Silicon Beach Bomo - Orientation Guide |   Christchurch Downtown Area

Silicon Beach Bomo - Orientation Guide | Christchurch Downtown Area

Christchurch Downtown Area

Click screenshot above to go to Google Maps coverage of the downtown area.

Just east of Bournemouth, Christchurch is a smaller, older market town whose tourist trade goes back to the Middle Ages when it was a pilgrimage destination and healing spa. It grew as one of Alfred the Great’s burghs or fortified towns, with a stone castle added later. As it is sited where two rivers, the Avon and Stour, converge in an inverted V, the downtown area is roughly triangular.
Before the magnificent “Christ’s Church” priory led to its name being changed, the town was known by the Saxon name of Tweoxneam (later Twynham), meaning a place betwixt or between waters, i.e. between the two river mouths. This confluence creates a shallow harbour below the town, enclosed by the eastward-curving peninsula of Bournemouth’s southeasterly tip, Hengistbury Head and its extension, Mudeford Sandbank. Tidal drift from this means the harbour-mouth is blocked to marine traffic except for small boats, by a sandbar. This meant that the town never became a port in the sailing-ship era of maritime commerce. In the smuggling era of high customs duties however, the harbour’s sandbar allowed it to be used as a haven by local smuggling vessels, with everyone, up to and including the mayor, involved.
Today of course, Christchurch is the height of respectability, with an elderly population (1 in 3 residents over 65) and a traditionally Conservative council, none of whom are involved in smuggling tea, shooting Excise men etc. There is now a range of cafés and restaurants, which contradicts the idea, promoted in Bournemouth, that you need a lot of foreign students for such amenities to thrive.

The busy High Street [B3073], running N-S from Christchurch Station by the rail bridge, is quite lengthy. Officially it’s a 5 min walk from the station to downtown, but this probably just means to the roundabout about halfway down, where the so-called Christchurch Bypass (really just the A35) crosses the high street, perhaps best regarded as the start of the downtown area. The upper section is known as Bargates, after the long-vanished town gate. (Sited at the confluence of two rivers, the mediaeval town only required only the one wall to fortify it, forming the top of a triangle.)
There are only a few eateries along this busy top stretch of the high street between The Railway pub up by the station and the main roundabout (called the Fountain Roundabout, after a drinking trough that once stood here). Right on the corner by the roundabout is an Indian restaurant [Mela] and a nightclub-bar [Blushh]. Farther up is another Indian restaurant and several cafés. On the more pedestrian-friendly S side, by the ramped walkway leading from the subway, is Cuckoos, a family-run cafe. Outside this is a green sign-board saying ‘Bargates Shopping’ which lists some of the establishments over the road to the N, on the upper section of the high street.

 

Going S from the main roundabout: heading through the pedestrian subway from the municipal pay-and-display car park outside Waitrose supermarket [now with small coffee shop] takes you into downtown Christchurch’s one large-scale modern development (the leaseholders are a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank). Saxon Square Shopping Centre was built in the early 1980s over what used to be the town hall car park, used in the 1970s for the town’s weekly market. From the Waitrose side, it can be accessed on foot via the pedestrian underpass and the ramped walkways at both ends.
You can walk S from there through an open shopping-mall area, with shops on both sides and a few benches between, into the main square or plaza. You can sit outside at one of the two cafés here if you don’t mind patronising big chain-owned coffee houses (which we try to ignore in these pages per our policy of promoting local businesses who actually pay their taxes). There is also a pair of ‘pop-up’ seasonally themed bars run by Soho Restaurant (itself lower down the High Street) on the NE corner of the main plaza: in summer it becomes the Beach Bar and in the run-up to Xmas, the Austrian/Swiss-style Alpine Bar (with Glühwein etc). A food and wine festival, including an international food market with over 100 stalls is held in Saxon Square every May.

Right: Saxon Square Shopping Centre, locatable from anywhere in the downtown area by the URC clocktower on the S side of the complex.

  Saxon Square Shopping Centre

Heading S via the High Street itself, on the W side are a couple of cafés that are easy to overlook as they are in alleyways. Wishes Café is in Bank Close by HSBC, where the town’s weekly market was held for some years after Saxon Square was developed. Fleur de Lis café, with its own decked courtyard area, is up a 2nd alley, which leads to an otherwise hidden park. Christchurch Library in between has a few quiet places to work. On the W side of the High Street farther down is Baggies, a small café with a couple of outside tables.

Right: The courtyard in the alley at Fleur-de-Lis cafe. Though not a public right-of-way, it leads through to a small park, with benches. (Mouse-over photo to see 2nd image, of the park.)

