Saturday, 30 April 2011


Two more sea stacks, mini versions of The Needles, can be found in Freshwater Bay, products of the highly eroded chalk cliffs. The poet Lord Tennyson lived here between 1853 and 1864 in Farringford House, which is now a hotel. The memory of his time there lives on in the form of a trail named after him, The Tennyson Trail, just over 16 miles long, from Carisbrooke Castle to The Needles. In 1970, the area near Freshwater known as East Afton Down was the scene of another cultural phenomenon: the infamous Isle of Wight Festival of that year, Britain’s answer to Woodstock, featuring such giants as The Doors, The Who, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix, who gave one of his last great performances before his death. This wasn’t the first rock festival on the island, but is probably the best remembered, unfortunately not necessarily for the right reasons. There were a number of violent incidents, and the police had to intervene when a group of Hells Angels started causing trouble. The spine of East Afton Down, which takes in part of the Tennyson Way, was nicknamed Desolation Row during the festival, due to the fact that those who were unwilling or unable to pay to get into the festival congregated there for a free listen. Eventually the masses gathered there succeeded in tearing down the fences which were meant to keep them out, and the festival was declared free.

Map of the area.

Freshwater Bayphoto © 2007 Alistair Young | more info (via: Wylio)


When I was a child holidaying on the mainland with my parents, we made a day trip to the Isle of Wight, touring around the island. There are several things which stand out in my memory about that day, and one of them was Alum Bay with its multi-coloured sands. The cliffs at Alum Bay are formed from layers which were once horizontal, but have been uprighted so that the layers are now verticle, and the layers are a variety of colours. This results in different coloured sands, and I remember being fascinated by the souvenirs for sale in the gift shop consisting of glass containers with rainbow layers of alum sands. In Victorian times the sands were used to make artwork, a technique known by the term ‘marmotinto’.

Near Alum Bay is one of southern England’s best known geological features, The Needles, a row of three tall, pointy chalk stacks rising out of the sea at the western extremity of the Isle of Wight. A red and white lighthouse finishes off the row, like a jaunty bookend. Looking at the Needles website, and comparing it with what I remember, it would appear this beauty spot has been given the “Lands End treatment” (see my Lands End post if you are wondering what I mean), i.e. that it has been turned into a quasi themepark, offering “a range of attractions”...”the perfect day out for all the family” – oh dear. Looking at some of the reviews on Tripadvisor it would appear I am not alone in my dismay at seeing yet another wonderful beauty spot turned into an amusement park. No doubt there will be as many people disagreeing – oh well, each to his own.

Map of the area.

Needlesphoto © 2004 Peter Pearson | more info (via: Wylio)

Thursday, 28 April 2011


The little estuary town of Yarmouth is situated on the west side of the Isle of Wight, at the mouth of the River Yar. There is a ferry linking it to Lymington, a crossing of half an hour. For many years the town was protected by Yarmouth Castle, which was built by Henry VIII in 1547. Activities here centre around yachting and fishing, while during the summer there is an old paddle steamer called the Waverley, which takes tourists on trips round the island. There is a disused railway track which has been turned into a delightful walk from Yarmouth towards Freshwater, with wildlife viewing opportunities which include the possibility of seeing red squirrels.

In 1908 the sea off Yarmouth was the scene of a naval tragedy when a steamer called St Paul sank HMS Gladiator, which took just 20 minutes to reach the seabed. The tragedy took place during a snowstorm and resulted in 30 deaths and many more injured. The vessel was eventually righted using cables anchored to the shore, and the anchor points are still visible on the footpath between Yarmouth and Fort Victoria, the remains of which form the focal point of Fort Victoria Country Park. Attractions at the Fort include a planetarium, a maritime heritage exhibition and a marine aquarium.

For events on the island follow this link.

Map of the area.

Yarmouth Quayphoto © 2009 Steve Parkes | more info (via: Wylio)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Cowes can be reached from Southampton by ferry, and for those arriving without a car, there is an excellent bus network for exploring the island, and there are plenty of walking and cycling paths. Cowes is synonymous with yachting. Each year in August during Cowes Week, the town is descended on by thousands of yachtsmen and spectators. This event dates from 1826 and is the largest regatta of its kind in the world, holding up to 40 daily races for around 1,000 boats. The focal point of the event is the Royal Yacht Squadron in West Cowes Castle, an exclusive gentleman’s club founded in 1815. The town is situated on the banks of a river with a curiously Moorish-sounding name, the River Medina, and in fact there are two towns bearing the name on either side of the river, the main one, West Cowes and the smaller East Cowes. A vehicular chain ferry, the Cowes Floating Bridge links the two towns. Queen Victoria loved this area so much that she had a holiday home near East Cowes called Osborne House, which is open to visitors courtesy of English Heritage.

