diamond geezer

 Monday, May 02, 2016

Seaside postcard: Brownsea Island
Of the five islands in Poole Harbour, by far the largest and most well known is Brownsea. A mile and a half long and three quarters wide, it's best known as the site of the very first Scout camp in 1907. But the island also has a long strategic history, and considerable ecological significance (red squirrels!), as well as being a fantastic place to visit. Indeed my Saturday target wasn't really Poole or Sandbanks, it was Brownsea.



Everyone arrives by boat. For the general public this means the main jetty, but guests at Brownsea Castle have their own exclusive landing place alongside. This waterfront fortress is part of Henry VIII's chain of south coast defences, and a rare survivor, although it's been rebuilt several times since. Its last owner was the reclusive Mary Bonham-Christie, who hid away on her private island until 1961, after which ownership transferred to the National Trust to pay the 98 year-old's death duties. Today it's leased out to the John Lewis Partnership who use it as a holiday home for employees, although the waiting list is apparently five years long. The NT use some of the quayside buildings for a cafe and gift shop, and collecting their £7 entrance fee, but once you're past the gatehouse the island opens out and becomes increasingly tranquil and remote. Assuming the place isn't crawling with scouts, that is.

They were flocking across the green below the church when I arrived, it being a bank holiday weekend and therefore ideal for camping. This was bad news for the peacocks that live here, dozens of them, scuttling away from unwelcome attention to hide away in what remains of the daffodils. Things quietened down once various Akelas had led their charges away, at which point the younger peacocks returned to impressing the younger peahens, rapidly vibrating their backsides despite their feathers not yet being in any way spectacular. Inside St Mary's church a volunteer waited to pounce and explain the history of this isolated place of worship, while up the hill in the island's Visitor Centre (a former daffodil-packing shed) three more volunteers stood waiting to advise and flog 50p red squirrel maps.



Much of the northern half of the island is a nature reserve, including a large saltwater lagoon important to migrating birds including avocets and little egrets. This area is generally sealed off from the public, barring a series of boardwalks and hides added courtesy of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, accessible for an additional £2 donation. Instead I followed the track along the fence into the heart of the forest, a dense landscape of pine and silver beech, increasingly untroubled by other passers-by. Racks of black beaters are a regular sight along the trail, the threat of fire a real and present danger to the ecosystem, indeed most of the trees on Brownsea date back to the aftermath of a particularly nasty conflagration in 1934.

At the far end of the island, which I suspect most visitors never reach, are the remains of the hamlet of Maryland. A row of a dozen cottages once stood here, plus a pub, for workers employed to turn the local china clay into pottery. Unfortunately the deposits turned out to be of poor quality and the business swiftly went bust, and the village was used as a convenient decoy during WW2 so was bombed out of existence. The remains of several kilns can be still found along the south coast, along an idyllically rippled beach, although the steep clay cliffs are highly unstable so they'll not last much longer. Indeed landslips are a perennial problem here, taking out banks of trees and forcing the closure of footpaths, reminding visitors that Brownsea has a long but finite lifespan ahead.



The southwestern corner of the island is where Baden Powell set up his experimental camp for twenty proto-scouts. Boys were woken at 6am by a blast on the Kudu Horn, and took supper at 8pm round the camp fire before turning in at nine. Inbetween they learnt skills according to a daily theme, including knot-tying, tracking, first aid and 'chivalry', subjects a modern scout would still recognise, although they probably wouldn't be subjected to a compulsory hour's rest after lunch. I wondered why the fabled spot wasn't more heavily featured on the National Trust's map, and got my answer when I discovered dozens of tents pitched across the site, a temporary home to beavers, cubs and scouts from across the country, with several more lumbering in with bulging rucksacks throughout the day. Fenced out, I had to make do with hovering by the memorial stone up top on the edge of the heath.

I was surprised by how good the view was from the clifftops. Sandbanks and the entrance to Poole Harbour can be seen to the east, the sparkling blue water criss-crossed by the wake of speedboats and jetskis. The Purbeck Hills rise up to the south, a long green ridge terminating at Old Harry Rocks, which I wasn't expecting to be able to see. But the real joy of Brownsea is inland, in its mix of natural environments with tracks to follow and wildlife to see. Although I kept my eyes peeled I'm sorry to say I didn't see a single red squirrel - apparently there are only 300 on the island, and they're most active in the autumn. But I did stumble upon two sika deer, sandwiched between two sets of photographers and therefore less hard to spot than they might have been. Baden Powell was clearly onto a good thing when he scouted here, and it's easy to see why so many people still drop by each year.

Getting here: Between March and October a regular ferry service runs from Poole and from Sandbanks, the latter a much shorter crossing at six minutes rather than twenty. Returning to Poole takes considerably longer, a full three quarters of an hour, as the voyage continues round the harbour to pass the other islands in the inland archipelago. Furzey Island has 22 oil wells hidden behind a screen of trees, and was until recently owned by British Petroleum - not the only BP around here! Green Island is currently owned by Lord and Lady Iliffe, whose redwood log house is a rapid replacement for their first, which burnt down a couple of years ago. Round Island has holiday cottages... and by this point in the journey most of the girl scouts on the open upper deck of the boat had given up and gone downstairs to be out of the chill. If you're up for sightseeing it's quite an interesting trip, whereas if you're simply trying to get home the endless meandering must be quite infuriating. Poole Harbour is notoriously shallow and the only safe channels are meticulously marked by posts and buoys, these particularly circuitous to the south and west. Just be sure to be off the island by the time the last boat departs at 5pm, or to have brought a tent and bedding, otherwise an awkward night awaits.

» Twenty Brownsea photos

My Poole/Brownsea/Sandbanks gallery
There are 40 photos altogether [slideshow]


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Saturday 10 December (1-3pm)
Bow Church Christmas Fair
Festive fair with mulled wine & music at St Mary's in Bow.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv