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We visit Bournemouth – home to ‘Britain’s best beach’ – for a family stay with our children

We visit Bournemouth – home to ‘Britain’s best beach’ – for a family stay with our children

Bournemouth Beach has been voted Britain’s best for two years running by TripAdvisor so we take our children on a trip to Dorset to see it for ourselves

Children start digging their first sandcastles, surfers ride the morning waves and a little land train sounds its horn as it heads along the promenade.

Bournemouth Beach is gearing up for another day doing what this resort does better than most.

And despite its large green spaces, genteel buildings and bustling town centre, it is the beach which remains the big draw here, a beach officially recognised by TripAdvisor, as Britain’s best, in both 2018 and 2019.

You can see why – soft sand, gentle waves and family-friendly activities stretch along the seafront.

The best way to get a feel for the area is to head for its pier. There you can ride the Observation Wheel to get your bearings, enjoy some traditional amusement arcades and set foot on the sand.

The pier itself is home to zip wires, climbing walls and other action-packed activities, which is another example of how this resort is modernising its appeal to families.

The popular land train pootles up and down the promenade, a Red Arrows simulator is available for those who like to move a little quicker and deck chairs to hire are luring those who prefer a leisurely pace.

The seafront runs for miles from surf haven Boscombe at one end to the millionaires’ mansions of Sandbanks at the other.

But what if it is raining? As it was for part of our visit.

We took cover at Bournemouth Oceanarium, next to the pier.

Exterior GV of Oceanarium the Aquarium in Bournemouth

It’s a busy aquarium complete with shark tunnel, penguin enclosure and a small children’s play area. There is enough to pass a pleasant hour or two especially if you visit when one of the fish-feeding sessions and talks are on. See our full review of Bournemouth Oceanarium here.

When it does dry up, we head for the beach. It is perfect for young children because the sand is soft, there are no hills or dunes, the tide doesn’t go out too far and the sea suits a paddle. Wild and rugged it isn’t but safe and secure it most certainly is.

Bournemouth Pier and beach

Bournemouth Pier

It is well worth heading to Boscombe’s seafront too. A couple of miles along from the centre of Bournemouth, they have just as good a stretch of beach here as well as a pier with mini-golf and a musical trail.

Boscombe also has surf schools and volleyball courts on the sand. And it is home to the superb family-friendly restaurant Urban Reef.

Urban Reef restaurant

Urban Reef restaurant

We ate here during our stay and it has a perfect blend of an informal seaside feel matched with fine food for the adults. Plus, a fabulous sea view.

Urban Reef exterior by the beach and sea

Urban Reef’s beach setting

There’s a restaurant upstairs and café downstairs and there’s plenty for children – the kids’ menu is designed by eight-year-old chefs, there are books to read, quizzes to do and menus to colour in.

Head to the other end of Bournemouth’s 10 miles of beach and you come to somewhere with a different feel entirely – Sandbanks.

This peninsula has its own pleasant beach but people and property watching is almost as much fun. You can take one of the ferries to Poole Harbour or Brownsea Island to get a glimpse of some of the mansions with their own jetties.

Homes in Sandbanks, view from Poole Harbour

Homes in Sandbanks, view from our ferry

Alternatively, just take a stroll around the streets of Sandbanks, home to the likes of footballer manager and I’m a Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp.

Hotel

We had our own taste of luxury with an overnight stay at Bournemouth’s Orchid Hotel.

The Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth

The Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth

This stylish venue has 31 rooms and is set just a few streets back from the beach between Bournemouth and Boscombe.

We had the choice of family rooms or two interconnecting rooms. We enjoyed the latter along with its comfortable beds, quality furnishings and a tasty breakfast with lots of good options for small children. (Read our full review of the hotel here).

And filled up with a hearty breakfast it was time to explore again.

Our Famous Five adventure

As this area has three resorts – Bournemouth, Boscombe and Sandbanks – on the same stretch of beach – it was hard to leave.

But we were off on a fabulous Famous Five adventure elsewhere in Dorset – read all about it here.

*Bournemouth was hailed TripAdvisor’s best beach for 2019, is your favourite among the top 10?

  1. Bournemouth Beach, Bournemouth, Dorset
  2. Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, Scotland
  3. St. Brelade’s Bay Beach, St Brelade, Jersey
  4. Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon
  5. Barafundle Beach, Stackpole, Wales
  6. Filey Beach, Yorkshire
  7. Rhossili Bay, Rhossili, Wales
  8. Gorleston Beach, Norfolk
  9. Perranporth Beach, Perranporth, Cornwall
  10. Newborough Beach, Dwyran, Anglesey, Wales

(Our hotel, restaurant meal and aquarium access were supplied by Bournemouth Tourism and Tourism South East for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own).

Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

We spend a day exploring the spiritual home of the Famous Five in Enid Blyton’s beloved Dorset

“Dick,” shout my children, calling to their dad as we climb the hill to ‘Kirrin Castle’.

“DIIIIICK, come here!”

I fare best when our children ask us to pretend we are the Famous Five for I get to be feisty cousin George (Georgina).

My son is Julian, my daughter, Anne and Timmy is our imaginary dog.

Today’s game feels far more real, as we are playing at the very locations in Dorset which inspired the Famous Five stories.

I devoured Enid Blyton as a child. Night after night I’d stay awake until all hours reading book after book, series after series.

So, it’s been magical to revisit childhood favourites with my own children from The Magic Faraway Tree through to the Adventures series.

The Famous Five stories may be old fashioned with some outdated ideas (I take the opportunity to explain this as I read). But with more than 100 million copies sold they remain as popular today.

The daring children have remarkably grown-up free adventures, finding treasure and smugglers and, it strikes me these days, never needing the toilet!

All amidst a rural backdrop of blue skies, sea and countryside, bicycle rides and lots of deliciously described picnics.

Today we are exploring the Dorset Enid Blyton loved and visited with her family for over 40 years, on the Isle of Purbeck, (which is more a peninsula than an isle).

The first three Famous Five Books

Kirrin Castle

The first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published over 75 years ago, in 1942.

In it, we are introduced to Kirrin Castle, on Kirrin Island, which belongs to George, near her home in Kirrin Bay.

“It had been built of big white stones. Broken archways, tumbledown towers, ruined walls – that was all that was left of a once beautiful castle, proud and strong.”

The inspiration for Kirrin Castle is said to have been Corfe Castle in Purbeck, so this becomes our first stop.

It is not on an island but our children are thrilled as we near the fabulous ruins which loom over the surrounding area.

Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle

Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle

They race up the grassy slope to explore the 1,000-year-old castle, which survived the English Civil War when it was partly demolished by Cromwell’s troops and now belongs to the National Trust.

We explore all the hidden nooks and crannies and remember the adventures the Five had here, such as finding lost gold.

Even without the Blyton connection, we would have had a great time.

(Tip: If it is a school holiday get there early as parking in the small village of Corfe can be difficult. The small car park opposite the castle fills up quickly and the other option through the narrow village is a five to 10 minute walk away and was almost full when we visited).

Steam train

Enid Blyton first saw Corfe Castle when she arrived by steam train.

The steam train at Corfe Castle

The steam train at Corfe

And this is something you can still do today – Swanage Railway runs steam trains between Swanage and Norden. There is a picturesque stop at Corfe Castle so you could arrive or depart from here on your Famous Five adventure.

Of course, the Famous Five often travelled by steam train – particularly to return from their boarding schools ready for the holidays and more adventures.

Bathing – Swanage Pier

Next stop is the pretty seaside town of Swanage where Enid Blyton enjoyed swimming around the pier with her husband.

It was too cold for a swim when we went but we enjoyed a picnic, sadly no hard-boiled eggs, lashings of ginger beer or lemonade for us though.

Swanage

Swanage

On quiet days – if you are in the car – you can park on the seafront, alternatively there are large car parks a short walk from the beach.

Island adventure

Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, is said to have been the inspiration for Whispering Island, described by Enid Blyton as Keep Away Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.

In Enid Blyton’s day, visitors were not allowed – but now it’s owned by the National Trust.

The ferry to Brownsea island

The ferry to Brownsea island

We caught a ferry over from Sandbanks to explore. Brownsea Island Ferries run regular services from Sandbanks and from Poole Quay to the island. Greenslade Pleasure Boats also run a ferry service from Poole. Departures are about every 30 minutes with the last boat leaving at 5pm.

Once you have landed on the island there is lots to explore, the wildlife there includes rare red squirrels and we were lucky enough to spot three.

A red squirrel we spotted on Brownsea Island

A red squirrel we spotted on Brownsea Island

There are also clifftop walks, which lead down to rocky beaches. If you explore the far end of the island you can see where the first Scout camp was held by Baden-Powell in 1907.

Exploring Brownsea Island

Exploring Brownsea Island

A trip to an island, always led to an adventure for the Famous Five and we wished we had longer here. But our only adventure was nearly missing the last boat back!

In conclusion

This is a fabulous way for Enid Blyton fans to spend their ‘hols’ with lashings of fun.

You can base yourself in the Isle of Purbeck but it is only a 25-minute drive to family-friendly Bournemouth which has more accommodation and activities for children if you want to make your Famous Five day into a mini-break in Dorset.