A ramble around Mudeford and Christchurch Airfield
PUBLISHED: 10:24 16 April 2018
Edward Griffiths reveals the important role this area played in the air battles of the Second World War
The Mude River rises in Hampshire and slowly meanders to Christchurch Harbour and the sea beyond. This enjoyable walk takes you along the beach before finding Mude Valley Greenway which we follow inland along the eastern edge of Christchurch Airfield, a location which played a vital role in building and flying legendary aircraft in World War II.
1. Follow the harbour’s safety-rails east. Continue along the concrete sea-defences path, then along the beach to Avon Beach car park. Turn onto the road. Pass right Robins Lane. Past right Bure Lane on the bend, take right Falcon Drive, signed ‘Somerford 1¼’ cycleway. Take next left Raven Way cycleway. Pass right Merlin Road. After right Peregrine Road, take the right unsigned footpath into Peregrine Wood. Meander through alongside Mude River left. Exiting into De Havilland Way, cross into the opposite path. Continue through open space then along the left wall with right woods into another open space. In 50 yards, at a fork, take the lesser path into the right wood.
2. Cross the ‘Cycleway 2’ bridge over the Mude and meander to a fork. Go left for ‘Somerford ½’. In 30 yards, pass a right WWII pill-box, defending Christchurch Airfield. Emerging into Mudeford Community Centre sports field, continue along the path with left trees. Pass the right Community Centre, Pipers Drive and tennis courts and continue for ‘Somerford ¼’ through grass and trees. In ¼ mile, exit into Somerford Road, with the roundabout right. Roads entering old Christchurch Airfield are ¼ mile to your left, but now is Industrial Estates and Meteor Shopping Park.
3. Now, cross Somerford Road on the crossing. Cross the corner to the footbridge and cross Christchurch by-pass. Down the steps, follow the path between Sainsbury’s and the by-pass, becoming Watery Lane, hedged both sides and getting quieter. Reaching a T-junction, go left across the Mude River into hedged Ambury Lane. There are plans to build 875 houses on these fields. At the far end, with old pines left along the by-pass, reach right electricity pylon.
4. Cross the grass triangle, passing right Staple Cross base. Cross Salisbury Road. Past right Staple Cross Farm cottage, cross the by-pass footbridge. Over, turn right. Into Burton Road, turn left. Past left Everest Road, take next left, still Burton Road. Pass left Redvers Road. Keep straight on with left houses, and pass Purewell Meadows Nature Reserve right. Meeting Purewell Cross Road, turn left and cross into Stanpit, beyond the roundabout, by using the pedestrian crossings.
5. Walk along Stanpit, passing the Ship in Distress restaurant, Stanpit Marsh car park, and Tutton’s Well. After left Victoria Road, take the right ‘Public Footpath’ through the wire fence’s gap. Follow the path along the harbour’s edge. Take first left un-signed Argyle Road, with a footpath-sign pointing ahead, back into Stanpit with recreation grounds opposite. Turn right. Past the Nelson Tavern and Harbour Hotel, with All Saints’ Church opposite, the road becomes Mudeford Lane. Past left Avonmouth Bakery Café, fork right into ‘Mudeford’ leading back into Mudeford Quay car park where you started.
The important role played by Christchurch Airfield
During the Second World War Christchurch Airfield, an RAF Station with a 2,400ft grass runway, was used by the Airspeed factory for aircraft production, beginning with twin-engine ‘Oxford’ training aircraft from August 1942. They also designed and built 1500 Horsa gliders which were used in the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944, the following offensive and the Rhine crossings. Airspeed also converted 160 Spitfires into naval Seafires.
In preparation for use as an American USAAF base before D-Day, a 4,800ft wire-mesh landing strip was installed, and American fighter-bomber pilots flew Mustangs and Thunderbolts from here by February 1944, sharing pre-invasion sorties with British Whirlwinds, Typhoons, Hurricanes and Spitfires.
The RAF Station closed in January 1946, when the Ministry of Aircraft Production assumed control. Airspeed then built de Havilland Mosquitos until February 1948, and produced parts for the de Havilland Vampire jet, the first jet to fly the Atlantic. In 1951, Airspeed merged with de Havilland and built the first of 140 Vampire trainers, followed by Venoms and Sea Venoms. In the late 1950s, they produced 118 Sea Vixens, but by this stage Christchurch Council were becoming concerned with the noise of jets and initiated closure of the Airspeed factory in 1962.
Christchurch Airfield formally closed in 1964, the land being used for housing and the industrial estates. A Sea Vixen XJ580 was purchased to mark the airfield site entrance in Somerford Road where a plaque used to read ‘This aircraft is a tribute to the aviation history of Christchurch 1932-1962’. Sadly, the Sea Vixen has now gone. Just the four concrete bases remain.
Time: 3 hours
Exertion: Easy level walking. Some mud in woods.
Start: Mudeford Quay (Grid Ref: SZ185918)
Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
Public Transport: Wilts and Dorset X1, X2 and Yellow Buses 111
Dogs: On leads on roads
Refreshments: The Noisy Lobster at Avon Beach, and several inns along Stanpit