I have loads of fond memories from holidays in Weymouth. Ma Lee used to work for a famous chain of betting shops, who in the early 80s also owned a string of holiday camps to rival Butlins and Pontins. One of which was Blue Waters in Weymouth. Memories of the actual holiday park are hazy, although I do remember that there was a kids “Starcruiser” Club, and you’d be either a “comet” or a “planet” depending on whether your caravan number was odd or even. I may still even have a Starcruiser badge somewhere in the loft. There would be treasure hunts and party dances and disco dancing competitions (although my disco dancing competition triumph came many years later at a Haven camp down in Hayle, Cornwall – I still can’t hear Rhythm is A Dancer without breaking into a routine…)
I didn’t return to Weymouth for years. Ma and Pa Lee and I toured the holiday parks of England and Wales, with various friends in tow. I was in my mid-teens the first time I returned, staying in a guesthouse on Brunswick Terrace. And then again, in the summer of 2001, with Ma and Pa Lee and a (now ex-) boyfriend in tow, finally old enough to sample the many bars and pubs of the seaside town. The weather was glorious, I bought a bright pink bikini and sunbathed on the beach, we stayed at a B&B at the top of what seemed like the world’s steepest hill, and we drank our way around a pretty impressive 11 pubs on an all-day pub crawl. For me, Weymouth became synonymous with a fun seaside town.
Mr Fletche and I visited early in our relationship (mainly to visit the fab Monkey World) and then again with Ma and Pa Lee in 2011 when this next picture was taken on a very windy day at Portland Bill.
So when we fancied a seaside getaway over the Easter holidays, Weymouth was one of the first places we thought of. Mr Fletche was in charge of the accommodation (a very odd AirBnB in Portland), I was in charge of the activities – like this slightly-longer-than-planned hike – and we both agreed that we’d spend a good portion of our time revisiting some of our favourite Weymouth haunts.
On Easter Sunday, after a lovely morning stroll around Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, we took the bus into Weymouth for a late lunch and drinks. It’s a good sign for the afternoon when there’s some sort of music festival going on at Custom House Quay. We pop to the Ship Inn to wet our whistle. This is a pub that holds fond memories – a teetering gas heater outside whilst a selfie was being taken (Pa Lee and his mini tripod largely responsible); more than one karaoke night, singing Shania Twain and Dusty Springfield to a thankfully small but appreciative audience (Ma and Pa Lee). But there is something soulless about this pub today. The fixtures and fittings are largely the same, but it’s brighter, cleaner and more, well, generic. They now do cocktails and “eclectic global fare”. It’s a Hall and Woodhouse pub, so there’s a decent local beer selection – albeit served in plastic glasses because of the frivolities going on outside – but something is not quite hitting the mark for us. Maybe we need food.
If there’s one place that never lets us down for food in Weymouth, it’s the Marlboro fish & chip restaurant on St Thomas Street. There’s one vacant table, just for us, and we settle down to a cracking chippy meal. Bellies full, we head over Town Bridge and towards Brewers Quay. I’ve always loved this area, with it’s pretty coloured houses leading up to the impressive brick fascia of Brewers Quay, yet now it is lying empty and unloved, awaiting redevelopment. The Red Lion is still there, on the optimistically-named Hope Square, and we nestle under the awning outside, avoiding the drizzle which is now pervading the air. Entertainment is provided by two staff trying to fold a marquee up into a small pouch the size of an umbrella cover. This is as entertaining as it gets.
We head back over to the town centre; the band is still playing indie hits on the quayside but the crowd has largely dispersed now the weather has turned, apart from a couple of hardy souls, slopping warm, flat lager out of their plastic pint glasses. We hunt for a pub that fits the bill for our next drink. Weymouth used to be full of small back-street pubs, with pool tables and juke boxes, yet now these pubs have been turned into venues attracting the Friday and Saturday night “yoof”, advertising happy hours and shots as if this is the Magaluf strip. Weymouth has always been a nightlife hub; I remember drinking in The Clipper when it was Barracuda – and was it a Yates Bar before that? – and purchasing test tube shots from a scantily clad hostess (and this was about five o’clock in the afternoon). But now every pub is either soulless and generic, like The Ship, or selling itself on buckets of bottled beer and pitchers of lurid-coloured cocktails. There are two Wetherspoons pubs within 5 minutes of each other – surely that says it all?
Of course, Weymouth’s beach and promenade is it’s pride and joy, but resorts need to provide more of an all-weather experience, and all Weymouth seems to have now is a run-down amusement park, an overpriced observation tower, and pubs. The tired-looking high street is full of phone shops, tattooists and charity shops – much like many high streets up and down the country, but I somehow expect something a little more from Weymouth. It’s chain store after chain restaurant after chain store after chain restaurant – where are the independents? Shops with shabby fascias lie empty, and Weymouth’s growing homeless population are using their doorways for shelter. As a host town for the 2012 Olympics, there is little to show of the “legacy” which was shouted about in the run-up.
Maybe it’s us. Maybe we’ve changed, and Weymouth has always been like this, but whereas before we’d just get stuck-in and order another bottle of WKD, now we’re a little more refined. We want pubs with a decent local beer selection. We want to have more of a choice for food than bland pub grub or a chippy tea. We want shops that showcase local art and talent, not another H&M or New Look or Card Factory. Weymouth has never been a kiss-me-kwik-hat, stick-of-rock, amusement-arcade kind of resort, but now it seems to have lost it’s identity altogether.
And don’t get me started on Blackpool. Or Rhyl.
Have you revisited a much-loved place from your younger days which has changed beyond recognition? Do you think this is a case of remembering Weymouth through rose-tinted glasses – which are now firmly off? And which seaside resorts in the UK are still worth a visit? Let me know in the comments!
You’ll note that my Weymouth pictures (except my hair-raising one at Portland Bill) are all stock photos from Pixabay. We were clearly so disappointed that neither of us took any photos…