For events throughout the island, see here.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Anthony Eden, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


The last time I visited Southampton we were due to depart on a cruise from one of the city’s three cruise terminals. Southampton is such a major departure point for cruises that it is not unusual for several cruise ships to depart on the same day. In fact, the day we went out, we were the first of a convoy of four ships leaving Southampton, which made an impressive sight as we gazed backwards from the deck of our ship. For this reason, anyone visiting Southampton would do well to avoid the docks area on a day such as this, because the traffic generated by the cruisers-to-be causes a big tailback through the town. Happily, our ship made it safely back to Southampton a week later, which is more than can be said for the most famous ship ever to depart from there. The ill-fated Titanic left Southampton on 10 April 1912, having been declared “unsinkable”. I don’t need to remind you how misguided that description turned out to be. Next year the centenary of the disaster is due to be marked with a series of events.

Like Plymouth, Southampton suffered badly from bombing during World War II. However, there are glimpses of the city’s past still on view: the towers of the 14th century town walls, the 12th century Bargate building and the 15th century Tudor House. The city needed its walls, having been on the receiving end of a succession of attacks. The first fortifications were established following the Viking raids of the 9th century. In the 14th century the town was sacked by ships operating under Charles Grimaldi, the proceeds going towards the establishment of the Principality of Monaco. The city was an important centre for shipbuilding, including Henry V’s ship HMS Grace Dieu. Speaking of Henry V, a group of plotters were tried and executed for their part in the Southampton Plot, just before Henry’s departure for the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The trial took place in what is now the Red Lion pub in the High Street, and the executions took place outside the Bargate. Back in the present, alongside the luxury yachts moored at the waterfront development Ocean Village is the SS Shieldhall, built in 1955, the last working coastal passenger and cargo steamer, which is open to the public.

For events in Southampton, follow this link.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Rod Allday, via Wikimedia Commons


As we move around to the estuary area known as Southampton Water, the entrance to the estuary is dominated by the oil refinery at Fawley, the largest such facility in the United Kingdom. But moving up the estuary to Hythe, the shoreline is once again given over to leisure pursuits. One of the favourite activities at Hythe is to stand and watch the enormous cruise ships passing by, having left their terminals at nearby Southampton Docks. Meanwhile for the seriously well-heeled, there is a Marina with berths for expensive yachts, as well as a ‘village’ with waterside dwellings, restaurants, shops and bars. Properties in the marina can be had for upwards of £450,000 at the time of writing. It is no doubt an attractive place to live, since as well as the delights of the waterside on the one hand, on the other there is the New Forest right on the doorstep, which comes right up to the outer reaches of the town.

In 2003, Hythe made the national news when a 700-tonne dredger collided with the pier serving the ferry which connects Hythe with Southampton, splitting it in two and resulting in repairs costing £308,000. The following year, the captain of the dredger was jailed for eight months, having been found to be two and a half times over the drink drive-limit. The only thing to be thankful for about this sorry episode is that the ferry was not disembarking people at the time: shortly before the incident, 235 people had come off the ferry, on their way home from a football match.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Gillian Moy, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 24 April 2011


On the opposite bank of the river from Bucklers Hard is Exbury Gardens, a stunning woodland garden started in the inter-war period by Lionel de Rothschild. The gardens offer up a riot of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, to name but a few plants to be found there. Different features of the garden peak at different times of the year, for example the impressive rock garden is at its best in April, so whatever the season a visit to Exbury is a must if you are in the vicinity.

Heading back round to the Solent, we come to Lepe. There is a country park here with walks including a World War II walk featuring relics from D Day, Lepe being a number of places along the south coast which had a part to play in this pivotal wartime moment. There is also a wide variety of birdlife, including Little Egrets, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers. There was a harbour at Lepe village from the 1700s which was used for shipbuilding, but it silted up in 1825. This was another area where smuggling was rife, and the captain of a smuggling ship, Billy Coombes, was captured and hanged at Stone Point in the 1800s. Curiously, he has the same surname as George Coombes, who met a similar fate at Mudeford (see earlier post); maybe he was a descendent. Lepe’s contribution to the D Day landings included not only acting as a departure point for the troops and equipment, but also the construction of a Mulberry Harbour, a type of temporary harbour used to facilitate the unloading of troops onto the Normandy beaches, and as a mainland base for the P.L.U.T.O. pipeline, (Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean), which were used to pump the vital fuel supplies needed by the troops in France in order to carry out their operations.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons


