Saturday, August 19th 2017
Weymouth is a pretty seaside town in the country of Dorset. It has a splendid sandy beach and enough entertainments to attract large numbers of visitors in the summer but it also has a rather charming old-fashioned feel to it which I very much like. The image below shows a map of Weymouth and if you click on it you will be taken to the “live” Bing map from which it comes.
Tigger knew Weymouth in her youth and still has friends who live here, so we like to visit the town from time to time.
On our previous visit (see Weymouth 2014), we found a very pleasant (and not too expensive!) small hotel that looks onto the seafront and the famous statue of Charles III and we have returned there this year.
We travelled by South West Trains, taking the 9:50 from Waterloo. This train serves both Bournemouth and Weymouth and splits at a certain point so you have to make sure you travel in the right section for your destination (the first 5 coaches, in our case).
We reached Weymouth at 1 pm and made our way to the hotel which is within walking distance of the station. We checked into the hotel and found that our room looked out onto the Esplanade and beach. The only disadvantage of this hotel is that it does not provide a kettle in the room and so, if you want a hot drink you have to go to the lounge where there is a machine that provides coffee and hot water for tea.
We had lunch in a local pub and then went to look for one of Tigger’s friends who lives in Weymouth and works in a shop. The two of them spent some time catching up and we arranged to meet up for dinner later at an Italian restaurant called Enzo.
In between all this, I did manage to take the odd photo or two and show a selection of them below.
I admired this Victorian shopfront with its gold-on-black lettering. An inscription on the window indicates a foundation date of 1878 and I see no reason to doubt it. Today, the premises accommodate a coffee shop.
Tigger spotted this dragonfly resting on a wall and so we of course “bagged” it! The remaining photos were taken at various times in the evening when the light was beginning to fade. Some are “panoramic” and therefore appear small. Click for a larger image.
Weymouth’s beach is a great expanse of fine sand, much appreciated for beach games, building sand castles, etc. Even as the daylight began to fade, some people were reluctant to leave. Some even continued bathing in the sea.
A famous landmark on the promenade is a covered building presenting an open view of its contents. These are the sand sculptures. Sand sculpture has been practised here from at least the 19th century. The current resident sculptor is Mark Anderson.
You are perhaps as puzzled by the concept of sand sculpture as I was when I first encountered it. I don’t entirely understand the physics involved but it seems that sand grains, when wet, tend to stick together, allowing a quantity of sand to be moulded into various shapes. This is the principle behind the construction of sand castles. The coarser the sand, the less easily it sticks together. Weymouth sand is very fine and so the grains stick together well, allowing quite detailed sculptures to be formed. The sand must be kept wet throughout the sculpting process and once the sculpture is finished, it is sprayed with a transparent substance that prevents it drying out and collapsing.
Here are a few more photos taken as the daylight faded into twilight:
The carousel was lit up and ready to whirl but, perhaps because of the late hour, there were no customers. I had the eerie feeling that if I stepped aboard I would be spun back through time and deposited in the Victorian era. I didn’t risk it. Instead we returned to the hotel and made tea!
Sunday, August 20th 2017
Contrary to our usual habit, we had breakfast at the hotel. It was very good and made us feel ready to face the day’s adventures!
Today’s jaunt is to Portland Bill. This interesting and unusual place is at the southern tip of what is called the Isle of Portland. This lies to the south of Weymouth and is the southernmost point of the county of Dorset. The Isle is in fact a promontory though its land connection with the mainland in so slender that the designation of it as an island seems justified. See the Bing Map1 below.
Checking the times of the buses to Portland Bill, we found we had a while to wait.
While waiting we took a photo of the house we are staying in. It calls itself simply the B+B and describes itself as “a privately owned boutique bed and breakfast offering our discerning guests accommodation in Weymouth.” The reception is friendly and the atmosphere relaxed.
In front of the B+B is an island in the road which has grass lawns and is the site of a famous monument. I assume that this small park has a name but, if so, I haven’t been able to discover what it is. The statue is brightly painted and represents King George III standing in front of a large table or desk upon which there are books, a royal crown and some heraldic ornaments.
The plinth is inscribed as follows:
The grateful Inhabitants
To GEORGE THE THIRD
On his Entering the 50th Year
Of His REIGN.
