Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Bournemouth

Bournemouth is up there as one of my most-visited grounds – and yet I had never even seen the beach. Historically, I would arrive in Bournemouth, head straight to the pub (The Dolphin RIP or latterly The Goat & Tricycle), then to the match, then home. This weekend I was determined to explore more of what our fellow seaside resort had to offer.

We have come to the conclusion that my little Fiesta is not a suitable mode of transport for long-distance away games; we were barely able to walk on arrival in Lincoln recently. Hence we hired a car for our weekend trip to Bournemouth. On Thursday afternoon, we received a call from Enterprise, advising us that the automatic car we had booked was no longer available, so we had to make do with a manual Vauxhall Crossland. We agreed because time was of the essence.

My alarm went off at 0700 on Friday morning. Ideally, I wanted to be on the road at this time, with a six-hour journey ahead of us, but Enterprise were not open until 0800. Of course Lee was running late, as is the norm, and it was 0820 before we were on our way down the M55. Lee was not wholly comfortable with the car, insisting it felt like he was driving a bus. We briefly considered turning round and returning it, but we were on our way now, so made a snap decision to carry on.

I have had my little Fiesta for over two years now and I still cannot fathom how to get my music to play from my phone into the car; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This morning I was delighted to hear Jane’s Favourites bursting out of the car speakers as soon as I attached my phone via USB. This is the future.

I began actively listening to songs I have sang along to for years and questioned a line from ‘Angel Eyes’ by Wet Wet Wet, which I had always sung as:

‘When I’m down, I’m in my yule log’

Whilst I liked the idea of Marti Pellow tucking into a festive cake when he was feeling down, I realised this probably wasn’t what he was singing. The results made the verse make much more sense, although I still prefer my version.

‘People say I’m so automatic

People say I’m not so systematic

When I’m down, I’m in manual, Lord’

I soon realised I had forgotten to bring my itinerary for the weekend, but I had the highlights in my head and was confident I could cobble something together from memory. It is not a bad thing to allow time for random exploration and, as it turned out, the highlight of the weekend was to be something we stumbled upon quite by accident. Look what we could have done:

Happily I had remembered to pack the snackage for the journey and today’s breakfast was these little beauties, which come highly recommended:

Our satnav of choice, Waze – who we were using via Apple Car Play today because we could – took us down the M6 Toll, so we made Norton Canes our service station of choice for the southbound journey. I remember this motorway being built when I lived close by and it was known only as the ‘Northern Express Relief Road’. That was clearly some time ago now, as I was disappointed to find the facilities somewhat dated in comparison to other services, which have apparently been refurbished more recently. The taps weren’t contactless and the hand driers weren’t Dysons.

There was, however, one of these, which offered a welcome range of alternative service station fayre:

There was nothing as tempting as my Jammie Dodgers, though – and it was still way too early for me to be contemplating a proper hot meal.

Further down the road, I chuckled as I spotted a sign for Rufus Stone Services. That was a Hollywood actor’s name, surely?

As we encountered some stop-start traffic, Lee complained of a ridiculously high clutch on the car, which was making driving uncomfortable – and possibly dangerous. We called Enterprise and at length they agreed we could call into their branch in Christchurch to swap cars.

My research for this weekend had revealed that famous carpenter Jesus had worked on the construction of the church in what is now known as Christchurch. One of the beams was not long enough until Jesus worked his magic and created the Miraculous Beam, which is now in place – and it juts out because it is too long.

But it was Enterprise that was our destination of choice necessity here in Christchurch today. Unfortunately, it proved a wasted diversion, as they could only offer us a little Corsa in exchange for the Crossland. That completely defeated the object of us hiring a more comfortable car for the weekend. We felt we had little choice but to stick with the car we had, and made our way to Bournemouth.

On arrival at the seaside, we parked up in the BIC multi-storey car park, close to our car-park-less hotel, feeling confident that the car would be safer here than a cheaper outdoor alternative, which had reports of break-ins. We unloaded the car and made our way across to our hotel. We might not have been having a good car weekend, but we could ditch it here for up to 24 hours and explore Bournemouth on foot. Things were going to get better now.

Of course the lift was out of use. We lugged our luggage down the ammonia-scented stairs and mercifully our hotel was just across the road.

Royal Exeter Hotel

As with Bristol on our previous away trip, there were no resasonably-priced options for accommodation this weekend. This place had the best deal I could find – and it was perfectly-located in the heart of Bournemouth, a two-minute walk from the seafront. That would do nicely, thank you very much.