For people who enjoy walking trails, Bucklers Hard, on the west bank of the Beaulieu River, can be reached from Lymington by means of a portion of the Solent Way, a 60-mile trail stretching from Milford On Sea to Emsworth on the border with West Sussex. The walk includes a corner of the New Forest, which lies just inland of this stretch of coast. Otherwise, Bucklers Hard is reached by means of a series of minor roads. Unfortunately, it is not possible to just turn up and wander round this picturesque riverside village and former naval shipyard. The whole village is a museum, and there is an entrance fee to get in. However, it is a worthwhile diversion, especially for history buffs.

Lord Nelson owed the existence of two of his fleet of ships to Bucklers Hard. His favourite ship, Agamemnon, was built in 1781, and saw action in the French Revolutionary, American Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Sadly, she came to an ignominious end in the River Plate during her service in South America, when she became grounded while seeking refuge from a storm. HMS Euryalus, built in 1803, took part in the Battle of Trafalgar and the War of 1812, but ended up in the breaker’s yard in Gibraltar in 1860.

A short distance further along the Solent Way from Bucklers Hard is the village of Beaulieu, which is famous as the location of the National Motor Museum.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Barry Shimmon, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 22 April 2011


The town of Lymington, on the Lymington River in the Solent, the stretch of water separating the mainland of England from the Isle of Wight, dates from the Iron Age. Between the Middle Ages and the 1800s, the mainstay of the economy in the town was salt, which used to be produced by evaporating sea water in copper pots. The salt was then shipped all over England. However, the industry died a death following the discovery of mineral salt in Cheshire. By then, Lymington had another string to its bow in the form of shipbuilding, helped along by the proximity of the New Forest, which proved a rich source of the timber needed to build the ships. Boat building remains big business in the area to this day. Another activity which was rife in Lymington several centuries ago was smuggling, and the town’s most famous smuggler was Tom Johnstone, who was a fully fledged smuggler by the time he reached 15. This was around the time that France and England were at loggerheads, and Tom Johnstone didn’t seem to mind which side he took, allegely working alternately for both the French and English governments, either as smuggler or revenue man. His life story was a dramatic saga of escapes, spells in prison and mishaps.

Much of the architecture of today’s Lymington is Georgian, and it has some charming cobbled streets. There are a number of attractive pubs, including The Ship, with a terrace overlooking the Marina, and The Angel, which is reputed to be haunted. The original inn to stand on the site of the Angel, called The George, dated from 1250, and there are two ghosts associated with it, one of a shadowy coachman, and the other of a tall figure wearing a naval uniform. Another spooky tale dates from the 60s, when a piano was heard being played loudly at midnight. The possibility of it coming from somebody’s radio was discounted due to the amateurish thumping that the “playing” consisted of. It transpired that the inn’s only piano had been broken up only the previous day.

For a list of events in Lymington and the surrounding area follow this link.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Margaret Sutton, via Wikimedia Commons


So it’s goodbye Dorset, hello Hampshire. Like Mudeford, Milford On Sea offers excellent views across to the Isle of Wight, which is not surprising since the spit of land which juts out just to the east of the village is less than a mile from the nearest point on the island. If you can summon up the energy to walk 2 miles over a pebble causeway to get out to this spit, you will be rewarded at the end of it with a chance to visit Hurst Castle, built by Henry VIII between 1538 and 1544 to defend the western approach to the Solent. It was here, in 1648, that Charles I was imprisoned before being tried and executed in London. The castle rediscovered its purpose in life during World War II, when it was manned with coastal gun batteries. In case the castle and guns are not enough to fill your visit, there is also a lighthouse with an exhibition. If you don’t fancy the walk to get here, there is a ferry crossing from Keyhaven in summer.

Milford On Sea itself has a villagey feel to it, enhanced by the presence of a village green. This hosts a May Day festival every year. Other events include a music and arts festival in late June/early July. To view the village’s surprisingly busy looking events calendar, see here.

Map of the area.

