Dorset walk around Iford Bridge, Bere Mead and St Catherine's Hill
PUBLISHED: 11:29 11 July 2017 | UPDATED: 11:30 11 July 2017
Edward Griffiths follows this intriguing walk along the River Stour to a heather-clad valley and an historic common, where turf was once dug, which offers fine views over the River Avon flood plain
From the older of two Iford Bridges, dating back to at least the 12th century and replacing the ancient ford, this intriguing walk follows the River Stour footpath along the edge of Bere Mead, a remnant of Christchurch’s historic commons. This is now occupied by Iford Bridge Golf Course, Stour Way Recreation Ground and Grove Farm Caravan Park. After strolling past some typical seaside town houses, the walk ascends a shallow pine, birch and heather-clad valley to St Catherine’s Hill. This delightful pine-scented and barrow-rich ridge occupies part of another historic common, Town Common - originally called Turf Delph, meaning where turf was dug, or delved. From here, there are fine views over the River Avon flood-plain and, at its foot, Southern Railway’s defunct Ringwood-Christchurch line.
• Distance: 4½ miles (7.25 km)
• Time: 3½ hours
• Exertion: Not too strenuous. One hill climb. Some mud after rain.
• Start: Old Iford Bridge, Old Bridge Road, Christchurch (Grid Ref: SZ137935)
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
• Public Transport: Yellow Buses 1a, 2a, 2b,2c, 21, 33. Also 24 and 111 run along River Way
• Dogs: On leads on Golf Course and on roads
• Refreshments: The Bridge Inn, Iford for lunches and bar meals
1. Cross the old River Stour bridge and the causeway extension. Through the end barriers, cross Barrack Road, doubling back to Iford Bridge Golf Club’s entrance. Through, walk diagonally left across the car park and join the path into grassland with trees and the River Stour left. Through the ‘Public Footpath’ signed half-gate, continue along the nettle-edged but well used footpath, possibly muddy in parts after rain. Keep following the path, sometimes with nettles, sometimes alongside the golf course fence. Just before the golf course bridge, actually walk along the fairway’s edge and past right bunkers. Reaching a fence on your left, rejoin the narrow path behind it.
2. Pass the fenced weir and a footpath-arrow. After some trees, cross the recreation ground diagonally right to the gravel ramp over the flood bank into the car park. Follow Stour Way to River Way crossing. Turn left passing 24 and 111 bus stop. At right-fork Old Barn Road, the distant tree-clad hill is St Catherine’s. Keep following River Way. At a right bend, go left, still River Way. Pass left Conifer Close and LDS Church. At the end, carefully cross Hurn Road at the fenced crossing point. Turn left along the fenced pavement and continue to Hillside Drive. Turn right up the hill. Pass left Foreland Close and Hestan Close. Immediately after left Orford Close, turn into the signed ‘Public Footpath’ up to St Catherine’s Hill Nature Reserve kissing-gate.
3. Through, go straight up along the birch-wood’s bramble-edged path. In 100 yards, continue into the pine-needle floored area and leave by the left corner path. Past a footpath-arrow post, keep meandering, ignoring a right fork before left wetland. Continue up the sandy path through trees, meeting another path from the left. Keep ascending the shallow valley, then with heather and young trees, becoming flinty underfoot. Pass a right footpath arrow just before a five-ways crossing on St Catherine’s Hill ridge. Turn right onto the major, stone and flint bridleway-track. Ignore the lesser right fork. Then, ignoring two left forks, keep following the undulating, bridleway-posted main track - generally aiming for the two masts ahead.
4. Up into a level clearing, the masts will be ahead of you in the right trees, followed by two concrete covered water reservoirs, one circular, one rectangular. Don’t go that far. Before you reach them, take the descending left ‘No Cycling’ track and instantly take the right grassier path at the fork. In 100 yards, through heather and gorse, cross a gravel path and go up the narrow path under pines to the minor path which runs along the ridge’s eastern edge. Turn right, heading south. Hug the Mediterranean-scented pine-clad top edge, with extensive views over the River Avon to the New Forest and the Isle of Wight, but don’t start descending that way at all. After about ¼ mile, you rejoin the main bridleway-track at another ‘No Cycling’ post.
5. In a few yards, visit the fenced O.S. trig point and viewpoint before continuing down the bridleway-track. Through the five-barred gate into a crossing with the Gun Club barrier on your right, turn left and keep slowly descending. Passing a few houses either side, you arrive at a parking area for visitors to St Catherine’s Hill. Through to Fairmile Road, signed for Dudmoor Farm Golf Course, turn right. At the first roundabout, cross at the refuge and walk along The Grove for ‘Iford’ and ‘Jumpers’. Enjoy a cool, shady walk under old trees for ¾ mile, passing Stour Way and a row of shops. Then, fork right into Oak Avenue. Just before the end, go left across Barrack Road, using the refuge. Turn right back to Iford Bridge where you started.
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