Christchurch

It is certainly worth visiting for its attractive riparian scenery and historic buildings, the most notable of which is its medieval church, Christchurch Priory.

Although a close neighbour, the delightful, historic town of Christchurch, on the rivers Stour and Avon, is a world away from the bustle and modernity of Bournemouth. It is certainly worth visiting for its attractive riparian scenery and historic buildings, the most notable of which is its medieval church, Christchurch Priory.

Christchurch straddles the River Avon © geoff, Shutterstock

Christchurch town centre is a pleasing blend of Georgian and older buildings, such as the delightfully wonky, thatched 13th-century building at 11 Church St. It is distinguishable by its medieval timber frame and thatched roof.

On the other side of the road is Ducking Stool Walk, which leads along the river to a replica ducking stool, installed in 1986. Records show that the ducking stool was used in Christchurch from at least the mid 14th century. It was a humiliating punishment largely reserved for scolds (women accused of verbal abuse or other anti-social behaviour). The last recorded use of a ducking stool in England is 1809.

The priory lies in a park-like area on the River Avon and the town’s key historic features are conveniently clustered around it. Christchurch’s bowling green must surely have the best outlook of any of its kind, for it stands next to the ruins of Christchurch Castle, probably built by the Normans around 1100 to protect the town’s river access. The castle was taken by Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War and when hostilities ended Cromwell had it torn down, leaving it in the ruined state in which it remains.

Christchurch Priory is the town’s most important building © Alexandra Richards

Steps lead to the top of the motte on which the castle was built and it is worth the short climb to see the remaining stonework and for the views over the town. Within the castle precinct beside the river are the roofless remains of Constable’s House, a 12th-century chamber block with a rare surviving Norman chimney.

From here you can walk along the mill stream (Convent Walk) past the priory and onwards to the point where the stream meets the River Stour, near Place Mill. In the Priory Gardens is a handsome mausoleum for a Mrs Perkins, who died in 1783. She reportedly had a horror of being buried alive and so asked that she be laid to rest in the mausoleum at the entrance to the school so she could be heard if she revived. She left instructions that the coffin should not be sealed and she should be able to unlock the door of the mausoleum from the inside. Her wishes were carried out but when her husband died in 1803, her body was removed, the mausoleum sold and re-erected here.

A sculpture by Jonathan Sells in the gardens has a humorous take on the history of the priory; the images include one monk climbing on the shoulders of another to feed birds. It was erected in 1994 to commemorate the priory’s 900th anniversary.