I start my walk today with a strange feeling of trepidation. It is my first day of walking the coast this new year – 2012 – and I should be excited to restart my adventure. But I feel surprisingly downbeat about it.
Perhaps this is because, as I get farther and farther away from home, it takes me longer and longer to drive to my starting point? It took me four hours to get down here. And today I am on my own and need to use public transport at the start, or the end, of my walks. Plus, I have never walked the coast in January before but I reckon it starts getting dark at 3:30pm and will be definitely dark by 4:30.
I set off early and arrive in Bournemouth at midday. But, by the time I find – and park at – Sandbanks, and take a bus into the bus station, and walk to Boscombe pier, it is well after 1pm. There are only two to three hours of daylight left. I have a quick snack lunch and start walking.
The promenade today is a very different place from last time I was here. Then the sun was shining – the light and heat were relentless – and I finished my walk early because I was too hot.
Today, it is chilly. Grey clouds pile up and move across the sky. Only a few people are out and about. There is rain forecast.
As I walk, I worry about a number of things. I worry about the late start and getting caught in the dark. I worry about finding my car again and, after I find my car, will I be able to find the hotel I am staying in tonight?
I take photos of beach huts, all deserted on this dull Friday in January. They appear newly painted and in good condition. I pass hut after hut after hut – each row with a slightly different design.
When I get home, I discover I have taken numerous photos of the beach huts. I guess I was concerned they would be the only interesting things to photograph on my walk today.
Here is a cliff lift (Bournemouth has three of these lifts). They are closed for the winter. The carriages are motionless and parked mid way up the slope.
I try to imagine the place bustling with summer visitors. The promenade is remarkably deserted and there are few buildings – apart from the beach huts. I expected this resort to be busy – like Brighton – even in the winter. Above the walkway, the land slopes up and I suspect most of the development is hidden above me. It is quiet down here.
Now I can see the main Bournemouth pier ahead of me. It grows larger as I walk towards it. There is a theatre on the pier, but I don’t stop to go along and explore. Later, I learn the theatre was closed last year and will not open again.
Around the pier are cafes and amusements. I was expecting the rest of my walk to be along a built up seafront. But, as I leave this area behind, heading towards Sandbanks, the promenade becomes quieter – just a long curving walkway at the top of a wide expanse of sand, lined with the inevitable rows of beach huts. Above is a wooded bank and above this must be the main part of Bournemouth. Down here it is surprisingly peaceful.
Dark clouds begin to fill the sky in the south-west, over the Isle of Purbeck, the direction I am heading in. I feel the first rain drops fall and head for shelter under the porch of a beach hut.
Despite the dim light, I can’t resist taking photographs. The sky is ever-changing. Great swathes of rain streak down from the dark masses above. The photo above shows rain falling on the hills of Purbeck.
As the rain cloud sweeps overhead, I turn back towards Bournemouth and take photographs of the beach I have walked along. The sky is dramatic. Huge grey masses of cloud, with blue sky between, roll across from west to east. And the landscape below is lit up with intermittent, moving, patches of light.
Aware that time is passing and the sun is sinking ahead of me, I start walking again. But I keep turning back to look at the sky over Bournemouth. With the combination of rain and sun, I hope to see a rainbow. But I am disappointed.
Walking towards Sandbanks and the raised land of Isle of Purbeck beyond, the low sunlight is in my eyes. The rain over the beach has stopped but is falling out to sea, grey fingers reaching down to the water.
The dark clouds are lit from below and take on a dirty orange colour, their undersides outlined with yellow and gold. Clear sky, of deep blue – almost indigo – is showing through gaps in the masses of glowing clouds. A strange yellow light is reflected off the wet sand and the rolling waves of the sea.
The colour of the waves is constantly changing – swatches of gold and silver on a backdrop of deep blue-green, speckled with white foam.
This photograph is untouched, apart from some minor cropping. I have not enhanced the colours, increased the saturation or manipulated the image in any way. The colours are incredible – but real.
In the far distance, out to sea, there is a small white shape – lit up by the low light from the sun.
I realise I am looking at western end of The Isle of Wight and The Needles – chalk face gleaming white against the dark grey of the horizon. Typical of The Needles, I think – always wanting to play a starring role in a dramatic scene.
I walk onwards.
Sandbanks is ahead and is, apparently, a very sought after residential area with some of the most expensive properties in this part of the coast. Sandbanks sits on a narrow peninsula of land at the far end of Bournemouth. On this side is the beach and sea. On the other side is Poole Harbour.
From where I am walking, along the beach, I can’t see Poole Harbour itself. I am tempted to cross the narrow isthmus and see whether the light on the inland water is as beautiful and dramatic as the scene I have just enjoyed on this side.
But the sun is almost set and I don’t have time to do this.
As the light fades, I stop and take a grainy photograph of the Isle of Purbeck – The Foreland or Handfast Point (it has two names on my map). The tooth-like rock is called Old Harry
Tomorrow, I will take the ferry across the mouth of Poole Harbour, from Sandbanks to South Haven Point. Then I will be on the Isle of Purbeck (not a real island, a peninsula). Here the famous South West Coast Path begins.
The South West Coast Path – 630 miles of public footpath – along the dramatic coastline of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall – taking me right around Lands End and up to Minehead in Somerset. No more struggling to find a footpath. No more negotiating marsh and estuary. The route is all laid out ahead of me. How easy will this be?
I take one last photo of the sunset clouds over Sandbanks (in the foreground) and Bournemouth (beyond).
Vital stats: miles walked = 6
Piers passed = 2