© 2005 C D Uglow, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Hengistbury Head is a headland with a spit at the end which creates the narrow entrance to Christchurch Harbour. Mudeford, named after the River Mude, started out as a fishing village, but has more recently expanded into a large residential area, forming the outfall of the Avon and Stour rivers. Mudeford Spit houses 300 beach huts which have been known to change hands for as much as 140,000 pounds. This may seem like a lot, but the setting is fantastic, fringed by golden sand, and with superb views of the Isle of Wight. The town still has a Quay, which is used for watersports and as a base for fishing boats, and the pub here is renowned for its seafood. The pub also has an interesting history, having been the scene of a battle between the Royal Navy and smugglers in the 17th century, culminating in the grisly sight of one George Coombes hanging from a gibbet outside the pub.

Highcliffe is dominated by Highcliffe Castle, a gothic revival dating from the 19th century which owes its existence to a large amount of masonry which was shipped across the Channel. The castle was built mainly between 1831 and 1836 by Lord Stuart de Rothesay. The building nearly came to grief as a result of fires in the 1960s, but was saved by Christchurch Borough Council, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

For events at the castle, see here

Map of the area.

File:Mudeford Harbour sunset.jpg
Photo by George Buckingham, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


If you park at the top of the town centre and walk down through the main shopping street as we did recently, Christchurch presents a fairly uninspiring initial impression. The main street looks a bit down-at-heel, with a liberal sprinkling of charity shops. However, as you approach the bottom end of the main street you are confronted with an incredible sight: the imposing Christchurch Priory Church, which has the distinction of being the longest parish church in the country, and which resembles a cathedral in appearance, both outside and inside. The origins of the priory date back to at least the 11th century. The day we visited, the donations being collected from vistors were being diverted to the town’s namesake in New Zealand, which had just recently been badly damaged by an earthquake.

Beyond the Priory Church, a pathway leads through to the attractive Quay, which provides a recreational haven formed by the mouths of the rivers Avon and Stour. There is a cafe and a cafe bar, and it is possible to buy food for the many swans which congregate in the area, pursuing visitors in the hope of being fed. The harbour was formed 7,000 years ago when the sea level rose at the end of the last ice age, and in ancient times was an important port for the export of copper, gold, silver and iron, as well as for the import of goods such as wine and glass.  The harbor is almost completely enclosed by the arm-shaped Hengistbury Head, and there is a Visitor Centre and nature reserve with walking trails on the headland.

For events in Christchurch, follow this link.

Map of the area.

Monday, 18 April 2011


On the rare occasions when the UK experiences a summer heatwave, prompting tabloid newspapers to scream predictable headlines such as “Phew what a scorcher!”, the accompanying photograph is almost invariably of a hideously overcrowded Bournemouth beach. This is because Bournemouth is one of the UK’s premier beach resorts, combining as it does a heady mix of sandy beach, shopping, vibrant nightlife and a varied restaurant scene, with the glorious Dorset countryside as a backdrop. A couple of years ago, Bournemouth decided that these fine attributes were not enough, and in a bizarre quest to emulate surfing hotspots such as Sennen and Newquay spent 3.2 million pounds on an “artificial surf reef” with the aim of generating waves big enough to attract the tanned and bleached-hair surfing set. However, the reef has been dogged with controversy, and has now had to be closed due to safety fears after an inspection found that the reef had changed shape resulting in dangerous undercurrents.

Bournemouth for a long time had a reputation as a magnet for the “blue rinse brigade”, however several weekend visits there over the last decade suggest that this is absolutely no longer the case, if the town’s nightlife at the weekend is anything to go by. Travelling back in time, Bournemouth rears its head in the works of Thomas Hardy, featuring as Sandbourne in Tess Of The D’Urbervilles. Meanwhile, Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Bournemouth in 1884, and while there wrote some of his most famous works, including A Child’s Garden Of Verses ,The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped. In 1887 he swapped Dorset for Samoa. The jury’s out on whether this was a wise move or not.

Not surprisiingly, a resort such as Bournemouth has a heady array of events throughout the year. The Bournemouth International Centre has regular events and concerts including some big names. There is also entertainment available on the pier. There is another pier just along the coast in Boscombe, and in summer there is a tourist road train linking the two locations.  For a list of events in the town follow this link.

Webcam view of the pier.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Christophe Finto, via Wikimedia Commons


Sandbanks, which sits on a narrow spit of land enclosing the northern end of Poole Harbour, has the distinction of containing some of the country’s most expensive real estate. If you have a few million to spare, you can pick up a nice balconied number with views across Poole Harbour or over Sandbanks beach and out to sea. For example, a quick search in March 2011 threw up a “stylish and contemporary first floor apartment situated on the waters edge boasting superb uninterrupted views stretching across Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island and Evening Hill” for a cool £1,595,000. Needless to say, the inhabitants of Sandbanks are not your ordinary average Joe, numbering a famous English football manager among its illustrious residents.

