Weymouth is a traditional and popular seaside resort situated on the Jurassic Coast between Poole and Lyme Regis, about 15km (8 miles) to the south of Dorchester.
In fact, what we actually think of as Weymouth today, which is the seaside and town centre, is really Melcombe Regis. Weymouth and Melcombe Regis were once two separate places, their boundaries being the harbour, with (old) Weymouth on the south side and Melcombe Regis on the north. There was much feuding between the two over the trading rights of the harbour, but they were officially united in 1571 when Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter. They then became the Borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.
As a beach resort, Weymouth is renowned for having the best sunshine record in England, even in winter. Thus, in January 2003 it still held the record for the sunniest January since records began. Indeed, the figures for Weymouth often beat those of its more illustious neighbour, Bournemouth. Real time weather information is available from the weather station which is located at the Condor Ferry Terminal, at the entrance to Weymouth Harbour.
Things to do
With its seemingly miles and miles of soft, golden sand, safe sea-bathing, and enviable sunshine record, Weymouth Bay has sometimes been called 'England's Bay of Naples1'. Without too much commercialisation, Weymouth is a traditional English seaside town, having beach donkeys, one of the few permanent Punch and Judy shows left on British beaches, swing-boats, a small fun-fair, and quaint little shops selling saucy picture postcards.
Weymouth has long been renowned for the almost unique quality of its sand, which makes it perfect for making sandcastles. The very pure sand sets like stone when compacted, as evidenced in an episode of the BBC television series, 'Coast', where presenter Dr Alice Roberts demonstrated that this is due to the 'angle of internal friction', which is low, thus enabling the grains to lock together extremely closely.
Visitors to Weymouth will be able to enjoy Mark Anderson's 'Sculptures in Sand'. In 2008 he sculpted the world's only sand hotel, in which guests can stay at £10 per night. Be warned though - there are no toilet facilities!
Events on the Beach
Throughout the year, many events are held on the beach and seafront, or out in the bay. Because of the quality of the sand, not too hard and not too soft, Weymouth is one of the top venues in the country for beach volleyball.
Other events include the International Beach Kite Festival, which is held in early May, and veteran vehicle and motorcycle rallies, military parades, handball and sailing championships, all held during the summer months. Carnival Day in August is a major event as Weymouth has the biggest of its kind in the area. On this occasion, there are events throughout the day, such as visits by the RAF's Red Arrows aerobatic display team, and a fireworks display on the beach.
In 1750 a wealthy limestone quarryman by the name of Ralph Allen, who was resident in Bath, visited Melcombe Regis on behalf of his disabled wife. Her physicians had recommended the latest fashionable 'cure' of drinking sea water accompanied by early morning sea-bathing. The Allens were so impressed by this treatment that they built a house for themselves which can still be seen at No 2 Trinity Street; this now possesses a blue plaque.
Soon, other wealthy families began to arrive, including King George III's brother the Duke of Gloucester who, in 1757, bought a lodge overlooking the bay. When the king was taken ill, aged 50, in November 1788, his brother suggested that he come to Weymouth for his summer holidays, and offered his summer residence. Hoping this might soothe his madness2, King George made his first visit in 1789 and subsequently returned for 17 successive years. He loved the sweep of the bay, the peacefulness, and, of course, bathing in Weymouth's safe and usually calm waters. Following this, the area became increasingly popular and thus it was King George III who was responsible for transforming the then fishing port of Weymouth into a fashionable holiday resort. Situated next to the King's Statue on The Esplanade, which was restored in 2008, is a replica of his bathing machine. George would be attended by lady 'dippers' and, while he was taking a dip, the band would stand in the water, fully dressed, playing 'God Save the King'.
To show their gratitude for their new-found wealth, the townspeople of Weymouth added a representation of George to a white horse which had originally been cut into the downland of White Horse Hill in 1807 by soldiers to while away the time while awaiting Napoleon's invasion. Unfortunately the king did not like this representation and demanded that it be removed! The villagers refused and, to this day, the king can still be seen riding the horse out of Weymouth.
