Thursday, November 25

The slapdash psychogeographic guide to Bournemouth

Almost every day, I receive an email saying (approximately)

“Paul, forgive me for asking, but could you give me some insight into the deep, dark heart of Bournemouth from your unique perspective as Britain’s leading cartographer of the psychogeographic landscape. I would be willing to pay you money for this. Do you have a Paypal account?”.

I am always humbled to receive these requests, so cast aside your Rough Guide, and let me take you on a voyage of exciting discovery around Bournemouth, my main photographic stomping ground.

I’ve taken so many photos here that I could probably create my own continuous Google street view composite of the whole town. But let’s look at the really important issues, such as where is the best Hungarian cake shop, and where was that Tony Ray-Jones photo taken?

The basics and town centre
The basics: Bournemouth is a large seaside town on the English south coast, popular with tourists, students, retired people, and stag parties.

Bournemouth town centre is pleasant, if slightly bland, and full of the usual high street shops. The town has many language schools, which gives the centre a cosmopolitan feel, with many French, German, Spanish and Italian students.

Unfortunately, the shopping zone seems to be drifting into clone town territory as the few independent shops and restaurants close to make way for chains. At odds with the generally affluent feel of the town, at the edges of the town centre – for example at The Triangle and near Bournemouth train station – there are stretches of recently closed shops. It seems that shops are still closing faster than they are opening...

Bournemouth Arcade in the pedestrianised central bit contains some interesting shops and architecture. The misleadingly named ‘Essentials’ jewellery shop in the arcade is worth a visit to see the stained glass window at the far end. I don’t know the exact history of this... There’s also a Waterstones bookshop in this arcade. Exiting the arcade, crossing the road at the traffic lights, and heading straight ahead brings you onto Westover Road, which has some posh shops and unintentionally hilarious ‘galleries’ for the well off who want something big and tasteless for their walls – these are recommended visits for a laugh

The horror...

Talking of horror, you are now close to St Peter's Church where Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried.

At the very centre of Bournemouth retail zone is a pedestrianized area called The Square, populated by shoppers, skateboarders, and a regular posse of elderly Italian gesticulators. At first glance, The Square seems a strange choice of name as it’s circular (and used to be a roundabout).

At the back of The Square is the round Obscura Café, which opened in 1999, however the titular camera obscura and viewing area upstairs is no longer operational. The Square separates the Central Gardens from the Lower Gardens, which lead down to the sea. The River Bourne flows underneath The Square, and while the name ‘Bournemouth’ might conjure up visions of a hefty river surging to the sea, all that remains of the River Bourne is a trickle.

Going south and following the Lower Gardens along the Bourne Stream brings you to Bournemouth Pier. Going in the other direction from The Square, heading northwards you can follow this narrow corridor of gardens for miles, and it become increasingly less manicured and more wild looking the further you go. Along the way are a water tower and a coy pond. Please consult a map!

If you are looking for more individual, characterful shops and experiences, I can recommend making the effort to visit the suburbs of Westbourne, Boscombe and Southbourne.

Westbourne is a genteel, well-to-do suburb to the west of Bournemouth and is well worth a look during the day. It probably describes itself as a village or something, and a visit is like stepping back to the 1970s, with loads of old-style and off-beat shops – ironmongers, florists, off-licences, ladies hairdressers, a hat shop, a chocolate shop, a vegetarian restaurant (Zoukinis), a decent fish and chip shop (Chez Fred) and an independent bookshop. Westbourne has its own arcade, which is being renovated at the moment, but its shops remain open during the work.

Westbourne’s formerly impressive ‘The Grand’ cinema is now a bingo hall. The Methodist church has recently been converted into a Tesco... It's a bit odd to queue for the self-service machine in front of a stained glass window. This is just one of about 47 Tescos in Bournemouth.

Westbourne also has one of the few ‘traditional’ style pubs in central-ish Bournemouth, the Porterhouse (113 Poole Rd), which is owned by Ringwood breweries.