Hop on one of the jaunty little yellow boats leaving from Sandbanks and you will find yourself in another world. Sandbanks is one of two departure points for ferries to Brownsea Island – Poole is the other. This small island near the mouth of Poole Harbour is one of the few places in England where red squirrels can be seen, being protected from the domination of their pesky grey cousins by virtue of their island habitat. There are also sika deer and a variety of birdlife such as avocets, redshanks and green woodpeckers. This little paradise is presided over by the National Trust, which offers guided walks on the island. The island has a long history stretching back to at least the 5th century BC, the time of the earliest evidence of settlement. Perhaps one of the best-known facts about the island is that it was the location of the first ever Scout camp, held by Lord Baden-Powell in 1907. This was the testing-ground for the Scout movement proper which began the following year.

Map of the area.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Just north of the Isle of Purbeck is a large expanse of water called Poole Harbour, which is almost an enclosed lake but for the long spit of land at Sandbanks, which almost but not quite meets Studland Heath on the other side. The town of Poole, as well as being a tourist destination in its own right, is a jumping off point for the Channel Islands and Cherbourg, France courtesy of a number of ferry routes served by the town. The Harbour is a haven for watersports fans as well as for birdwatchers. The town of Poole is a mixture of the old and new, with a quaint old Georgian town nestling among the swanky new apartment complexes.

In the previous post, we met a group of rocks off Studland called Old Harry Rocks. Legend has it that these rocks were named after a notorious Poole privateer and smuggler called Harry Paye. During his lifetime which spanned the late 14th and early 15th centuries, and included a stint as a Commander in the Cinque Ports fleet, Paye went on the rampage along the coasts of France and Spain leaving a trail of devastation in his wake, for example by burning the town of Gijon in Northern Spain to the ground and stealing a valuable crucifix from the Church of Saint Mary in Finisterra. He also trounced a French fleet sent to help Wales' Owain Glyndwr with his uprising against the English. Paye’s memory lives on in Poole in the form of the annual Harry Paye Charity Fun Day; hopefully the money raised from these events goes some way towards atoning for the havoc wreaked by Paye all those years ago.

For events in Poole see here.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Roger Davies, via Wikimedia Commons


In Kingdom By The Sea, a book by the American writer Paul Theroux describing a tour around the British coast, he describes with some distaste how he came face to face with a naked person while walking along the dunes at Studland Beach. What he apparently failed to realise was that the northern part of Studland Beach contains one of the country’s premier “naturist beaches”, and in fact there is a sign warning approaching “clothed people” that they may encounter naturists here. This must provide an interesting ending for those who have trekked the 630 miles of the magnificent South-West Coast Path from Minehead – Studland is the other terminus of the route. Fans of the rock band Coldplay may or may not be aware that the video for the song Yellow was filmed on Studland Beach.

The path heading out of Studland village towards Swanage rises gently up to an area of rough heathland leading to a headland from which the chalk sea stacks of Old Harry Rocks can be observed. Harry, named after an infamous pirate called Harry Paye according to a local legend, used to have a “wife”, a smaller seastack, but she collapsed in 1896. The rocks make a perfect base for colonies of breeding sea birds, and peregrine falcons can also be found here. Further round on this path there are magnificent views over the bay at Swanage.

Map of the area.

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Old Harry Rocks. Photo by Gary Radford, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Swanage may not be one of the best-known or premier resorts in Britain, but it recently received a boost when it came tenth in a list of Britain’s best beaches. The setting of the beach is certainly attractive, backed by a sloping green and with lovely views along the coast and across to the Isle of Wight. The town is located at the end of a chunk of coast known as the “Isle of Purbeck”, although, like Portland, it is not an island at all, or even a peninsula, but more of a rounded protruberance, the northern side forming the southern edge of Poole Harbour.

The town used to be an important quarrying port, and if you walk along the seafront towards the harbour and look down to the ground, you can still see the rails which were used to transport stone between the quarries and the port. There are many fine stone buildings in the town centre, which were built by stone merchants and developers John Mowlem and George Burt. One of the attractions Swanage is best known for is that it is the terminus of the Swanage Railway, a short but highly scenic heritage railway which includes among its stops the delightful village of Corfe Castle, dominated by the romantic ruins of the eponymous castle. For those wanting to head east from Swanage in a hurry, there is a ferry linking it to Sandbanks on the other side of Poole harbour.

