present marsh developed, and the volume of water from the rivers would have kept it clear of silt. Its close proximity to the Cotentin Peninsula, Cherbourg Peninsula, made it ideal for trade and the rivers carried people and their wares to and from settlements such as Blandford and Old Sarum, now Salisbury.
In 1094 a chief minister of William II, Ranulf Flambard, then Dean of Twynham, began the building of a priory on the site of the original mission church. Alongside it, on the customary sunny sheltered south side of the church, its monastic buildings were constructed. This in turn became the priory church of the Augustinian priory founded by Richard de Redvers son Baldwin around 1150. Baldwin de Redvers confirmed the canons their right to the first salmon caught every year and the tolls of Trinity fair. The church was incomplete at this time and the nave was not finally completed until 1234.
In 1148, when Baldwin went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to take part in the Second Crusade, Walter de Pinkney seized upon his absence to capture the castle. Pinkney then committed many local atrocities turning the local townspeople against him. They finally ambushed and killed him in the nearby churchyard. The castle was then briefly besieged and recaptured for Baldwin. ‘The Constable's House’ standing adjacent to the castle’s original timber tower was rebuilt in stone in 1160 by Baldwin after his safe return to England. The castle passed to the Crown in 1293 and was thereafter granted to several noble families. It continued in use as the residence of the constable responsible for the security the buildings.
The Priory, as it became known in 1150, was lucky to have survived the dissolution of 1539. Soon after the act Henry VIII pulled down its monastic buildings and fully intended to do the same for the church. But in response to a plea from the townspeople he granted the church together with the churchyard to the churchwardens and inhabitants of Christchurch. The general appearance of the church is very much as it stood in 1539 when dissolution brought an end to any further development. It contains a mixture of architectural styles from the Norman arches of the nave to the more delicate perpendicular cruciform style of the Great Quire and Lady Chapel, but lacking a central tower. Early English additions appear in the nave, clerestory and elsewhere, and the rood-screen is of ornate decorated workmanship. Other noteworthy features are its Norman turret at the northeast angle of the north transept, covered with arcading and other ornaments, the beautiful reredos similar to that in Winchester Cathedral, and several interesting monuments among which is one to the poet Shelley.
Christchurch’s castle however did not survive to this day. During the Civil War of 1642-51 it was taken by the Parliamentarians. Despite a three day siege and all the cannon fire the Royalists could bring to bear, the Parliamentarians could hold out within its defences against a vastly superior force. Though Christchurch remained in Parliamentarian hands until the end of the war Cromwell was concerned about its powerful stronghold and ordered it to be destroyed afterwards. In 1651 the castle's cannons were removed and were taken to the Parliamentarian stronghold of Poole. The following year the castle was then demolished, the keep's north and south walls pulled down, the walls of the bailey demolished and used to fill the defensive ditch. The Constable's Hall, having been excluded from Cromwell's order for destruction, became used as a source for stone for other buildings in the area leaving the ruin we see today.
At the start of the nineteenth century, at the time of the first census, the population of Christchurch was 1,410. Even by the standards of the time it was a very small market town. It was also poor and was home to two workhouses. In 1832 a writer said 'the town presents no symptoms of activity or industry. The houses are of a middling description. The appearance of the inhabitants, who are thinly scattered, gives no indications of prosperity'. But Life in Victorian Christchurch gradually improved and Christchurch sailing club was founded in 1883. This continued into the twentieth century when engineering and aeronautical industries came to the area bring wealth with them. By 1951 the population of Christchurch had risen to 20,000 and its population today is almost 50,000.
For those of modest draft Christchurch Harbour has it all. It has perfect shelter, excellent supplies, a choice of wonderful beaches and rivers to explore and is set in a beautiful area that is steeped in history. The towns Red House Museum and Gardens on Quay Road, housed in a former parish workhouse that dates from 1764, are ready to tell its story. Hengistbury Head, now a nature reserve, has a visitor centre today in which some of its prehistoric finds are on display. Local events include the Christchurch Food & Wine Festival in May and the smooth jazz festival Stompin’ on the Quomps in August. Outside of these events the town has a lovely laid back vibe. There is little not to like here, if a berth can be secured.
What facilities are available?Water and fuel are available at Rossiter Yachts Ltd (Christchurch Marina). They also have a chandlery and provide general marine services. Water is also available at Mudeford beach or Christchurch Sailing Club.
Christchurch Quay has a slipway, as does the Sailing Club which may be used with permission. There is also a slip at Mudeford Quay, where there is convenient car park adjacent. Trailer parking is permitted within a designated area, for up to 48 hours free of charge, but there is a small fee for the use of the slip.
Limited supplies are available from Mudeford beach cafe and there are some shops at Mudeford village. The sizable town of Christchurch has all the shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and banking facilities you would expect.
During the summer months small passenger ferries travel between Tuckton and Mudeford Spit and up the rivers via the town quay. Another ferry service operates across the harbour entrance from Mudeford Sandbank to Mudeford Quay.
Christchurch railway station is on the South Western Main Line from London Waterloo to Weymouth. Services are operated by South West Trains and depart for London Waterloo twice an hour, Monday to Saturday; and hourly on Sunday. Two bus companies operate within the borough travelling to a wide range of local destinations.
Bournemouth International Airport situated at Hurn is less than 4 miles north-west of Christchurch town centre. It is serviced by Ryanair, EasyJet and Thomson Airways who provide scheduled flights to European destinations.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur and Christchurch Sailing Club. Photography with thanks to Ulli1105, Jack Pease and Michael Harpur.
Low water views of the bar
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