Saturday, September 5th 2009
I was happy to peek around the curtain and see sunshine. A good omen for the start of our trip. When we left the house at 8:15, there was a slight autumn chill on the air but by the time we reached Waterloo, this had gone and the day was warm and sunny.
At Angel we waited for “the bus that never comes”, the 341. This takes us straight to Waterloo without any changes but we often have to wait so long for it to appear that we end up taking another bus and changing. With our baggage to haul, we preferred to wait for the 341 and it turned up fairly soon—another good omen.
We have open tickets and can travel on any train to our destination, Bournemouth. Reaching Waterloo by 8:45, we had time to buy coffee and baguettes before boarding the 9:05 Weymouth train.
We find ourselves once more at the mercy of South West Trains, the company the provides no space for luggage but expects you to keep seats and corridors free. You are supposed to put your cases, no matter how heavy, on the overhead racks where they constitute an obvious danger to passengers, not least when they are being hurriedly taken down on arrival at stations.
The train was fairly full by the time we left London and the numbers boarding at Clapham junction left people standing. Tough luck for anyone travelling all the way to Weymouth.
I have noticed before that train companies often to start to run shorter trains in September despite the fact that a lot of people are still travelling. It is the triumph of accountancy over the convenience of the travelling public who, after all, provide the money to run the service and therefore deserve to be better treated. Privatising the railway system always was a bad idea, having more to do with government greed for a quick profit than any sensible plan for an improvement of the service.
Outside the window is a superb panorama with blue skies and tumbled masses of white cloud over a countryside sparkling in every imaginable shade of green, flat fields with a hazy background of hills. A heart-lifting start to our trip.
We reached Bournemouth about 11am and decided to take a cab to the hotel which is in Westbourne. Just as well, because it was further than it looked on the map. The hotel is adequate but we are in the roof with sloping walls. I have banged my head twice already and this no doubt sets the pattern for the stay.
Guess what we did first. Yes, that’s right: we made tea. And planned our next move. The sky has clouded over somewhat but the sun is still shining so far. Let’s hope it stays that way.
We walked into Westbourne where we found this rather nice arcade, and had lunch at Zoukini’s vegetarian and vegan cafe. It was very pleasant and we have “bookmarked” it for future reference.
After lunch we took the bus to Christchurch. This is quite a pretty town and we went down to the Quay and enjoyed a view of the Stour, the moorings and the coming and going of water craft. There were waterfowl, of course, particularly swans and ducks. People came and fed them so there was plenty of action, We sat on a bench where we were surrounded by swans who showed no fear of humans or any hostility to them.
Walking back to the centre, we spied the Tea Cozy Tearoom and ordered a cream tea. We explored a little further, making a mental note to return for another visit and then took a bus towards Bournemouth though we got off at Boscombe.
Unfortunately, the weather had changed and instead of sunshine we had grey skies with occasional light showers while a gusty wind lowered the temperature although we could see the sun shining further along the coast. Despite the wind and the threat of rain we took a chance and walked along the beach road to Bournemouth. This took a while and we would have stopped for tea or coffee but unsurprisingly everything was closed.
On reaching the pier, we walked through the park and stopped for hot drinks at a kiosk. We then continued up through the park and the aviary (redundantly labelled “Bird Aviary”—can there be any other kind of aviary?) up to the buses. Within minutes a 24 arrived which took us to Alum Chine and our hotel.
Even though it was only around 8pm, we have returned to the hotel and climbed the 36 steps to our room with sloping walls. We have made tea and as I write these words, Tigger is already asleep.
Sunday, September 6th 2009
The sky is covered with a marbled pattern of clouds with blue in between. It is not sunny but so far does not look like rain.
In this hotel you do not need an alarm clock. In operation, the shower makes a loud noise like an old vaccum cleaner and this resounds through the partition walls so that everyone can hear it. The first resident to shower awakes everyone else.
As usual, we will get ready to go out and take our coats and bags down to breakfast rather than return to the room. Breakfast is from 8am to 9am and we have been promised vegetarian fare.
On the way to the bus stop, we saw a sign indicating the way to Penn Hill, scene of recent adventures. That and the name Branksome, through which we passed on the bus, show how small the world sometimes is.
