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 our 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 ad 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!
Thursday, August 21st 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 second-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…
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friday, August 22nd 2014
The Isle of Portland, whose white limestone is much prized as a building material, is a lonely but beautiful outcrop of land into the Channel. Its shape and position, together with the Shambles, a mile-long sandbank to its south-east, constitutes an important danger to shipping in the Channel. At the southernmost tip of the island, called Portland Bill, stands a lighthouse, a necessary warning for shipping sailing close to shore. The name “Bill” (anciently written “Beel”) is said to derive from the bird-beak shape of the island’s tip.
If you do not have your own transport, the best way to travel to the island from Weymouth is to catch bus number 501 from its stop on the seafront. However, buses run once an hour (June to September) or once every two hours (May to June), and the last bus leaves Portland at 1730 (May to June) or 1805 (June to September) so you must plan your journey carefully to avoid being left stranded. (This nearly happened to me on one occasion. The story is told in Weymouth on a tenner, below the sixth photo.)
The bus stop at Portland Bill is in the large car par park and is within a short walk of the Bill and its lighthouse. On a warm sunny day, this is a pretty and welcoming place but in bad weather it would be bleak and rather forbidding. There is a cafe and gift shop and some cottages for holidaymakers to rent and that is about all.
The shore here is made of tumbled rocks of Portland stone. When you stand by the lighthouse looking out to sea, you know that there is no land in that direction until Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. On a calm day, when the sea and the sky are blue and the waves are gentle, it is a peaceful scene, but the weather can deteriorate and turn this area into a ships’ graveyard.
The lighthouse is the tallest object at Portland Bill and therefore tends to appear in all views of the area. Brightly painted red and white, it is not to be missed. The lighthouse was originally manned but ceased to be so in 1996 when the light was automated. It is now controlled by Trinity House’s Operations & Planning Centre in Harwich.
This view along the shore shows how rocky it is and how potentially dangerous to shipping. If you think that the white building to the left of the picture is a lighthouse, you are right, though it no longer functions as such.
The need for a lighthouse had become apparent by no later than the 17th century but, curiously, Trinity House refused all requests to build one. It seems likely that they considered the cost prohibitive. The first lighthouses, two in number and now known as Old Higher Lighthouse and Old Lower Lighthouse, respectively, were commissioned in 1716 and their operation entrusted, not to Trinity House but to a private consortium.
By the 1750s, however, it was found that the lights were badly maintained, being lit belatedly or not at all. As time passed, the lighthouses were rebuilt and modernized (and a pair of cannon installed against possible threat from Napoleonic incursions) but the need for a new modern lighthouse became clear, especially after 14 ships were wrecked in a storm in 1901. The new lighthouse, the one we admired today, finally shone for the first time in 1906. The old lower lighthouse, visible in the above view along the shore, is now a bird observatory and the old higher, under the name of Branscombe Lodge, has been converted as a holiday cottage.
Another warning indicator is the Trinity House Obelisk, built in 1844, to mark a low shelf of rock extending 30 metres into the sea at that point.
These buildings are used by local fishermen whose boats are launched by means of a crane. I don’t know how important this fishing industry is or even whether it can be called that.
Though Portland Bill is fairly barren in human terms, it is heavily visited. There were relatively few people about during our time there but the ground bore the signs of many feet. This wear and tear can lead to erosion so I hope the appropriate authorities have the matter in hand because it would be a shame to ruin this beauty spot.
We spotted a few butterflies and I managed to snatch a photo of this one which I think might be a Speckled Wood. They were very active and very nervous, flying off if we approached.
We caught a 501 from Portland Bill but stopped off in Easton, one of the villages on Portland. The above view is of Easton Garden in the centre of the village.
In the garden is a small but nicely designed clock tower. Interestingly enough, it was funded by public subscription. It was unveiled in 1907 by Henry J. Sansom, Chairman of the Council, and “dedicated to the public”.
We took to the buses again and disembarked at The Heights, a hotel where we took refreshment in the cafe-bar. The hotel is situated on Verne Hill, the highest point on Portland from where you have splendid views over the surrounding countryside. In the above photo we are looking over Fortuneswell, one of Portland’s largest villages, to Chesil Beach stretching away into the distance.
Here are a couple of slightly more detailed views.
In fact, there are three villages here which have expanded and melted into one another, as it were. The eye of one possessed of local knowledge could perhaps distinguish the smaller Chesil and Castletown from the larger Fortuneswell but I am unable to do so.
Here we see Chesil Beach stretching away apparently to infinity, lost in the haze of distance.
Turning slightly to the east, we have a view of Weymouth Bay and can see that it is far bigger than one might guess on seeing it from sea level. It was dotted with boats, in particular a crowd of small yachts. I tried to count them but their mutual movements made it easy to lose count though I think there must have been a hundred or more.
