All about races

October 2018

October seemed to be all about races. First there was the Ageas 10k. Actually that one was right at the end of September but let’s not quibble about a day or two. Commando was pacing a very slow, for him, fifty five minutes and I was supposed to be taking photos. As I was still suffering with the lurgie this was not as simple as you’d think. 

Runners are quite a germ phobic lot, mostly because they always seem to have important races coming up and don’t want to get sick. This meant I had to try to stay away from everyone so I didn’t spread my germs, whilst still getting as many photos as I could. There was some degree of success and a lot of coughing.

The next weekend was taken up with the Bournemouth Half Marathon. It was a stupidly early and slightly chilly start but, once I’d taken team photos and watched Commando walking towards the start line, I had a nice walk through Boscombe Cemetery.

You all know how much I like wandering through a cemetery, and this turned out to be the best part of the whole day for me. The Cemetery, designed by architect Christopher Crabbe Creeke, was opened in 1878. Entering from Kings Park, my first view was of the Jewish Chapel, looking rather atmospheric in the early morning light.

From there I took the main path towards Gloucester Road, stopping to admire the chapel in the centre of the cemetery. This beautiful building with its central tower and spire, looks more church than chapel. It was built in 1877, before the cemetery was opened, and contains both the Church of England and Nonconfirmist chapels. In the golden morning light the Purbeck and Bath stone almost seemed to glow. Unfortunately for me, the door was closed so I couldn’t get a look inside.

Frankly, I could have happily spent the whole day wandering around the cemetery looking at graves. There are more than forty three thousand to look at though and I had a half marathon finish line to get to at some point. In the end I had to content myself with a quick walk around the war plot. As Remembrance Sunday was fast approaching, this seemed fitting.

The plot is enclosed by a low box hedge with the war cross on the west side. The rows of plain white stones made sobering viewing. Most of those buried here died in Bournemouth’s auxiliary and private hospitals and are from World War I but seven are from World War II.

While my route to the finish line was going to be far shorter than Commando’s I knew I was bound to get tangled up in runners at some point. A quick look at my watch told me I really should get a move on so, rather reluctantly, with a quick stop to photograph the little stone lodge, I headed for the gate.

Luckily, I more or less knew the way due to previous Bournemouth Marathon adventures. Now my main plan was to get to the centre of Bournemouth as quickly as possible, get a coffee and find somewhere to watch the finish. Once I’d crossed the railway bridge and Christchurch Road I took what I hoped would be a shortcut through Woodland Walk. This turned out to be a mistake and gave me rather a longer, but probably prettier, walk than my previous route would have.

When I eventually got back on track I met with the first runners. Commando was not amongst them and I had no idea whether he’d already passed by or not. What I did have was quite a long and frustrating detour to get around them and onto the beach side of the road.

Eventually I made it and the cliff path was in sight. It was just a matter of walking down it onto Boscombe Promenade. In theory, this should have been when things got far simpler and my progress much faster. At first, getting to the finish line before Commando looked like it was going to be a breeze. There were barely any runners on this part of the course and I could almost taste the coffee. The sun was shining. There were beach huts, sea and sand to enjoy…

Things didn’t go quite to plan though. When more and more runners began to appear I had to decide which side of the course to walk on. I made the wrong choice and ended up at a dead end by Boscombe Chine Gardens. Only runners were allowed in the gardens and spectators weren’t allowed to cross the course. I had to turn and walk all the way back, past Boscombe Pier, and find a way across there. If only someone had thought to put up signs for spectators this frustration could have been avoided, along with the extra walking. On the plus side, I did see Commando and Rob twice on this stretch of the walk.

After the Boscombe Pier debacle I was stuck firmly on the beach side of the course and, fairly soon, there were so many other spectators I couldn’t see much of anything. So much time had been lost on the various detours I now had to rush if I wanted any chance of making the finish line before Commando. I might have done it too, if it hadn’t been for the chaos by Bournemouth Pier.

The crowds around the pier were so thick I could barely get through them. To get to the finish line I needed to cross the course but there were impenetrable barriers stopping me. The pier turned out to be a dead end. The only way past was to walk onto the shore and under it. On the other side there were no runners or spectators but the promenade was lined with barriers in preparation for the full marathon later in the day. On and on I walked in the sandy beach, getting further and further from the finish line. My legs were tired and I was looking desperately for a gap in the barriers. For a while I thought I was going to have to go all the way to Sandbanks. Eventually, after about a mile, there was a crossing point but now I had to walk all the way back up the other side of the course. By the time I reached the finish line again Commando had already crossed it. After lots of dashing back and forth, pushing my way through crowds, I finally caught up with him and a few other friends in the Lower Gardens.