The bus took us to Poole where we changed to the number 40 for Swanage. The journey took us through some pretty countryside with spectacular views of Corfe Castle.
In Swanage we had lunch in Beavers Bistro and went up into Prince Albert Park which is a lovely green space in which to relax and enjoy views of the bay. We accordingly spent some time there, “grass surfing”.
When we came down from the park, we stopped for refreshments at the East Bar before taking the 50 bus to Bournemouth. What is special about this route is that the bus goes onto the chain ferry to cross from Studland to Sandbanks. This is quite fun to do, especially if you travel on the open upper deck of the bus.
At this time of year there are long queues of vehicles waiting to cross and one of the benefits of travelling by bus is that the bus doesn’t wait but goes straight to the head of the queue!
Back in Bournemouth, we looked for supper. In the end we settled for pizza at Pizza Express and then took a stroll around Bournemouth as the sun set and the lights came on.
Then we went to the stop to catch the 24 back to the hotel and our bedroom with the sloping walls.
Monday, September 7th 2009
Today is my birthday. The weather has responded by being overcast and damp. After breakfast we took the 24 into Bournemouth. In view of the weather, a town visit seemed indicated so when the Salisbury bus appeared we boarded it.
The road to Salisbury is quite pretty, with countryside and picturesque villages and hamlets, and thatched cottages. At Salisbury we took a few preliminary photos and then stopped for coffee at Caffè Nero.
In honour of my birthday, I have bought myself a silver bracelet. Tigger bought me a new purse as my old one, bought in Cork, needs a clean.
For lunch we have come to Café Monde on Market Square.
After looking around Salisbury, we took the Bournemouth bus but with the intention of bunny hopping on the way back. Our first stop was at Fordingbridge. What can I say about this? It might once have been a charming small town, with the bridge that no doubt gives it its name, but today the constant roar of through traffic and the consequent difficulty of crossing the streets turns the place into a disaster. You would not have to put up with more noise in the centre of London from cars and heavy vehicles thundering through. I soon lost interest in the place and looked forward to boarding the bus again.
The bus eventually came and our departure from Fordingbridge felt like an escape. Our next stop was at Ringwood. The traffic was not as bad here but, on the other hand, we saw little to engage our interest, though we did stop for coffee and cake at Reeves bakery. Then we fell back in good order to the bus stop to await the X3 once more.
On the way back to Bournemouth, we discussed what to do. It was around 5pm and therefore rather early to have supper or to go back to the hotel. On the other hand, the weather was dull with light rain, not conducive to exploring on foot.
We decided to take a bus ride and boarded the M2 to Poole, but on arriving there we felt disinclined to wander around looking for food. Poole is not our favourite town. So we got straight onto the bus back to Bournemouth, or “Bomo”, as Tigger calls it.
We missed out on an Indian meal yesterday so we were that much keener to have one today. We disembarked in Westbourne and undertook a survey of Indian restaurants. We found three and plumped for the third, the Westbourne Tandoori Restaurant as they had vegetable thali on their menu.
The food was good and we enjoyed it. The only hiccup came with the hot towels: the waiter brought on a trolley but stopped short of our table and went off to take someone’s order. When he eventually brought us the towels they were of course only lukewarm.
Buses to our hotel are one an hour and we had missed one so we set out on foot. It’s not very far and the post-prandial walk was probably a good idea in any case.
Tuesday, September 8th 2009
A rather non-committal sky greets us this morning, covered with a seamless layer of grey. There is no sign of the sun nor of rain. Will it stay like this or jump one way or the other?
After breakfast we walked down the road from the hotel to the steps. The steps lead down into Alum Chine, which presents as a long narrow wooded valley with a metalled footpath at the bottom. It slopes gently towards the sea front. It also leads to the terminus of the 24 bus.
The next bus would leave at 9:50 and as we had three quarters of an hour to wait, we went down onto the seafront and sat on a bench with views of the beach and along the coast in both directions. The sun was breaking through in some places but there were also patches of mist, providing very mixed views.
The bus took us into Bomo where we had a walk which took us to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. This curious and curiously beautiful late Victorian building, together with collection housed within it, was once the home of Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes.
