This was early-ish last Friday morning at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour.
Christchurch Harbour is a natural harbour in the county of Dorset, on the south coast of England named after the nearby town of Christchurch. Two Rivers the Avon and the Stour flow into the Harbour at its northwest corner. The harbour is generally shallow and due to the tidal harmonics in the English Channel has a double high water on each tide. On the north side of the harbour, east of the River Avon are Priory Marsh, and to the east of this Stanpit Marsh, a Local Nature Reserve. To the west side of the harbour are Wick Fields, the southern flank of the harbour being bounded by Hengistbury Head, a prominent coastal headland. The harbour flows into the Christchurch Bay and the English Channel through a narrow channel known locally as The Run, seen here to the right, which rests between Mudeford Quay and Mudeford Spit. Shallow draught boats can enter from this channel and cruise up stream for 2 miles choosing either the River Avon or the River Stour, the Stour leading up as far as Iford Bridge passing Christchurch Quay and Tuckton.
Christchurch Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is a 352 hectare site designated both for its biological and geological interest. It comprises the estuary of the Stour and Avon and the Hengistbury Head peninsula. The varied habitats include saltmarsh, wet meadows, grassland, heath, sand dune, woodland and scrub. The site is of great ornithological interest with some 320 bird species having been recorded by Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group.
The harbour was formed around 7000 years ago when the sea level rose at the end of the last Ice Age. Previously the area which was many miles from the open sea was inhabited by Stone Age hunters. Archaeological finds dating from 12,500 year BP have been made on Hengistbury Head and Flints dating as much as 250,000 years BP have been found in the Bournemouth area. The Bluestones used at Stonehenge may have been transported via the harbour and the River Avon (2550 BCE). It is suggested that there may have been an ancient causeway usable at low water running from Double Dykes on the south shore to Tuttons Well located on the north shore near Stanpit village.
The Harbour became a major trading port around 100BCE, exports included copper, gold, silver and iron and importing luxury goods including wine and glass from which jewellery was manufactured. It is likely that slaves were also exported through the harbour. The boats used at this time were shallow draft, oak-planked with square leather sails for propulsion. It would have been a twelve-hour passage across the channel to Cherbourg and without any modern compasses or much weather forecasting. Despite this there was considerable two way trade with both British and Foreign Ports, it then declined as a result of the Roman invasion of France in 56 BCE. The remains of a Roman ship were discovered in the harbour in 1910. Trade continued until the Roman Invasion of Britain in AD43. During Saxon times the harbour again became one of the most important in Britain as it was easily reached from the continent and boats could enter the harbour and travel up the river Avon all the way to Salisbury, and along the Stour to Wimborne and Blandford Forum.
In 1664 The River Avon Navigation act was passed to again enable vessels to travel as far as Salisbury and reestablish it as a port as in Medieval times.Traffic used the river from 1684 to 1720 with a break whilst repairs were made from 1695 to 1700. The route was finally abandoned in 1730. In 1695 Lord Clarendon made a new entrance in Mudeford Sandbank using the iron stone from Hengistbury to form a training bank, these rocks now called Clarendon Rocks are still in existence, but the new entrance silted up and the channel returned to its original course. During this period and up until the middle of the 19th Century, smuggling was rife in the Harbour (see the Battle of Mudeford).
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