by Enza Ferreri
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Beautiful, exclusive villas and hotels among lush vegetation, an extension of the nearby New Forest: this was my first impression of Bournemouth many years ago, and it still is every time I return.
Bournemouth is a large seaside resort on the English Channel in the county of Dorset (which locals also call Dorsetshire), at the entrance of the West Country. Due to its size, Bournemouth's myriad hotels, restaurants and clubs can cater for every budget and taste, from families to singles, from luxury to inexpensive.
If there is a town that provides for both ends of the hotel market with great variety of accommodation possibilities ranging from splendid hotels to cheap dormitory rooms, that is Bournemouth.
Bournemouth is made up of two parts, the East Cliff and the West Cliff, joined by the town centre, where you can find the Pavilion Theatre and Ballroom, the Bournemouth Pier, the BIC (Bournemouth International Centre), and the Central Gardens, an extensive public park which includes the Pleasure Gardens, above which sometimes you see hot-air balloons flying. Long, sandy beaches run along the foot of the cliffs.
The main roads to travel from one end of the town to the other are, coming from East, the Christchurch Road, Bath Road, Priory Road and West Cliff Road. The last is not directly overlooking the sea but has several short streets leading from it to the road along the edge of the cliff, with lots of hotels, restaurants, shops and bars everywhere, including seafront hotels.
Bournemouth is comprised of extensive, steep and luxuriant wooded valleys between hills, locally called "chines" from the Saxon word "Cinan" for a gap. "Chine" often appears in street names.
The steepness of these valleys is the fortunate reason why, due to the difficulty in constructing buildings there, Bournemouth is interspersed with one lovely natural park after the other.
Night life is big in Bournemouth, with many pubs, bars, restaurants, discos and clubs open until late. Bournemouth is a popular venue for stag and hen parties, and the revellers often crash in the cheap dorms after the night of fun.
At the same time, the place is very family-friendly, and the long sandy beach is very suitable for children.
Beautiful roads on the cliffs with stunning views, parks and gardens everywhere from which you can see the whole bay, bending roads set amidst villas and greenery with a sudden view of the sea, descending to the many beaches: this is Bournemouth.
From the Boscombe Pier - Bournemouth's second pier - East end of town you can access a very long strech of sandy beach just below the cliffs, along a narrow road lined with car park spaces, colourful beach huts, ice cream kiosks, street lamps, public conveniences, before it becomes a pedestrian-only promenade. The entrance for cars to the road and parking facilities is only from the Boscombe end, in the Eastern part of Bournemouth.
Christchurch, twinned with its New Zealand namesake, is an elegant harbour town adjoined to Bournemouth on the East side, and the entrance to Bournemouth from the New Forest end. Bournemouth Airport, an international airport, is within the Christchurch borough.
Christchurch is a historic town, much older than Bournemouth which developed only in the 19th century when it grew as one of the new Victorian seaside resorts.
Christchurch was founded in the 7th century and its 11th century church, The Priory, Grade I listed, was built on the site of an earlier church mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Christchurch is tucked in just behind its harbour and bay, with many stylish hotels and upmarket spas.
Near Christchurch, visit Highcliffe Castle, which is not a castle but a 19th-century mansion with a delightful garden, now a Grade I listed building.
Adjoined to Bournemouth on the opposite, West side is Poole, built around its harbour.
In Poole is the Sandbanks Peninsula, home to the most expensive properties in the UK.
Sandbanks is a long, narrow and flat promontory, the final part of Poole jutting into the sea between the harbour and the bay, a succession - only interrupted by rock gardens - of houses, mansions and villas on the edge of the water on both sides, in contemporary architecture styles with big windows, glass walls, round towers, canapeed terraces, green-, beige- and blue-tinted glass balcony guards, gated lawns, and boats moored in front of them on the other side of the road in the placid harbour waters.
In Sandbanks is the terminal for the ferry to the Studland Peninsula and its beaches, past the Brownsea Island in the middle of Poole natural harbour.
