Weymouth 2014 – Day 2

Thursday, August 21st 2014

Morning view of Weymouth Bay
Morning view of Weymouth Bay
From our hotel window

On awaking this morning, I took this photo of Weymouth Bay from the window of our hotel bedroom. The sky was overcast and the sun hidden behind clouds but all was delightfully calm and quiet. There were no crowds at this early hour but – more importantly – the fairground had gone! I could not believe it at first and kept looking to make sure. When we went to bed last night, the rides had been working at full pelt, with flashing lights and raucous music, yet in the small hours they had struck camp and stolen away. Weymouth had reassumed its more benign aspect.

St Mary Street
St Mary Street
Look, no crowds!

After breakfast we ventured forth to explore. By now the sun had come out and it was preparing to be a fine day. Everywhere was quiet with very few people in the streets. This was more like the Weymouth I remembered.

Fossil Beach Fossil Beach
Fossil Beach
Shells, minerals, fossils and artefacts made from them

We took a look inside Fossil Beach, a lovely shop full of shells, mineral stones, fossils, semi-precious stones and all kinds of artefacts made from them, together with jewellery, and the materials and tools for making your own. Tigger bought a few items for gifts and I bought myself a tiger’s eye bracelet.

We were going to stay in Weymouth today, to explore and renew our acquaintance with it. From Fossil Beach we continued along St Mary Street and came to the Black Dog. A town with a history of seafaring can be expected to contain many pubs. Several of Weymouth’s are very old and have an interesting history behind them.

The Black Dog
The Black Dog
Historic associations with the American colonies

There has been a pub on the site of the Black Dog since no later than the 16th century but probably long before that, and although it has been altered since then, traces of past generations of its architecture remain. The pub, which now has a Grade II* listing, was originally called the Dove until a serendipitous discovery caused a change of name. When trade with the Americas was established, a special breed of dog was discovered in Newfoundland, presumably a result of local inter-breeding of dogs. These large, friendly but brave dogs were soon to be found on ships and there are many stories of them rescuing people from drowning or carrying a line to shore or to a ship in trouble. Intrigued by these animals, the landlord of the Dove bought the first “Newf” to be seen in the south-west and dog and pub soon became famous, attracting people from far and wide to see this remarkable canine. It must have seemed entirely appropriate to rename the pub The Black Dog after its most celebrated occupant.

The Golden Lion Hotel
The Golden Lion Hotel

Another pub with an animal name is the Golden Lion Hotel on the corner of St Mary Street and St Edmund Street. According to English Heritage, this hostelry was originally built in the 17th century and rebuilt in the 18th. It is very large and was possibly once a coaching inn. My attention, however was taken by the inn sign.

The Golden Lion
The Golden Lion
Battered but still proud

I don’t know when the lion was fashioned – in the 18th century, perhaps – but he has obviously suffered the outrages of time and weather, losing his tail in some accident or assault. He still stands proudly surveying the scene with kingly gaze as we expect our lions to do. Personally, I think the lion deserves the pub’s Grade II listing all on his own!

Head Post Office
Head Post Office
No longer used

The Head Post Office on the corner of St Thomas Street with St Mary Street is a fine example of early 20th-century post offices and merits a Grade II listing. Unfortunately, it has ceased to be used for its original purpose and is now up for sale. I can understand that, as the postal service continues to contract, many of its properties are becoming surplus to requirement and that it makes sense to sell them. Staff, too, often prefer the working conditions provided by newer facilities. Even so, I find it sad when these noble structures are cast aside. Let’s hope this one (and all others like it) are converted sympathetically for whatever new role awaits them.

St Mary's Church
St Mary’s
Weymouth’s parish church

As good a reason as any for calling this thoroughfare St Mary Street is the presence in it of Weymouth’s parish church, St Mary’s. Local historians will tell you that there has been a church here from no later than the 13th century but the present one was constructed in 1815 and restored in 1922. It is built, as you might expect for a principal building in this area, of Portland stone. The latter’s whiteness is appreciated as are the many fossils that appear on the surface of the cut stones and add interest to to them.

St Mary's Church
St Mary’s Church
The nave and altar

On entering the church you first pass into a large narthex or atrium. Leading off it are doors to the various rooms that have been fashioned by partitioning off the side aisles. (The smallness of modern congregations presumably means that these are no longer needed for seating.) Closing the aisles removes the illumination that would once have come from their windows and the church is a little dark as a result. Windows remain in the two galleries but light reaches the nave only by reflection, not directly. I could not see any access to the galleries from the nave so do not know whether they are used during services or, as is often the case, act as storage areas.

