H has a theory that my veins run with salt water. I grew up on the south coast of Devon in a land of salty breezes and going swimming in the rain, and since our transplant to deepest, sunniest, rural, landlocked Warwickshire, every now and then he decrees that my seaside levels have dipped a little too low, and packs us all up for a trip to see some big skies and lots of water.
This week we took a couple of days holiday, packed our buckets and spades and pointed the car due south, all the way straight down the country to the south coast. We were staying near Lymington but on Thursday we scooted a little further down to Bournemouth for a little reminisce.
My Great-Aunt (and before her, my father’s maternal grandparents) lived in Bournemouth so Dad grew up knowing the area fairly well, and in our turn, we learnt the overcliff, the piers, the best fish and chip shop, the ferry to Sandbanks, and the joys of collecting treasures on Shell Bay. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve been back; the last time we drove Aunt Marjorie to the undercliff car park, loitered under the indulgent eye of the parking warden, and sniffed the sea breezes as we poured sand through her fingers. She was in her late nineties and practically blind but she loved the sea just as much as the rest of us.
There is an undercliff car park that runs all the way between Boscombe and Bournemouth piers and on a Thursday in March it’s not drastically busy so we made that our first stop, and after a few leaps and whoops of joy (from a member of the party who shall remain nameless), we set about the all important task of introducing Kitty to the very great joys of bucket and spading.
She was a little hesitant at first (that’s a screech of delight I promise); she’s seen a beach before, but it was shingly and she was safely tucked up on Grandpa’s lap at the time. Once she saw what you can do with a bucket and spade though, she was convinced, and set about shovelling minuscule amounts of sand into the bucket with great gusto.
We built a solid defensive wall of sandcastles, and with the high tide mark some feet below us on the sand, they should stand until the next gale/ spring tide/ passing pedestrian.
My hard northern Yorkshireman stayed wrapped up against the balmy weather in waterproof and hiking boots but Kitty and I went down to bare feet to the bliss that is wriggling your toes in the sand, and I waded in and out of the shallows to find her the prettiest shells and pebbles to decorate the castles.
When we’d had our fill of bucket and spading (and Kitty’s feet started to turn towards a hint of lilac) we loaded her up into the sling and set out for another Bournemouth family tradition: chips.
The original pier is long gone, having fallen apart at least twice, and had the end blown off to prevent it being used as an invading force’s landing stage in the Second World War. Certainly Dad’s recollections of the pier from his childhood are of a ruin. According to the photos on the pier, until 1957 it looked like this:
The craze for roller rinks over water having (sadly) passed, it’s a shorter and simpler promenade today. But I think that makes it all the more fun. Relieved of the pressure to provide arcades and entertainments, Boscombe pier can be whatever you want to make of it, and it’s easier to let your imagination drift you back to a time of tea dances and flowery frocks, or Victorian upholstery with a big picture hat and a shady parasol, with Kitty alongside in a bonnet and a blue sash and H as a vision of linen and pipe clay, or just enjoy sandy trousers, damp socks and wind tangled hair.
Fuelled by the chips, we strolled down the undercliff to Boscombe’s sister pier. Bournemouth, a mile and a half to the west, is the more commercial of the two piers, surrounded by arcades, peeling paintwork, and a distinct feeling of being ‘out of season’.
The pier itself is bigger and longer, with an entire theatre and a coffee shop sat securely above the waves.
Like Boscombe, it was dismantled during the war, but rebuilt in some shape or form for the first summer of peace, and I can remember it being rammed on hot August days, with day tripper boats jostling for space at the jetties. Perhaps the ‘ching’ of slot machines rather inhibited our imaginations, but we didn’t linger.
The real treat of Bournemouth Pier is the view back towards the beach. Well, more specifically, the beach huts. They are something really rather special, particularly for all colour magpies so they deserve an entire post of their own, but for now, here’s a little taste: