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Exploring Bournemouth Beyond The Beach
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Exploring Bournemouth Beyond The Beach

Picture of Suzi Dixon
Updated: 9 February 2017
Dorset is one of the UK’s most intriguing places to visit. You may have been to Bournemouth and Poole in the past for a day at the beach, but forget your bucket and spade for a second, and visit these gardens, heritage sites, arts events and festivals. You can avoid the crowds and enjoy days and nights out in all weather.

With up to 60,000 visitors per day in peak season, Bournemouth and Poole, as a region, is best known for seven miles of award-winning beaches, fun and games on the pier, ice creams and fish ‘n’ chips. But for the more discerning traveller or locals with a passion for culture, I have some suggestions for places to enjoy beyond the beaches.

By Day

Leave the sands of Bournemouth behind you, for a day at least, and head towards Poole for the finest crop of cultural holiday options.

Top of the must-visit list is the award-winning Compton Acres. Walk around ten acres of themed gardens and enjoy a riot of colour, exotic plants, stunning statues and water features. It’s enjoyable whether you have a passion for plants or simply want a breath of fresh air away from the tourist hoards.

The gardens are all accessible for wheelchair users. More than 2,000 varieties of plants are added each year to keep the displays fresh and interesting, and enthusiastic staff are on hand to answer questions and recommend plants in the nursery to take home.

The Japanese Gardens are recognised as one of the finest in the UK, featuring a koi pond, imported rare varieties of plants, stonework and art brought over from Japan in the 1920s plus a Tea House adorned with Japanese wisteria.

An annual pass costs just £17.50 for a single adult, £30 for a single adult family, which includes one adult and up to three children, or £40 for a family pass, which includes two named adults and up to three children.

Another great option for a day out is the imposing Corfe Castle. With nearly 1,000 years of history behind it, there are fascinating tales of riches and grandeur to be enjoyed, along with the stunning ruins. It dominates the skyline over Corfe village and is well looked after by the National Trust. The detailed miniature model of the area is also a great talking point.

A second, but very different, National Trust gem in our area is Brownsea Island. If the weather is in your favour, pack a picnic and head over on the ferry to this unspoilt oasis, where you can spot rare red squirrels while admiring views of the Purbeck Hills. What’s more, you can explore the so-called Millionaire’s Playground of Sandbanks, with its quaint cafés, bars and varied architecture, on the way back. Some of the houses may not be to everyone’s taste, though, so be warned!

Upton Country Park launches a community library on October 18th, and from October 22nd to November 26th, the Canford Heath Art Society will be exhibiting the finest work of local artists. Why not pick up a painting while you are there?

Just around the corner in Hamworthy, the Purbeck Film Festival takes place from October 16th-31st — watch The Moo Man (October 23rd) or Far From the Madding Crowd (October 30th) in the atmospheric surroundings of the library.

By Night

Now that you’ve covered Poole, head back to Bournemouth, but stay on the back roads and head to the Shelley Theatre. The building has recently been lovingly restored by enthusiastic volunteers and now runs a full programme of theatre, film and arts. It’s Bournemouth’s oldest surviving theatre, and you even get free popcorn with your film ticket! See their website for a full list of events.

The Arts by The Sea Festival (October 9th-18th) is the perfect time to enjoy culture indoors and outdoors in Bournemouth, too. The Shelley Theatre, Pavillion Dance, Bournemouth Natural Science Society and Lower Gardens are just a few of the venues hosting art exhibitions, dance recitals, inspirational talks, comedy, stunning light installations and more. See their website for the full programme.