I do like to be beside the seaside.
I heard a rumour there was sand at Bournmouth. Beaches of the sort which we, Bondi snobs would be familiar with (no, Brighton, as much as your aspirational instincts might like you to be, you’re not a beach).
With the sun set to appear over the weekend a short minibreak was scouted. Two hours on the train from Waterloo, enough time to wander up and down a beach promenade, eat local seafood, sleep in a king sized bed, source out good coffee, have a swim and head home again. It was good.
If that sounds like something you’re interested in, here it is; 24 hours in Bournemouth; sorted.
9:04 am- Train from Waterloo to Bournemouth
I also get excited about a train trip. It’s something about the projected romance, the rattle of the carriage, the scenery whizzing by. My favourite trips? Bologna to Venice is a treat (it’s something to do with arriving right next to the water in Venice). The Hungry One also raved about the overnight Caledonian Sleeper to Edinburgh (though his feet did peek out past the end of the bed).
It should be said, the train south from Waterloo to Bournemouth is not as romantic as it could be on a stickily hot Saturday; the air conditioning on South Western trains spluttering along and no where to get potable water once on board. Yet it’s much more efficient than fannying about with a rental car and maps. Book your tickets ahead of time from http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/ for the best rates. Get to Waterloo in plenty of time to grab a newspaper and source your platform from the big blinking boards. And take heed. When they say the doors close 30 seconds before the departure time, they mean it. Don’t be that person.
11:00 – Arrive Bournemouth Station
It’s about a 30 minute walk through Bournemouth town, down to the pier and along the promenade towards Poole before you reach the West Cliff Lift.
The West Cliff Lift is a dinky inclinator, built in 1908. It may cost you a pound or two to go up, but if you’ve got bags it’s worth it. Pose for a photo or two while you’re in it.
The Marriott is perched up on high, looking out over the bay. It’s the sort of view that makes you want to stand on your tippy toes and pose whether you can see France from here. It’s an eggshell and cream hued mansion of a place, that evokes thoughts of Manderlay. There are two swimming pools; one inside, the other out. Both are shallow, heavily chlorinated and flocked with toddlers and youngsters.
This is the sort of hotel that’s booked out most Saturday nights for weddings. The sounds of ‘Brown eyed girl’ and ‘Tainted Love’ waft upwards through the floorboards from Harry’s Bar towards the rooms at 11.30 pm. There’s a gym. There are thick towels and flat screen televisions in the rooms and strange square shaped pillows that don’t quite fit under your neck. There are ginger and chocolate biscuits to go along with the kettle and English Breakfast teabags and UHT milk. What there isn’t is a card that’s handed out at reception to say ‘don’t always accept the first room offered’. Our first; miserly and mean, like a cruise ship cabin with scarcely space to skirt between the double bed and the wall. A few gentle words at reception and smile and suddenly a room with a king bed materialised. Another lesson. Someone might have to have the small room. It just doesn’t have to be you.
12:00 Brunch and a walk to Cafe Boscanova, Boscombe
There is plenty of food for sale down near the pier. Most of it is soused in sugar, or fish has is mummified in batter until it’s either as brittle as autumn leaves or as sodden as your shorts post swim. If you continue along the beach side path, past Peppa Pig Land, the roller rink, wooden pier and the carnival rides, and along the beach front path for around a mile and a half you’ll reach Boscombe. From the pier turn left and up the hill. You’re searching for the centre of town. You’re after a place called Cafe Boscanova.
It’s on the pedestrianised shopping mall, near the Primark and Sainsburys, across from the Barclays Bank. It’s the sort of cafe you wouldn’t be surprised to find in LA’s Venice Beach or Byron Bay. The staff are young and sporting hessian pants and occasional ink. There are seats both outside and in. The menus are flimsy things printed on paper, but there’s plenty with promise. The real beacon that it’s going to be good is the La Marzocco coffee machine inside.
Flat whites, piccolo lattes and ristrettos; all are in common parlance. And breakfast is served all day. For those concious that they may have to strip down to togs later on in the afternoon you may be more taken with the granola with yoghurt, stewed cinnamon apple and a pimped side of blueberries (£5.95). It’s a portion size that justifies the long walk here.
Others may be more swayed by the fat discs of pancakes in the Lumber Jill (£7.95), two Canadian pancakes, topped with maple syrup, with bacon, sausage and an egg on the side. Perfect for those (like The Hungry One) who often can’t choose between sweet and savoury).
4:00 pm – Swim
‘You’re not really going in, are you?’ Oh senior British citizens, you entertain me. Yes, we’re going in. It can’t be that cold. Past the rows of beach huts, coloured like houses from Noddy books and stuffed with chairs, board games, umbrellas, custard cream biscuits and kettles is the beach itself. In high summer the water seems to peak at 18 C. It’s shallow, the sand strewn with the occasional pebble. The water seems briney and dull, peppered by stray weeds and panadol packets. It may be conceivable to swim from here to France, but after ten minutes, I’ve had my fix.
7:00 pm- Dinner at The Crab
You can’t come to Dorset and not eat seafood. One of the best local bets is The Crab. It’s got the vague ambience of a Thai hotel chain, dark wood floors, green plants and cream and burnt orange accents. At the entrance there’s a grand piano. I wondered if anyone would play it. Perhaps after a few glasses of rose I might be tempted to bust out “Für Elise . Within fifteen minutes there’s a gentleman in a waistcoat and short sleeved shirt, sitting down to churn out dinner music standards.
There are lovely touches here; wine available by glass, bottle or 500 ml carafe. Oysters arrive with a weak mignonette, lemon halves sheathed in cheesecloth to prevent errant pips. The salt on the table is in fat flakes, the pepper ready to grind fresh.
And the main course shared seafood platter (£40) is plenty for two to share, with plump scallops, large hot prawns, clams, mussels, salmon – and hefty sections of local crab.
If you wanted to get picky you could point out that there weren’t finger bowls or receptacles to place the shells in. That there were a few mussels on the plate that hadn’t completely opened. And that while the lemon and elderflower tart for dessert was summer-fresh with citrus and crisp pastry, the elderflower flavour was missing in action.
But there’s no point being that picky. Because you’re on holiday. You just ate seafood. You had a swim. And you’re going to walk up the hill now and sleep in a king sized bed, soothed to sleep by both the sound of both the ocean, and the disco from the wedding downstairs.
11:00 am - check out and catch the train back to Waterloo.