The pleasant beachside stroll and relaxing coffee I’d anticipated never did materialise. Commando, Rob, Kim, Nicole, Mark and I had a quick bite to eat in MacDonalds. On the plus side, Commando enjoyed the race and got a half marathon PB. On the minus side, I walked over twelve miles trying to catch up with him and I never did get my coffee.

The next weekend it was back to Bournemouth for a Hampshire Cross Country League Race. As Bournemouth is actually in Dorset it seemed like quite an odd choice of venue. Thankfully this wasn’t such an early start but we did get stuck in a horrible traffic jam on the motorway and were almost late. Commando enjoyed the race. I’m not sure I enjoyed standing in the mud taking photos of him running round the same tree three times but I got some good photos, even if there was no chance of a walk.

Of course, in between the races there were all the normal Saturday morning parkruns too. All in all, October seemed to be nothing but one long whirl of runs. The biggest one came at the end of the month but it really deserves a post all to itself…

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Beach huts and fat squirrels – first published 6 October 2013

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On an autumn morning that was turning out far hotter than advertised I walked along Boscombe beach front worrying about Commando. He was running his first marathon. So far the Boscombe beach huts had been disappointing but, just before Boscombe pier, they became slightly more colourful and behind them some fetching metal screens festoned with seagulls made up for any shortfall. Continue reading Beach huts and fat squirrels – first published 6 October 2013

Between the piers

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13 March 2016

Eventually I managed to tear CJ away from the squirrels but this had more to do with running out of nuts than any desire on his part to walk along the shore. Walking beside the sea feels like food for the soul to me and the beaches on this part of the Dorset coast have fine golden sand rather than the crunchy shingle of my own shore. It may still have been too cold for paddling or walking barefoot with waves lapping at our toes but the smell of the salt and the sound of those waves made my heart sing. Continue reading Between the piers

Bournemouth, sea, balloons and fat squirrels

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13 March 2016

When a curious tower emerged from the mist the GPS tag on my photo told me we really were in Bournemouth. At first I thought the tower was a ruin of some kind but, as we got closer, it looked more like a gothic folly. It was built of red brick, topped by crennaltions and had decorative arches, long windows reminiscent of arrow slits and a curious turret on one corner. All in all it was an oddity.

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It turns out it’s actually a water tower, built between 1883 and 1903 when these were private gardens owned by the Durrant family. It was marshland, more lake than garden. The family used shingle and broken pottery from a local clay works to improve things. It wasn’t entirely successful. This tower housed a water wheel to pump water to an ornamental fountain in the middle of the stream. The intriguing arched door may have once led to the pump. Sadly, the waterwheel was removed during the war and the fountain no longer exists.

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It was ten o’clock when we crossed Queens Road. The clouds were clearing but mist lingered amongst the trees. There are many unusual species in this part of the garden, many planted in the ninteenth century. With more time we might have stopped to read the signs and admire Monterey Pine, Persian ironwood and much more besides.

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In a short while we came to Wessex Way towering above us on stilts. Beneath was a cycle path and on the other side we could see an odd looking dome. We’d reached Central Gardens and the dome was an airdrome used in autumn and winter to cover the tennis courts. The Upper, Central and Lower gardens weren’t joined into one until 1872 and the tennis courts moved here from the Upper Gardens in 1903.

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Here we found a cafe and stopped for a welcome drink. Now we could see the tethered ballon rising up through the still misty trees and knew for certain we were in Bournemouth.

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Soon we came to the war memorial. Built in 1921, it now comemorates the fallen from both World Wars. We stopped for a while to admire the square building with columns on each corner. We both especially liked the lions lounging on pedestals at either side of the steps. One was awake and seemed to be watching us, the other was peacefully asleep. Luckily they were both made of stone so we were in no danger of being eaten.

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Reluctantly we left the lions behind and headed onwards through the gardens. Before long I could see the pergola I remembered from a previous visit. Right now it’s bare but I imagine it will be a lovely shady place to walk when the weather is warmer and shade is at a premium.

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We weren’t far from the square and the lower gardens by this time so we hurried along, eager to see the sea. The balloon grew ever larger and soon we were almost upon it. There were no queues.
“If you want a ride I have enough money,” I told CJ. “The views are supposed to be wonderful.”
“No way! I’ll wait if you want a go though.”
“You’re joking. I like to keep both feet firmly on the ground.”
So we passed it by.

