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Favorite Places in England: Bournemouth

Let me tell you about a weekend trip I had to Bournemouth a few years ago, which has made it become one of my Favorite Places in England.  I was ridiculously behind on work, and I wanted to get out of London and go somewhere quiet where I could catch up and relax.  Hubby was in Amsterdam for a long weekend, and I was trying to think of somewhere fun.  I thought about the Winderemere and the Lakes District, but, as lovely as it is, it was a bit far, and I didn’t want to be quite so remote.  So I threw a dart at Southern England, and it landed on Bournemouth.  Actually it landed in the sea, but Bournemouth was the closest town that had a decent railway schedule, and so Bournemouth it was.

I knew nothing about it, and had no preconceptions.  I booked a room in a B&B, and made a special request to be in a room with good wifi (I’ve noticed it can be dodgy in some places) and packed a weekend’s worth of clothes and work.  The train station is a bus or cab ride away from the main high street area, and so I splurged on a cab, which I was glad about because the first thing I noticed straight away is that Bournemouth is hilly.  Not surprising given the fact that it’s by the cliffs on the sea, so one would expect some hills, and they’re not on San Francisco level, but they are pretty substantial.

So I get put in a room on the top floor of the b&b, which is filled to the brim with hen parties and stag parties.  And the two mixing out on the patio over which my room looked.  It was only 2pm but they were already quite drunk.  I didn’t mind though.  I enjoy hearing the sounds of people partying through my open window.  It makes me glad I don’t get drunk very often.  The bathroom was enormous and had a tub to match; one that I could practically swim in, as well as a fridge (in the general room, not in the bathroom).  Plus, the weather was enormously different than in London – I had left clouds and rain, and had arrived to sun and warmth.  So the first thing I did was walk down to the high street and explore the shoppinbournemouth balloong arcade.

Bournemouth isn’t a particularly old city compared to the rest of the south coast, dating only from the early 19th century.  The area used to be a haven for smugglers who would be hanging around the entire Dorset coast bringing in illegal goods in the coves and little inlets that dot the coast.  In 1810 a retired army officer, Lewis Tregonwell, passed through what is now Bournemouth and saw only a little bridge and an area of open valley out to Poole Bay.  He built up the area, and pretty soon it was a holiday resort.  The building of railways in the mid 19th century made it appealing to Londoners who wanted to get out of the smoky city.  In 1841 an author, Augustus Granville, visited Bournemouth and included it in a book he was doing of the best spas in England.  Soon enough people were flocking to the town to take in the sea air.

Anyway, back to shopping.  There’s a lovely two story Waterstones with a cafe on top, and other little shops, but I was headed to Boots where I loaded up on bath goodies, then to Primark for a cheap bathing suit and sunglasses, and then finally to Sainsbury’s across the street for some dinner.  Even though it was only 4pm on a Friday evening it was already packed with people loading up on snack food for the night of debauchery that would lie ahead.

I spent the first night working, but I really felt I was missing out considering Bournemouth is a huge party town and it was a lovely summer weekend.  I was, however, working California hours, so I was a loyal employee and stayed at my desk until 1am, when I finally started to feel caught up on work, and was enjoying a marathon session of the Bachelor with Spencer from Made in Chelsea.  Around midnight there was an awesome fireworks display over the pier and water, which I had a great view of from my fourth floor room.

And then the kids came back from the various stag and hen parties, and were all outside on the patio living life and being loud, and if I were a grinch I would have been mad about it, but seriously, it’s clearly a party town and I’m in a cheap b&b, so I didn’t feel very entitled to make a stink about it.  Anyway, it wasn’t loud enough that it kept me awake, and so around 2 I fell asleep to the raucous sounds of hookups and flirtations that would turn into hookups later.bournemouth

The next morning, Saturday, I went out for an exploration.  I was looking for a good American-style iced mocha, which I’ve found is really difficult to come across.  I finally found something that would do, and sat on the beach to write in my journal.  That was followed by a walk around looking at the cafes and trying to decide if I wanted to eat anywhere, but then deciding that really I didn’t, and what I would much rather do is go back to Waterstones and look at more books.  So I did, and then went back to Sainsburys for lunch and weekend newspapers (scrimp on food to be able to buy more books.  That’s my motto).

Photo from: http://www.dphotographer.co.uk/image/283487/bournemouth_beach_sunset_

Photo from: http://www.dphotographer.co.uk/

I did several more hours of work while watching a Come Dine With Me marathon (I really love that show), and then took several copies of Look magazine down to the beach with my new bathing suit and sunglasses, and caught up on all the gossip.  There are wonderful beach huts you can rent too.  I went out again once more to watch the sunset over the cliffs and hills, which was amazing.   Along the way, I met a wonderful little black and white cat, which seemed to be super friendly with everyone, and he and I talked and shared the sunset together.

There was once again a lot of debauchery going on in my b&b that night, but I went down to the pier to watch the fireworks, so I kind of joined in.  Sort of.

The next morning was super-quiet though.  I took a lovely long bath in the gigantic bathtub, and then went out for breakfast.  No one was around, all being hung over and nursing headaches, and wondering why the person they were in bed with was so much hotter last night at the bar.  So I went back to my iced mocha spot, and back to the beach where I wrote in my journal again, and enjoyed the solitude of the empty beach all to myself.  Then, because it was my spot and people were getting to know me there, I went back to Waterstones where I had a breakfast in the upstairs cafe, and got hit on by a guy called Cliff, which was great because it made me feel young and hot.  The conversation kind of went south once I mentioned my husband, though.  Anyway, he was cute, and we talked about traveling and books.  Good times.  Hey, Cliff.  Thanks for flirting with me.

Then back to the station, and back to Waterloo by 3pm.  Bournemouth: highly recommended if you don’t mind people partying all around you, and can handle being hit on by men called Cliff.