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Bournemouth: Take a break at Dorset’s premier coastal resort

By Rebecca Underwood on 7th July 2018

Stroll sedately along the promenade beside the seven mile stretch of soft sandy beach and admire the view of the pier. And whilst the seagulls squawk and swoop overhead, take in the intoxicating smell of the briny. Welcome to Bournemouth, Dorset, on England’s southern coast.

Recipient of the 2017 Best Travel Award for the UK’s Best Seaside Town, Bournemouth attracts more than five million visitors every year and there is much to explore.

I started off with a wander along Bournemouth Pier, which has a fascinating history dating back to 1856 when a wooden jetty was completed. A wooden pier replaced the jetty five years later but this survived for only fifteen years as it was destroyed by a ferocious storm.

In 1880 a new pier was opened, a bandstand and shelters were later added, and the pier was extended to a length of 1,000 feet. Due to corrosion, the pier was rebuilt in 1979 and today’s visitors are richly rewarded with modern attractions such as the RockReef, which features 25 climbing walls, an aerial obstacle course, Pier caves, a vertical slide, and a leap of faith jumping challenge.

Zip surfing on the pier

Or, for the very adventurous, there is a pier to shore zip wire. I watched a few courageous souls launch themselves from a platform 25 metres above the sea then ‘zip surf’ 250 metres above the waves and land on the sand. There was a spontaneous round of applause from the spectators but I found the very idea rather unsettling so I headed for the Key West Restaurant on the pier to take advantage of the calming views across the ocean.

I sampled the delicious Moules Mariniere with onions, garlic, and a splash of white wine, and accompanied by a generous glass of Ponte Pinot Grigio 2017, it was the antidote.

After a brisk walk along the pier, I made my way to the Oceanarium, which is only a stone’s throw from the pier entrance. The aquarium houses more than 300 different species including rare green sea turtles, brightly coloured clownfish, fierce piranhas with razor sharp teeth and sharks with callous expressions.

Seeking a more pleasant encounter I headed to the otter enclosure to watch their playful and delightful antics and then I arrived at the Humbolt penguin enclosure just in time for the feeding session, which resulted in a squabble or two over a fish supper.

For my own fish supper I went to Harry Ramsden’s opposite the pier. Selecting an outside table with a beach view, I savoured the fresh fish ‘n’ chips with mushy peas and a thirst quenching glass of raspberry lemonade. Harry Ramsden’s has been serving our national dish for 90 years and it’s sure to continue.

The Exchange Buildings are home to modern and spacious apartments

Bournemouth offers a wide variety of hotels but for those keen to avoid time restrictions for meals and limited space, opting for a serviced apartment is just the ticket. I stayed in a spacious self contained, two bedroom apartment within the Exchange Buildings located on Upper Hinton Road.

The apartment is delightfully peaceful, light and airy, with modern furnishings, comfortable beds and a large kitchen, which featured every appliance including a fridge-freezer, oven, washing machine/dryer and a dish washer.

The property is adjacent to St Peter’s Church, a grade I listed building, which is where Mary Shelley, author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein, is buried, and Bournemouth’s shops and attractions including the Pier and the Lower, Central and Upper Gardens, are all within walking distance.

The verdant and beautiful gardens, which stretch from Bournemouth Pier, cover three glorious kilometres. I wandered along one of the paths as the mixture of floral scents emanating from an enormous variety of plants and shrubs filled the air and I reflected on the history of the Grade II listed gardens.

In 1859 the owners of the land gave permission for the area to become a public pleasure ground and in 1872 the Upper, Central and Lower Gardens joined together to become one. In the 1920’s the pavilion, in the Lower Gardens, was built. Ornamental rock gardens and charming small waterfalls were installed and many of the trees and shrubs remain in place to this day.

The famous gardens meet the sea

The Upper Gardens include tennis courts and I watched the action for a while and noted the water tower, which dates back to between 1883 and 1903. In 1992 the Upper Gardens were replanted to include meadow walks and ample seating areas where I watched the frisky squirrels going about their daily business.

For an unforgettable encounter with wildlife, Monkey World, located in Longthorns, Wareham, which is only 22 miles from Bournemouth, is a very special experience. This highly respected rescue centre for abused apes, founded in 1987 by the late Jim Cronin, provides sanctuary for more than 250 primates from around the world, including chimpanzees, orang-utans, gibbons, macaques, woolly monkeys, squirrel monkeys, marmosets, tamarins and lemurs.

The successful television series Monkey Business, which premiered in 1998, focused on Jim Cronin and his wife Alison, travelling around the world, rescuing primates from appalling situations and transporting them to Monkey World where they now live in comfort and safety and in the company of other members of their species.

Meet the monkeys! Image credit: MonkeyWorld

Monkey Life, a follow-on series was created in 2006 and continues to this day. Be sure to attend the keeper’s talks, particularly the spider monkeys, capuchins and stump-tailed macaques and don’t miss the chimpanzees feeding session.

For my own dining experience I visited Banque and Bohem, located on Poole Hill, a short walk from the centre of Bounemouth. Housed in an old auction house, which dates back to the 1920’s, the property has retained some striking features, including imposing marble pillars, glittering chandeliers, and an enormous room-sized Chubb safe, which is now an additional dining room.

I ordered the succulent roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape, which were served with aplomb and the ‘live’ entertainment, which was a singer/guitarist covering some relaxing tunes created a ‘chilled’ atmosphere.

Sunset over Bournemouth Pier

Or, for a more formal affair, and the option of ‘alfresco dining’, head for Brasserie Blanc at the Marriott Highcliff Hotel on St Michael’s Road. I sampled the delicate flavours of the Malabar fish curry with toasted coconut, followed by the zesty lemon tart served with Normandy sour cream.

As I admired the splendid vista across the ocean I held my cool glass of Chardonnay aloft in respect of Bournemouth’s famous residents Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her esteemed husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. And as the sunshine faded and the clouds gathered I contemplated on his words:

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,

From the seas and the streams,

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid,

In their noon-day dreams’.

Top Tip: Accommodation

For more information on the featured apartment and more, visit esa-servicedapartments.co.uk or call 0845 003 0607 or email enquiries@esa-ltd.co.uk.

Top Tip: Attractions

For more information on Monkey World visit  monkeyworld.org or email:apes@monkeyworld.org. Donations can be made to the ‘Jim Cronin Memorial Fund for Primate Conservation and Welfare’, Charity no. 1126939, and sent to Monkey World, Longthorns, Wareham, Dorset BH20 6HH.

Top Tip: Travel and Tours

You can save, on average, 43% by booking in advance with Trainline versus the cheapest non-advance fares.For more information download the Trainline app or visit Trainline.com.

The City Sightseeing tour on the hop-on/hop-off bus departs hourly between 09.00 and 17.00 hrs from Bournemouth Pier to Poole via Sandbanks and return.
For more information visit citysightseeing-bournemouth.co.uk or email: info@city-sightseeing.com.

*Images courtesy of Bournemouth Tourism