George III was not the most successful and popular of British monarchs and it may therefore seem odd that the citizens of Weymouth treated him to such fulsome acclaim. The monument, which was erected in 1809 and is now a Grade I listed building, was not the only token of the town’s affections: on royal visits, the streets were decked with flags and whenever the royal person appeared in public, he was cheered.
The reason for this affection was that the king spent a total of 14 holiday visits in Weymouth, a fact that helped put the town on the map as a prestige seaside resort. George suffered from the disease of porphyria, a painful and debilitating condition which attacks the neurological system and may have been responsible for the king’s supposed fits of “madness”. The condition was little understood at the time but it was thought that sea bathing, though not a cure for the condition, could mitigate the symptoms. Hence the royal holidays in Weymouth which the king found to be a delightful place.
Although bathing in the sea is today undertaken in a light-hearted manner, in the 1700s it was treated seriously, especially when prescribed as a medical treatment. The bather would be transported from the shore into the sea in a special carriage (see above) drawn by a horse. Then, assisted by a “dipper”, he would descend the ladder into the water, perhaps there to undergo total immersion. (The parallel with baptism is hard to miss.)
Whether George enjoyed sea bathing or considered it a tiresome necessity, I do not know. It seems, though, that he enjoyed his holidays in Weymouth and made friends of the inhabitants. Their affection for the king and their gratitude for the benefits of royal patronage perhaps endure to the present day if the care taken of his monument, including its regular repainting, are anything to go by. It seems, however, that the statue suffered damage at some point. The figure originally held a long staff or sceptre, as shown in this Getty image. That item is now missing.
The bus came at last and we were transported past views of the amazing strip of sand known as Chesil Beach, to Portland Bill.
Though parts of the island are occupied by streets and houses, when you reach the Bill itself it is to find an almost empty area. There are a few houses, a tea room and shop, a large car park with public toilets and, apart from that a lot of open space. There is, of course, a lighthouse. In fact, there are two, the 19th-century Old Higher Lighthouse, now disused, and the current lighthouse, splendid in its red and white livery. There have been lighthouses here from at least Roman times and the present one still performs its duty of warning and guiding shipping. It has also been provided with a visitors’ centre where people can learn about lighthouses and even ascend it to enjoy views over the surrounding countryside and sea.
The shore is very rocky and if you venture down to the water you need to do so with care. Seen from here, the sea is a vast expanse, uninterrupted to the horizon, on which the occasional passing ships seem as tiny as toys. The large structure with a pyramidal top is the Trinity House Obelisk, alongside the lighthouse another guide for shipping.
Along the coast here the rocks are heaped on top on one another and sometimes form tall structures called stacks. The one in the picture is called Pulpit Rock and is the result of deliberate human action. It commemorates quarrying activity in the late 19th century. Its name is supposed to reflect its appearance with the big leaning slab in front intended to represent a Bible lying open before the pulpit. A notice warns against climbing the Pulpit but people often do, perhaps unaware of the dangers.
Further inland we found this cairn whose origin and purpose is unknown to me. Perhaps it is another quarrying monument or exists just to display the notice that you can see attached to it. This tells us that Portland Bill is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and is a good place to observe wildlife and study geology.
We had tea in the tea room shop and then crossed the big car park to the bus stop. Bus service 501 runs from the King’s Statue in Weymouth to Portland Bill and back again. In the “high season” (end of May to beginning of September) there are 9 buses a day, running at hourly intervals. It’s worth mentioning that the last bus back from Portland Bill is at the relatively early time of 1810 because you would not want to find yourself stranded at the Bill as I once nearly was (see Weymouth on a tenner).
Weymouth is divided into two parts by the River Wey and the Town Bridge is therefore very important. The first bridge was built in Elizabethan times (before then the crossing was by ferry) and there have been several bridges since then, the current one having opened in 1930. We arrived during one of its scheduled openings to allow passage to ships on the river.
Weymouth has a well preserved Tudor house that is now a museum. We went along and paid it a visit. It is a typical example of its kind, a house which been furnished “in the manner of” a house of the period. The result is inevitably somewhat artificial though I accept that it is not possible to do otherwise. We dutifully explored and took photos though without any great enthusiasm.
