International Writers Magazine: UK
South West Coast
Natalya Popova inthe UK
day this summer I astonished myself by signing up for a Ghost
Walk around Poole, the town I have been living in for nine
years now. If it wasnt for entertaining my niece Amy - visiting
for a week - I would have never left the house on a cold Wednesday
"Are we to meet many ghosts on the walk?" the 10-year
old could not contain the excitement in her voice, as we neared
"Think itll be only us and that poor sailor over there,"
I pointed out to the lone figure of a guy in flamboyant fancy dress
waiting for us near Poole museum. The sailor was smiling and waving
at us with one hand, and holding his triangular pirate hat with
he is glad to see any visitors at all on this windy cold night,"
I thought to myself disbelieving that there would be anyone out there
"Dont worry, you are not late at all," the sailor assured
us having picked up on my grumpy mood. "Please join the party,"
he said, pointing towards a throng gathering around a Victorian housemaid
lurking just around the corner.
"Oh my goodness," Amy and I exclaimed at once in surprise
me at the popularity of the walk, Amy at the beauty of the Victorian
woman, who was speaking passionately about surroundings with a strong
Dorset accent (possibly put on to suit the Victorian dress).
"Oh my goodness," Amy and I thought an hour and a half later,
delighted and enthralled with the walk. Even though we hadnt met
any ghosts, the ghost stories told by the "Victorian maid"
were fascinating, and were all based on local history, making me to
realise of how little I had known about my home town. This prompted
me to question myself: "What do I know about Poole?" and inspired
me to learn more
The common knowledge of Poole is that "its a beautiful place"
according to the popular slogan of Poole tourist office, now sadly replaced
by something more trendy
to being a beautiful place stems from its stunning harbour, created
or so geologists believe at the end of the last Ice Age.
Yes Poole harbour really is Europes largest, and the worlds
second after Sydney, natural harbour.
Poole may be not as warm as Sydney Harbour, but being shallow and shark-free
it provides excellent windsurfing facilities for beginners a
perfect place to concentrate on kite or windsurfing without the danger
of drowning or being taken out into the open sea. Its also very
safe to sail in Poole - Poole is home to RNLI, and hosts the national
Lifeboat College with impressive training facilities.
Poole is the second safest for its size town in the UK according to
an independent survey 2007; and was the first town in the South West
of England to win the Safer Shopping Award. It is also safe to swim
on the beach in Poole - it has more blue flag awards than anywhere else
in the UK. Poole beach Sandbanks is a wonderful place
of its own, and the name tells it all the beach is made of fine
sand and is situated on a small sand-dune peninsula. Sandbanks is the
fourth most expensive place to live in the World, after London, Manhattan
and Moscow! Yes, this fact emphases how rare and special this part of
Poole is, when people are paying high prices for the privilege of living
in this part of England; even higher than for obviously expensive places
like Tokyo or Paris. Wahoo.
Not sure if the fact that Poole is also the home to Sunseeker Yachts
plays any part in it though. Sunseekers are made to order right here
in Poole isnt it convenient to live nearby if you can afford
Once busy with fishing and cargo boats bringing exotic spices, coal,
raw materials, building materials from long sea journeys long and short,
Poole Harbour now bustles with designer yachts, cruise and dive boats.
Its good to see local fishing boats still working, and guaranteeing
the freshness of local produce.
quay area is dotted with smart restaurants, fish and chip shops,
and salty old pubs, and has been recently face-lifted with new developments
of modern flats. Poole quay is a popular place with local residents;
kites flying just around the corner in Baiter Park add colour to
the buzzing life of the town.
I love it in Poole, and being among the majority who are not able
to afford a house next to the dunes with a Sunseeker moored at the
bottom of the garden, I enjoy coming to Sandbanks beach to watch
boats and build sandcastles. The beach has fantastic views, to the
Isle of Wight in the East to the harbour entrance, Shell Bay, Studland
and Old Harry Rocks to the South West
Studland is a quieter,
wilder, beach with a naturist reserve at the far end of it which is
well signposted if you wish to either find it or avoid it! Studland
is also the starting point of the famous South-West Coast Path; it can
be reached from Sandbanks either by chainferry or - if you really insist
by driving the long way round the harbour (remembering its
The chainferry would be my personal preference (however, there can be
queues of cars in summer season). This is the shortest route between
Bournemouth/Poole and Swanage saving the 25 mile drive, and to my opinion,
the most worthwhile, because having paid just 90p return for a foot
passenger, or £2.80 one way for a car, it gives excellent views
from the top deck during the few minutes of the crossing. And then youre
on the Isle of Purbeck (which is a peninsula not an island!), on your
way to Swanage, Corfe Castle, Old Harry Rocks and the Jurassic Coast
World Heritage Site.