East Cliff Hall, as it was called, was anything but conventional, responding to Sir Merton’s own flamboyant and eclectic inspiration. It is crammed with art treasures from all around the world and many cultures. While it is arranged as a museum, certain traces of the design and building process have been revealed and there is information about purpose and use of each room when the Hall was a dwelling.
Unfortunately, photography was not allowed at all inside the building.
We followed this with lunch at the nearby Harbour Lights. After the clouds and mist of the morning, the sun broke through and the weather became hot and sunny.
After buying train tickets at Bomo station for tomorrow’s outing to Weymouth, we bussed it to Poole bus station, where you can take Route One for only £1 and go on a circular tour of the town. The ticket allows you to get on and off the bus as you please.
Thus we went to Poole Quay, an area which I had not seen before and which changed my impression of Poole for the better. We had a stroll (custom house), had a rather expensive Italian coffee and walked along the High Street to the bus station. On the way we crossed the railway line by this London made bridge which saves waiting when the level crossing is closed.
The 1C bus took us back to Westbourne Circus where we dined on Contadini pizza at Enzo’s Italian restaurant. As we had missed the hourly 24 bus, we once more returned to the hotel on foot.
Wednesday, September 9th 2009
When I awoke this morning, the sun was shining, though the sky was thickly decorated with clouds. We are going to Weymouth today, so good weather would be appreciated.
After breakfast we walked down into Alum Chine (80 steps) and reached the bus stop just in time for the 8:40 24 bus. This took us to the station in time for the 9:44 Weymouth train, the earliest we can take with our cheap day returns.
It is now clouding over somewhat and there is a chill in the air, not quite the smiling prospect with which the day began. The train ran through several bands of rain to reach Weymouth at about 11:30. The sky was overcast but with occasional flashes of sun.
We dropped into the William Henry, near the famous painted statue of George III, for coffee and then walked, via the New Bridge (new in 1921, that is), to Westham, an interesting coincidence of name with the village in Sussex where I was born.
There we waited in the pub called The Rock to be joined by J, a friend of Tigger’s, with whom we had lunch. J had to go back to work so we made our way back down through Weymouth to the Pleasure Pier.
There was quite a gusty wind blowing along the shore and we braved it to walk along the pier to the Seahorse Cafe at its end. By now the clouds were beginning to draw apart giving dramatic views with isolated sunlit areas.
We continued along the quay to where we could catch an open-top bus to Top Hill where there are good views which should be worth seeing now the sun has come out. By the time we got off the bus, the evening sunlight was perfect for taking photos of the famous view of Chesil Beach. At the nearby hotel cafe we enjoyed a cream tea before catching the bus back to town.
We sat for a while of Weymouth seafront, watching the boats and the gulls on the flickering water and then made our way to the station where the 19:06 Waterloo train was waiting to convey us to Bournemouth.
At Bournemouth station we took the 24 bus along the now familiar route to Westbourne, Alum chine and our hotel.
Thursday, September 10th 2009
The first glimpse through the window showed a vision of pure blue sky and sunshine, the perfect weather for sight-seeing, but will it last?
We caught the bus at the foot of the chine and changed in Bournemouth to the X3 Salisbury bus, our destination being Stonehenge.
At Salisbury we took the Stonehenge tour bus. For £10 this takes you to Stonehenge and includes the entrance fee. There is a regular timetable, so you can come back on any of the bus’s scheduled services.
Stonehenge is one of the most photographed, talked about and written about monuments in the world. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said better many times before. My photos will be no different from the many taken before but you somehow feel you have to take your own.
Much is known about Stonehenge and a lot is not known. There are also many myths about this structure. The main one is the spurious claim that it is a Druid site. It is not. Stonehenge had already been abandoned for 1000 years before the Druids, a Celtic creed, came along. The Druids held their rituals in forest glades, not in built environments.
Ancient Stonehenge sat proudly on a windswept plain where the only sounds would have come from the rain and wind and the calls of wildlife. Today, it is at the confluence of major roads, its air troubled by the constant roar of traffic. While this makes for easy access, it also detracts from the charm of the place.