We retuned to the hotel for a rest and to ready ourselves for the evening. We were going to meet friends of Tigger’s who had invited us to dinner. We took a train to a small station called Moreton and were picked up there by car. There wasn’t much opportunity for photos but, just for the form, as it were, I took this one of Moreton Station as we were waiting for our train back to town.
Saturday, August 23rd 2014
I am not by nature an early riser and when Tigger awoke me in what seemed the middle of the night, I was not best pleased.
“I think you should take a photo of the view outside,” said she, quite unabashed.
I reluctantly assumed a vertical configuration and went to look out of the window.
Having looked out of the window and observed the above scene, I decided that, yes, I should definitely take a photo of the view outside. I fumbled around for my camera and took the picture.
Now I was up, despite the early hour, what should I do next? Yes, go back to bed… 🙂
Sometime later, we arose once more and prepared ourselves for the day. This was the end of our stay in Weymouth and we must pack, have breakfast and make our way to the station to catch our train back to London. Having bade farewell to the hotel management, we set out on foot for the station.
I mentioned that the Victoria Jubilee Clock was one of my two favourite features of Weymouth. The other one is the statue of George III. You may have glimpsed it in photos I took from our hotel window. George was very fond of Weymouth and made many visits here, taking dips in the sea from a bathing machine. He first visited Weymouth in 1789 after recovering from a bout of mental illness. Impressed with the town itself and the warm welcome he had received, the King returned in 1791 and thereafter every year except two until 1805.
The King’s attachment to Weymouth was obviously advantageous to the town and the town responded with gratitude: in 1809 an impressive monument to George III was designed by architect James Hamilton and constructed in the years 1809 to 1810. It shows the King in his coronation robes, standing in front of a table upon which are piled symbols of royalty (e.g. the crown) and of learning (the books). An unusual feature of the statue is that since 1949 it has been painted. The result is colourful and rather splendid.
We made our way to the station and, once there spent some time observing this gull. In seaside towns, gulls are attracted to stations, perhaps because with so many people arriving and departing, there is plenty of food left lying around. We didn’t see where he obtained it, but the gull somehow acquired a packet of biscuits which he proceeded to tear open, and then shake to release the contents. He did this a few at a time, in the meantime warding off other approaching gulls.
We reached the station platform and settled down to wait for our train. Then we made a discovery: for some reason we were much too early! We had somehow become confused about our train time. As we had tickets for a specific train, we had to travel by that train only so there was nothing for it but to return to the town and find some way of passing the time until our train was due. The hotel was happy to look after our bags in the meantime.
We wandered about without any particular goal and found ourselves once more in Alexandra Gardens. There were the usual birds about, including pigeons and crows. Crows are always rewarding to watch because they are very clever and get up to some fascinating tricks. There is a stall in the garden selling drinks, ice cream and snacks. It suddenly occurred to Tigger to wonder whether crows liked popcorn. So she bought some and started dispensing it to the people in black feathers. The answer is yes, crows like popcorn. My role in all this was simply to watch and take photos. Here are a few of them.
Although crows are not gregarious (rooks are, of course, but these are not rooks), quite a crowd of them had gathered in the garden, perhaps because there is plenty of food here, left by mucky human beings. Because of this, there was relatively little sign of squabbling.
Depending on circumstances, crows either eat the food on the spot or fill their beaks with as much as they can carry and fly off with it to a safer place. The crow on the right couldn’t make up his mind whether to eat it here or take it away. He started filling his beak but then must have decided that as there was plenty of food about, he could eat it there without worrying about competition from other crows.
There was nonetheless the occasional half-hearted stand-off, as here when one crow seems to be thinking about trying to steal food from the other who is gobbling his popcorn while keeping a wary eye on him. In the end, no squabble ensued.
These highly intelligent birds are fun to watch but are hard to approach because they are, quite rightly, suspicious of human beings. This is because humans have traditionally persecuted crows for reasons that are based on ignorance, superstition and downright lies. In recent years, some remarkable discoveries have been made of these birds’ intelligence and problem-solving abilities. Instead of persecuting them, we should get to know and understand them. We will then realize that they are worthy of our affection and admiration and that to persecute them is a crass as it is stupid.
Time does not stand still and the moment eventually came when we must go to catch our train. We collected our bags from the hotel, said goodbye a second time, and set out for the station. My last photo was the above one of the Victoria Jubilee Clock, this time in sunshine.
Our visit to Weymouth was short but enjoyable. The bad feelings I suffered on the evening of our arrival dissipated overnight with the disappearance from the seafront of the fun fair and the disappearance from the streets of the jostling crowds. Weymouth became again its familiar enjoyable self. I expect we will return before long.