Amazing how much there is to see, how much is going on, when you simply…stand still.
I’d pitched up at Poole Quay where I planned to catch the bright yellow ferry for the short hop over to Brownsea Island. Yellow transport always makes me think of Noddy which is fitting really as Brownsea Island is the setting for Enid Blyton’s ‘Whispering Island’. In Enid Blyton’s day Brownsea was owned by a very reclusive Mrs Bonham-Christie, who would not tolerate visitors and allowed the island to return to nature. Enid described it as “Keep Away Island”.
So stand awhile with me and see through my eyes as I await the ferry and fend off the gulls hell bent on stealing my lunch. Anyone fancy a chip?
Immediately, my eyes are drawn to a boat on the horizon. It appears old and wooden and I was transfixed as it slid silently towards the quay.
Magnificent. The crew expertly moored the huge craft along the quayside; my cue to head off and interfere.
The Kathleen and May had sailed down from Liverpool and was heading to a classic boat festival in the South of England followed by a hop across the channel to a similar show in Brest. The skipper had hoped to get a little further on from Poole on this day but had been forced in by bad weather. I could hardly believe my ears. Not a cloud in the sky and the sea a millpond (as far as my eyes reached). “No, love. It’s fair blowing a hooley out there. We settled for Poole as Yarmouth is a bit of a squeeze”. I could not imagine how this huge boat could ever hope to enter the tiny harbour on the Isle of Wight. I had a sudden vision of those juggernauts that become wedged in tiny streets after blind adherence to a SatNav. This brings to mind painful memories of learning to handle a yacht on my Day Skipper course. But that’s a story for another day. When I’m feeling emotionally stronger.
I had missed my intended ferry by then so nothing for it but to wait for the next and Carry On Prying On The Prom. Docked a little further out in the harbour were the joint hulks of the Brittany and Condor ferries, respectively. Poole harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney) and covers an area of 15 square miles. Despite this it is extremely shallow: although the main shipping channels are 7.5 metres (25 ft) deep the average depth of the harbour is a mere 48 centimetres (1.57ft). These ships have to take great care not to stray from the channel.
Directly behind me was the Custom House. After fulfilling its duty as the original Customs and Excise building, it is now a dynamic café bar and a la carte restaurant.
Every year there is a ceremony from the Custom House Steps. The “Beating of the Water Bounds” dates back to the 14th Century and revives the traditional checking of the sea boundaries of Poole harbour. The Admiral of the Port of Poole and other dignitaries set sail to various points in the harbour. In order to symbolise this “beating” the children of Poole were encouraged to participate in the “Pins and Points” ritual involving the beating of a boy and pricking of a girl’s hand with a needle. Not surprisingly, there has been a bit of a furore surrounding this ceremony in recent years as hinted by the BBC’s headline Mayor may axe child spanking rite. As far as I know, this ceremony still exists but we are assured that the child flogging and blood letting is merely symbolic – in actual fact the children receive gifts of leather bound thongs as keepsakes. Oh Dorset.
A few blinks further on was the Poole Arms, the oldest watering hole on the quay. I vaguely remembered reading an amusing review of this pub and resoved to google it on my return home. The pub boasts distinctive green tiling dates from the 1600s and one visitor was very obviously impressed “Attractive green outside as well. Like a giant toilet but in a good way” Another visitor explained: “I liked the feel of this place despite it’s touristy area, although the Japanese couple giving a boat owner a hard time was a bit off putting, nothing to do with the pub though, just the Japanese not having any manners. The mens toilets are a treat”. Apparently, the gent’s loos have a certain charm and are well worth a visit but – dear reader – we all have to draw the line somewhere.
Another exciting snippet I’d gleaned is that out of the five previous British winners of the Miss World title, two have hailed from Poole. I duly arranged myself on a nearby bench and waited to be discovered. Don’t know if it was the ketchup on my chin or the guano slick on my sleeve but let’s just say I wasn’t swamped with offers.
Anyway, I’d spotted something far more promising panning out along the harbour. I’ll leave you with the photos. What do YOU think happened next..?..