Like the 1970s, Westbourne is closed on Sundays.

Westbourne is about 10 minutes’ walk from the Triangle. Or more interestingly, you can make your way up from the seaside promenade through Alum Chine (chine = narrow ravine found along coastlines, formed by the action of fast-flowing streams). There are a few chines in Bournemouth – Middle, Branksome and some others – but Alum Chine is definitely the most interesting and atmospheric. Before heading up the chine itself, visit Alum Chine Tropical Gardens to find the site of this Tony Ray-Jones’ picture… Clue: look for the sloping diagonal wall.

Alum Chine is the psychogeographic heart, or focus, of Bournemouth. You will have to trust me on this...

Walking up from the seafront along the steep-sided chine you pass under a scary pedestrian suspension bridge -

– it doesn’t look at all safe to me – and then you come to another two bridges. Stop for a moment to marvel at the root system of the tree behind you surrounding the chair, then turn left at the footpath (then look at a map to go to Westbourne). Going back to those bridges for a moment, the young Winston Churchill fell from the predecessor of one of these bridges and was seriously injured. The site of a former home of Robert Louis Stevenson is also nearby. While on the subject, other famous former Bournemouth residents include J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Shelley, Max Bygraves and louche Alex out of Blur.

A real contrast to Westbourne… Boscombe is an interesting locale to the east of Bournemouth town centre. Until recently this area did not have – ahem – the best of reputations but there has been a concerted effort to regenerate the area. It contains a rough and ready mix of the run-down, mundane, bizarre and eclectic. Boscombe has its own, basic pier, and much of the regeneration efforts and publicity has focused on the new artificial surf reef next to the pier and the nearby luxury flats. There is also an lively ongoing debate about whether the surf reef actually works...

Commissioned public art is now appearing in Boscombe, and vintage shops are springing up again near the local train station (Pokesdown for Boscombe). Near the pedestrianised centre of Boscombe, which also contains all the familiar high-street names, the splendid old Royal Arcade is worth a visit, as is The Reptilarium, a fish and reptile outlet ideal for that impulse purchase of a 20-foot python or Komodo dragon [check availability].

Data from the Office for National Statistics show that Boscombe has the highest number of dogs in prams in England.

Around the corner from Boscombe, and near Pokesdown station, is the pleasant suburb of Southbourne. The main area of Southbourne is Southbourne Grove, a long, wide shopping street that has some interesting, non-chain shops and many cafes. Shops include a wholefood shop, Earth Foods (75 Southbourne Grove) and the arty crafty Coastal Creatives gift shop/gallery type thing.

Fisherman's Walk Gardens, guarded by many carved cormorants and featuring a bandstand and small pond (as of March 2013 containing many frogs), takes you to the beach at Southbourne.

The Russell-Cotes Museum
This is a very interesting museum, 5 minutes’ walk from Bournemouth Pier. Located on the top of East Cliff, the museum is the legacy of Sir Merton Russell-Cotes, a wealthy resident and former mayor of the town. Russell-Cotes commissioned the building in 1897 as elaborate outhouse to display his collection of art from around the world. The architecture incorporates Moorish, Japanese and French as well as Victorian influences, and is open daily, except Mondays, from 10 am to 5 pm.

Admission was free but for a 3-month pilot period from 5 July to 30 September 2011 there is an admission charge. Also, please note that the museum has recently banned photography inside the museum in a slightly tawdry and embarrassing attempt to flog a few more of their postcards.

Two piers
The Rough Guide to Dorset, Hampshire & the Isle of Wight (published 2010) describes Bournemouth Pier as being ‘stuffed with the usual amusements and arcades’.

This is not really true – outside the entrance there is an amusement arcade, but the pier itself is quite a low-key affair compared with, say, Brighton Pier. In high season there are a few rides and a helter-skelter at the end, but even these disappear in winter. There is a cafe/restaurant (Key West) and a theatre showing old-school entertainment and variety acts such as Syd Little and panto, as well as occasional film and animation festivals. There is no piped music or fast food.

