Silicon Beach Bomo - Orientation Guide | Bournemouth Square

Above: The Square and immediate surrounds. The grey lines are roads which are now at least partly pedestrianised, but some like Gervis Place are still bus routes, and even the fully pedestrianised areas, including the Square itself, are also used by cyclists.

The Square developed as the town’s central square as it was roughly where the first coast road crossed the Bourne stream over the town’s first bridge. It has thus been officially the town centre since the resort began, and is where distances are measured from. (The rail station for instance was kept a mile away by the first town councillors, the board of commissioners, whose jurisdiction extended a mile around the pierhead.)
It was originally more of a circle as it was a traffic roundabout. (This anomaly made it the subject of a local press April Fool story that the EU insists the name is misleading and the town change it to Bournemouth Circle.) The original 1920s building on the roundabout’s traffic island was a large tram and trolleybus passenger shelter topped by a small clocktower, this being replaced just by the clocktower on a new base. It was sited above the Bourne stream culvert, and natural subsidence eventually earned this the nickname The Leaning Tower Of Bournemouth, and it was pulled down during the 1990s pedestrianisation. The roundabout for a while had a landscaped garden area around the clocktower but this became dangerous to access, and in the end was reduced to a few bushes growing around the clocktower as traffic took priority.

The replacement structure, the current Obscura Café, proved controversial in that its replica of a Victorian-style camera obscura [a panoramic periscope-style optical-projection device] was never the tourist attraction it promised to be, never seeming to open to the public, leading to council litigation threats. (For legal reasons, we have to say the reasons behind this are obscure.) The café has survived on the basis of its dead-centre location, with outdoor seating most of the year.


Left: The Obscura café, named after the Victorian panoramic periscope style optical device which sits atop it, has the most central location of any local café. It is just beyond the entrance to the Lower Gardens, lined with palm trees to emphasize its "English Riviera" identity. (Mouse over to see 2nd image.)

The late 1990s pedestrian “piazza” scheme was described by the Landscape Institute's VP as “one of the finest examples of a major, traffic-free civic space, created in this country since the Second World War”. Vehicular traffic still loops around where the Square interrupts the Central Gardens, on both upper and lower Gardens sides. There are now official crosswalks for pedestrians to cross to the lower Gardens on both sides.

As its access routes are built around the Central Gardens through which the Bourne flows, it is not oriented on a north-south grid, but roughly NW/SE. However as far as access points go, we can still refer to the 4 cardinal directions each having its own pair of access roads or footpaths. Going around clockwise: there is a northerly approach either via Richmond Hill (lower portion now pedestrianised) or Bourne Avenue, leading to Town Hall; an easterly approach either via Old Christchurch Rd (now fully pedestrianised most of the way to Lansdowne) or Gervis Place (the bus route); a southerly approach leading SW down Exeter Rd towards the BIC [conference centre] or to and from the Lower Gardens (this latter is covered in a separate page); and a westerly approach up either Avenue Road [cars and buses] or Orchard Walk pedestrian precinct leading to the Triangle.

On the N/E side of the square are two access routes. One is Richmond Hill, whose lower portion is now pedestrianised to accommodate outdoor seating. Thus, just round the corner are a student pub [The Slug And Lettuce] and an Italian-themed chain restaurant [Zizzi] both of interest here for their outdoor and verandah seating; two doors up is a coffee house [South Coast Roast]. Opposite is Wildwood, with a dining verandah [pictured left - mouse over image]. Cafe Thrive vegan cafe is now where Coriander then The Bayou Kitchen previously stood. Uphill is a four star hotel, The Norfolk, where you can have afternoon tea in the lounge or the verandah, or a meal in their secluded back garden.
Leading off Richmond Hill is another pedestrianised street, Post Office Road. The Central PO is now closed [relocated to WH Smith down the hill] and the plan to turn it into a municipal showbiz-heritage museum came to naught, so that it wound up, depressingly, as a Pizza Express. There are half a dozen miscellaneous eateries along here. There are also Magnums Restaurant & Bar; an American milkshake bar; a Subway sandwich shop; the Lord Sandwich cafe next to Argos; a sports bar, and a pastry shop [Patisserie Valerie, part of a Belgian chain] that also cooks other types of meal. The newest are Bisou de Vin Wine bar and next to it, W2, a bubble-tea place/ icecream parlour where Uruk previously stood, while Roots & Co [opened Nov 2018] features 'a vertical wall garden, copper bar and bird cage lights'. You can sit outside at most of these.