For a list of events in Swanage, follow this link.

Map of the area.


When you think of oil and nodding donkeys, which places spring to mind? Saudi Arabia? Dallas Texas? Azerbaijan? Dorset? Eh, what? Yes, that’s right: there is a nodding donkey on the cliff top at Kimmeridge Bay which has been producing oil since its discovery in 1959, over 3 million barrels to date. The oil came about as a result of organic matter buried within rocks laid down on a stagnant sea floor. In fact, such is the geological significance of this place that the type of clay found here and in a band stretching across England is named Kimmeridge Clay. We are still firmly in fossil territory here, and visitors to the bay will no doubt encounter plenty of people wandering around heads down, looking for relics from the Jurassic era.

If you dare to venture down to Kimmeridge Bay at night, be sure to listen carefully for the sound of screaming. Allegedly, the source of this spinechilling sound is the ghost of a smuggler, who was shot dead by a trigger-happy revenue man. If you are really lucky (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint), you might see a shadowy figure standing waist-deep in the sea.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Jim Probert, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Being a Preventive officer in the heyday of smuggling should have attracted danger money, for a risky job it most certainly was. In my previous post, I told the story of the Preventive officer who had a narrow, smoky escape after the pub landlord he was investigating tricked him into hiding in a chimney. Another Preventive officer called Lieutenant Knight met a far worse end at the famous beauty spot known as Durdle Door when he was beaten senseless by smugglers and thrown over the cliff. Further round the coast at Mupe Bay, there is a natural cave which was used to store contraband.

Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove are probably Dorset’s answer to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, in that they are almost certainly the most used images in promotional tourist material for the county. And rightly so, because they each make a striking sight: Durdle Door an almost perfect archway sticking out from the main cliff at the end of a golden beach, being formed by the weathering of the limestone which makes up this coast, and, a short distance further along the coast the near perfect horseshoe shape which is Lulworth Cove, again a product of the area’s geology. An interesting diversion can be had by walking east from Lulworth Cove along the coast path to a “Fossil Forest”. This is basically the remains of a 144-year-old Jurassic Jungle, which manifests itself as large doughnut-shaped lumps of rock. Meanwhile, for castle enthusiasts, the 17th century Lulworth Castle lies just inland from Lulworth Cove.

Map of the area.

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Durdle Door. Photo by Paul Allison, via Wikimedia Commons

Published by kind permission of Tim Baynes Art

Monday, 11 April 2011


It was while John Constable was staying in the Osmington area for his honeymoon that he painted the Bowleaze Cove painting referred to in the previous post. He also produced another painting around this time called “A View of Osmington Bay, Dorset”. This little village, nestling in a wooded valley, dwarfed by the surrounding hills, must have been an idyllic, peaceful spot in those days. Lately though, that peace has been shattered due to extensive work being done on the holiday park in the locality, causing tension among the locals living there. According to the local press in May 2010, local residents were threatening to chain themselves to trees and blockade the roads in protest at plans to cut down or reduce the size of around 100 trees at the holiday park. They were also deeply unhappy with changes which had been made to the park, giving it the look of a “concentration camp”.

There is an ancient pub in Osmington Mills called the Smugglers Inn, parts of which date from the 13th century. In the early 19th century, the landlord of the pub was the leader of the area’s most notorious gang of smugglers, Emmanuel Charles. It was said that the brandy imported by Charles was so disgusting that the locals refused to drink it, so it had to be transported inland to be redistilled. Charles had a sidekick nicknamed French Peter, real name Peter Latour, who used to anchor his ship, the Hirondelle, in the bay below the pub. One day Charles received a visit from an officer of the Preventive, the anti-smuggling force of the time, and plied him with drink, then told him terrifying tales about the ferocious nature of French Peter, so that when the latter turned up at the inn the Preventive was persuaded to hide in the chimney, only to be smoked out when the two smugglers set about lighting a fire in the grate, upon which he was sent back to Weymouth, still drunk and reeking of smoke.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Tim Marshall, via Wikimedia Commons


As you gaze across Bowleaze Cove, looking towards the east, your eyes cannot help but be drawn towards a rather startling long, low blue and white building in a distinctly dated architectural style, with a two rows of arches and a strange little tower in the middle. This building, which completely dominates the east side of the bay, is the Riviera Hotel, built in the 1940s, and operated for several decades by the “holiday camp” company Pontins. It is meant to be Spanish-style, but I don’t recall seeing anything quite like it in Spain. Still, it’s an interesting architectural relic all the same.