The reception and bar areas were modern and stunning. The outdoor bar area particularly took Lee’s fancy and he made a mental note to head back here later. As with many areas of Bournemouth, this was like something you would expect to find on an overseas holiday, but not in this country. We were already feeling like we were on holiday and already falling in love with Bournemouth.

We headed up to our room, which was less modern than the downstairs facilities, but it would do us for the night. There were free toiletries and biscuits, so that was all right by me. There was a hairdryer, too, which – I would learn tomorrow morning – was impossible to use when sitting in front of the dressing table, as the cord wouldn’t stretch that far. It’s sad that some hotels feel they have to attach hairdryers to walls – presumably to avoid theft. And I would certainly never use a hotel kettle again after hearing horror stories of what some visitors use them for.

After unpacking, it was time to head out for lunch – no, probably tea by this time, as it was now 4pm.

Brewhouse + Kitchen

We had passed this pub on our drive into Bournemouth – and it was on my itinerary, as one of my favourite pub chains. You may recall I visited one on my virtual trip to Portsmouth last season. I have also visited the actual Brewhouse + Kitchens in Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield and liked them very much. This is a southern chain that is gradually creeping its way north. They brew their own beers onsite and they are modern with good quality fayre.

On arrival, we were greeted by our host and escorted to a table upstairs, before being advised that someone would be along shortly to take our order. There is something wonderfully civilised about table service – and there was a drinks menu on the table, so there was no need for me to take a sneaky trip to the bar to photograph the pump clips. I was delighted to see a flight of beers available, so excitedly order a third of each of the:

  • B&K Saviour Ed (cask blonde)
  • B&K Churchill’s Fall (cask bitter)
  • B&K Trilogy (craft keg stout)

I confess I was disappointed when these arrived without the paddle, but the beer was welcomed (and delicious) all the same.

Foodwise, I opted for the Beer Can Chicken, because it sounded yummy and it was something I was unlikely to find elsewhere.

It was indeed yummy – with added Spicy Buffalo AND Mango Hot Sauce. I like dishes with a lot of different flavours and this fit the bill very nicely, thank you very much.

Now it was time to attack the itinerary (what itinerary?) so we headed back to the seafront to explore.

What is this? A hedgehog? A fish? Surely it should be Tufty the Squirrel? Is he still around? Answers in the comments below.

Bournemouth Beach

The beach here was absolutely stunning, with pristine sand and green sea – and no litter in sight. There was even a Baywatch-stylee lifeguard.

It reminded me a little of St Annes beach – not least with the little beach huts.

But then came the little fairground rides and bars on the beach itself – the tide does not come in here – and we began to realise that this is like no other seaside resort we have visited. Indeed I love the heterogeneity of seaside resorts. One is really nothing like any other.

There was a Big Wheel here. Lee is terrified of heights but decided to brave it in the name of the Football Tourist’s Guide. Indeed, there was a cracking view of the vicinity from the top of the wheel. As Lee sat trembling, refusing to look down, I observed an RAF flight simulator (hmm could I get him on that to help conquer his fear of flying?), a pirate-themed adventure golf course, a nice little park and Bournemouth Pier. Ooh, we’d have to head there next. As with the resorts themselves, every pier is different. There were two to discover here: Bournemouth Pier and Boscombe Pier (closer to the ground).

Bournemouth Pier

We were shocked to discover there was a toll payable to stroll down Bournemouth Pier but of course we didn’t really begrudge paying this because we know how hard the tourist industry has had it in the last 18 months.

There is a small amusement arcade at the front of the pier (not a patch on Blackpool, Clee or Skeggy’s offerings), then a long boardwalk to the rear. Here is a bar/restaurant, a few rides, an impressive helter skelter, which is the focal point of the pier – and a zip wire ride from the end of the pier back across the sea to the beach. Lee expressed an interest in the zip wire (which made no sense to me, considering his fear of heights) but happily it was closed, because I wouldnt be having any of that.

To coin a phrase I learned from the natives of Clee in response to me having gravy on my fish, you can fuck that sky high.

I needed a drink, so we headed back up the hill (it was a little hilly here for my liking) into town in search of either the old favourite Goat & Tricycle (great name, great pub) or a micro that a Twitter friend had mentioned as being close by when we were in Brewhouse & Kitchen.

On our way, Lee spotted a sign directing us to a place that was not on my radar but sounded just my cup of tea. We stumbled across the pub in question shortly thereafter – and couldn’t have been happier with what we found.