The dock area has a lot of historical vestiges, not least of the Civil War, of which two battles were fought here in 1645. There is at least one canon ball still lodged in the wall of a building.
The old town pump, originally installed in 1775, still survives, though, ironically, it was moved in 1990 from its true location near the old fire station to the forecourt of a pub.
Weymouth Harbour presents a colourful picture and is still busy though I think these days that the craft resting here are mainly pleasure yachts.
We turned inland and had a late lunch at Yates’ before returning to the hotel to make tea and sort through the day’s photos.
1In the past, I have tended to use Google Maps to show locations mentioned in my posts because Google Maps are widely used and most people are familiar with them. However, Google Maps include the names of pubs, hotels, shops and other commercial entities and these intrusive elements not only clutter the maps but also obscure the topological features that maps are supposed to show. Bing Maps are so far free of this nuisance and I expect to be using them in future as a better alternative.
Monday, August 21st 2017
For today’s expedition we travelled west, first catching a bus to Bridport. The Bing map below shows Bridport in relation to Weymouth. (Click for a live Bing Map.)
The town of Bridport dates from at least Anglo-Saxon times. It lies between two rivers, the Brit on the west and on the east, the Asker, which joins the Brit south of the town. The name Bridport is formed from the name of the river and the word port which here means, not “port” in our sense of the word, but a market. Bridport is thus the market town on the River Brit.
Bridport is quire a pleasant little town though, to be honest, not very exciting. Or did we miss all the interesting bits? That’s always possible, I suppose. In the event I was not inspired to take many photos.
This neat little building, apparently modelled on the Classical temple, is the Bridport Arts Centre. It was originally built as a Methodist chapel in 1838. I don’t know when its religious use ended but it was taken over as a theatre and gallery in the 1970s. It is Grade II listed.
Bridport has a museum in a building with a fine 16th-century façade. The façade is in fact about all that remains of the 16th-century structure, the rest having been destroyed by fire in 1876. There is also a mystery as to what the original purpose of the building was as no records have survived to explain it. Nonetheless, the façade alone is enough to have gained it a Grade II* listing.
One of the museum’s main topics is Bridport’s long history in the manufacture of ropes and nets. The photo above shows a gallery dedicates to this subject. Rope is no longer made but the town remains an important supplier of netting worldwide.
I had to photograph this striking exhibit of a wild tiger though I have a very critical attitude towards stuffed animals in general. On one hand I think it wasteful and unnecessary to kill animals simply to display them for the curiosity of museum visitors. On the other hand, I have fond memories of my childhood when I would drag my mother into the museum at Brighton to visit the zoological collection (since moved to the Booth Museum). I think that infantile enthusiasm perhaps sparked and cultivated my lifelong interest in animals of all kinds.
The tiger in the picture isn’t even complete. I think there is only the head, chest and one front paw. The accompanying card reads as follows:
We believe that our tiger was mounted by a taxidermist called Roland Ward. He had a well-known company in Piccadilly in the late 19th Century, known as ‘The Jungle’.
Taxidermy was hugely popular in Victorian times, fuelled by wealthy British sportsmen who collected hunting trophies from all over the world. Rowland Ward’s popular works included ‘animal furniture’ such as a bear holding a silver tray for glasses; inkwells made from horse hoofs [sic]; liquor cabinets made from elephants’ feet, and stuffed birds that acted as lamp stands.
Though the era of the great collections of animal corpses has passed, environmental degradation and the depredations of illegal hunters has left our wildlife in a precarious situation all over the world and I think that displays, like this one of the tiger, should act as a spur to our collective conscience to mend our ways and do our utmost to protect our wildlife, though I fear that for many species it is already too late.
We took a look, as we usually do, at the local public library. This one was originally the fire station from the 1920s until the station was moved to new premises in 1995.
We would have liked to see inside the Electric Palace because it is apparently an Art Deco gem but it was unfortunately closed. Built in the 1920s as a theatre, opera house and cinema, the Palace was revolutionary in not only being lit by electricity but in generating is own power. It was recently renovated.
This pair of buildings caught my eye though I have no idea of their history or origins. The one on the right bears inscriptions above the second-floor windows reading “WCP” and “1903”. While the meaning of the latter is clear enough, I do not know what the former stands for. I liked the delicate tracery of the ironwork on the first floor.
