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A visitor's guide to Highcliffe-on-Sea

PUBLISHED: 11:09 05 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 05 August 2019

Looking out over Highcliffe Beach, Photo Credit: Ian Woolcock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Looking out over Highcliffe Beach, Photo Credit: Ian Woolcock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

ian woolcock

This glorious seaside town is steeped in history, famed for its spectacular castle which was once home to the founder of retail giant Selfridges

The name of this small town, to the east of Christchurch, reflects the fact that the first houses built here in the Victorian era were on the high cliff. Its real origins are from the less attractively named Slop Pond, a hamlet of cottages for farm workers and fishermen clustered round a pond on Chewton Common. Its coastal location, with views to the Isle of Wight, and mild climate turned this former smugglers haunt into Highcliffe-on-Sea, a fashionable health resort for wealthy Victorians and Edwardians. These days that well-heeled type of cliental tend to beat a path to Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa, just over the Hampshire borde. Highcliffe's easy access to the New Forest, as well as sailing on the Solent, makes this a popular place for active retirees.

MOST NOTED FOR...

Highcliffe Castle, built on the cliff top in the 1830s by Charles Stuart, 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay. It's a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture and incorporates large amounts of carved medieval stonework shipped over from the ruins of a Benedictine abbey in Normandy. During its glittering heyday the castle hosted visiting royalty from across Europe, as well as being home to a retail multi-millionaire. Now owned by Christchurch Council, it is open to the public and hosts exhibitions and performances as well as many weddings.

WHILE YOU'RE HERE...

visit Highcliffe Beach. This stretch of shingle and sand is divided up by breakwaters making it a popular place for swimmers and bodyboarders. It is backed by grassy dunes and low-rise cliffs. Park at the cliff car park, which also has the excellent Cliffhanger Café, and descend via a steep path onto the beach. For a pleasant coastal walk, follow the path from nearby Chewton Bunny to Mudeford Quay.

A trip to Steamer Point is also a must whilst you're here - this beautiful cliff-top wooded nature reserve, situated between Highcliffe Castle and Friar's Cliff Steamer Point, was originally part of the castle grounds. Its name comes from the steamer boat that sat in a gap in the cliff and was used as a sea-lodge until it rotted away.

Highcliffe Festival of Food & Arts is held on the first weekend in June this celebration of local food and drink from Dorset and Hampshire also has arts and crafts, music and performance. It always attracts a great line-up of celebrity chefs and food writers who entertain the crowds

BUT TRY NOT TO...

forget to pick up a 'Porker' from Chris Watson Family Butchers on Lymington Road. This Highcliffe butcher is famous for speciality sausages.

WHO'S WHO…

American retail entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, who opened his London store Selfridges in 1909, lived at Highcliffe Castle with his family from 1916 - 1922. He is buried alongside his wife and mother in the churchyard of St Mark's in Highcliffe. Some scenes from ITV's hit drama Mr Selfridge were filmed at Highcliffe Castle.

Eat at:

The Paddle

01425 275148

Why? Inspired by the healthy eating café culture of New Zealand and Australia along with a passion for barista made coffee, this is the place to go for a slap-up brunch or lunch. They are also winners of Best Dog-friendly Venue at the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards.

Stay at:

The Lord Bute

01425 278884

Why? Once home to Lord Bute, Prime Minister of England (1762-1763), this boutique hotel offers 5* luxury accommodation in 13 ensuite bedrooms, fine dining, award-winning Sunday lunches and Champagne afternoon teas in the orangery or on the terrace.

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