It is a pleasant walk up to the White Horse from the picturesque hamlet of Sutton Poyntz (the fictional 'Overcombe' of Thomas Hardy's novel, The Trumpet Major), and White Horse Hill is a popular paragliding venue. Complete your walk by taking refreshments at The Springhead pub/restaurant in Sutton Poyntz.
Radipole Lake right in the centre of Weymouth is an RSPB reserve, ideal for novices or experienced 'twitchers'. Here one can observe relatively common birds such as house sparrows, finches and robins, but also less common or rare birds like Cetti's warblers3 and bitterns.
The RSPB also has a reserve at Lodmoor, which has a grazing marsh with ditches, shallow pools, reedbeds and native shrubs. Here one can observe bearded tits and Cetti's warblers throughout the year, and a large colony of common terns is present in the summer. In autumn, you can observe migrating swallows and martins, and wading birds. There is easy access to the rest of the reserve along firm paths which are suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
The safe waters of Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour are widely recognised as providing some of the best sailing in northern Europe for dinghies and yachts, and certainly the finest in the UK. As well as Weymouth Sailing Club, there are numerous smaller sailing clubs in the area.
For this reason the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy has been selected as the venue for the London 2012 Olympic sailing events.
The Rodwell Trail
The Rodwell Trail, which opened in April 2000, is a popular 'green link' between Weymouth and Ferrybridge, which follows the track of the old Weymouth to Portland Railway line. It is much used by cyclists and walkers alike. There is much of interest along this trail, including historical artifacts and the natural history. There are information boards at intervals giving information about the wildlife to be seen in that vicinity.
About half-way along this trail, the visitor might care to make a small diversion to visit the picturesque ruins of Sandsfoot Castle, built by Henry VIII to guard the sea lanes between Weymouth and Portland.
Foremost among Weymouth's in-town attractions is probably Brewer's Quay, located at the Old Harbour-side. Until 1985 this was a brewery but it now hosts upwards of 20 specialty shops and the Timewalk, whereby visitors follow in the footsteps of the brewery cat, Miss Paws, as she leads them through the sights, sounds and smells of 600 years of Weymouth's history.
Brewers Quay also houses the Weymouth Museum (entrance is free of charge).
At the end of the Quay is Nothe Fort, now the Museum of Coastal Defence, which was built in 1860 as part of the defences of Portland Harbour.
Weymouth also has a Sea-Life Centre, situated next to Lodmoor Country Park.
Dating from 1961, the current structure, which incorporates the Condor ferry terminal4, is showing its age. However, it can accommodate nearly 1,000 patrons and continues to attract top name shows, talent contests, music festivals, children's shows, and pantomime.
Currently, ambitious proposals are being examined to completely remodel the theatre, and to incorporate a World Heritage Coast centre and new ferry terminal.
Weymouth Night Life
With 79 pubs, inns, bars and taverns in the Weymouth and Chickerell areas, including 51 in the town centre, Weymouth is said to have the highest concentration of public houses in the country. They vary in style a great deal, featuring anything from Irish folk music to modern drinking establishments. A selection of favourite pubs includes:
The Boot - Arguably the oldest and most haunted pub in Weymouth, it attracts an eclectic mix of customers from teenagers through to sea-faring fisherman types. There is live music every Tuesday evening and also frequently on Monday evenings. The most popular drink seems to be Cheddar Valley cider.
The Black Dog - Dating from the 16th Century, this pub in St Mary Street also has a claim to being the oldest pub in Weymouth. In fact, it's the oldest pub in Melcombe Regis. This is known to be an old smuggling haunt and was once called The Dove. Inside, there is some interesting writing on the ceiling:
Murder.....A murder took place in front of the fireplace when John (Smoaker) Mills, and the son of a local Richard Mills snr., whipped Richard Hawkins to death in 1758. They were caught and later hung at East Grinstead.
This murder took place because Mills, an ally of the famous Hawkhurst gang of Sussex, falsely accused Richard Hawkins of an offence against his smuggling gang. It was only later that it was found that Hawkins was innocent.
The Golden Lion - Situated right in the centre of Weymouth with a selection of real ales and draught lagers, together with a heated outside seating area and live entertainment, this is one of the best known pubs in the area. Said to be an old coaching inn dating from the 18th Century or earlier, it now has quite a modern interior. It has live music and can get very loud. It is popular with the under 30s.
