Wednesday, August 20th 2014
We walked to St John Street and caught a number 341 bus to Waterloo. Our train was due to leave at 9:25 and so we were not in a rush. I knew we were heading to Weymouth in Dorset but that was all. We had booked the train tickets together but Tigger had arranged the hotel, telling me simply that it was a “surprise”.
Weymouth, in the county of Dorset, comes as a set with with the Isle of Portland from whence comes the famous white Portland stone extensively used for making beautiful buildings. Though the name Weymouth now refers to the whole of the urban area, it was once just the name of a port attached to Melcombe Regis, Weymouth being on the north side of the river and Melcombe on the south. Weymouth has a somewhat complicated relationship with the river Wey and the sea which lies on both sides of it.
A startling feature of the area is what appears on the above map as an almost straight white ribbon running up the west coast but separated from it. This is the famous Chesil Beach and a clue to its nature is found in its name. This comes from Anglo-Saxon ceosel, meaning ‘gravel’ or ‘shingle’. Chesil Beach is a feature of the kind called a ‘barrier beach’ resulting from deposition of material by ocean currents. It is 18 miles (29km) long and is divided from the mainland by the Fleet Lagoon.
We had visited Weymouth before, spending a week there in 2007 (see Weymouth 2007) and making a day trip to it in 2009 (see Weymouth on a tenner). I then found it a sedate but attractive seaside town of the sort that I like. What impression would I gain from it this time?
On arrival at Weymouth, we made out way to the hotel. This turned out to be part of the “surprise” mentioned by Tigger: the hotel was right on the seafront with a view of the beach and bay. For a seaside holiday, one could not ask for a better location. There was another side to the “surprise”, however, one that pleased me less.
The day of our arrival, I discovered, was the day of the annual Weymouth Carnival. This meant that the town was crowded out with people coming to see the procession and other associated events and that, worse, there was a fun fair lined up along the seafront near our hotel. If there is one thing that is guaranteed to put me in a bad mood, it is crowds. Crowds make me anxious and frustrated and the denser the crowd, the worse I feel. This crowd was one of the densest I have been in for a long time.
Our room was not yet ready but we were were able to leave our bags, pending our later return. We set out to have lunch and take our first look around the town.
The seafront was crowded but so were the nearby streets. The calm atmosphere that I had appreciated on previous visits was missing. Shops and cafes were packed out and even in the street one had to keep dodging to avoid collisions. We had a rather lacklustre meal in the Criterion restaurant and then made our way back to the hotel.
We returned to the hotel and a second disappointment awaited us there. The room was right at the top of the house – though this did provide good views of the bay – and I would describe it as so-so. The main fault was that there was no kettle! While packing for the trip, we had debated whether or not to take our little travel kettle with us but in the end had decided not to because, as everyone knows, “UK hotels always provide a kettle in the room, don’t they?” Apparently, this one doesn’t. If you want tea or coffee, you are expected to go down to the residents’ lounge and use the machine sited there. Admittedly, tea, coffee, bottled water and biscuits are provided free but that doesn’t really make up for the lack of a kettle in the room. Never again will we be caught without a kettle!
The residents’ lounge has a small balcony accessible through a window. A few of us crowded out onto it and tried not to get in one another’s way as we watched what was going on. I noticed some moving specks in the sky. These turned out to be ancient aeroplanes with triple wings. The photo on the left gives you some idea how hard they were to see and the second is a “pseudo enlargement” (achieved by cropping) to show a couple of the machines. Now and again they emitted puffs of smoke but it was not easy to see what this was supposed to represent. An aerial battle, perhaps?
The real show stealers were, of course, the RAF Red Arrows. The speed and precision with which these pilots perform their routines is beyond amazing. In the second picture above, note that while the main group is proceeding from left to right, one, the rightmost, is flying right to left, a dangerous move indeed for any pilots less skilled than these. There were several such close passes, all equally dramatic.
The above picture shows the view of the seafront gained from the balcony of the residents’ lounge. It gives you some idea of how the crowds were building up in anticipation of the main terrestrial event of the Carnival, the Procession.
Knowing my antipathy to crowds, Tigger proposed that we watch the procession from our room. The window there is quite small but we managed to view and photograph the scene without getting in one another’s way. We had a fairly narrow field of view between the round-fronted buildings on the right and the King’s statue on the left.
The start of the procession was greatly delayed and the crowd became impatient. We later learned that this was because someone had been taken ill and had had to be removed by ambulance. The crush of people and vehicles had made this difficult. At last things got under way. I didn’t find it very impressive (how many groups of majorettes can you cram into one short procession? Too many…) and so I provide just one sample. It is the float entered by Rendezvous, a Weymouth “venue”.
Later we went out to find supper. Everywhere was crowded, of course, but we eventually settled on Enzo, an Italian restaurant on the Esplanade. It was crowded but they managed to fit us into a corner in the basement. Afterwards we walked back along the seafront where the fairground rides were installed. They were doing a roaring trade with people queueing to be hoisted into the air and thrown about. (Why people enjoy this sort of thing is beyond my powers of explanation.)
Personally, I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel, having to push my way through knots of people blocking the way. I took the above photo just to “show willing”, as it were.
I was happier about taking this photo, even though the conditions for it were less than optimum. It is one of my two favourite features of Weymouth, the clock tower built in 1897 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. What is my other favourite feature of Weymouth? You might guess if you have read the above mentioned previous posts on our previous visits, otherwise I will try to take a photo of it later during our stay.
As you can see, even after darkness had fallen, the seafront and the beach continued to be busy. The people on the beach seemed quite happy to sit or stand quietly, enjoying the lights and the atmosphere. As for me, I was glad to turn for the hotel and leave the noise and crowds behind.
To answer the question posed above, the impression I received of Weymouth today was not favourable. Then again, I hate crowds and they put me in a bad mood. Tomorrow is another day and another chance to make friends with Weymouth. Fingers crossed!