In a backpacking sense, as ridiculous as it sounds, England is unexplored and under covered by travel writers and bloggers the world over. Sure, every person and their dog has been to Stonehenge, Trafy’s Q, Old Trafford and Buckingham Palace etcetera but we know about them. There’s beauty in pretty England in the least likely places. Unmoved by the fact that New Zealand copyist Christchurch takes the headlines and houses more people, the sun shines on the charming English town of the same name. This is the original spot which thankfully holds equal charm as it did 1000 years ago. At a time when New Zealand’s Christy C (we’re back to my shortened nicknames again) hadn’t even been born.
Getting to Christy C
It’s an easy one my friends. Frequent cheap and reliable buses run all day and evening from Christchurch’s bigger Dorset brother. So much so that the iconic town of Bournemouth houses Christy C on its regular Yellow Buses network, Bournemouth itself swallowing Christchurch and Tuckton into her exaggerated suburbs. So you can find a home in sunny sunny Bournemouth and bung wee Christchurch into a day trip with ease. Of course there are hotels in Christchurch too but as the lights dim, this sleepy town’ s charm remains firmly in daylight hours.
By train, National Rail and government British Rail services passed England by during the years that Maggie Thatcher ruled this land. No harm done and you can jump on a South Western Train direct to Christchurch train station. Once you’re here you can walk your way around the main sights with ease and relaxation and these are the main things to check out when you’re in town.
1. Christchurch Priory
The prominent and lasting image of Christchurch’s skyline tends to be this church – Christchurch Priory. With a graveyard dating back centuries, a church so big it should be a Cathedral and pretty gardens all around, this is a top spot to get your fix of English religion. You are welcome to go inside during services. Be discreet if you’re taking photos and if you want, stop by in the cosy tea shop. Contributions are welcome – the church is well maintained.
2. Christchurch Town Quay
In the summer months, the town quay and harbour front is a swarm of activity. When the crowds slow down, the leisurely pace of the harbour front attracts students, dog walkers and keen boatsmen. Activities on offer include boat trips on the river, fishing and kayaking.
Swans and ducks swim in the waters and kids love it.
3. Christchurch Place Mill
It’s a tradition in English towns with rivers for there to be an old mill. Christchurch Place Mill down by the harbour was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, as being the property of the canons of the Holy Trinity Church. The Mill has medieval stonework as well as Tudor and 18th century brickwork and was using for corn grinding and cleaning/thickening cloth right up until 1908. Most days it will be open and you can get inside.
As a bonus there was a spontaneous art gallery inside the Mill during my visit.
4. The Great Tower
Christchurch boasts a medieval history and the evidence is clear to see. The Great Tower ruins are still here. They sit on top of a hill and are part of a large Norman Castle which once dominated this town.
The first castle dates back to 1107, incredible. The Great Tower has been attacked and parts of it destroyed over the years, but generally it looks great and also serves as a vantage point over the town.
5. Christchurch Castle and Norman House
As well as the Great Tower, you should check out the Castle and overall complex. In fact, on a personal level these ruins are the highlight of the visit. The local council know it too and they good care of the ruins, information boards also fill you in on the history of the place. You’ll find out that the settlement was really called Twynham.
6. Mini (Crazy) Golf
I was backpacking in Christchurch with my good mate Austin and we love a bit of “crazy” golf. For £3 (a bargain in non-medieval England) you can get a round of 12 holes in to beat your mates.
We all know the Northern Irish are good at golf these days (Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke) and I sunk my putts to perfection to beat Austin. The mini golf is down by the Quay.
As my mate Austin said “I’ve locked Jonny up, off down the pub now”. In fact looking at the picture, it seems as if I was on the toilet! Kids can get their hands cuffed for fun.
8. The Railway Tavern
There are a few pubs in Christchurch though nothing on its Dorset neighbours Poole and Bournemouth. The Railway Tavern makes a decent stop for a beer as it’s next to the train station and also has a bus stop outside it.
9. Christchurch Town Hall
All English towns have a town hall and Christchurch has one on the main street. While not as prominent as it could be, it does have a small and pretty square there too. Typical local shops and cafes give this town a less commercial feel than nearby Bournemouth.
10. New Zealand Gardens
On the edge of the town centre, there is proof that they recognise their twin town, Christchurch in New Zealand. In fact, the New Zealand one is a city not a town. There is a nice garden area to walk around and the sign of the town’s entrance also includes Christchurch on it.
So when you’re backpacking in England, try and get to some more obscure spots like Christy C and you will be surprised. This is a great place to chill out. One thing to mention though – there are a lot of retirees here – the elderly flock here to relax in their later years and life does seem like it has slowed down to a halt at times. This may not be a bad thing…
My videos from Christchurch, Dorset, England: