English Cities Flickr.com/Iain A Wanless
My ancestors met at a dance during the Second World War in Bournemouth; a resplendent man in his military uniform caught the eye of a local British nurse. Soon afterwards they immigrated to Sunny South Africa, never to return
English Cities Flickr.com/Iain A Wanless
Work and an extended holiday has brought me to Bournemouth on this grey and rainy Monday morning. Bournemouth is a pretty seaside town, and there is an abundance of free and affordable entertainment on hand if the weather is good, otherwise it can be a bit gloomy.
Like most places in the UK, Bournemouth is steeped in history. Around 1800 it was largely a remote, desolated place, used by smugglers (to offload their hoard of spirits, tea and tobacco on the deserted beach), fishermen, tuff cutters and the likes.
‘Bourne Heath’ was known as Wallis Down in the North and Little Down to the South. The East was part of the Great Heath of Central Dorset.
To the East is Christchurch, West is Poole and North East is the river Stour. The area now called Bournemouth Central and Pier Approach was ‘Bourne Mouth’ – the river of the Bourne Stream.
In 1841 a physician called Augustus Bozzi Granville put Bournemouth on the map. In a book he mentioned the town as a good place to visit in order to cure health problems, such as chest complaints, which prompted affluent visitors and invalids to the area in search of the curative properties of good sea air.
During World War 2, Bournemouth was considered to be a safe area, children were evacuated here, mainly from Southampton. The area did receive its fair share of bombing though, and Poole harbour was an important departure point for ships participating in the D.Day Landings.
Since the last world war, Bournemouth went out of fashion as a seaside holiday town, but happily tourism has increased and is on the rise.
Bournemouth is blessed with a spectacular beach of miles of golden sand, and not a jelly fish in sight. When the sun came out, I spotted some brave souls swimming in the sea, kids playing football and frisbee, walkers, and a lone man with a metal detector trying to discover hidden treasures.
Then there is the pier that you can walk along with a restaurant at the end. I spend evenings lazily people watching and gazing out to sea. An added attraction is Rock Reef which offers a zip line from the pier to the shore. Other activities include rock climbing, and an obstacle course.
Near the Pier is a Rock shop which sells sticks of confectionery at £1.50 in all sorts of flavours: chilli, popcorn, fizzy cola and the usual mint with Bournemouth lettering running through the middle. These make an affordable gift for friends and colleagues back in London.
Over the weekends the pier is a hive of free entertainment. I was lucky enough to be entertained by a brass band consisting of high school children from Oslo. They had a great sound and thumped out tunes like “Hip to be square”, “Birdland” and “In the mood”. Brass bands seemed to be the order of the day, as in the morning as I was venturing through the Lower Gardens, a brass band was practising, this time with smaller children. The Gardens have a stunning display of trees, shrubs and flowers with a meandering canal that runs through it, filled with birds and wildfowl. Once the brass band had played a sad Elvis Presley number, they immediately erupted into an African rhythm, which prompted a family to dance energetically in front of the bandstand much to the amusement of onlookers.
The gardens offer a crazy golf course and hot air balloon ride that gives a panoramic view of the town, or alternatively, one can sit on the veranda of the Terrace Restaurant and have a cream tea or cheese platter and marvel at the garden view. Next door is the Pavilion, which offers dance classes, from yoga, street dance to African moves for the very young to the oaps (older and perfect).
It is possible to hire a bike and cycle round the town or, for the less energetic, there is a city sightseeing bus.
I have a big interest in art, and I spotted a memorial wall of colourful tiles, created by local school children, to commemorate lives lost to AIDS. Every tile represents a person, and there are over 400 tiles in the installation.
It started to rain so I ducked into the Oceanarium, which was pricey, adult ticket (£9.50) and a bit disappointing, apart from the African dwarf crocodiles and the small otters.
The land train leaves from the pier (and costs £5 a head) and takes you along the coast. From different vantage points it is possible to take the ferry over to Brownsea Island.
Brownsea Island is owned by the National Trust and consists of woodland, heathland and a lagoon. It’s noted for its wildlife, particularly the rare red squirrel and birds such as the kingfisher, sandwich terns and oyster catchers. The island offers a great variety of entertainment from walks, art, plays and discovery opportunities for the whole family.
Bournemouth Pier to Pier Swim: 12 July
Beer and Bluegrass: 24 July – 25 July
On Stage at Pier Approach: 24 July – 10 August
Friday Family Fireworks: 31 July 7, 14, 21 & 28 August
Thai Summer Fair: 2 Aug
Kids Fun Festival: 3 – 16 Aug
Bournemouth is very accessible from London; I caught the 8:05 am train from London Waterloo and was in Bournemouth by 10:00am. I saved money by buying two single rail tickets – the fare cost £24.20 one way and £16.80 return. The railways offer deal for families via friends and family tickets and network rail cards.
Photos by Moira Rowan
Top photo by Flickr.com/Iain A Wanless