This spot on the Dorset coast had its moment of fame in the art world when John Constable painted “Weymouth Bay: Bowleaze Cove and Jordon Hill” in 1816-17. It is a slightly moody view of the bay, with angry-looking black and grey clouds rising up from the horizon. The painting is housed in the National Gallery in London. The hill named as Jordon Hill by Constable, houses the remains of a 4th century Romano-Celtic temple.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Andrew auger, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 7 April 2011


The island of Sark was once described as “the last bastion of feudalism in the Western world”, having had a 450-year-old feudal system. The system began when Elizabeth I granted the island’s feudal lord, or Seigneur, the right to run the island as a “royal fief”. Recent attempts to modernise the system were overturned by the Supreme Court, however this was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, and the island now has universal suffrage. This peaceful, car-free island is mainly dependent on tourism, and makes a lovely escape from the clamour of the modern world.

Herm is the smallest island in the archipelago that can be visited by the public, although not the smallest inhabited island. Like Sark, it is blissfully car-free, but unlike Sark the island even goes so far as to ban bicycles. However, the locals are allowed to use tractors. Herm is 3 miles from the coast of Guernsey and measures just a mile and a half by half a mile, so a visitor would have to be supremely lazy to want to drive around the island! There are a number of accommodation options for anyone wanting to stay overnight.

Map of Sark.

Map of Herm.

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La Coupee. Photo by Jan Hazevoet, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


It says a lot about the quirky nature of this friendly island, the third largest of the Channel Islands, but with an area of just four and a half square miles, that the airport lounge contains a box of knitting with an invitation to passengers to indulge in the creation of knitted squares while waiting for their flights. In spite of its small size, Alderney still manages to pack in 50 miles of walking paths, making it ideal for anyone wanting to explore the island courtesy of their own legpower. For wildlife enthusiasts, walking and wildlife can easily be combined thanks to the Alderney Wildlife Trust, which organises guided walks. Alderney’s most intriguing four-legged inhabitant is a rare blonde-haired hedgehog which you may glimpse at night if you’re lucky. Meanwhile, for the birdwatchers, there are 260 species of bird, including puffins and gannets.

Alderney has a history stretching back 10,000 years, with evidence of human habitation as far back as Neolithic times. The island also has some Roman remains. Alderney was once part of France, but gained independence in 1204. However, the threat from France was never very far from the minds of the islanders, and in the 19th century there was a big push to fortify the island, not surprisingly since France is visible from Alderney, being only 9 and a half miles away at its closest point. In the 20th century, the islanders’ fears of invasion proved founded, but this time not on the part of the French, but by Germany as, like its neighbours, Alderney was occupied during the Second World War. The island is still dotted with reminders of that time. The capital of Alderney, St Anne, has a population of around 2,000, which is most of the inhabitants of the island. During the War, the Luftwaffe built a bunker and tower in the town, which became the HQ of the German Defence Forces.

For events in Alderney, see here.

Map of Alderney.

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Braye Bay.  Photo by Andree Stephan, via Wikimedia Commons


The French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir visited Jersey in 1883, and while there he became so captivated by the bay at Moulin Huet that he produced a series of paintings of this beauty spot on the Guernsey coast. An example of his work can be seen at the National Gallery. The lovely sand gracing this beach is best enjoyed at low tide when there is more of it to go around. An 1837 issue of “The Guernsey and Jersey Magazine” includes an ode to this place, which begins:

Moulin Huet Vale is dark and steep
Moulin Huet Bay is broad and deep
In crystal blue its waters sleep
And through the glassy tide
The finny tribes of ocean glide
And sea-birds o’er its surface sweep

Map of Guernsey.

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Photo by John Rostron, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


Perelle Bay is a rocky bay on one of the most rugged parts of the Guernsey coast. It is home to a clutch of megalithic remains, such as Le Trepied Passage Grave at Le Catioroc and Le Creux es Faies Dolmen on the road to L’Eree promontory. Lihou is a small island connected to Guernsey by a stone causeway. There is a priory on the island believed to have been established in the 12th century by Benedictine monks. The local people were very wary of the monks, believing them to indulge in devil worship. In most cases this was patently unjustified, but there was one particular prior known as The Wicked Prior of Lihou who was rumoured to be in league with the devil, and who had an unhealthy interest in magic and what were referred to as The Black Books. However, legend has it that the prior was effectively destroyed by his own spells when a servant accompanying him on a visit to a nearby parish whose priest was also engaged in the Black Arts ignored the prior’s instructions not to read a book of spells the servant was carrying for him. The servant managed to cast a spell from the book which caused the sea to engulf the prior as he was crossing to the island along the causeway. There is a house on the island which was used by the Germans during the Occupation for target practice, but which is now used for accommodating school groups on educational visits.