The pulpit
The pulpit
Deliver your homily here

I found the church design rather unusual. It didn’t strike me as typical of any particular period and I suppose it might be summed up as “quietly, if soberly, elegant”. There is an organ but I also noticed a grand piano placed strategically behind the altar.

The Last Supper
The Last Supper
Sir James Thornhill

Behind the altar and serving as a reredos is a large painting of the Last Supper by Sir James Thornhill (1675/6-1734). He created many large scale paintings, including, for example, the ceiling of the Great Hall in Greenwich Hospital. A further reason for his attachment to this church is that he was born in Melcombe Regis.

Memorial plaque Memorial plaque
Memorial plaques
To Captain James Stear and Lieutenant Robert Campbell

It is usual in parish churches to find plaques commemorating deceased members of the parish and this church has several, some quite old. These two attracted my attention particularly for the young age at which both men died, 33 and 21, respectively. Captain Stear “dyed” in Waymouth (the old spelling of the town’s name) but the place of death of Lieutenant Campbell is not stated. This, together with his young age, suggests that he may have fallen in one of the wars taking place in 1799. There are at least three to choose from in which British forces were involved.

Merchant's house Cannon ball
Public toilets
With embedded cannon ball

On the corner of St Edmund Street with Maiden Street, there once stood a Tudor merchant’s house. This was no doubt a good place to live for a merchant as it is conveniently close to the docks. Said merchant, could he see his house today, might be disconcerted by the fact that it now houses a public toilet. What marks this toilet as distinct from others of its kind, however, is the cannonball embedded in the gable end just below a third-floor window. This is thought to have been fired from a cannon mounted on a ship during the English Civil War. Melcombe was a Parliamentary garrison so this must be a Royalist projectile. Nothing for the citizens of Melcombe to lose their heads over…

The Port of Weymouth
The Port of Weymouth
Still operating though the ferry service may end

We went to the port which is still quite busy with freight services and pleasure craft. One of the main companies here is Condor Ferries which operates services to Guernsey, Jersey and St Malo (you can just see one of the ferries near the top left of the photo). These services, however, are due to terminate in spring 2015 when Condor moves them to the newly refurbished terminal in Poole. What that means for Weymouth and for local trade and employment remains to be seen.

Old Fish Market
Old Fish Market
Built 1855

Beside the port is the old Fish Market, built in 1855 of local Portland stone. It is still in use, though under what arrangements I do not know.

Old Harbour Master's Office Old Harbour Master's Office
Old Harbour Master’s office
No longer in use

The port is overseen by the Harbour Master who originally occupied this rather charming office made in a combination of red brick and Portland stone in the 1930s. The window bay is adorned with a sailing ship motif that is in fact the central element in the Weymouth Coat of Arms (for example, see here).

Harbour Master's Office today
Harbour Master’s Office today
More facilities

The modern office is an unprepossessing brick box but its advantage, I suppose, is that it offers more facilities (including showers and toilets for boat crews) than the older and prettier one. Practicalities always trump aesthetics.

The Town Bridge
The Town Bridge
Lifting for ships to pass through

The entrance to the the port is a waterway called Weymouth Fore River and it is crossed by a busy road called Bridge Street. The bridge is too low to allow sizeable craft to pass under it and therefore has to lift to afford them passage. This is necessary but causes a certain amount of frustration for the motorists to have to wait for the bridge to close again.

Weymouth Pavilion
Weymouth Pavilion
Surviving by the skin of it teeth

Feeling in need of refreshment, we went into the Weymouth Pavilion and ordered milk shakes in the Cafe Ritz. (The name may seem ambitious but it comes from that of a previous incarnation of the Pavilion.) The Pavilion is a theatre and venue for entertainments and celebrations. It first opened in 1908 but was commandeered by the military during WWII. The Pavilion was restored to Council ownership in 1947 but was badly damaged and needed extensive repair. It eventually reopened as The Ritz but then suffered a disastrous fire in 1954. It was rebuilt and emerged like a phoenix from the ashes but thereafter its future was continually in doubt and in 2012 the Council announced its closure with a view to demolition. Local opposition to this plan was mounted and prevailed: the Pavilion is currently run by a group called the Weymouth Pavilion Community Interest Company whose avowed aim is to run it as a “venue with something for everyone”. A more detailed account of the Pavilion’s history may be found on the History page of its Web site. the Pavilion seems safe for the time being and we hope its future remains bright.

