25th November 2018

The Bournemouth X Factor

The Bournemouth X Factor

The Bournemouth X Factor is not a reference to the television talent show but some characteristics of Bournemouth that make it a very special place to visit. As I was walking towards the crowded sea front that I could see in front of me I noticed a garden below me and decided to visit that first. At the bottom of a flight of stone steps I had a lovely view of the Town Hall bathed in autumn sunshine behind an avenue of majestic trees. The centre piece of these gardens is an impressive war memorial built between 1920 and 1922 to commemorate the fallen during the First World War. This was the first of several impressive gardens I discovered in Bournemouth.
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The Cenotaph in the Central Gardens in Bournemouth

Three Urban Gardens in Bournemouth

I had stumbled upon the Central Gardens , created during the Victorian era when the town of Bournemouth was established in an area of pine plantations and heathland. During this period horticulture became a priority expressed in the development of public pleasure gardens. The Bourne Valley, a linear bog through deserted heathland was developed into an impressive stretch of public pleasure gardens. I had arrived in the middle garden of the three that lie on either side of the Bourne River. Many of the trees and shrubs planted during the creation of these gardens can still be seen today. And the Town Hall also dates back to that period. This building was originally the Monte Dore Hotel opened in 1885. Water was pumped from the sea so hotel guests could have hot or cold salt water baths. It was used as a hospital during the First World War. In 1921 the council bought the building which it still uses as its Town Hall.
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The Central Gardens in Bournemouth

Turning my back on the sea I set off to walk inland, curious to see how far the gardens extended. I was also enjoying the tranquillity as I strolled along the banks of the little river, so narrow in places that I could have jumped across it. Other visitors came and went using the regular access stairs down into this urban river valley. It was easy walking on the path and I made occasional forays across the lawn to the riverside. It was not long before I came to the Upper Gardens. It was such a lovely day and the river stretched in front of me as far as I could see so I decided to continue walking through the gardens.
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The Upper Gardens in Bournemouth

In the Upper Gardens I found a more natural landscape – willow trees bowed down to the waters of the river where water-loving plants flourished in abundance. Once known as Miss Durrants Garden, these gardens were created towards the end of the nineteenth century. By that time this area had become known as the Coy Pond Meadows, named for a decoy pond that had been created to attract wildfowl for shooting parties. Members of the public were allowed access to these private gardens subject to none too onerous restrictions. Private ownership of this garden ceased in 1921 but some of the features created by the Durrant family can still be seen today. The gothic style Water Tower was built around 1885 to water the gardens and supply an ornamental fountain. It has been renovated and adapted to encourage the bats that feed in the gardens to use it. Pretty little bridges provide crossing points on a regular basis.
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Water Tower in Upper Gardens in Bournemouth

Whenever I came to a junction on my way there would be a sign pointing to Coy Pond. I made that my objective but I did begin to wonder if I would ever get there. My journey to the pond took me through the Coy Pond Gardens where local residents have created an impressive terraced rock garden
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Coy Pond Gardens in Bournemouth

Walking through the Coy Pond Gardens I had spotted the Coy Pond across the road and went over to have a look. Coy Pond and the gardens were created during the early 1930s on the site of former allotment gardens surrounding a pond from which the present pond was developed. Geese, ducks and other water fowl have made this pond their home. It was an easy and very pleasant walk of around two kilometres to Coy Pond. After doing a circuit of the pond I decided to return to the town to find the Lower Gardens. As it was autumn and the day was short I got the bus back into the town centre. Bournemouth is a large conurbation of several areas that were originally separate villages and a day ticket for the local buses is the best way to get around.
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Coy Pond in Bournemouth

The Lower Gardens or Pleasure Gardens as they were once called, are close to the sea front and much busier than the gardens I had just walked through. This is the area where visitors can find different attractions as the seasons change. The River Bourne widens here as it approaches its outlet into the English Channel. It is flanked with formal flower beds on one side and Westover Gardens on the other. There is a small aviary in Westover Gardens which also feature an avenue of small stalls that are used by the Art and Makers market on a daily basis during the summer. The Lower Gardens were established in the 1870s and the Head Gardener would be around at weekends to talk about them at the weekends. Live brass band concerts were a regular and popular feature here. The present bandstand dates from 1933. I ended my walk in these gardens at the stunning rock gardens featuring rock pools linked by cascades of water in front of the Pavilion. The Art Deco Pavilion, established in 1929 features a theatre and dancing rooms.
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The Lower Gardens in front of the Pavilion in Bournemouth