Map of Guernsey.

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Lihou Island and Causeway. Photo by David P Howard, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 3 April 2011


One of the biggest bays on Guernsey, L’Ancresse, also known as Pembroke Bay, is a magnet for watersports enthusiasts such as windsurfers, surfers and sea kayakers. It also boasts a golf course, for more land-loving sports enthusiasts. Pembroke Bay was the venue for an unusual record-breaking event in 2008, when nearly 2,000 islanders turned up with teddy bears of all shapes and sizes to form a human/teddy bear chain, breaking the previous record of 631.

During the turbulent, war-torn years of the 1700s a series of defensive structures such as martello towers were erected on Guernsey, and there are a number of 18th century towers dotted around this area, providing a defence against large troop landings. Another fortification in Pembroke Bay is Star Fort, a star-shaped earthwork defence. Just around the coast from this location is a much older site of interest, Les Fouaillages, the metalithic site of what is thought to have been a monumental tomb, in a place where human activity of one kind or another is believed to date back to 8,000 years ago.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Jonathan Wilkins, via Wikimedia Commons


St Peter Port, the main town of Guernsey, has an appealing town centre, made all the jollier by the presence of some brightly coloured buildings in some of its main streets. The busy harbour is reached by the narrow ‘gunelles’ or alleys which lead down to it. Cornet Rock, reachable by a breakwater and bridge, has been the site of a succession of castles, the first having been begun in the 13th century. The present-day castle is open to visitors and houses a number of museums, including a Maritime Museum and a Militia Museum. Another attraction for visitors is Hauteville House, which was occupied by Victor Hugo following his exile from France in 1851. It was here that he wrote Les Miserables. He went first to Jersey, but settled in Guernsey after falling for the island. He is commemorated by a statue in Candle Gardens.

Like Jersey, Guernsey suffered a period of occupation during World War II. The island’s liberation took place on 8 May 1945, when an Allied task force headed by HMS Bulldog arrived off St Peter Port. Scenes from this event, including a march past by British troops in front of the British Hotel, can be viewed on the BBC “In Pictures” website. A few days after the liberation, the press reported on a “great convoy of mercy” as food and other supplies were brought to the island.

For events on the island through the year, see here.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Alistair Young, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 2 April 2011


St Aubin is at the opposite end of the bay from the island’s capital. It forms part of the parish of St Brelade, and in fact the Parish Hall is located in St Aubin, in a former railway station. The railway line which used to go from here is now closed; for a time during the war it was used by the occupying German forces, but closed soon after. Like many former railway lines in Britain, it has been converted into a walking trail, linking St Aubin with Corbiere, a distance of 6km. As well as the wonderful plantlife and trees which can be enjoyed along this trail, if you are lucky you may glimpse the odd red squirrel.

A few miles inland from St Aubin is probably Jersey’s most memorable wartime site, the War Tunnels, which were built into the hillside and used as a barracks and for storing ammunition. Exhibits inside paint a fascinating picture of what life on Jersey was like during the German occupation.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Marilyn Peddle, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 1 April 2011


St Brelade’s Bay has a big, sweeping crescent shaped beach lined with hotels, restaurants and cafes. Overlooking this enticing scene is the St Brelade parish church, which has alongside it the Fishermen’s Chapel, which, dating from the 11th century, is older than the church. During restoration work frescoes from the 14th century were discovered in the chapel, the one in best condition depicting The Annunciation.

Such is the appeal of the nearby highly picturesque Portelet Bay that it is often used in promotional material for Jersey tourism. The golden sandy beach is lovely, but escapes the worst crowds due to the long descent down via steps. Of course what goes down must come back up, but there is a pub at the top with lovely views where any thirst brought on by the climb can be quenched. There is a large rock just off the beach reachable by a short causeway – a kind of baby St Michael’s Mount – with a small martello tower on top dating from 1818. There is a sad story attached to this island, which is called l’Ile au Guerdain, or Janvrin’s tomb. Philippe Janvrin was a local seaman who in 1721 died of plague while out at sea. Due to the hysteria surrounding this particular disease the locals would not allow the body on land, but instead allowed it to be buried on the island, although it was later moved to nearby St Brelade.

Map of the area.

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Photo by FoxyOrange, via Wikimedia Commons