What better way to spend a hot, sunny day than at the seaside. Bournemouth is one of England’s premier seaside resorts being located on Dorset’s south coast. Leaving our car on the East Cliff we walked down the steep incline towards the pier.
Overlooking the English Channel we stepped into the gardens of the Russell Cotes Museum, a beautiful cliff top villa built in 1910 and filled with works of art and expensive souvenirs of the family’s overseas travels. The gardens are an oasis of calm yet steps away from the throngs of sun lovers on the beach.
Continuing down the hill it was apparent that almost every inch of beach was occupied, there being a colourful mix of parasols, windbreaks and deck chairs as far as the eye could see. At Pier Approach we found children cooling down in the water fountains whilst adults sipped cool drinks on the cafe terraces.
Deciding to have a drink later, we made our way along the lower promenade passing West Beach, an upscale restaurant with beach terrace, an amusement arcade and beach huts in every colour of the rainbow. Some of Bournemouth’s Victorian style beach huts are available to rent by the day or week whilst others are on long term leases. The huts seem so small but owners have clever space saving ideas and it was fun to glance in and see how they had used the space as we strolled along. I don’t think it’s being nosey as the owners are proud of their achievements and expect people to look in (if they were wanting privacy, I doubt they would have selected Bournemouth beach and would instead have opted for a more secluded spot away from the crowds).
Another new beach cafe had opened at Durley Chine as well as existing cafe bars further along at Alum Chine. Here, we left the promenade and walked uphill along the shady chine path. Chines are only found in Dorset, Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight and consist of a deep sided river valley where a river flows through coastal cliffs to the sea. They are caused due to the soft eroding cliffs formed from sandstone or clay, Bournemouth has four chines and Alum Chine is the largest. The walk to the top of the chine took approximately 20 minutes where we found a tropical garden perched on the edge of the cliffs together with a bowling green at the very top in the Argyll Gardens.
Continuing our walk along the cliff top towards the pier we could see the Isle of Wight in the distance. The pier was opened in August 1880 at a cost of £2,600, its original length was 838 feet and it was then extended both in 1894 and 1909 to its present length of 1,000 feet. Admission to the pier is free during the winter months but a small charge is made during the summer season. It’s pleasant to stroll along the pier and look back at the sweeping bay with its cliff tops beyond. There are lots of benches to sit on and enjoy the view, and there’s also a large cafe and a children’s funfair at the very end of the pier. In recent years a zip wire ride across to the beach has been operating and what used to be the pier theatre is now an indoor activity centre called ‘Rock Reef’. It was sad when the pier theatre closed as it attracted large audiences with high quality summer variety shows and plays.
From Pier Approach we turned inland strolling through the attractive Lower Gardens which link the beach with the town centre. The floral displays in the park are always very colourful and the town has won several awards in the Britain in Bloom competition for its displays.
The town centre shops lead up the hills in both directions as you leave the park with the usual collection of high street names. Westover Road which overlooks the park has some galleries and independent retailers. Leading off from here is a very attractive Victorian arcade with some inviting shops including a branch of the bookstore Waterstones.
A little more browsing around the shops followed then it was time to walk back up the steep hill to the East Cliff where we had left our car and started off from. I’d recommend Bournemouth for a day at the seaside or a short break, it has plenty to offer and would make an ideal base for exploring Dorset and the nearby New Forest in Hampshire.
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