Christchurch Harbour SUP
Christchurch Harbour is an ideal location for a distance SUP – shallow, sandy and safe for 4.5 miles with plenty of wildlife on tap.
≈ Quick Facts:
- Launch point: Mudeford Quay
- What is the distance: 4.5 miles
- How long does it take: 1.5 hours
- Shelter from wind: Leeward side of Hengistbury Head
- Best wind direction: South Easterly
- Best tide: High slack tide or neaps
- Pay to park: Yes
- Parking distance: 5 seconds walk
- Do you pay to launch: No
- SUP rental: Yes – Shore Sports
- Wildlife: Sea bird sanctuary & Ponies
- Eat & Drink: Yes
- Toilets: Yes
- Hazards: Spring tide at Mudeford channel
Where to park & launch a SUP in Christchurch Harbour?
Follow the Mudeford road until you almost reach the end and take the right at the large brown sign pointing towards Mudeford Quay (396 spaces). Parking is very expensive here, but in my view totally worth it because it has the best and nearest direct access to Christchurch Harbour anywhere, only a few seconds walk with your SUP across a grassy recreation area. It’s also a great spot for SUP widows to sit sunning their selves while you go out to play.
It’s recommended that on a sunny weekend to get parked up before 10am as the whole world seems to descend on this spot! There is a public toilet in the small cluster of buildings situated at the end of the road on the quay. Not a long walk if you’re parked up at the other end. There is also a half decent cafe located on the Quay if you’re craving caffeine, it opens at 10am so no good for early birds. There is plenty of water access for launching a SUP; a slipway, a small shelving beach or alternatively you can just hop off the 2 foot seawall that runs along the toast rack section of the car park. You can rent a SUP from Shore Sports, who rock up with a huge van full of toys to play with and park right by the slipway.
What’s there to see when you SUP Christchurch Harbour?
There are many points of interest on the SUP around Christchurch Harbour. I’ll describe the following route paddling anticlockwise (the direction to paddle in a light South Easterly). This SUP can take anything from 1.5 hours to 3 hours depending on how often you want to stop. The entire circular route is only ankle to hip deep and the bottom is a soft sandy mud, I never wear shoes as generally there are no sharp stones or shells to injure you when you jump off your board. When you first launch your paddleboard from Mudeford, it can be very shallow for a few 100 meters, you might have to wade out a bit before you can jump on board, it’s not stony, so perfectly safe to walk barefoot.
Then you will paddle alongside a variety of harbour side houses on your right until you reach the first interesting spot to take a gander at, the recently refurbished Christchurch Hotel. This hotel sits right on the water’s edge, they even have their own pontoon here where they launch canoes and the odd SUP. This place is an excellent option if you want to drink a coffee while enjoying views over the harbour, doesn’t get much better! Not sure if they will allow you to tie off your SUP and walk up from the water though, might be a little too posh for that!
From this point on you have a good half a mile of waterside properties to oggle at. Surprisingly few of them of a contemporary design, which is pretty much the standard at Poole Harbour, they are more old English style here, a bit rough around the edges. You’ll eventually arrive at the tiny Mudeford Sailing Club, which is dingy/kids central. You can drive down to the club via Coastguard way if you want.
From this point you will see a random, narrow sandbar to your left located out in the middle of the harbour. It’s OK to SUP out to it, but under no circumstances are you permitted to land on it. This elongated piece of sand is protected as a “Bird Feeding” area, you’ll see buoys dotted all around the edge of the sandbar warning you to keep off or you’ll be shot on sight! Not sure why really, I only ever see seagulls and cormorants on there, neither are protected or rare.
Once you’ve done the sand bar circuit, then head back to the little yacht club and continue on along the coastline. Nearly every property has an old windsurf board or SUP lying in the garden, most look like they haven’t been used for years! Looks idyllic to me, love the idea of literally falling in to the water from the bottom of your garden and have a cheeky SUP before work.
You hang a left once you arrive at the end of the waterfront houses, approximately a mile from Mudeford Quay. The landscape changes dramatically to open marshland known as Stanpit Marsh. You’ll find dozens of swans dotted along the shore, bunnies hopping about and the coolest ponies! Give the swans a wide berth mid May to mid July, they are fiercely protective of their new-born cygnets!
You will also have your first clear views across to Christchurch Priory about 1 mile across the marshes from this spot. Continue to paddle along the edge of Stanpit Marsh until you arrive at a finger of land that juts out in to Christchurch Harbour. It’s quite common to see a gaggle of the Stanpit ponies hanging out here, it’s the only place I’ve ever paddle boarded alongside wild ponies roaming the beach, very cool! They are very placid, totally comfortable with being stroked or posing for the camera.
This is the first opportunity paddling anticlockwise where you can stop for a breather. With a small beach to sit on, it is an excellent spot to take in the stunning 360 degree views around Christchurch Harbour. Once you’ve manage to tear yourself away from Stanpit to continue the circuit, you will need to cross over the boat channel that heads up to Christchurch Quay. This isn’t a scary proposition at all, the boat traffic is generally quite light, and moves pretty slow. The channel is also very narrow, so will only take a few seconds to cross. Look left and right, wait for a decent gap and go for it. Easy peasy! Once you have crossed, you will notice a random solitary tree growing out of the sea! Worth a SUP around to just wonder how on earth it manages to grow in those conditions, it’s definitely alive, I saw new growth on it when I was last there! Very weird!
You are then paddleboarding towards Hengistbury head, a large headland popular with walkers. It enjoys panoramic views from Bournemouth right round to Christchurch Harbour. You will eventually arrive at the foot of Hengistbury where you’ll find a narrow, stony beach that runs the full length of Hengistbury, often used by dog walkers heading up to the Mudeford beach huts.
This stretch of water is like glass in a South Easterly, you are totally sheltered here by the high land of Hengistbury. This beach is your second opportunity to stop for a rest and take in the views. From here it’s roughly a mile paddle boarding alongside the beach, not much to see really, just very lush vegetation at the foot of Hengistbury. Next stop the famous Mudeford beach huts. These huts, well sheds really, sell for £200k a pop! There is about 100 huts, so to buy the lot you would need to shell out at mind-blowing £20,000,000.00 big ones!! Helloo, they’re sheds! Obscene! This is also your third good opportunity to stop for a beach break.
From here you SUP past the long line of randomly styled huts overlooking the beach, until you reach the half way point. Here you will need to do a shimmy around a ferry pontoon which is the drop off point for people constantly being carted over from Mudeford and Christchurch mainland. On the other side of the ferry terminal is the beginning of the boat channel that runs parallel to the beach huts. This leads boat goers through to the Mudeford Channel, and out in to the open ocean. It is advisable to avoid the channel as there will be a constant stream of boats heading in both directions, can get a bit hectic!
Better to skirt along the edge of the channel weaving your way through the anchored boats. A word of warning about the Mudeford channel, it has a ferociously strong current on an incoming /outgoing Spring tide as the entire ocean is trying to force its way through a very small gap. I would keep well away from this area, unless you want to get sucked out to France! Once you have passed the channel area you are immediately paddling past Mudeford quay, where on a sunny day you’ll see loads of people sat dangling their feet over the edge, kids crabbing, people eating ice creams while watching the tooing and frowing of the boat traffic.
After this you will then pass the small RNLI ramp which is where finally the car park will come back in to view, easy to spot by the constant stream of kayakers and windsurfers coming and going. You might also see your other half marching up and down the beach shouting “you promised me that you would only be gone an hour!” Gulp!