The Tuatara Bar - Named after a New Zealand lizard, apparently, and formerly known as The Mariners, this bar re-opened in 2007. They are said to have live music downstairs, but these authors have not tried it to see if it as popular a gig venue as the Mariners and Verdis (see below) had been5. It has a lot of TVs for screening sporting events, including what is probably the biggest screen in a Weymouth pub downstairs.
The George Inn - Situated on the harbour front, this has a split level downstairs with a balcony level, which is not always open, looking down over whole pub. There is live music, TV, a pool table and a dartboard. The pub serves real ale and food6 and children are allowed.
Both the pub and restaurant areas are completely suitable for disabled visitors, with wide doors and aisles and no stairs either inside or out. The toilets are also roomy enough for people with mobility problems.
The George is the only pub in the area that will allow drinks to be taken out to the harbour-side, and they provide plastic 'glasses' for this purpose. It is a pleasant pastime, on a sunny day, to sit on the harbour wall watching the boats pass between the inner and outer harbours as the town bridge is raised several times a day.
The Cork and Bottle - Situated on The Esplanade, facing the picturesque Weymouth seafront, this is a family- friendly pub with a nice large bar and separate restaurant area.
Facilities include: Sky Sports channel covering all major sports events on 2/3 large screens and 4/6 large TVs. There is a heated undercover patio with a large TV screen and two full-size pool tables. There is a quiz night and a poker tournament on Monday evenings.
The slightly below street-level beer garden is perfect in summer.
The Swan - This is a 'Wetherspoons' pub, which means it's a bit boring inside but drinks are dirt cheap and, of course, that means it's busy!
There is a superb mix of clubs in Weymouth, which open from about 10pm-ish and close at 2am. Indeed, this author has seen it said that Weymouth is the 'nightclub capital of the South'.
Rendezvous - Next to the harbour bridge, Rendezvous is a more upmarket professional-looking venue, with a dress code to match. Cocktails are served with a style that would put Tom Cruise to shame. They play popular music (with a dance twist) all night.
Harry's - With two floors and three music bars, all recently refurbished, and open six nights a week from 8pm till 2am, Harry's can accommodate over 400 people. There is a 1980s-style illuminated dance floor and plasma TVs.
The club features a mixture of music, some retro oldies, some dance. There's a strict dress code (normal sort of thing - collar, trousers, etc.) and the club is popular with the slightly older generation.
Verdis - Widely-regarded as Dorset's best 'alternative' club, Verdis plays a mixture of nu-metal, rock, indie and punk music (there are some dance nights - check the window posters). It is a fairly small club and entry is free on Friday nights, when they play retro/garage (Malibu) with karaoke. There are promo drinks nights all week. If you like these types of music, it's your best night in Weymouth.
Underground (Totally Underground) - If you don't like your front teeth much, this is a brilliant place to go.
Kiva - Originally known as 'Shades', Kiva in King Street is said to be Weymouth's only real diversion from the mainstream, catering mainly for punk 'n' metal. The House DJ is Weird Beard.
There are now some new clubs/late-night pubs in Weymouth following the redevelopment but these authors haven't spent enough time in them yet to evaluate them. However we are informed that Que Pasa (formerly The Toad) and The Rectory are places worth going to.
Weymouth has a state-of-the-art multi-screen cinema and a tenpin bowling alley.
Shopping in Weymouth
The current town centre was created in the early 1990s from the existing 18th and 19th Century street scene. Weymouth now has most of the leading high street stores, including Debenham's, Marks and Spencer and Woolworth's. Weymouth is also the headquarters of New Look; indeed, New Look is Weymouth's largest employer.
Being a seaside resort, there are many shops, particularly on the seafront, to cater for families on beach holidays.
Towards the harbour end of St Mary Street near St Mary's church, there are many attractive clothes shops for women and men, unusual gift and card shops, and popular fruit and vegetable and wholefood stores. Pedestrianisation and attractive places to sit make St Mary Street a popular meeting place for friends on Saturdays.
Celebrating the New Year in Weymouth
Weymouth is famous for its tradition of fancy dress for New Year's Eve. This is reputed to be the biggest New Year's Eve fancy dress party in Britain, with up to 20,000 people from far and wide thronging the streets.
