Bournemouth, Swanage, Portsmouth – travels with Battleaxe, three piers!

Excellent few days break, starting in Bournemouth (where they charge to go on a pier not nearly as good as Hastings), to Swanage, then up to Portsmouth and the Historic Dockyard, staying in Southsea.


View across to Old Harry Rocks
Hotel Riviera
View of the Isle of Wight from our room
Bournemouth beach from the West Cliff

On the face of it, the weather looked terrible, but we missed every single violent shower. Most of the photos show threatening storm clouds in the background…
    In Bournemouth, we stayed in a funny little place, the Riviera, right on the top of the West Cliffs, with excellent views across to the Isle of Wight from our room, and an easy stroll down to town. At first, we were delighted that it was a traditional seaside hotel, frilly curtains, eccentric staff, clanking metal grille lift, strange meal hours etc. but we soon tired of the traditional seaside hotel disadvantages – shower emitting feeble trickle, not understanding Earl Grey tea…
     At breakfast one morning Philosopher asked for just bacon. The ?Greek deputy manager gawped, incredulous. ‘You…. child…’ he sniffed.
    Bournemouth has a pier, which we could see from our bedroom window, but on inspection is was very tatty and uninteresting, and we were charged £1.10 to go on it! Hastings, please note!

Bournemouth pier – tatty

    Our best discovery in Bournemouth was the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. We saw this strange, turretted Victorian building from the pier, and investigated – and were totally astonished.

Russell-Cotes Museum

     Neither of us had ever heard of the place, but it is totally fantastic. Built in 1901 by wealthy collector Merton Russell-Cotes, it is in its original condition, and full of beautiful paintings and objects collected during extensive overseas travel. It is not entirely clear where they got their money from. Russell-Cotes owned and ran the enormous and very fashionable Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth, but it is hard to imagine that they made that much money from the hotel alone.
     There were wonderful pre-Raphaelites and much, much more, all in an incredibly ornate Victorian setting. Battleaxe would one hundred percent recommend a visit. Here are some photos:

     The Ladies loo was fantastic – all coloured, embossed tiles and ancient plumbing.

      We scarcely saw anything of Bournemouth, it didn’t look that interesting.  It has great sandy beaches, and apparently, three funiculars – of course, we did go on one….The next day we set off for Swanage via the Sandbanks Ferry.  Battleaxe and Philosopher do love a ferry.

Sandbanks to Swanage ferry

      In Swanage, we made straight for the railway station. I’ve been to Swanage before – on a geography field trip when I was 16. I can’t remember a thing about the place, and didn’t recognise it when we got there.  I think we came from Winchester (where I was at school to do my A levels) on the train. The line closed in the 1970s, and has only recently been restored as the heritage Swanage Railway.

Swanage Station

      As blog readers will know I’m sure, Battleaxe and Philosopher also love a steam railway, and waste no opportunity to take a ride. Off we went, to Corfe Castle. Rustic leafy ride…

      Corfe is a wonderfully picturesque station with its views of the ruined castle – I’ve seen this view on old railway posters. We didn’t go up to the Castle – weather looked too dodgy.

      The whole place seems to belong to the National Trust, and was like being in a model village. Philospher has old-style model villages on his list of loves, and Corfe has one, so we went there first. It was in a very pretty garden. If she’s honest, Battleaxe can take or leave model villages, but I was pleased to see that in the model of Corfe village, they had included a model of the model village, and in that model, you could just see a tiny model of the model village – but then it got too small…. All a bit surreal.

      We had lunch in the Greyhound pub – the first pub I ever went in on my own pretending to be an adult, with my friend Plum, on that long-ago field trip.

       Spent some time talking with the landlord, speculating what we might have had to drink. I only ever drank dubonnet at home, and could scarcely have asked for that (I hope), and neither Plum or I liked beer… so we decided cider would have been the most likely.
        The pub has gone all bleached wood and gastro now.
        Chuffed back to Swanage on the choo-choo, and went onto Swanage Pier – very small, and very much in need of restoration, but still charging 90p for ‘strollers’. I see they have just set up a restoration campaign.

        Next day, we moved on to Portsmouth, and the Historic Dockyard. Neither of us had revisited the Victory since we were small.  We got tickets for all attractions, which were valid for a year – for comments on mind-numbing cost of all these things, see later…
        We did the Victory first – fortunately it was quiet. Philosopher was disappointed because the ship had no masts up – I think they only go up on special occasions now.  I was struck by the sheer number of guns – the noise of battle must have been terrible, and it is not surprising that men were permanently deafened. Conditions on board were terrible full stop.

View from the window of Nelson’s cabin – new destroyer

Hammocks for the men….

         Next we visited the little WW1 Monitor gunboat, the HMS M.33, the only surviving ship from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Built in only seven weeks, conditions on board were very basic. We saw an incredibly effective – and poignant – film show with sound effects about the Gallipoli battles. Terrible once again, and I think for both of us, the highspot of our visit to the dockyard.
        After the war, the ship was sent to Russia, and we saw the cat door for the ship’s cat, Mrs Muggins, who was rescued once after falling overboard, and suffered a burnt tail when the ship was shelled.

M33 in her WW1 ‘Dazzle’ paint

        Then, to the museums to look at the collection of ship’s figureheads, followed by the harbour tour, on board a big catamaran. It was excellent – what with going to Hamburg, this is the second such tour we have been on in a month.  Hamburg was interesting becasue of the huge container ships. Portsmouth had a number of naval vessels in dock – several destroyers, a mine-sweeper and the aircraft carrier Illustrious, currently being decommissioned. There were also loads of big passenger ferry boats.

        By this time, we were worn out, so resolved to leave the rest of the things for a future visit. Drove across to Southsea, and our final hotel, the wonderful Royal Beach, on the sea-front at Southsea. A great place for lovers of grand old hotels – high ceilings – chandeliers modelled on those on the Titanic etc., but also faultless in terms of service and facilities. We had a huge room with a sweeping sea view across the Solent and the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour – I could have sat by the window the entire time just watching the ships go back and forth.  Battleaxe would totally recommend the hotel – and it is very reasonably priced, too.
       The hotel was right opposite yet another pier – the Southsea South Parade Pier, now sadly closed, and with an uncertain future.

Royal Beach Hotel
View from our room
View from our room

       So, we had a great time. English trips cost money. It is one thing for us, a couple, but what if you have a family? We were talking over £300 for hotels (and those were bargain basement rates).  Meals, drinks and refreshment breaks, approx £170. Ferry £9, pier admissions £4, Russell Cotes admission £12, train tickets £25, Model Village £7, Historic Dockyard £59. Then fuel, odd things we bought….


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