 

 

On the E side of the High Street, The Ship (an inn dating back to smuggling times) has a small outside seating area out back, on the side street [Milham St, opposite the URC church with its distinctive clock tower]. Farther along the E side are Heartizans Deli & Cafe and the Indulge Yourself cake-shop café.

 

Right: Two examples of how the town's businesses evolve. The Ship, probably the oldest inn in town, first licensed in the 17th C., though the facade is 19th C., and has evolved from a smugglers' lair to a "local" with pub grub and now into a brasserie-style gastropub.
Mouse-over photo to see 2nd image: the Heartizans Deli & Cafe supplanted an earlier tea rooms on the site, and is now an outlet for a range of local produce such as artisan breads (hence the punning name).

 

Opposite is Kelly's Kitchen, a long-standing café popular with shoppers. Just before the Subway café [outside tables] is municipally-owned theatre/cinema The Regent Centre, which has some small tables in its art-gallery foyer or lobby area. Just before Bookends bookshop, Chuckles Chippy [formerly Priory Plaice] takeaway has a few tables in the back. Opposite is Coast Coffee, with a couple of outside tables.
This brings us down to the next roundabout, at the Castle Street intersection, where the town’s weekly market was originally held. (Currently, the weekly market is held on the High Street, which is closed to vehicles every Monday.) On the W side is Arcado Lounge (part of the small ‘Loungers’ chain which began in Bristol in 2002), with tables outside and some upholstered seating inside.

Right: Arcado Lounge, by the Castle St roundabout, and (mouse-over photo to see 2nd image) the Regent Centre.

 

Most of the vehicle traffic at this point heads E down Castle Street aka Bridge Street. Detouring E this way, right at the roundabout is Ye Olde George Inn, one of those old coaching inns with an archway and courtyard where the coaches would pull in, a gastropub with outside seating in the old coachyard as well as out front, now refurbished under new management after it suddenly closed last year. At the back of the coachyard is a new addition, The Sophie Dawes bar-restaurant, named after a colourful local character from the Georgian era. A directional sign on the alley right next to the front of the inn shows this to be a shortcut NE along to The Ducking Stool Tea Rooms [actually now a full-service restaurant], named after a relic left on the riverbank at the end of Ducking Stool Lane as a heritage-tour item. Next on Castle Street is Koh Noi Thai tapas restaurant. Across the road is Ronny's, a small café also selling antique prints. Next to that is The New Forest Perfumery – don’t let the odd name fool you: it’s a restaurant, housed in what may originally have been part of a now-vanished mediaeval court-house complex. The restaurant has a tree-lined courtyard seating area out back.

Right: the Old George Inn with the alley leading down to the Ducking Stool restaurant visible at right; and (mouse-over photo to see 2nd image), lunch in the courtyard of the New Forest Perfumery.

 

Almost opposite, across from the bowling green and path by the millstream leading S, is The Kings Hotel, with a couple of tables out front. This used to be simply The Kings Arms - the change of name on the frontage since its refurbishment probably to indicate it is not a pub but is now a ‘boutique luxury hotel’ with a dining room. (Though in fact it was always a hotel, the only one in the town, where the great and the good stayed, going back to Regency times.)

Farther along Castle St/Bridge St, just over the first bridge [Town Bridge], is Prezzo [Italian chain restaurant]. Beyond that are Masala Bay Indian Restaurant and La Mamma pizza and pasta restaurant. Just beyond that, around 10 mins walk from the High St., over the 2nd bridge (the River Avon divides above here) is Christchurch Emporium, a large hall containing dozens of stall cubicles selling mainly boutique-type local arts & crafts items, and an upstairs coffee shop with its own indoor terrace area on the ground floor.

Right: Christchurch Emporium main floor and (mouse-over photo to see 2nd image) cafe terrace.

  Christchurch Emporium

Returning to the High Street, the final stretch below the Castle St/Bridge St roundabout is a less busy narrower final section, called Church St., where there are half a dozen eateries on the one remaining block before the Priory gates. On the cross-street immediately leading W off it, Wick Lane, The Thomas Tripp gastropub, an inn dating back to the smuggling era, has the “Smugglers” outside Bar & Grill with an area of bench seating out back [Cream Teas in the summer]; as well as bench seating inside, where there is a fireside ‘snug’ style lounge. The former Sweets Emporium in Wick Lane is now a wine bar called Bodega.