Old Harry Rocks is one of the most unusual coastal features of Dorset
near Poole; the pillars of white chalk formed by wind and waves are
the most easterly point of Purbeck; they are visible from the ferry
on a bright sunny day.
The scenery of white rocks rising from a blue sea into a blue sky is
fascinating and stimulating. This is my favourite place in Dorset and
I would call it the coast ghost monument. According to locals, the ghostly
pealing of bells can be heard in severe gales here, the eerie noises
allegedly coming from a ship carrying bells for a church in Poole that
sank because of the crew's blasphemy!
There are several legends attached to the name of the place. One of
them suggests that the rock is the work of the devil! The name Old Harry
is a medieval name for Satan. Folklore has it that the Devil laid down
for a nap at the top of (or next to) these chalk cliffs. I suppose its
hard work being evil so he deserved a rest after all that wrecking...
the Devils activities in the area MUST be true, given the number
references to his work in local places names! For instance, Agglestone
in Studland means in Old English 'Prince's Stone'. According to folklore,
this massive block of sandstone was said to have been thrown by the
devil from the Isle of Wight in order to demolish Corfe Castle!
Another local legend from King Alfred's time records that the Danish
fleet arrived in a storm, most of their vessels being wrecked. Two of
the shipwrecked strangers Earl Harold and his wife were transformed
into rocks, to which their names became attached (another job of evil).
Actually Old Harry Rock was "widowed" as recently as 1896
when Old Harry's Wife succumbed to erosion and collapsed into the sea
during the same storm that destroyed the chain pier at Brighton a hundred
miles or so up the coast.
Some believe that the rocks are named after the mediaeval pirate Henry
Payne (also known as Harry Payne), whose day jobs included command of
part of the Cinque Ports fleet, privateering from Poole, and raiding
Spanish ships. It is believed that Payne used to stand above the cliffs
at Ballard Down waving a white lantern. This was done to lure French
and Spanish ships on to the rocks in the belief that they thought they
were in fact following the stern navigation light of another vessel.
Possibly there wasnt any lighthouse ever built in Poole (apart
from Lighthouse, Pooles modern Centre for the Arts). The exploits
of the Payne are celebrated in the annual Harry Payne Charity Fun Day
parade in Poole every June.
Another Poole natural feature is Brownsea Island, the largest of the
islands in Poole Harbour. The island is owned by the National Trust.
Much of the island is open to the public and includes areas of pine
woodland and heath and is famously a wildlife resort. This is one of
the few places where red squirrels in England have found a safe haven,
being pushed to near extinction by their imported American counterparts
grey squirrels. The island is world-known as the birthplace of Scouting
movement where Lord Baden-Powell held the first Boy Scout camp in 1907.
It can be accessed by ferry from Poole quay or Sandbanks.
There are so many "the worlds best and the best known"
special places in and around Poole. Whilst we travel around the world
striving to explore (exploit?) different cultures and history, we are
hardly interested in our own neighbourhoods. When on holidays in Australia
it was a joy to my ears to hear Australians had heard of, even been
to, Poole harbour! Yet the owner of our local and truly wonderful
- Fish & Chip shop confessed that hed never been to Swanage,
the next town down the coast to Poole! And this is when a short trip
from Poole to Swanage is one of the most fascinating in the world.
There is so much to see in the area!
We travelled to Russia and Denmark earlier this year, and I am still
paying off my credit card. It was noticeably more expensive than in
the UK. For example Russia no longer suffers shortages in the shops
everything we can get in the UK, and more, is available but for
double the price. In Russia I had to pay £50 for a decent bouquet
of flowers and a cake to visit a friend of mine in a hospital, here
it could be rounded to £10. A room in CabInn (a Danish hotel chain),
an IKEA compact cabin of a bed/shower/toilet, was £70, emergency
tights cost at a local "Boots"-like store £10 and a
meal for two at a Steak House, even though nice - £80. Compare
with a room at an Ibis Hotel in the UK - £50, tights - £5,
decent meal - £40 to £50.
My husband liked it in Denmark - the food and the weather, except, it
wasnt as beautiful as Poole. Its beautiful, its adventurous,
its economical (not least important in the current financial climate),
and there is so much in the English country side and history. All is
the matter of attitude.
I owe it to Amys visit that I now have more knowledge and interest
in my local area. Im learning so much about Poole, and love it
even more as a result. This is not just a beautiful place this
is a place of pure natural beauty.
How much do you know about your home town?
Popova November 2008
ferganavalley at hotmail.co.uk
Buy Natalya's new childrens book The Guinea Pig Story
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