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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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