Back on Church St., Loch & Quay bistro-restaurant has a couple of outside tables in the covered frontage alongside. Beyond that is Siena's Italian Deli, a small café with tables out front. Across the street, Pinocchio Trattoria is a long-established Italian restaurant. Soho bar-restaurant is the older sibling to the now-closed one in Westbourne, with a rear seating area facing the town’s ruined castle.

Right: Soho, with the biggest frontage, is hard to miss. Mouse-over photo to see 2nd image: the bbq/picnic style outdoor bench seating at the Thomas Tripp.

 

 

Just along from Soho, Cheese & Alfies is a family-friendly place which describes itself as a quirky café bistro; Splinters is a fine-dining restaurant, though it also has a few tables out front, cafe-style. On the corner where vehicle traffic must turn W, is James and White Bar & Kitchen, a sister restaurant to the better-known Reef Encounter near Boscombe Pier, with a larger area of outside café tables.

Right: Lunch x 2: Soup, scrambled eggs and pancakes at Cheese & Alfies and (mouse-over photo to see 2nd image) a full English breakfast brunch made with local produce, and a salmon, egg and avocado dish at James and White Bar & Kitchen.

 
 

 

The main street ends with the final cobbled pedestrian lane at the Priory Gates, as the Priory was the most important building in town, after which it was renamed. It is one of the few large churches to have survived the English Reformation under Henry VIII, the local clerics convincing the king to let it survive as a parish church. (It became England's longest parish church.)

Pedestrians can continue on S through the church grounds to the Town Quay area past the Priory public car park. Just down Quay Rd is a large village-green type area called the Quomps, on the verge of which are a small tearoom with outside seating [Old Mill Tea Rooms], and a large restaurant with open-air seating on its veranda and down the side under an awning, as well as an upstairs lounge bar [The Boathouse].

Right: the Town Quay, which was the town's front gate when the main type of long-distance transport was by boat. Mouse-over photo to see 2nd image, of the footpath leading up the Stour.

  Town Quay

Left: The Quay, facing N, from the start of the 'Quomps' green, by the bandstand, where the summertime 'Stompin' On The Quomps' jazz festival is held. The Boathouse restaurant on Quay Rd is at right. The riverside path up the Stour is just visible, far left.

At water’s edge is a riverside footpath with benches where one can stroll NW up to Wick’s Ferry as far as the Captain’s Club Hotel & Spa restaurant, with riverside terrace.

From Christchurch Quay, small passenger ferry boats go up the Stour to Tuckton Tea Gardens by Tuckton Bridge, downstream back to the Quay and then all the way [a 30 min cruise] to the harbour entrance at Mudeford Sandbank, which has The Beach House Cafe with covered veranda facing the harbour, a sister restaurant to The Boathouse restaurant by the Quay.
To return to town by an alternate route, the Avon riverside path N, known as The Convent Walk, which has benches along the way, begins by the Priory car park, next to Place Mill (restored Anglo-Saxon watermill now used as an art gallery). This quiet walk will take you N again, past the Priory and the castle ruin, towards the Kings Arms Hotel and Town Bridge.   The Convent Walk

 

Right: A rare shot of the lower end of the High Street at the Castle St roundabout taken by Google Streetview, of a moment when - amazingly - there is no traffic.

 

Very much a historic town in its buildings and outlook, the borough has plans to reduce its most unattractive modern feature, the volume of vehicle traffic on the two main cross streets, to better realise the town’s tourism motto, "where time is pleasant". The latest strategic plan for Christchurch is for free wifi, wider pavements and a “heritage triangle” around the so-called Priory Quarter. The idea is to reduce vehicular traffic and encourage pedestrians and cyclists, while “vacant spaces above shops could be used as ‘vibrant’ business hubs for young start up companies.”

 

For those thinking of moving down here to found or relaunch a start-up business in the downtown area, but are unable to find suitable personal accommodation there to accompany this, the Borough does extends NW as far as Hurn Airport and E as far as Highcliffe. However the airport area has little housing, no rail link and a poor bus service. Highcliffe is in theory only a short commuting distance by car or bus along the busy main E-W route, the A337 Lymington/Christchurch Rd. However by rail, the only line E goes inland, the next stop being Hinton Admiral just beyond Highcliffe, which is a fair walking distance inland from the Lymington Rd. Highcliffe, with a distinctly elderly population, is an area of high property prices. Mudeford, nearer on the N side of the harbour-mouth, is slightly less exclusive, though any property with a sea view can command 7-figure prices. Even the beach huts on Mudeford Sandbank, which you can legally sleep in during summer but have no plumbing, routinely sell now for a quarter-million pounds.
For more info about the Mudeford area, see our earlier page on the Avon Valley, here.

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