Above: [1] Post Office Road, looking towards Richmond Hill, with the Patisserie outdoor seating left and the old Central PO building far right. (Presently a Pizza Express, there is still some hope that if this pulls out, it can be reclaimed as a heritage building - possibly a cultural gallery or museum.) Where the photo was taken is roughly where the town's first inn, the Tapps Arms, was established in 1809, becoming its first coffee house in 1885. [2 - mouse over image] - a salad lunch on the verandah at the Wildwood restaurant on Richmond Hill at the W end of Post Office Rd.

The other adjacent northerly access route is via Bourne Avenue, leading NW past Town Hall (tower just visible in the background) towards Westbourne. There are public benches only on this side of the Square, as seen here.

The Square is not so much a quiet place to work or think, but more a place to watch the world go by, as the town's central crossing point for pedestrian traffic. (Note that the photos at left were taken deliberately at quieter times to show the background more clearly; usually when the sun is out, it's much busier.) The 15-foot pole in the centre held aloft a gas flame paid for by church groups, seen here, has since been supplanted, to reduce costs, by an illuminated globe known as the Light of Hope.


Along Bourne Avenue are several cafes with outside or semi-enclosed seating: closest to the Square, a branch of the Dancing Moose has opened where LaTasca Tapas was. Next is Monty's Burger Lounge [where Kino Lounge was], then the All Fired Up Ceramics Cafe (they host ceramics-pottery etc events), then Tapas Plus (formerly the site of Legends cafe-bar), which has a conservatory-style front verandah with glass panels which can be slid back in hot weather. Beyond that is the newest addition to the scene, Salt N Pepper Indian Restaurant. Closer in, below The Slug And Lettuce's front balcony, the Tesco Metro (on the site of what was a Borders bookshop) is a popular source of sandwich takeaways for those who want to have lunch sitting on the benches or stone walls around the Square and Lower Gardens.


Left: An al fresco salad lunch at the Dancing Moose

Above: The red-paved area at left in front of NatWest is the now-pedestrianised lower section [with several outdoor cafe setups] of Richmond Hill. A 'Be At One' cocktail bar opened in August 2017. The more easterly approach visible background right leads up Old Christchurch Rd, now pedestrianised most of the way. Restaurants run all the way up it to Lansdowne, beginning with a sushi bar.

Above: The Norfolk Hotel on Richmond Hill, showing the front verandah. There is also a lounge for afternoon teas, and a back garden which is part of their fine-dining restaurant.


Left: Zizzi on Richmond Hill, with the summer tables out.

The more easterly approach is either via Old Christchurch Rd or Gervis Place, but while the former is now fully pedestrianised most of the way to Lansdowne, the latter is the main bus stop area, and thus crowded. It leads to Westover Road, which has bars and restaurants, the closest being The Stable pizza place in the former TIC premises on the corner, which has outdoor bench seating at the back, overlooking the gardens. There are restaurants all along Westover Rd, from Côte Brasserie opposite to Funki Griller at Bath Hill Roundabout; along the way are Wagamama [Japanese chain restaurant] and The Brasshouse (a barn-like 'foodie' pub with sofas, which serves large breakfasts and does buffet group catering). The latest to open is the salad bar Mixed.
However if you wish to get there on foot and avoid the traffic, you can do so via Old Christchurch Rd, turning into the Waterstone's Arcade [Waterstone's bookshop has its own upstairs cafe now, Cafe W]. The arcade comes out at a crosswalk leading over Gervis Place to Westover Road. On Gervis Place are a couple of eateries, Delice Des Champs [a French cafe with a couple of outside tables], and 7Bone Burger Co. [ a bbq/burger joint popular with students]. Gervis Place continues around St Peter's Church, where the Shelley family tomb is located, and after whose most famous member The Mary Shelley [Wetherspoon's gastropub] adjacent is named. This sits on the street side of a duplex shopping mall, the Quadrant Centre / St Peters Quarters, which also includes Day's Asian restaurant (famous locally for its all-you-can-eat buffets). A few steps beyond Day's street entrance is Burlington Arcade, home of the town's top ice cream parlour, Giggi Gelateria (with tables inside and out in the arcade). Cutting across the main pedestrian precinct is Yelverton Road, leading towards the Norfolk Hotel and Echo building on Richmond Hill. The ground floor of the latter building was a restaurant for a while; the premises have recently been redeveloped as the THIS [sic] Workspace, a new shared office facility. Along the way is a Real Eating Company cafe.
Above: Waterstone's Arcade, and [mouse over image] St Peter's Church-yard, showing the Shelley Tomb and the chapel adjacent, which the Church is currently restoring to rent out as office space to business start-ups as well as for performances and exhibitions. A cafe has just been opened in the church as a fundraiser, named Parry's (after the 'Jerusalem' composer baptised here).