After our visit to Stonehenge, we took the tour bus as far as Old Sarum, the massive hill fort that was the first “town” in the area. Its construction of earthen walls surrounded by a deeply dug ditch was a remarkable feat when you consider the primitive tools at the builders’ disposal, namely deer-horn picks and ox shoulder blades for shovels.
The Normans recognized the strategic value of the site and within the precincts built a castle and the first cathedral on British soil. The site lacks a source of water, which must have been a serious disadvantage, so as defensive needs declined, a decision was made to move to a more amenable site. Thus was born the modern Salisbury. The castle itself was abandoned and fell into ruin. The stones of the castle and the cathedral were plundered for use in building up the new town.
After our visit to Sarum, we took a service bus back into town where we looked around a small outdoor market and then had coffee. The X3 bus ride back to Bournemouth seemed quite long for some reason, but there was plenty to see as we sped along the road through towns and countryside.
When we arrived back in Bournemouth, it was still early evening so Tigger proposed a visit to Shell Bay to walk along the sandy beach. To get there from the centre of Bournemouth you take the number 50 bus and get off at the first stop after the ferry crossing. This places you on the Studland Peninsula.
We walked along the beach which is composed of fine sand mixed with fragments of shells. We had asked the bus driver where to find the stop for the return journey but he had been vague, suggesting we try to flag down the bus, which might or might not stop, depending on the driver.
This made me somewhat nervous as the next bus back was the last of the day and I didn’t want to miss it. This caused us to curtail our walk along the beach and look for an official bus stop. We had to walk a long way until we eventually found a stop but it was marked only on the other side of the road. We assumed our bus would stop there if we hailed it, but were not entirely sure until it actually did so.
By the time we reached Westbourne, night had fallen. We went for dinner to Indi’s Contemporary Indian restaurant. I am not in general keen on Indian restaurants with “modern” or “contemporary” in their name as this is often an excuse to serve small portions of simplified and bland food but I found Indi’s very good. The food was tasty and well prepared and the portions reasonably large. We finished in time to catch the 24 bus due at 9:41 and this took us back to the hotel.
This was a good day out. For one thing, the weather played along and it was sunny and warm until darkness fell. For another, the buses turned up more or less on time, giving us good transport between our places of interest, Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Shell Bay. The Indian dinner rounded off the day nicely.
Tomorrow is our last full day. Let’s hope the meteorology is as kind as it was today.
Friday, September 11th 2009
Another fine day. We take the local bus at the stop we call “Ladybird Dell”, where I took this photo of some of the local residents.
Our destination today is Shaftesbury. Inevitably, we have to change buses at Poole. We missed the 9:55 by 10 minutes so we have taken the bus to Wimborne, rather that wait the best part of an hour for the Shaftesbury bus. This will mean changing buses but we will see some more countryside and a few more towns.
At Wimborne we had tea and toasted tea cakes in the Laughing Pot Tea Room and took a few photos, including one of the astronomical clock in the minster.
Unfortunately, we missed a bus to Shaftesbury which was leaving as we arrived and we had an hour and a half to wait for the next one. We filled the time easily by exploring Wimborne and I am sure we didn’t see everything of interest in the old market town.
The bus took us through some beautiful countryside and some charming villages, all the prettier for being bathed in a summerlike golden sunshine. We reached Shaftesbury around 1:45 and straightaway looked for lunch.
On the square where the bus deposited us, was King Alfred’s Kitchen in a picturesque Tudor building. As they were offering mushroom soup and cauliflower cheese among their wares, we were happy to join them for lunch.
We took a short look around and when we spotted a bus for Salisbury we jumped aboard. Tigger wanted to see the Fovant Badges but unfortunately, it turned out that the bus didn’t go that way.
Remind me in future to avoid travelling on buses between 3pm and 4pm because that’s when they are packed with school children. Understandably, they want to let off energy after being constrained all day but this tends not to be as much fun for the other passengers as it is for the children.
At Salisbury we took the X3 back to Bomo and went onto the pier. The rides and shops were closed so the pier was relatively quiet, affording low-sun views of the sea and the coast and of the surfers trying gamely to find wave in the calm swell.
We dropped into the pier bar-cafe for coffee and the view.
After this we went in search of dinner but in the end decided to take the bus to Westbourne and try the third Indian restaurant there. Unfortunately, despite making an extensive tour we failed to find it! So we dined at the Westbourne Tandoori for a second time and then took the 24 bus back to the hotel.
Thus was our last full day in Dorset.
Saturday, September 12th 2009
As we have no reservations for the train, we can go back to London at any time, though I suspect that the London train maybe busy especially at certain times. We start the day by packing, always a slightly fraught exercise as you may be taking away more than you brought.
We have arranged to leave the bags at the hotel until later. We set off down Alum Chine for the last time, at least on this trip, and turned west along the seafront. Among joggers, cyclists and walkers we progressed along to Sandbanks before stopping for coffee in a beach cafe, notable for its collection of old clocks.
It is another warm and sunny day with a blue sky almost entirely clear of clouds. Despite the early hour (it was still only 10am when we stopped for coffee) there is plenty of activity both on the beach and among the beach-hut fraternity. Various events have been organized as it is Saturday.
Our plan was to go to either Poole Quay or Swanage for a boat ride. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. We walked up from the seafront to the main road, intending to catch the number 50 bus to Studland. The bus came but swept past without stopping, the driver signalling that the bus was full.
Giving up on this idea, we took a bus back in the direction of Westbourne and there changed to a bus for Poole. At Poole, we were about ready to abandon the enterprise because the time spent waiting for buses had delayed us too much and it was getting late. However, a Route One bus turned up, so we boarded it to go to Poole Quay.
We soon found ourselves bogged down in heavy traffic, with valuable minutes ticking away on the clock. In the end, we disembarked at the Quay and for lunch chose The Portsmouth Hoy, one of the picturesque little pubs on the waterfront.
We now had an intricate task to perform. The first part was easy – take Route One back to Poole bus station – and so was the second part – take the 1c back to Westbourne. The intricate part involved the 24. There is only one an hour and we had to take it to the road where our hotel is, collect the baggage and get up the road back to the stop in time to catch the 24 again as it came back from its terminus a few minutes away at the bottom of the chine.
We boarded at 14:39 and reached our road a few minutes later. We weren’t sure at what time it was due back to our stop but we did know it left the terminus 14:50.
We ran down the road, recovered the bags, and went up the hill again as quickly as we could. We reached our stop with a few minutes to spare!
The official name of the stop is Herbert Road but it is the one we call Ladybird Dell because it’s in a dip beside a wooded area and the fence posts are covered with ladybirds of all colours and patterns.
The bus carried us to the rather grand Bournemouth station, where we are awaiting the 15:59 to Waterloo, hoping it will not be too crowded.
The train is not very crowded though that may change as we continue along the line. We have pair of table seats in the small standard section of the front carriage which is otherwise given over to first class accommodation.
Bournemouth was not quite as I expected even though we had visited it in passing on previous occasions. There are good bits but the whole seems rather a mixture without an obvious centre. I have heard of people retiring here but, to be honest, I cannot see why. There are much nicer places. Perhaps it has something to do with childhood memories and the persistence of faded myths.
I understand too, that Bournemouth is regarded by some as “the Gay capital of Dorset”, which is fine but Brighton, not that much further along the coast, would surely offer serious competition.
Fortunately, there are places to visit in the general area and these are easily accessible by bus and train. An obvious one is Stonehenge, an intriguing and historically fascinating site, rather different from the usual tourist diet of castles and cathedrals.
Salisbury and Shaftesbury also have their attractions and are worth a visit or rather, many visits, as it takes time to get to know and exhaust all they have to offer.
I have always dismissed Poole as little more than a bus station and an unprepossessing shopping centre. This impression was happily corrected by my introduction to Poole Quay. It seems that Poole has two faces, the one I knew and the more pleasant waterside face.
This ends our travels for this year, apart from day trips and courier runs. It remains to be seen what adventures the colder months bring and in the meantime we shall be planning next year’s expeditions.
The immediate plan is simple: go home, dump our bags, go to Spices for supper. What better way to round off the trip than with (another) Indian dinner?