Friday, June 5, 2009

Hengistbury Head, Dorset, England

Hengistbury Head, Dorset

A longtime favorite place for our family to go walking is Hengistbury Head that is a scenic and historic headland jutting into the English Channel between Bournemouth and Christchurch in the English county of Dorset. 
 At the end is a spit, which creates the narrow entrance to Christchurch Harbor.

Hengistbury Head has many different habitats, a wide variety of wildlife and rare plant species. It is also a site of significant archaeological importance. For many years it has been a site of scientific interest and a major tourist attraction.

Each year it attracts visitors from all over the world. There is a carpet of golden heather or gorse. The bracken is a really beautiful, low, densely branched shrubs with spiny leaves and fragrant yellow blossoms.

The known history goes back thousands of years. The region was originally named Hynesbury Head. However during the Iron Age it was renamed Hengistbury Head after the Jutish king Hengest. The first truly urban settlement in Britain seems to have been at Hengistbury Head. This site had been inhabited intermittently for over one hundred thousand years, with visits made initially by occasional nomads. 

Just look at these gorgeous blooms on the gorse bushes. As we walk they can be seen near and far.  Hengistbury Head was Britain's first town, both in terms of its early date, and also in terms of the town's growth being due to the channel opening up and creating the island that we now call Britain. 

Here is my sister's dog, Pebbles, who discovered this six foot long branch and just would not put it down. She wanted us to throw it for her so that she could play 'fetch it'. The branch was quite heavy to throw and I was incredulous that she was running around with it in her mouth as if it were a bone. When we were ready to go home she eventually was very reluctant about leaving her new treasure behind.

As we stroll in this beautiful area it is hard to realize that Hengistbury Head reached its peak as a town when occupied by Celtic people from around 700BC. Around this time the sea had advanced, creating a headland. 
This area was also a manufacturing center, since the rocks in the area were rich in iron, which marked a crucial milestone in the economic history of Britain.

The Head remains a beautiful wilderness that is being rapidly lost to the sea. Since its days as a great port half the area has been lost to erosion. 

A visit here is all about appreciating the natural beauty of the landscape and reflecting on the passing of a once bustling centre of activity. 

View of the Isle of Wight from Hengistbury Head

For those who enjoy history there are several storyboards indicating that it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The history of the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age is recorded. They tell about the wildlife on Hengistbury Head, including Galloway Cattle, the wood mouse, the skylark and the meadow pipit, but they also tell us about how people lived and hunted on Hengisbury Head and Warren Point between 12,500 years ago and 4,000 years ago during the Stone Age, which is really fascinating. 

Medieval era:

The area was not substantially reoccupied until Alfred the Great decided to rebuild the harbor as a defense against raiders. He built the town that later became Christchurch, on the north side of the harbor.

A walk at Hengistbury Head always conjures up childhood memories for me. Running and  flying kites here.  One of the things that I enjoy when I return home to England is that there is so much documented history. At this location  there is evidence of intermittent human habitation stretching back over 100,000 years.

Now that is really something to think about :-)

Photos by peacesojourner

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great photos! I did a post on Hengistbury Head a while ago, it's one of my favourite places on this planet. Maggie