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The balloon is filled with helium and is tethered to the ground by a single steel cable that looked incredibly thin to me. It’s been in the Lower Gardens, on the site of an old fountain, since 1998 and I’m sure it’s perfectly safe but I still didn’t fancy testing it out. Instead we ambled down to the seafront and stood for a while watching the waves crash and enjoying the fresh, salty air. Although it was still before eleven, breakfast had been a long time ago and the sea air made us hungry so we set off in search of a very early lunch.

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While we ate I told CJ a little of the history of the place. Bournemouth is a relatively new town so there wasn’t a great deal of it. It began life as barren heathland, used in Tudor times as a hunting estate called Stourfield Chase. Apart from the hunting estate, a cottage, called Decoy Pond House, where the square is today, and a few fields it was largely common land until the beginning of the ninteenth century, used only by the odd fisherman, turf cutters and, of course, smugglers.

Everything changed with the Christchurch Inclosure Act of 1802 when hundreds of acres of land were transferred into private ownership. In 1805, Sir George Ivison Tapps, Lord of the Manor of Christchurch, snapped up two hundred and five acres for just over one thousand pounds. He cleared the heathland and planted pines. Four years later he built a roadside inn, the Tapps Arms. Later the inn was sold to Captain Tregonwell along with land to build a house for just £179.55.

Captain Tregonwell was quick to see the potential in his newly purchased land and soon began to build sea villas for holiday letting. This was the beginning of the seaside resort we know and love today. Like Tapps, he also planted pine trees to provide a sheltered walk to the beach, this became known as the Invalids Walk, later Pine Walk, and this was exactly where were headed once our lunch was finished.

Having heard my tales of fat Bournemouth squirrels so tame they’d take nuts from your hand, one of the main things CJ wanted to do was feed them. We’d seen one or two on our walk through the park but I knew the pine shaded trails along the north east slope of the Lower Garden was a real squirrel goldmine. We’d hardly climbed the first slope when we were surrounded by eager bushy tailed rodents. CJ sat on a bench to open the bag of peanuts we’d brought with us and was delighted when almost immediately a squirrel came up and took a nut from his hand.

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While CJ fed a steady stream of hungry little beasts I shot some video and took photos. A pigeon, perhaps feeling left out because we weren’t feeding him, photobombed several of my shots. He seemed determined to have his fifteen minutes of fame.

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Grey squirrels come from the eastern United States and were introduced to Britain during the mid 1800’s. From the moment the first one scampered up a British tree our red squirrels were doomed. Six grey squirrels were released in Bournemouth in about 1920, within thirty years there were no red squirrels left in Bournemouth or the New Forest, despite the forest keepers orders to shoot every grey squirrel they saw on sight. No one knows for certain whether the red squirrels succumbed to a disease borne by the greys or if they could simply not compete with the interlopers. Whatever the reason they now only exist on the Isle of Wight, Brownsea and Furzey Islands where grey squirrels have not been able to penetrate.

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Eventually we decided to leave the squirrels behind for a while and make a circuit of the path before heading off to the beach. As it happened, part of the circular walk was closed off by blue barriers because some kind of work was going on so, in the end, with a quick look at the empty bandstand. we climbed to the top of the slope to have a look at the aviary.

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To be honest I’m not sure how I feel about aviaries like this. When I was a child my dad kept birds and we had an aviary at the bottom of our garden but the Bournemouth aviary seems far smaller than ours and more packed with birds. Of course I recognised many as ones we’d had and I knew they were not natives and wouldn’t survive in the wild. Even so I felt sorry for them as they had so little space to fly. Later I was pleased to read there are plans afoot to replace the fifty year old building with a new, modern structure, more sympathetic with the area and with a larger flight area for the birds. This seems to be good news all round.

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CJ may have been mildly impressed when I easily named the canaries, cockatiels, zebra finches, parrots and budgies but, of course, I remembered them all from my childhood. The zebra finches and the golden pheasant made me smile. My dad bought me a pair of zebra finches when I was about four or five, I named them salt and pepper and our golden pheasant, Cocky, was a legend. He loved to eat spiders so, when she caught one in the house, Mother would always take them out for him to gobble up.

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The lure of the squirrels was strong and soon CJ had spotted a whole group of them further long the path. We went to investigate and found the whole area crawling with the mischievious little things. CJ put a pile of peanuts on a tree branch and I set up a shot right beside it and waited. It wasn’t long before I had a customer. He sneaked down the tree, grabbed the nuts and was off again. Soon more were bounding across the grass for their share. With each bounce they made strange squeaking noises, like stuffed toys with squeakers that worked when they were shaken. Until then I didn’t know squirrels even made a noise.

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Much as I enjoyed the Bournemouth wildlife I had plans for a nice stroll along the beach. All I had to do was drag CJ away from the squirrels. It looked like it was going to be easier said than done.

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