The pier can be quite atmospheric at night but the opening hours seem to be entirely irregular and random, so don’t make plans. Entrance to the pier is 60p when busy, or free when not. Or otherwise.

Heading east, Boscombe Pier is a minimalist affair. Google it to find a load of similar photos facing out to sea with the windbreak in the centre (I have one, of course)!

Grumpy old men pubs, etc.
Bournemouth town centre at night is the usual vomitorium of vertical drinking establishments. In fact, Bournemouth has very few decent pubs. For grumpy old men who want to sit down, read a paper and nurse a half pint of Guinness, I can recommend

The Porterhouse, 113 Poole Rd, Westbourne (see above).

The Goat and Tricycle, West Hill Road, on the outskirts of the town centre, near the Triangle. Probably describes itself as Bournemouth’s best kept secret, or similar.

Daisy O’Briens, 77 Old Christchurch Road, right in the town centre, next to FatFace and the Early Learning Centre. A small, traditional-style pub – a nice regular crowd but its size and location means it can get over-run by rather common people at weekends, etc.

Sixty Million Postcards, 19–21 Exeter Road, centrally located just up a hill from The Square – wacky student drinking venue with chilled vibes, occasional DJs, Facebook page, etc. etc. blah blah. The security guards can be a pain at busy times during the evenings (for example after a search, I was made to leave a bottle of water at the entrance in case it contained booze - what a welcome).

Reef Encounter, 42 Sea Road, Boscombe, BH1 4DW
Stylish modern bar and eating place just up the road from Boscombe Pier. Leffe, outside drinking area, sea kelp moisturiser in the toilets. That sort of thing.

Norwegian Wood, Glen Fern Road, Bournemouth BH1 2NA. Central.
Long-running caff-style cafe serving all-day trad and veggie breakfasts. Good service and food. One of few central independent options. Owned in the 1960s by Jimmy Savile, but don't let that put you off...

Cali Cafe, 204 Old Christchurch Road, Bournemouth, BH1 1PD. Central.
Characterful, family-run cafe on this road full of restaurants. "Brazilian & Colombian specialities" as well standard cafe snacks - omelettes, etc.

Rare Books & Posters, 11 Queens Road, Bournemouth, Dorset BH2 6BA – insane, tiny bookshop between the Triangle and Westbourne with books and memorabilia piled to the ceiling. Has to be seen to be believed. Go and buy something.

Love-From-Hetty-&-Dave, 864 Christchurch Road, Boscombe – a new shop near Pokesdown station offering handmade fashion accessories and vintage clothing.

B&J Patisserie, 806 Christchurch Road, Boscombe BH7 6DF. Homemade cakes, coffee, ice-cream and toasted sandwiches from this Hungarian family business near Pokesdown station. Very reasonable prices - my new favourite shop.

The Crooked Book, 725 Christchurch Road, Boscombe – interesting tea-shop cum bookshop with vintage artifacts/nik-naks. Runs literary/arty events and stuff.

What Alice Found, 805 Christchurch Road, Boscombe BH7 6AP. Boutique shop type thing stocking an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, hats, bags, shoes, lingerie, homeware, bridal attire, collectibles and work by local artists. Across the road from B&J Patisserie.

All photos copyright Paul Russell 2011


joe said...

good read Paul, though does make B'mouth sound more exciting then it is ;)

i did think that i'd have preferred them to be seperate posts on each area, with example piccies. As u do jump from place to place & i'd have liked to read how you walk from one area to another, how these spaces connect.


Paul Russell said...

You're right Joe, although I'm not entirely sure how these spaces connect myself. Maybe I will add a primitive map or graph. I will add some pictures.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the guide. Made our second visit to Bournemouth great. Took ages to find the suspension bridge. At least it wasn't slashing it down like last year.

Paul Russell said...

Great to hear that this post was of some use!