One Researcher had this to say about the 2007 celebration:
What we hadn't realised was that 'everybody' in Weymouth puts on fancy dress for New Year's Eve and parades around the town - so we stood out like sore thumbs. We realised this on our way into the town when we saw people dressed in wild animal suits (tigers, lions, panthers, etc.). In the pub was somebody dressed as Tutankhamun, people dressed as The Smurfs, somebody else as a ventriloquist's dummy. There was a group of people dressed as a swarm of bees and there were numerous people dressed as pirates or cowboys. Also around the town were monkeys, devils, Batman and Robin, The Flintstones, Transformers, soldiers, sailors, airmen, spacemen, bunches of bananas... It was absolutely fantastic. At witching hour, the pubs miraculously emptied as people flocked to Hope Square to enjoy the outdoor bars, hotdog stalls and live music.
The Coast Around Weymouth
Known formally as the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, and less formally as the Jurassic Coast, there's some pretty cool geology around here as well, the coastline being a mixture of sand, stone, mud and shingle. Indeed, the Jurassic Coast is the first natural World Heritage Site in England, and is famous for its fossils from that era. The whole of the coast from Lyme Regis through West Bay to the Isle of Portland7, then on from Weymouth through Kimmeridge Bay and Studland, then across to Bournemouth, is one of of the most varied and geologically and scenically fascinating in Europe, and is deserving of an Entry to itself. Just restricting ourselves to the area in the immediate vicinity of Weymouth:
Chesil Beach, or Bank, is a vast gravel or shingle bank stretching some 18 miles along the south coast from the promontory called the Isle of Portland to West Bay, near Bridport. The 8 miles closest to Portland are separated from the mainland by an inlet called the Fleet, famous for its Swannery at Abbotsbury. The bank increases, both in height and width, and in the size of the pebbles from west to east.
As an SSSI, Chesil Beach is protected by strict by-laws that mean a hefty fine of £2,000 for anyone removing so much as a single pebble. This got prize-winning author Ian McEwan into some trouble when he admitted to Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4's 'Start The Week' programme in 2008 that, during research for his book, 'On Chesil Beach', he had taken some stones which he displayed on his mantelpiece at home. Happily, once his felony had been pointed out to him, McEwan returned the stones.
There is concern that rising sea levels due to global warming could cause Chesil Beach to be breached and eventually disappear. This would have important implications for the inhabitants of the low-lying areas around Weymouth.
A famous bathing beach enjoyed by 'mad' King George III and many thousands of holiday makers (grockles) since.
Ringstead Beach to White Nothe
This is a shingle beach, the Ringstead end being sheltered by a fossil coral reef. The White Nothe (sometimes pronounced locally as White Nose) end is sufficiently sheltered for people to forget they are in England and to shed their clothes8.
Just inland from Ringstead Bay lies the remains of the deserted medieval Ringstead village. Local legend contends that French pirates burned the village to the ground, killed the men and carried off the women and children. However it is more likely that either the Black Death (see below) or economic reasons are to blame.
Some Dark History
The former port of Melcombe Regis has the dubious distinction of being the port where the bubonic plague, or 'Black Death', first entered England9 in 1348. The plague was brought ashore by fleas on the black rats from a ship that had come from the continent. The Black Death had devastating effects on the population of England, an estimated 30% to 50% of the population or more being wiped out in the two years that it lingered.
The English novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, worked as an architect in Weymouth between 1869 and 1870, and Weymouth features in his novel, Under the Greenwood Tree.
The novel Moonfleet, by John Meade Falkner, is a stirring tale of smuggling, first published in 1898. The book was very popular in schools and among children worldwide up until the 1970s, when its popularity declined, possibly due to 'political correctness', with teachers and parents discouraging reading about such disreputable activities.
Other Nearby Places of Interest
There are a wealth of other attractions in the vicinity. For a start, Dorset is Thomas Hardy country. Also Maiden Castle, the largest iron-age hillfort in Europe, is situated 9 miles (15km) north of Weymouth. The Cerne Abbas Giant, situated 17 miles (27km) north of Weymouth, is also worth a visit. At nearby Wareham is the Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre.