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Bourne to be recycled; HOLIDAYS.

Byline: ALISON JONES

BOURNEMOUTH has been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons recently.

The seaside resort was hit by flash flooding one week, then tragedy the next when a Red Arrow crashed at an air show.

We had visited only two weeks before and many of the planes due to take part in the show had flown over our hotel in a practice flight.

The Red Arrows were among them, leaving their telltale trails of coloured smoke. It is sad now to think that one of those smokey signatures might have belonged to the pilot who died.

But on that sunny Saturday afternoon there was no foreshadowing of what was to come. A few years ago a survey declared Bournemouth to be the happiest place to live in Britain. It was certainly favourite place of JRR Tolkien who holidayed there for 30 years, always taking the same hotel room in the same hotel and booking another room to write in.

He eventually retired to Bournemouth with his wife Edith, dying there in 1973.

His is not the only literary association with the town. Oscar Wilde and Paul Verlaine both taught at prep schools. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and most of Kidnapped from his house on the west cliff.

Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley is buried there. Rather gruesomely so is the heart of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, while the rest of his ashes were interred in Italy, where he had drowned.

Confusion En route to our hotel in Grove Road we walked past another smaller hotel with a blue plaque on the wall which revealed it to have been the former home of the actor Stewart Grainger, who was actually born James Stewart but had to change his name to avoid confusion with the American star.

The hotel we were staying in, The Green House, is a Grade II listed Victorian villa that is proud of its reputation as the greenest in the UK.

It manages to maintain these lofty ethical principles while retaining the sense of luxury one comes to expect from a boutique hotel (particularly one given a pounds 5 million makeover that actually had to be done twice. After the first one was nearly complete, the building was gutted by fire and the owners had to start over).

There are all manner of environmentally friendly measures inside and out, from solar thermal energy and electricity generated onsite to locally produced wallpapers and eco-paints on the walls. Furnishing fabrics were picked because they are 100 per cent natural and free of chemicals. The mattress covering on the beds is made from bamboo (a lot softer energy or low in their water consumption and the reclaimed Victorian baths in the bedrooms are big enough for two.

Even the funky plastic chairs used in the conference rooms are made from recycled computer consoles.

The other reputation the hotel has is for the quality of its food.

The restaurant is in the charge of Gordon Jones, who trained under Michelin star chefs in Bath.

The emphasis is on organic, free range and artisan-sourced local produce, complemented by organic and biodynamic wines, each bottle graded according to its carbon footprint.

To save ourselves the headache of having to make a choice, we opted for the tasting menu on Friday night.

little like designer baby food - while a slice of Dorset crab stuffed courgette was sprinkled with snail caviar.

At 10pm we were still eating and realised we probably should have had our meal at the hotel on the Saturday, as there was the sound of fireworks exploding along the beachfront. This was a regular weekly display put on during high season by local drinking and dancing hotspot Aruba, which is next to Bournemouth Pier.

As part of our deal with the hotel we had the use of a beach pod. There are beach huts all along Undercliff Drive which you can use as a base for a day on the beach. They are equipped with tables and chairs and usually some basic cooking amenities.

Hemingway design and there were pop art seaside-themed prints on the curtains, deckchairs and all over one wall.

The pods were close to Boscombe Pier which is a good 20-minute walk from Bournemouth Pier, something we found out the hard way. Thankfully, for our journey back we were able to hop on the small road train that travels regularly along beachfront road and then take the cliff railway to get from shore level up the cliff to the road our hotel was on.

Bournemouth Council built Europe's first artificial surf reef out at Boscombe to encourage the swell and there are a number of surf schools where beginners can take to the boards.

Squeezed into wetsuits and under the encouragement of the pa-tient Louie, we spent two hours with SurfSteps learning the basics, paddling out to sea then turning our boards round and attempting to ride the waves back onto the beach.

I couldn't hang onto the board long enough to climb to my feet, let alone Hang 10, and by the end of it my eyes were stinging and arms aching from paddling, but it was surprisingly good fun and an excellent workout.

We came back to the beach in the evening, this time to West-Beach, a restaurant near Bournemouth Pier that, as the name suggests, overlooks the shore.

The speciality is fish and seafood cooked and prepared in all manner of ways. Always happy to have crab when I can get it. I ordered whole cracked crab with fries and mesculin salad. Anticipating something the size of my hand, I was stunned when the crab came and it was the size of a dinner plate, the claws alone big enough to make a meal.

The next day we returned for a final walk along the Victorian pier. It once had a reputation for being the preserve of sickly youths and recuperating colonials, but these days it bustles with families, attracted by the theatre or drawn to the small funfair rides at the end.

As the sun shone on the miles of golden beaches and people on the pier stopped to watch a group of stags starting up a cricket/ rounders match, the "happiest place" tag seem well-deserved. We were certainly unhappy to be leaving.

FACTFILE The Greenhouse offers a Designer Beach Pod break for three nights with breakfast each day, a dinner in the restaurant, a packed lunch on one day and free access to a beach pod.

It costs from pounds 250 person in a small double based on two people sharing, and is available until October 28. Call 01202 498900 or email reservations@thegreenhousehotel.com to check availability.

SurfSteps costs pounds 15 for a two hour lesson. For details call 0800 043 7873. For more information about WestBeach restaurant look up www.

west-beach.co.uk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 18, 2011
Words:1147
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