Ice cream boats, cream teas and fishing in rock pools are all part of the holiday experience at Sandbanks in Dorset
Sandbanks’ property price tags have given it a reputation as a seaside playground for the ultra rich. If this is what you are expecting, you will be disappointed. Think instead of wide stretches of golden coastline where kids fish for crabs in the rock pools, as Dad finishes off the sandcastle development they started earlier. Both desert their pursuits in a flash when the ice-cream boat arrives. The real Sandbanks is the traditional British seaside resort of yesteryear.
The Sandbanks peninsula juts about a mile out to sea and is so narrow at one point that you can see the waves lapping along the edge of both of its sides from the road. Marking the entrance to the second largest natural harbour in the world, after Sydney, the view out across the bay is awesome. This view is what homebuyers have been willing to pay for. But if you won’t want to actually put down roots here, you can enjoy the panorama for next to nothing. There’s a large car park at the entrance to Sandbanks, but on a hot summer day, you’re better off arriving by bus or boat from nearby Swanage, Poole or Bournemouth.
Head on to the Bournemouth side of the peninsula for the famous wide golden sands that gently slope away into the crystal clear water, making it perfect for young children. You’ll find that the beach gets less crowded and much less commercial as you walk towards the tip of the headland; there’s not an ice cream stand or bucket and spade kiosk in site. All you see are beach, sea and sand dunes on one side and exclusive properties on the other. During the summer months, this end is also the only part of the beach where dogs are allowed. My 13-year-old lab loses years when he arrives here. He jumps around in the surf and then follows the lead of his fellow pooches, going up to complete strangers and shaking the seawater out of his coat with abandon.
Sandbanks beach has proudly held up it’s Blue Flag clean beach award for over 20 years, and is sifted and cleaned twice daily in the peak months. Even in the dog section you may see a lot of four-legged friends, but rarely any mess. Although the sea is more inviting in the summer, as long as the sun is out Sandbanks is inviting all year round. My four-year-old will happily kick off her wellies and dip her toes in the surf in November, and she’s never the only kid doing so
If that’s not for you though, wrap up for a wintery game of crazy golf or a bracing walk along the beach ending with a fireside seat and a cup of hot chocolate laced with cream and marshmallows at Jazzy’s on the beach, next door to the Sandbanks Hotel.
Unwrap on a warmer day and lie back and soak up the rays on the sand or if you are feeling more active hire a pedalo or canoe and admire the bay from the sea. There are dedicated sections of the coast for windsurfers, boarders, jetskiers and swimmers. If you need to brush up on your windsurfing, kitesurfing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, sailing or paddle boarding, you can grab a few lessons from the The Watersports Academy just at the entrance to Sandbanks. If you’re into beach polo, time your trip for the 10 and 11 July 2009, when the British Beach Polo Championships return to Sandbanks for the second year. There’s a free viewing area for non-ticket holders.
When you get hungry, you can either paddle out towards the ice cream boat that makes regular stops along the beach on a sunny day, make for the designated barbecue area and cook your own lunch, or put on your flip flops for a sandwich and shake at Le Café, opposite the car park. For a more expensive meal, try Café Shore next door. It has enticing menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can either watch the world go by and admire the luxury cars outside on the road side or gaze out onto Poole bay with a table over the terrace.
There is plenty to do in and around Sandbanks to keep you occupied for at least a week. You can take the chain ferry next to the Haven hotel over to Swanage. Step off the ferry straight on to the National Trust’s Studland beach and Nature Reserve, then head into Swanage itself to pick up the steam train that will take you to the 1000-year-old Corfe Castle, which also happens to have a great cream tea shop at its entrance.
You could take the open-top bus down to the bustling seaside town of Bournemouth or head to Poole with its wonderful Victorian park. Here you can go ice skating, boating and take a trip on the model railway. My kids also enjoy Farmer Palmer’s farm park.
If you do decide to stay a few days, there are a number of different accommodation options to choose from, ranging from boutique B&Bs and resort hotels to holiday flats. At the tip of the peninsula with wonderful views out to sea is The Haven. Step into this hotel and you really feel as if you have walked into a smart resort hotel of yesteryear. The faded grandeur is part of its charm. For a more family-oriented hotel opt for its sister at the other end of the peninsula, The Sandbanks Hotel. They have indoor and outdoor children’s play areas and regular kids activity programmes; the restaurants are good too. For something more intimate and romantic there’s The Luminiere.
Restaurants to try
Café Shore is a smart space you can stop at for coffee, brunch, lunch or a more formal dinner. On the beach at Bournemouth, Westbeach is one of my all-time favourite restaurants. It is sophisticated but welcoming and the food is fantastic, although not cheap. Branksome Beach is a great place for a family treat.