We now took a bus and travelled further west, to the carpet weaving town of Axminster. Here, we achieved one pleasant result: a cheese-toastie lunch at Costa!
Axminster – its name is practically a synonymous for quality carpets through the world – has a Heritage Centre and we dutifully visited this. Exhibits cover the history of the area and its role in manufacturing the floor coverings that we so often walk on without a second thought. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed and so I cannot show you any pictures and will not dwell further on the subject.
I could, however, photograph the elaborate drinking fountain erected in 1887 in commemoration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It is topped by three lamps in a snow-drop configuration.
I also photographed the parish church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. According to Historic England (which gives it a Grade 1 listing), the church is largely 15th-century with some Norman remains. The name of the town derives from that of the River Axe, beside which it is sited, and “minster” which comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a monastery or large church. Whether St Mary’s, or its forerunner on the site, is the minster in question I do not know.
As there was nothing much to detain us at Axminster, we moved on and came to Lyme Regis. (On the map above you will find it on the coast slightly further east than Axminster.) The town, which grew up around an abbey in Anglo-Saxon times, takes its name from the River Lym that runs through it and received the royal title regis with its charter issued by King Edward I in 1284. It is a pretty seaside town that has been given the nickname “The Pearl of Dorset”. The photo shows the Royal Lion Hotel, a coaching inn dating from the early 17th century and reputed to be haunted.
The road slopes steeply down to the seafront which is probably the pleasantest part of town, at least in fine weather.
Looking out to sea we could observe a veritable fleet of yachts. Was it a regatta or a yacht race? We never did know.
This terrace overlooks the seafront and a nearby cafe serves refreshments here. We ordered tea and toasted teacakes and relaxed. In some ways this was the best part of the day out. Maybe we’ll just come straight here next time!
The return journey to Weymouth was a two-stage journey, first a bus back to Bridport and then another bus there to Weymouth.
It had been a less exciting day out that some but sitting taking tea on the terrace at Lyme Regis had in some ways made up for it. Maybe we shall come here again.
Tuesday, August 22nd 2017
Today’s expedition took us to the east of Weymouth and involved a lot of train travel. Some of the train rides were to get us to our destination and back but a lot of it was purely for fun! The geotagger map below shows where we went.
We first took a normal National Rail train to Wareham.
We were going to change trains here but, first, we took a look at the station from the outside.
This pretty Victorian station opened in 1887, replacing an earlier one that survived for only 40 years. As well as mainline routes, the station served a branch line to Swanage. This was discontinued in 1972 as part of the infamous Beeching cuts. However, this old line has now been restored and reopened as the heritage Swanage Railway. We had come to see this noble piece of work and to ride on the trains.
The railway is run by a combination of volunteers and paid staff and boasts a broad selection of historic locomotives and carriages. I’m not a railway buff and I wouldn’t be able to identify the various coaches and machines (unless they were labelled) but I still enjoy riding the trains and the feeling of travelling back in time.
The best way to experience the Swanage Railway, I think, is to buy a one-day ticket. This entitles you ride ride as many trains as you like and to get off and on the trains at the various stations. Including Wareham and the terminus at Swanage, there are six stations along the route. Each can be visited, both for its own sake and also to vary the experience as you travel up and down the line.
The first part of the journey from Wareham is along track belonging the National Rail system and as the train starts you hear an announcement requesting that you do not use the toilets while on this section of track. A second announcement is made giving the all-clear for toilet use once the train reaches Swanage Railway’s own track! (Announcements are made the opposite way around when the train once again approaches Wareham!)
On arriving at Swanage, we were at first impression, surprised to see these train carriages emblazoned with the words ‘LONDON TRANSPORT’ but this is just an example of how heritage railways collect, save and restore vehicles and equipment from any and every source. It adds to the fun and interest of the railway and proves exciting to railway buffs!
The once-traditional compartments and corridors have been done away with almost entirely in favour of open-plan carriages which offer greater capacity and ease of movement. Corridors, like the one in the picture are now seen only in films set in the past or on a few remote branch lines. Some of us still remember them from our childhood, though…
One of the pleasures of a train journey is watching the landscape scroll past the window, an ever-changing panorama.
Seeing the ruins of the castle on its hill tells us that we are approaching Corfe Castle, which is the name of both the old fortress itself and the town huddled in its shadow.
