Seaside postcard: Weymouth Blimey, Weymouth's a long way away. That's unless you live somewhere like Wyke Regis, in which case it's only a short hop in the car or even a swift walk. It's all of three hours by train from London to this Dorset outpost, which has been a bustling seaside resort ever since King George III made this his holiday destination of choice. And it took him even longer to get here. What's the attraction?
Weymouth Bay: From the beach at most seaside resorts, all you get to see is the sea. Not here. The coast swoops round in a long sweeping curve, with an undulating wave of ancient cliffs stretching off towards almost-Swanage. Lulworth Cove's out there somewhere, and Kimmeridge Bay, and the rest of East Dorset's so-called Jurassic Coast. Closer to town there's a regally-ridden chalk horse on a hillside, and then the Georgian terraces kick in. The beach is proper sandy, sloping out gently towards splash-and swim blue waters. Protection from Channel currents is provided by the town's harbour, which juts out past the Pavilion Theatre (Joe Pasquale, anyone?) to the so-called Pleasure Pier. Few coastal structures are more inappropriately named. There's little paid-for pleasure to be had, unless you fancy a breakfast bap from the rickety wooden cafe or an ice cream from the dingy lower kiosk. A handful of hardy anglers dangle their lines over the edge, in direct contravention of harbourside regulations. But for most fleeting visitors, only the fine view back across the bay provides compensation for trekking out this far. [visit]
The Esplanade: August bank holiday weekend, and the Weymouth seafront is alive with holidaymakers. Some are best described as 'wide', waddling from one eating opportunity to the next. Some are elderly couples, sat smiling on the deckchairs while the world goes by, while others are most definitely 'yoof', resplendent beneath ill-advised haircuts. But most are families down for the day, probably not for the week, packing in some beach time and a fairground ride and a bit of shopping. The crowds are deepest between the King George III statue and the Jubilee Clock, where you can buy your inflatables at the beach kiosk or watch the traditional Punch & Judy. Or there's the famous Weymouth sand modelling exhibit, this year a characterful tea party from Alice in Wonderland, at which you're encouraged to throw your loose change. I bought myself a box of award-winning cod and chips from a top takeaway whose 'celebrity' customers include Maureen Nolan and the Yetties, then rested awhile in a bay-view shelter to guzzle it all down. Proper seaside, can't beat it. [webcam]
Weymouth Harbour: The most scenic part of town is the quarter mile of quayside between the town bridge and the sea. The bridge lifts every couple of hours, rather than on demand, so there can be queues of high-masted craft waiting to pass through to the marina beyond. Smaller boats throng the harbourside, many hired by fishermen, others by divers lugging brightly coloured oxygen tanks. For cheaper underwater pursuits, especially for younger visitors, a simple plastic bucket is all that's needed to grab a crab. Railway tracks are buried in the tarmac along the road on the northern side, and trains once trundledthroughthetraffic from the main station to the the ferry terminal. This on-street tramway last saw regular service in 1987, but there are still road signs warning drivers to park their vehicles in specially hatched areas to keep them clear of passing trains. For those who can't be bothered to walk up the quayside and back, a bloke in a rowing boat will ferry you across the mouth of the river for 50p. Squeeze in tight, and mind the passing yachts. [waterfront]
Rodwell Trail: Once you're done with Weymouth, another disused railway will lead you out of town. This is the Rodwell Trail, formerly the branch line to Portland, now fully accessible for pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users alike. You might have seen that nice Julia Bradbury wandering this way on BBC4 as part of her Railway Walks series, trying hard to make a suburban flat path sound interesting. The two-mile trail starts off at Westham station (all one word, this isn't the Jubilee line), then dips briefly down off its embankment because a previous bridge no longer exists. The view over Weymouth ought to be great, but is instead dominated by the local Asda. Then a gradual climb to another overgrown pair of platforms, ideal for walking along to avoid the dogs and pedalling toddlers beneath. Pause perhaps at Sandsfoot Castle, built by Henry VIII to protect Weymouth from invasion, now little more than a fenced-off ruin in cafe gardens. Then a final descent along the edge of the bay, with excellent views across to the Isle of Portland, right down to the Ferrybridge which links the aforementioned to the mainland. Olympics ahoy. But that'll be tomorrow. [map][leaflet]
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.