Left: The Mary Shelley [Wetherspoon's gastropub], 5 mins walk from the Square, viewed from St Peter's Rd where it meets Gervis Place. At right is St Peter's Church, where the Shelley family tomb from which the pub's name derives is located, in the churchyard. Hinton Rd, left, crosses Old Christchurch Rd pedestrian precinct, in the background. On the corner at left by Beale's (the town's most famous dept store) is a branch of Cosy Club, with a lounge-style cafe (note loud-ish muzak even in daytime) and upstairs dining room.


Left: Looking SW across the Square, and [mouse over] from lower Richmond Hill, showing the new Terrace Mount buildings owned by Hilton Hotels in the background.

Towards the SW, the new Terrace Mount complex is also built on a car park. The three high-rise buildings consist of a block of flats and two Hilton Hotels (one luxury and one budget class), each with their own lounge bar and restaurant, including one on the roof. The new Hilton has finished and the bars and restaurant, complete with tv chef and funky names are The LEVEL8IGHT Sky Bar [Bournemouth's highest bar, with 50-seat terrace], That Bar Downstairs [a cafe-bar], and Schpoons & Forx restaurant. In autumn 2017, plans were announced for an additional floor with an 'events space and private hire bar.'

The southerly approach leads SW via Exeter Rd towards the BIC [conference centre] or via the Lower Gardens running to the Pierhead. Along the Gardens there are few eateries, but the main two, the now-closed terraced Lampeter Hotel and Arlington Hotel's "arts cafe" next door, are being amalgamated and redevelopd as Urban Garden, and the Pavilion Cafe [also with terrace] at the southern end. There is also now a kiosk cafe with outdoors seating near the aviary/ arts-display area, the Picnic Park Deli, above the bandstand. Buses using Exeter Rd still cut through the Square to park along the SE approach, as the municipal bus station to which this route connected burnt down rather mysteriously some years ago and was never rebuilt; instead the land was sold for an NCP car park. After a long history of complaints over the lack of a central bus station (resulting in the present head-to-tail lineup of buses parked along here at the bus stops in Gervis Place, waiting to change drivers etc), the Council first tried using the Triangle as a bus terminus, then when that was redeveloped, tried to buy the bus station site back the way they did with the IMAX building, but failed. The car park site now holds a leisure [i.e restaurants+multiplex-cinemas] complex called BH2 [see below].