Poole Hill Brewery

As we entered the pub, I spotted a man singing on a stage at the rear of the room. Yay – live music! With an acoustic guitar for company, the music was not so loud that I could not comfortably hear, so this was the perfect volume for me (I often struggle and strain with background noise and really must get a hearing test). As I approached the bar, I was thrilled to see a range of ales – including a stout, which I plumped for by default.

We took a seat on a comfy sofa round the corner and admired the pub’s decor.

Hang on, is that a collection of plates with cats on?

Oh yes it is! Lee is always happy with conversation pieces in pubs – and this place was full of them. What we were seeing here – we didn’t yet realise was only the half of it.

As I nestled back into the sofa, supping my pint of stout, thinking ‘this is the life’, I realised that this was the first time I had enjoyed live music in over 18 months. The last gig I can remember being at was The Lancashire Hotpots in Wigan in December 2019. This seemed such a simple pleasure and I felt completely at home here.

As I approached the bar to order my second pint of stout, the landlady seemed disappointed that I wasn’t trying a different beer. I tried to explain that this was a huge compliment: when I’m exploring a new town, I rarely remain in a pub to order a second drink; and ordering a second pint of the same drink – because I am enjoying it so much – is an even rarer occurrence. Indeed, I can only compare this to a session on the Church End Gravediggers Mild in Katz in Walsall., which is high praise indeed.

The singer – Edward Fox (another Hollywood name) – was joined by an amazing harmonica player for a few numbers, which really brought his set to life. I was enjoying this so much, I ordered a third pint of stout during the next interval. I was surprised to be served by the Fantastic Mr Fox himself, and of course insisted he take one for himself.

During our people-watching session, we noticed a group of people descending the stairs at the other end of the room, only to emerge from the door to our right. Ooh, was there a downstairs here, too? I headed down to explore.

Dear reader, it was fabulous downstairs, with numerous rooms including a little cinema room. What a treat this place was – and to think we only found it by accident (or rather their design)!

Lee sensibly called time before I could order a fourth pint and we headed back to the hotel. It was time for me to retire for the night, while Lee headed out to explore the banging nightlife taking place below our hotel and beyond. We had been warned by the hotel that there were discos and live music until 0100. I was confident that, after three pints and a couple of paracetamol for good measure, I would soon pass out and the loud music wouldn’t present a problem.

Nightmare

I had been dopily semi-aware of Lee’s appearance beside me and some thumping music for some time. Eventually I awoke fully – and the music was still banging. It felt much later than 0100. Having lain awake for a good 15 minutes, I fumbled on the bedside cabinet for my phone – these blackout curtains were good. It was 0415. Bloody hell. What was wrong with people, wanting to be out dancing at this ungodly hour? I can’t even function after midnight.

I lay awake for at least an hour before drifting off into what is now becoming a traditional hotel room nightmare. This morning I dreamt that there was a refugee hiding underneath the wardrobe in my spare room (his feet were poking out the front). On top of the wardrobe was a tiger with three cubs. I fled from the room, calling for Lee and wondering who we should call to report this. The police? The RSPCA? The zoo? Would anyone believe us? This seemed so far fetched. But this wasn’t something we could deal with ourselves. We needed some help. It wasn’t as if there was a Tiger Man in the Yellow Pages.

TIGER TROUBLE? CALL BIG CATS R US NOW ON 0800 00 TIGER.

As I returned to the spare room to retrieve my phone (I weighed up the risk and made the wrong decision – but who goes anywhere without their phone, right?), I observed the tiger being chased up the wall by a crocodile. It was at this point I realised the depth of the trauma caused by Nigel, my fanzine editor counterpart at Swansea, who had sent me a video clip of a crocodile yesterday in the full knowledge that I had had a terrifying experience with an alligator (what’s the difference?) on a visit to Colwyn Bay a couple of years back (lovely place, do visit, but beware of the alligators). Nigel: you owe me muchos Boss Brewing Co beer when we visit Swansea in November…

I woke with a start to find Lee missing (had the tiger/crocodile got him?). It was now 0800 and I rose to conduct my morning toilette. Lee was probably out filming somewhere. Wasn’t he…?

He was, of course. On his return, we headed down to the swanky bar for a lovely breakfast.

We agreed that we had never taken breakfast in lovelier surroundings. Our waitress was lovely, too, and even supplied honey for my Earl Grey, earning the Royal Exeter Hotel bonus breakfast points.

Our first port of call today was going to be the Oceanarium, but sadly (happily for them) it was fully booked until 1530, which was of course too late for us. This was, perhaps, not a bad thing, as I can see that there are crocodiles there, which might have triggered a breakdown.

West Cliff Lift

Instead, we headed towards the funicular. This is a cable lift that takes you up a very steep cliff on Bournemouth front. I think every hill should have one of these (Lincoln, take note).

We were given the option of getting off at the top or having a ‘joyride’ and coming back down again, too. We opted to get off at the top and amble back down.

Back on the prom, we headed towards Bournemouth Pier, where fellow Seasider Chris Hull had arranged a rendezvous of travelling Seasiders for a group photo. Initially, Neil Critchley was going to come along and meet us but this did not materialise as expected. Still, it was lovely to meet up with fellow travelling fans on this, The Longest Trip.

Dorset Apple Cake

Prior to this trip, I had been in touch with our local Seasider correspondent, Rob. When I asked where is the best place to buy Dorset Apple Cake (a famed local delicacy), he replied as follows:

And here he was today, armed with a huge bag full of Dorset Apple Cake, having walked half an hour from his home to meet us. On arrival, he presented me with this:

What a joyful encounter this was – and how delightful that Rob had taken the time and trouble to bake for me and our fellow travelling Seasiders. He even gave a slice to the random stranger who kindly offered to take our group photo. We were really touched by the friendliness of the Bournemouth people.

It was now time to retrieve the car and head over to Boscombe. Rob had reminded me about the musical instruments on Boscombe Pier so it was here we headed, the Dorset Apple Cake safely stored in the boot for the journey home.

Boscombe Pier

This was free to access (although we had to pay to park nearby) and, at first glance, looked less impressive than Bournemouth Pier. However, it proved to be the more joyful of the two.

We were fortunate enough to arrive at the same time as the little train that runs between the two piers.

There were indeed eight musical instruments placed at intervals down the length of the pier. The first was an exact replica of the Roman xylophone I had played with my bottle of perfume at Hadrian’s Wall ahead of the Carlisle match. But the piece de resistance was the seaside chimes which, when percussed (is that a word?) in sequential order, played the tune of ‘I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside’.

It was magical, although a huge shame that two of the mallets had been vandalised, so it was only possible to play half the chimes. I played the other half with my knuckles, but the sound was far less resonant. A family close by heard us play and were smiling gleefully (as we were) as we approached them and we encouraged them to have a go. Bournemouth truly is a place of such joy. There was no way we were going to lose this afternoon. It simply wasn’t possible. This was a weekend of pure joy (car notwithstanding).

The Brunswick

I wasn’t sure why today’s Pub of Choice had switched from the Goat & Tricycle, which was clearly still ace, as we had been speaking to a couple at Poole Hill Brewery last night who had been unable to get in, it was that rammed. But anyway, here we were to meet up with our friends from BASIL (Blackpool Association of Supporters In London). The mystery was solved, as this turned out to be Jeff’s local.

This was a Greene King pub and the beer offerings were:

  • Greene King IPA
  • Greene King Abbot Ale
  • Morland Old Speckled Hen

As this was only a flying visit – more to catch up with friends not seen in way too long – I was content to order a pint of IPA. I had, after all, had my fill of lush beer last night. Look at this nice hand pump.

As I waited to be served, I got chatting with another friendly Bournemouth fan (was everyone down here lovely?), who recommended I visit The Firkin Shed, which was just ten minutes from the ground. I regretted that we simply didn’t have time, as it would have been great to have visited this self-confessed ‘curiously award winning’ pub.

After too short a time catching up with pals, it was time to head across to the ground, formerly Dean Court, now The Vitality Stadium.

AFC Bournemouth v Blackpool

After the parking debacle at Bristol City the other week, I made sure to research parking near the ground ahead of today’s match. We were headed for the free parking at Harewood College but the road was closed, so we ended up parking on the street with the floodlights in sight. How joyful to have a ground with floodlights so you can see where you are headed!

On arrival at the ground we noticed huge queues for the home turnstiles, with access delayed due to each supporter being searched prior to entry. We were pleased to see a much shorter queue at the away end. We were scanned by some sort of hand-held device (metal detector?) and were then directed over to another steward, who searched my bag and frisked me, which was a treat (you know I like a good frisk). I really did feel like I was on holiday now!

On entry into the ground, I smiled as I noticed Lee having a chat with a friendly steward and looked around in vain for the Ladies.

‘Excuse me, sweetie – are you looking for the toilets?’

‘Ooh yes I am!’

He offered directions, I thanked him and quickly scuttled off.

I was so thrilled with the loveliness of this steward, I wrote his words down in my writer’s notebook as soon as I was sat on the loo. Fan engagement is something I feel quite passionately about – and stewards are such a big part of the fan ‘customer’ experience on a matchday. It is stewards like this man – and those at Donny – who really make me feel welcome and valued as a visiting fan. I enter these grounds with a smile on my face and my spirits lifted and that is such a wonderful thing. The opposite is the case with miserable or aggressive stewards, such as we encountered at Rotherham. They set you on edge and have you more likely to project that misery or anger on to others – and less likely to visit in future. Today, I was feeling good, so thank you Bournemouth for the positive vibe.

The single taps in the Ladies were very confusing.

Cold, right?

Hot? Or warm?

As I approached the refreshment kiosk, I was shocked to see there was no queue. Not one person in front of me waiting to be served. Instead, I was greeted with a wall of four or five people waiting to serve me. I wasn’t prepared for this,

‘Er…a bottle of water, please.’

‘There you go. Is there anything else you’d like today?’

‘Er…I’m not sure…I’m used to deciding while I’m queueing…er…another bottle of water, please.’

At the time I thought ‘how wonderfully organised they are here’ and had refreshment kiosk envy. It was only later I realised that Rob was outside handing out free Dorset Apple Cake to all the travelling fans, which might have been the reason no-one was hungry and queuing for food…

I ventured up to the stand and took my seat. I was soon joined by Ken from Norwich.

‘I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve been holding this in for over ten years now and I need to confess.’

I was suitably intrigued.

He went on to tell me how he had met Glenn Roeder on a flight from Norwich to Blackpool ahead of a match.

‘Watch out for our Irish Wizard,’ he’d said.

‘Oh, who’s that, then,’ enquired Roeder.

‘Wes Hoolahan. He’s brilliant.’

Roeder’s number one wrote down the name in his notebook. And the rest is history.

Ken feels guilty to this day that Wizard Wes ended up signing for Norwich, leaving a trail of broken tangerine hearts in his wake. I offered forgiveness and reassured him that it was ok, we had Shayne Lavery now, so things were probably going to work out just fine.

Lavery wasn’t starting today, but Bowler was, which pleased me greatly. As fellow blogger Mitch Cook’s Left Foot has pointed out, he is Martin Bullock-esque in that he gets you on the edge of your seat with his build-up play, yet his end product is somewhat lacking. Bully was my favourite Blackpool player of all time because he made me feel that buzz every time he got the ball and Bowler is the same. I don’t even care if the end product isn’t there. Watching him play makes me feel alive and I love that buzz. Also, I know that, under Critch’s coaching, that end product will come. If Ollie Turton can score a goal, anyone can.

Karen pointed out that the Bournemouth keeper looked like he was wearing his Marigolds. She wasn’t wrong.

The first half left me somewhat shaken. Bournemouth looked terrifying every time they rampaged forward and we went in at the break 2-0 down. And yet the Pool fans still did not stop singing. This reminded me very much of Arsenal away early in our Premier League season, when we lost 6-0 but kept singing anyway.

‘We’re gonna win 6-5…’

Was this what the Championship was going to be like? Feeling somewhat out of our depth but trying to make the best of enjoying it anyway? Were we out of our depth? It was certainly beginning to feel like it.

But things turned in the second half. James Husband got one back for the Mighty Tangerine Wizards and then, what seemed like seconds later, we were awarded a penalty. Could we really turn this around? Up stepped Jerry Yates. Would he break his duck? Yes he would. Boom! 2-2. Scenes.

Dear reader, Blackpool controlled the game from thereon in. We lost Grant Ward, who was stretchered off (yay that stretchers are finally being used but boo to the injury to Ward). Bournemouth made a whole host of changes but had no answers to the curveball we had thrown them. Maxi made a wondersave towards the end. And then Steve Martin blew the final whistle. Yes! We’d done it again!

Exiting the ground in jubilation, we were wished a safe journey home by numerous locals, as we lingered to admire the ground a little longer. Outside were blown up team photos of epic Cherries squads of recent years, followed by a wall of their star players – and their fans.

Here’s our video memory of the match.

We found the car without too much trouble but promptly got stuck in snarled-up traffic until around 1800. We didn’t mind, though, because we were heading away with a point – and we had had such a lovely time in Bournemouth.

It would be six hours, two service stations, one McDonalds Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese (yes I overfaced myself with that) and one speeding ticket before we arrived home. One good night’s sleep later I got up to a breakfast of Dorset Apple Cake and that brings you right up to date.

Thank you, Bournemouth, for being so lovely and welcoming, warm and engaging. We are already looking forward to our next visit. And your Dorset Apple Cake is quite delicious…

Next up: Sunderland at home in’t Caramac Cup and this top blogger; then Millwall away.

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