Seaside postcard: Sandbanks
There's wealth, and then there's Sandbanks. The settlement that's grown up on the sandy spit across the entrance to Poole Harbour was rated a few years ago as the fourth most expensive place to live in the world. In terms of cost per square foot it was beaten only by the richest parts of London, Hong Kong and Tokyo, which isn't bad for a square kilometre surrounded by sea where nobody lived until the end of the 19th century. An inn grew up to serve travellers using the Studland ferry - still the quickest way of nipping between Bournemouth and Swanage. The first houses were built in the 1890s, specifically to help fund coastal defences, and in the 1920s the very-sandy beaches encouraged the development of a holiday resort. By the 1990s estate agents had whipped up interest to fever pitch and a ring of modern luxury homes began to encircle the waterfront, and today owning a property at Sandbanks has become the ultimate badge of self-made success.
I was expecting to be more wowed. I mean, it's nice, and the personalised numberplate count is high, but the overall feeling of peak exclusivity was somehow lacking. A lot of this is down to the traffic, which is much busier than you might expect on a spit thanks to the ferry at its tip, which sends pulses of traffic around the one-way perimeter road. Some of the properties are gleaming architecturally-sharp edifices with copious balconies at the end of gated drives, but many are simply bighouses, and others look like flats. The only restaurant on Sandbanks is a Rick Stein, but otherwise the handful of shops isn't nearly exclusive enough, with the southern parade clearly targeted more at tourists and passing traffic. And the whole place feels a little densely-packed, but then it would, given that such a tiny area has such great value.
The Haven Hotel by the ferry is famous as the home for several years of radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, and hosted one of the world's very first wireless broadcasting stations. These days a gate keeps out non four-star guests, and retired couples park outside and read the Times, Mail or Express in sheltered leatherette whilst watching the yachts and speedboats shuttling in and out of the harbour. Punters at the prestige car showroom on Panorama Road block the bike lane with their BMWs, causing passing cyclists to curse, and scottie dogs trot back from the promenade with their clutch-bagged owners in train. And the massed ranks of Poole and Bournemouth flood in to enjoy the east-facing beach, which is gorgeously sandy, filling up a car park which could otherwise be given over to umpteen million pounds worth of homes.
It didn't take long to spot that Sandbanks is really two communities, one inside the perimeter road and one without. The premier location is on the outside with a house backing down onto the water, indeed it's the whopping ratio of properties with seafront access that delivered Sandbanks its residential kudos in the first place. Harry Redknapp's £4m hideaway has a harbour-top lawn and private jetty, while other peripheral mansions have their own berth, and an often idiosyncratic design. Inside the perimeter road the houses are relatively smaller, and relatively more squashed - here you're paying for the address rather than the view. And at only two points is there a public footpath down to the water's edge, one a brief alley down the side of the Royal Motor Yacht Club, the other a quick link to the beach. A clear message is being sent that this millionaire's playground is not for you. A five metre rise in sea level will destroy the lot.