Weymouth Beach
Weymouth Beach
Sand and sunshine

We turned back along the sea front, heading for the hotel. The warm sunny weather had brought many people out onto the sandy beach. It was good to see so many people enjoying themselves in traditional seaside manner, sunbathing, making sandcastles and even splashing about in the sea.

The Last Supper - in sand!
The Last Supper – in sand!
Mark Anderson

Anyone whose ambitions in modelling sand have been limited to sandcastles will no doubt be amazed by sand sculpture as practised by artists specializing in the craft. We found the above sculpture of the Last Supper in a specially constructed shelter used by sculptor Mark Anderson.

E.T.
E.T.
Slight crumbling of the finger (but who’s counting?)

At first sight (and even at second and third sight) it seems impossible that anyone could produce such detailed works using only sand and water but that’s the simple truth of the matter. I do not claim to know the secrets of the art but I understand that the sand needs to be of the right sort, composed of small but irregular grains – nicely rounded grains slide over one another too easily. If the grains are right, then the water acts as a binding force rather than a lubricant and the wet sand can be modelled into intricate shapes, though there is always a danger of the sculpture drying out and crumbling. (See E.T.’s finger in the above photo.) Weymouth’s sand has the reputation of being one of the best for sculpture.

We returned to the hotel and laid up against the heat. (And why not? We are on holiday, after all!) Reluctantly, we made several trips downstairs to the residents’ lounge to fetch hot water for tea but that was better than not having tea at all.

Sir Henry Edwards
Sir Henry Edwards
MP and benefactor

After a pleasant rest and relaxation session, we went forth again. By now, night had fallen, presenting a view of the town in its nighttime garb. During the day, this statue is unremarkable, just like so many others, but with the lighting appears quite dramatic. Sir Henry Edwards (1829-97) served as the MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis from 1867 until 1885 when the town ceased to be a Parliamentary Borough. He is remembered principally for his generous gifts to the community which included ten cottages for elderly inhabitants of the town. The statue was raised by public subscription in 1885, making it one of the rare cases of a statue being erected during the lifetime of the subject. The statue was sculpted by brothers William and Thomas Wills and English Heritage accords it a Grade II listing.

Sand Sculpture
Sand Sculpture
Under nighttime illumination

We passed by the sand sculptures again and found that they were lit by electric light. I am not sure that the colours of the lamps were particularly good choices. This sculpture looks like a sketch of a war memorial though I think some subsidence has occurred.

Carousel
Carousel
The magic endures

The Edwards statue stands at the edge of Alexandra Gardens and in the gardens was a funfair. It was quite small and seemed intended for children. The old favourite, the carousel, was there, and again I marvelled at the enduring popularity of this gentle form of entertainment.

Feather palms
Feather palms

This has been one of our quieter days but no less enjoyable for that. A good part of the pleasure for me was that, after the noise and crowds of yesterday, Weymouth has recovered the personality that had attracted me to it in the first place.

We returned to the hotel lit part of the way by illuminated feather palms, an exotic touch for this essentially traditional resort.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Weymouth 2014 – Day 1

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 and Portland
Weymouth and Portland
Click for Google Map

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?

Weymouth's sandy beach
Weymouth’s sandy beach
Traditional seaside pleasures

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.

Seafront stalls
Seafront stalls

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.

St Alban Street
St Alban Street

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.

St Mary Street
St Mary Street

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.

No kettle - communal facilities only
No kettle – communal facilities only

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!

Antique war planes Antique war planes
Antique war planes

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 Red Arrows The Red Arrows
The Red Arrows
The Red Arrows

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.

A view from the balcony
A view from the balcony

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.

The view from the room window
The view from the room window

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.

Procession float
Procession float

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”.

The seafront fairground
The seafront fairground

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.)

Fairground ride
Fairground ride

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.

Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock
Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock

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.

The nighttime beach
The nighttime beach

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!

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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A few days at the seaside

Tuesday, August 19th 2014

Tomorrow we are off to the seaside for a few days, returning on Saturday. As usual I will not say where we are going until we are back but here are a few clues:

The town where we are staying is on the south coast and it stands at the mouth of a river from which it takes its name. Near it is an island which gives its name to a type of stone widely used in building. Sir Christopher Wren was once MP for the town.

Freya too is going on holiday though I don’t suppose she thinks of it in those terms. Her usual cattery was booked up and so she will be staying at another one. She has been here before and I think she will be comfortable. I am of course looking forward to bringing her home again.

If you feel like taking a guess at the name of our destination, leave a comment. There are no prizes for the correct answer, just the satisfaction of being right (if you are!).

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | 4 Comments