The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset walk 1 – Bournemouth, Westbourne & the Chines

Teresa Ridout takes us a pleasingly leafy town walk

Much of the walk is through Bournemouth's award-winning gardens

Following the 1802 Christchurch Inclosure Act, hundreds of acres of land were transferred into private ownership for the first time. Commoners who depended on common land were concerned that they would lose their rights, particularly their right of cutting turf for fuel and, thanks to William West, a farmer at Muscliff Farm, a petition to the Commissioners resulted in five parcels of land being set aside for the benefit of certain cottages (albeit with a rather grudging tone) ‘in lieu of their Rights or pretended Rights or customs in cutting Turves’. These areas are held in trust by the Five Parks Charity and are now known as Meyrick Park, Queens Park, Kings Park, Redhill Common and Seafield Gardens.
By the time retired army captain Lewis Tregonwell visited Bournemouth in 1810, he found a bridge crossing a small stream in an unspoilt valley and a recently built inn which was then catering for travellers and smugglers. His wife was so impressed with the area that she begged that he build a holiday home for them and so he built Exeter House, the first substantial residential property in the area and which was later incorporated into the Royal Exeter Hotel, the start point for our walk.
Tregonwell continued to extend his Bourne estate by purchasing parcels of land, in building a number of small villas to let out to visitors and in promoting Bournemouth as a newly fashionable area that people would visit to partake in the fashionable pastime of sea-bathing and as an area with health benefits. For the best part of twenty five years the Tregonwell estate remained the only considerable development at Bourne Mouth. Lewis Tregonwell died in 1832 and his body was later re-interred in St Peter’s churchyard and an inscription reads that he was ‘the first to bring (Bournemouth) into notice as a watering place by erecting a mansion for his own occupation having been his favourite retreat for many years before his death’.

Serried ranks of beach huts at the bottom of Alum Chine

During the 1840s, Decimus Burton, a prolific English architect and garden designer was commissioned to construct a garden by the side of the Bourne stream and to lay out the seaward end of the Bourne Valley as pleasure gardens. Fields were drained and laid out with shrubberies and walks with paths, including the Invalids Walk and did much to raise Bournemouth’s profile as a place for convalescence. The construction of footpaths and the draining and levelling of the valley through which the Bourne flowed continued over many years and, by 1873, the Lower Pleasure Gardens had taken shape.
Westbourne originally grew up as an independent estate and it was to this genteel settlement of villas that Robert Louis Stevenson came, believing that the air would be a good cure from tuberculosis. He established himself and his family at a house he called Skerryvore, named after the lighthouse built by his father off the west coast of Argyll. Skerryvore was badly damaged by bombing during World War 2 and later demolished to its foundations which then formed the centre of a memorial garden to the author. In the grounds is a model of the famous lighthouse.

1    Begin the walk at the Royal Exeter Hotel and follow the pavement towards the pier and pass the Hermitage Hotel. Follow the path between two green gates and into the gardens. Continue to follow the path as it bears left and leads to the Lower Gardens with the Pavilion on the right. Follow the main path, keeping the Bourne Stream on the left side, to the end of the gardens and then cross the road into The Square.

2    Walk along the pavement with Debenhams and then Boots on the left. Cross the road opposite Boots and follow the steps leading down to the Upper Gardens and follow the path under the pergola, turn left at the end of the path and walk towards and then past the War Memorial, keeping it and the Bourne Stream on the left.

3     Continue up the gardens past the tennis courts and walk under the A338 Wessex Way bypass keeping the tennis courts on the left. Continue to follow the path and the signs to Coy Pond keeping the Bourne Stream to the left.

4    On reaching the end of the path, turn left and walk along the pavement before crossing the road and entering the next garden. Keeping the stream to the right now follow to the end of this garden, turn left onto the pavement and immediately right following a footpath that passes between bushes. At the end of this path turn left into Surrey Road. Walk along Surrey Road until reaching Surrey Road South, which leads uphill towards Westbourne. Pass under a railway arch and then through a subway under the Wessex Way.

5    Follow the road to Westbourne Close with a children’s play park to the right and at the end of Westbourne Close turn left into Milburn Road and walk towards the main road. Cross the main road and enter Seamoor Road with The Westbourne pub on the left. Walk along Seamoor Road, cross Alum Chine Road and keep walking to the next road on the left which is R L Stevenson Avenue. Walk to the far end of R L Stevenson Avenue where Skerryvore Gardens are clearly marked.


The memorial to the home of Robert Louis Stevenson: Skerryvore

6    Leave Skerryvore and turn right walking along the pavement until reaching a sign on the right marked Alum Chine and follow the path through a narrow wooded area. Cross a bridge and turn left onto a second path to pass a memorial plaque dedicated to R L Stevenson. Don’t turn left to cross a second bridge but follow the path downhill where it passes under a suspension bridge and towards the sea.

7    Turn left and walk along the West Under Cliff Promenade back to the Pier. At the Pier Approach
keep the Hot Rocks bar on the left and walk back up to Exeter Road.

Distance: 3½ miles
Terrain: Easy terrain – pavements and some steps
Start: Royal Exeter Hotel, Exeter Road, Bournemouth, BH2 5AG
Parking/refreshments: Bournemouth International Centre & several sign-posted car parks nearby. Plenty of refreshment stops available throughout the walk.
Maps: OS Landranger 195 Bournemouth and Purbeck ◗

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