Boscombe Chine Gardens in Bournemouth

The land train that runs along the sea front throughout the year includes the Boscombe Chine Gardens on its route. These gardens, perched on the cliffs, form a lovely contrast to the town centre gardens. They too, like the urban gardens, were once a popular route for smugglers. There are two main paths through this garden, across the cliff or through the chine. A chine is a steep-sided river valley through which a river flows or flowed to the sea. The original gardens on this once desolate land were created as private pleasure grounds in 1868 and 1871. They were known as Boscombe Spa due to the existence of a natural mineral water spring. They featured a rustic wooden bridge over the stream and a thatched summer house over the spa to encourage people to take the waters. These gardens were leased to the Borough of Bournemouth in 1883 when the footbridge was rebuilt and the site was levelled, turfed, planted with trees and shrubs and the main path was built. This layout remains the same but the spa was covered over in the 1920s, the model boating pond has been replaced with a bog garden, a mini-golf garden was opened in 1967. An interesting water-themed playground were installed during the refurbishment between 2003 and 2007.
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Boscombe Chine Gardens in Bournemouth

Compton Acres in Bournemouth

Compton Acres is recognised as one of the great gardens in England. These amazing gardens on the outskirts of Bournemouth are well worth a visit and plenty of time to do them justice. They were established during the 1920s at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement. and extended the idea of garden rooms into a series of contrasting gardens. There are five very different gardens on this extensive site that still reflect the unique style of their creator. As Compton Acres has a Grade II listing from English Heritage the gardens are protected from changes of use. I began my tour walking through the small Roman Courtyard which leads into the Italian Garden. So Italian I felt as though I had stepped into a different country. This formal garden decorated with statuary and clipped hedges surrounds a large, cross-shaped ornamental pond. It is overlooked by the Italian Villa. Built at the beginning of the twenty-first century this villa has become a prestigious venue for weddings and corporate events.
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The Italian Villa at Compton Acres in Bournemouth

I took my time appreciating this beautiful garden before leaving through an archway that led me through the Palm Garden and into the Wooded Valley. A cobweb of paths in this large garden allow visitors to explore a woodland area that includes a bog garden and a children’s play area. After completing a circuit of the wooded valley I made my way into the Rock and Water Garden an exquisite creation of pools and rocks forming what is thought to be the largest privately owned rock garden in the country.
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The Rock and Water Gardens at Compton Acres in Bournemouth

A narrow path lined with sculptures took me to the Harbour View Café (only open in the summer) where visitors can enjoy rest, refreshment and stunning views across to Poole Harbour.A little further along the path is the Heather Garden. Beyond that, my favourite, the Japanese Garden. This delightful garden features genuine stone and bronze Japanese artefacts and a bright red Japanese tea room. It is no wonder this fabulous garden is considered to be the best of its kind in England.
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Japanese Gardens in Compton Acres in Bournemouth

By the time I had explored all five gardens I was ready for something to eat and made my way through the shop into the cosy café where I indulged in a smoked salmon sandwich and a large cappuccino. I had enjoyed the gardens so much I was seriously considering an annual pass. I would definitely be returning – not just here but to all the incredible gardens I had wandered through on my visit to Bournemouth. The world famous Bournemouth sea front is next on my agenda.

Where to Stay in Bournemouth

Immediately upon entering the Collingwood Hotel in Bournemouth I felt the warmth of a friendly welcome.  My room was lovely, spacious, light and well-equipped. Newly refurbished, my feet sank into the plush carpet. I was soon enjoying a refreshing cup of tea in my recessed window accompanied by some delicious short bread.
Bedroom in the Collingwood Hotel in Bournemouth  0364
Bedroom in the Collingwood Hotel in Bournemouth

I dined in the hotel that night. Three courses of tasty wholesome food. My dessert, white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake, was scrumptious. It had been recommended by my waiter, Viktor, a Hungarian from Budapest. I enjoyed reminiscing about one of my favourite cities and impressed that Viktor did not allow our conversation to interfere with his duties. The other guests in the hotel were also very friendly and I felt comfortable striking up a conversation with them. I discovered that many of them were regular visitors – some of them have been coming here for twenty years. I was beginning to understand why.
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Collingwood Hotel in Bournemouth

Collingwood Hotel is ideally placed for both the sea front and the town centre. Should it be too cold or wet to venture outside there is a small gymnasium and a swimming pool for indoor exercising.
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Leisure Area at the Collingwood Hotel in Bournemouth

Where to Eat in Bournemouth

Neo, a cocktail bar and restaurant overlooking the sea front, is more than just a place to have a drink or a meal – it is an experience. It’s rotunda shape offers great views of Bournemouth and its sea front. Knowledgeable waiters will talk you through an extensive selection of cocktails. I opted for a gin and tonic and then had to choose which gin from a long list. Lilliput, a local gin, was my final choice. Enhanced with a sprig of rosemary and a sprinkling of juniper berries it was super.
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Neo cocktail bar and restaurant in Bournemouth

I dined in the restaurant upstairs and started my meal with some fresh crab. This was followed by slow cooked pork belly. Personally, I think it would have benefited from less pork and more garnish but it was nevertheless very good. I finished with a no frills blackberry and almond pudding accompanied by a creamy vanilla ice cream. Simple but superb. A great experience.
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Pork belly main course at Neo in Bournemouth

Getting there

Bournemouth is easily accessible by road via the M3 and M27 but the roads do get very busy during the summer. There are regular trains from London Waterloo and very local bus services with day tickets available.