Bournemouth is not one of England’s ancient towns. Far from it. Little more than two hundred years ago there was nothing here but heathland. It’s grown somewhat since its founding in 1810 though, and stayed true to its heritage. That heritage is tourism. The first few villas built on the shores of Bournemouth were put there for visitors, mostly from London, to rent. Bathing in the sea was becoming popular as both as a past time and for its ‘medicinal qualities’. If you visit the area you’ll also notice an abundance of pine trees. They aren’t native to the region, and were planted by the towns founder to cater to the commonly held belief that inhaling the scent of pine was good for you.
Bournemouth isn’t a one trick pony, though. In more recent years, finance has become a key cornerstone of the local economy with JP Morgan, Nationwide, Liverpool Victoria and others investing heavily in call centres and offices in the town. There’s also Bournemouth University, which seems to be growing at an incredible rate. If you see a tower block being built or renovated in the town, chances are its for student accommodation. It’s an impressive story, given that it didn’t even officially become a university until the early 1990s.
This economic diversity is a good thing. An awful lot of England’s seaside holiday hotspots have died over the last twenty to thirty years as foreign trips became easier and cheaper to do. Some towns linger on, but quite frankly many of them should be booked into Dignitas for their own sake. But Bournemouth, along with Brighton and Blackpool, continue to thrive. I’ll argue that Bournemouth has been the biggest success story of the three of them. The town has advantages over both its rivals. It’s a lot closer to London than Blackpool and can feed off a larger and wealthier tourist base. And whilst Brighton is closer still to the capital, its beaches are of the stone variety – no competition for the golden sands a little further west down the coast.
Bournemouth is also a great base to set off from to explore castles, the Jurassic Coast and many fine stately homes. And despite the towns youth, there is history to be had as well. Lawrence of Arabia has a home and his grave a short drive away. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried in the town centre. There’s Stonehenge and Salisbury with its towering cathedral. For TV buffs, you could always go and see the resting place of Mr Selfridge and his wife near Christchurch.
But most of all, Bournemouth has turned the screw on its rivals with some flagship events. The feather in the town’s cap is the annual Bournemouth Air Festival which is Europe’s largest free air show. Nearly one and a half million visitors come to see the four day spectacle. To supplement the end of summer airborne extravaganza, Bournemouth has this year introduced a start of summer festival that is more down to earth. The Bournemouth Wheels Festival. Vintage cars, super cars, race cars, monster trucks, stunt bikes and everything in between arrived in town for a three day show in the Bank Holiday sun. Assuming you went, like I did, on the Sunday. And not the Saturday or Monday. Which had less sun, more rain.
You can have a sneak peak at the show in the photos below, or see the full set on Flickr by clicking here. There’s definitely a full days worth of stuff to see and do, including a fireworks display off the end of the pier each night. I hope they bring it back next year. The town was packed, which is a good sign the weekend was successful, so I’m sure it will return in 2015.