In the Studland Bay it's interesting to see the Old Harry Rocks, two chalk sea stacks, vertical columns of rock that, having resisted erosion, have been isolated by the sea from the headland of which they were originally part. The Old Harry Rocks are reminiscent of The Needles in the Isle of Wight, also sea stacks. The Faraglioni in the Italian island of Capri are a famous example of sea stacks, on a much bigger scale.
A pleasant day trip from Bournemouth is to Swanage, on the next bay going West. You can reach Swanage either by the ferry from Sandbanks to Studland followed by a short drive or by the road circling Poole Harbour via Poole and Wareham.
Swanage is a pretty seaside place, a family resort with a long sandy beach all around its bay and a short pier.
Swanage and the Studland area are on the Isle of Purbeck, a rather large peninsula between Poole Harbour in the North and the English Channel in the South. From here Purbeck stone has been extracted for centuries and used to decorate many English cathedrals. Purbeck and Portland stone, the latter from another area of Dorset, were employed to rebuild a great part of the city after the Great Fire of London of 1666.
Few minutes' drive from Swanage on the A351 there is Corfe Castle, an impressive ruined fortress towering over the village by the same name from a steep hilltop.
From Corfe Castle going North back towards Bournemouth you encounter many wooded areas, parks and a National Nature Reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also housing peacocks. This region, like the rest of the Studland Peninsula and much of the Isle of Purbeck, is generally wooded, with many walks and coast paths.
When you drive be careful about pheasants: they are everywhere in woodland areas particularly in the spring.
Travelling East from Bournemouth along the coast, past Christchurch, you see views of the Isle of Wight from everywhere, on a clear day from as far back as the Studland Peninsula.
View of Southampton Water from Calshot Spit
Shortly after Christchurch you enter the county of Hampshire, where you'll find Lymington, an attractive town with a harbour on the estuary of the river by the same name, where the New Forest reaches the Solent shore.
There are pedestrian and vehicle ferries to the Isle of Wight from Portsmouth, Southampton, Lymington, and hovercrafts only for pedestrians from Portsmouth to Ryde.
Calshot Castle, where the Solent meets Southampton Water, is a recommended site to visit on a nice day. The view is spectacular, the small fortress overlooking the wide waterway constantly sailed by ferries and ships.
In the early 20th century Calshot Spit was an important Royal Air Force base, founded as Calshot Naval Air Station in 1913 and developed near Calshot Castle for the same strategic reasons that the castle was built here by Henry VIII in 1539, i.e. the location is surrounded and protected by land on all sides, three sides by the land around Southampton Water and the fourth side by the Isle of Wight.
After 1918 when the RAF was formed, Calshot, now renamed RAF Calshot, became a station for the testing of seaplanes and flying boats and a training base for pilots, and during the war for Coastal Reconnaissance and Channel defence. During and after World War II RAF Calshot was used for repair, maintenance and modification of RAF flying boats and also marine craft as well as training air and marine crews, until it was closed in 1961.
The hangars now house the Calshot Activities Centre, whose indoor facilities include artificial dry ski slopes, a velodrome and climbing walls. It offers training in several outdoor water and land sports.
In 1929 and 1931 the Schneider Trophy, an international air race for seaplanes, was held here in Calshot over the Solent. During the Schneider races, held from 1913 to 1931 at various venues in Italy, Monaco, the UK and the USA, a number of air-speed records were broken. The Schneider races are also important because the designs of the British Spitfire, the Italian Macchi C.202 Folgore and the American P-51 Mustang evolved from them.
The difference between a flying boat and a seaplane is that the former has a fuselage in the shape of a boat which lands on the water, whereas the seaplane is normally a land plane which, instead of wheels, has two floats to land on the water.
Finally, going inland East of Bournemouth, you'll meet the New Forest, great for picnics and walks. Admire the ponies and enjoy the delicious ice cream.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian web author living in London, and former journalist.
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