This southerly approach down Exeter Rd towards the BIC has no pedestrianised extension beyond Halo nightclub (in what was a church!) but there is a Wetherspoon's gastropub [The Moon In The Square] with outside seating plus a rear courtyard upstairs. Sourdough pizza restaurant Franco Manca opened in May 2017, in the former menswear department of Debenhams. Opposite, across Exeter Rd, a £50m leisure complex, known initially as West Central and now officially as BH2, was built on the main downtown car park site. As well as an Odeon 10-screen multiplex [supplanting the 2 old Westover Road cinemas] it has 14 chain restaurants. (Pride of place must go to The Real Greek, which has top-floor views over the gardens.) Note that unlike other such plaza centres, there is no public seating inside or outside the complex - you have to use one of the restaurants or cafes to sit down. The complex is accessible from the Lower Gardens side via a broad terrace where several of the restaurants, such as Ask Italian, have outdoor seating [see image below].
Past this, down Exeter Rd, are several pubs and restaurants within 5 mins walk. Eden Cafe Garden Bar Club (formerly Hamptons Lounge Bar) is on the corner of Terrace Rd. The Sixty Million Post Cards pub with US style 'diner' food is a live-music venue evenings but has a front garden and may be quiet enough daytimes. It is just opposite Valentino Italian restaurant, whose distinctive circular shape derives from the fact it was the ticket office for the Winter Gardens when it was the town's concert-hall venue. (The council demolished the hall in 2006,to turn it into a car park, despite a long campaign to save it, and now plans a major multi-purpose development on the site.)
On Exeter Rd opposite the Lost Paradise [tropical-themed club/cocktail bar with garden] are half a dozen smaller eateries side by side - Ship Wreck Bar & Kitchen, Snoopy Pizza, Blue Mango Thai restaurant, and a pair of takeaways. The Crab [seafood restaurant with lounge bar] is at the Park Central Hotel, along Exeter Rd. F
arther along is the Royal Exeter Hotel, by the BIC roundabout. Its 1812 bar and restaurant is named for the year the mansion house which became the hotel was completed, the first major building in the future resort. It also now has a cocktail lounge, Bar So, with outdoor seating out back, and sofas inside. Opposite is Tonic Social cocktail bar [closed Mon-Tue in winter]. (Funki Griller, billing itself 'Bournemouth's Number 1 Steak House' [eves only], moved from here to Westover Rd/Bath Rd due to the impending Winter Gardens redevelopment).

Above: The Moon In The Square upstairs courtyard and [mouse over image] the new BH2 cinema/restaurant complex then being built on the site of the town's old bus station, which burnt down, and was turned into a car park.

Right: a CGI 'artist's impression' from the BH2 website of how the cafe-terrace would look when its 14 restaurants opened in 2017. [2018 update: in reality, there aren't that many outside seats.]

The westerly access point is via Avenue Road [cars and buses] or Orchard Walk [pedestrian precinct], both of which lead uphill to the Triangle (with the road becoming the main road westward to Poole). Halfway up the pedestrian precinct is a covered shopping arcade [no cafes], adjacent to the former M&S site [closed April 2018]. The pedestrian route starts just past Debenhams department store, which stands next to where the Square's original inn and residence (known as Decoy House, for visiting duck hunters) was from the 18th Century. The inn and adjoining caretakers' cottage were knocked together to make the town's first church and schoolroom, and when stagecoaches first came through here, the stop was named Bourne House - in a sense, Bournemouth started right here. Debenhams is the biggest and oldest of the shops on the Square, and has a cafeteria-style tearoom/restaurant on its 3rd floor.

Left: Debenhams and [mouse over image] the opposing view looking down Orchard Walk pedestrian precinct, with the start of Avenue Road alongside, next to the Central Gardens.

What little peace and quiet there is in the Square is sometimes overwhelmed by noisy public events, licensed by the Council for a fee, involving use of a PA system. (It may be what passes for music, or someone shouting about Jesus.) The giant advertising telescreen that towered over the SW corner however seems to have disappeared permanently, apparently following anonymous threats to shoot holes in it. The most common events are singers and bands of various types (who presumably pay an £80 Event Fee to be able to perform and sell their CD onsite), and Continental food markets.

The Xmas market pictured here has become an annual event, usually with traders over from Germany, who set up open-air bars (as shown here) as well as booths selling food and xmas-gift items. The various booths go up over a month before Xmas (in fact before Remembrance Day services until WW2 ex-POW veterans complained seeing Germans hammering together huts was an unwelcome reminder). It is no longer referred to as the German Xmas Market but as either the Alpine Market or the European Xmas Market or (following complaints many stalls were run by UK businesses) just the Xmas Market. An attempt at a grand opening parade / Christmas lights switch-on ceremony in 2015 was such a fiasco (parents complained children were nearly trampled in the scrum) it is not being repeated. Mouse over photo left to see 2nd image showing the Xmas illuminations.

The pedestrianised area's flat smooth surface, which can be slippy when wet, is also a venue for skateboarders. These congregate mainly in the evenings, jumping and crashing their boards, though during busier daytimes, a few also like to weave in and out of pedestrian crowds, which has caused at least one newsworthy accident, which prompted calls for a ban. (Police say it is a Council matter, nothing to do with us, mate.) Following a 12-month 'successful trial' (meaning luckily, no-one was seriously injured), cyclists are also now allowed to ride (with or without brakes) through Bournemouth Square and across Pier Approach, rather than having to dismount.

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