We travelled part of the way in this compartment, handsomely upholstered in mauve. The seats are soft and welcoming, requiring an effort of will to vacate them at journey’s end! On these old trains, it used to be possible to reserve a compartment for a group travelling together or for ladies only. Such subtleties have been lost on modern trains with open-plan carriages.
We rode back and forth on different trains drawn by different locomotives. The stations have been restored to a period roughly equivalent to the middle of last century or a little earlier. A huge amount of work and money have gone into buying and restoring buildings and laying miles and miles of track as the original rails and sleepers had been removed. Some of the station buildings along the route have passed into private ownership and have therefore not been recovered.
On a railway day out, in what better place can can you go for tea than in a train carriage converted into a tearoom?
I photographed this magnificent steam locomotive at Norden Station as it prepared to attach to passenger carriages for the next stage of the journey.
The Swanage Railway has its own museum and this is conveniently situated at Corfe Castle Station. There are two floors packed with exhibits to set railway buffs’ pulses racing though my own interest in the minutiae of railway history was a little more muted.
Corfe Castle is the name of both the castle itself and the village associated with it. We did not visit the castle but had a little walk around the village. The castle was built by William the Conqueror and was one of the first – or even the first – to be built at least partially in stone at a time when the Normans were quickly erecting castles made of wood on mounds of earth (motte and bailey castles). It remained a property of the crown until Elizabeth I sold it to a private owner. It was twice besieged by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War and after that war was partially destroyed on the orders of Parliament.
Corfe Castle is a pretty village though I think, as a Londoner1, that living here must be an acquired taste.
This view is oriented roughly north along West Street with the tower of the Church of St Edward King and Martyr a prominent feature. The church is reckoned to date from the 12th or 13th century though it received a make-over in 1859-60.
Corfe Castle is in the Purbeck Hills and many of the buildings in the village are built of the grey coloured Purbeck stone. That includes the Greyhound, a coaching inn dating from the 16th century but incorporating even older bits in its fabric. Here we enjoyed a cream tea to pleasantly round off our day out.
We had to keep an eye on the clock,however, because we dared not miss the last train back to Wareham. Having finished our cream tea, there would have been an hour to wait for the Wareham train but while we were thinking about this, a train for Swanage arrived. We decided to take it and to remain on it for the return journey to Wareham. Thus we enjoyed one more ride but made sure we got back to Wareham.
Back in Weymouth, we had to decide where to go for our evening meal. Tigger had heard of a restaurant called the Gurkha and, encouraged by the name, we thought we would try it. It sits in the River Wey where this broadens out in its approach to the sea, quite a pretty setting, especially in the evening.
I assumed that a restaurant with the name ‘Gurkha’ would serve Indian or Nepalese food. Instead, it turned out that it was one of those ‘fusion’ establishments, that is, one that serves food of more than one ethnicity, in this case predominantly Chinese and Indian. Service was in the format of a buffet and I found the mixture of smells of Chinese and Indian quite unpleasant. There was very little that was suitable for vegetarians, so we had a pretty miserable meal. Needless to say, we won’t be going there again.
If the end of the day had been disappointing, the main part had been good. Riding the trains and imagining ourselves back in the last century had been a happy adventure.
1Though I was not born and brought up in London, I have lived and worked here for the latter two-thirds of my life and so think I have earned the right to the accolade ‘Londoner’.
Wednesday, August 23rd 2017
Our stay in Weymouth ends today. Our train departs later this morning. We need not hurry but, on the other hand, there is no time to do very much.
We leave our bags for the moment at the hotel and go for a last ramble around Weymouth. We settle on a bench in Alexandra Gardens, near the Electric Palace and the amusement arcade, and spend a while watching the crows that frequent this little corner park. A member of staff is cleaning the place and shooing away the crows. They, however, are not so easily intimidated and continue raiding the the rubbish bins for food. It is fun to watch them.
Later we retire to a Costa coffee house and relax there until it is time to think about making our way to the station. Returning to the hotel, we collect our bags and say our last goodbyes, then trundle said bags through the back streets to the station, happily not too far away from the hotel.
Thus ends this year’s visit to the elegant seaside resort of Weymouth but I do not doubt that we shall return here again in the not to distant future.