Despite being members of the National Trust for about twenty years we had no idea they owned Brownsea Island, just off Poole in Dorset. We also didn’t know that you could get the ferry over to visit for the day.
Or an hour
Which is all the time we could spend there recently. Because we didn’t know you could get the ferry there until 3.58pm, as we walked past the ticket office on the sea front in Poole and noticed the last ferry departed at 4pm. Despite being told that we wouldn’t get there until 4.20pm, and had to be on that last one back at 5pm we thought “what the heck” and handed over our £10.75 a head for the trip over to the Island. As we are NT members, there was no additional fee for us once we got to the island, but if you aren’t then you will have to pay at the ticket office when you arrive.
Brownsea Island is like a little forgotten corner of the world and it hard to think it is so close to busy towns of Poole, Bournemouth and Swannage, and the multi-million Pound houses on Sandbanks. It is nature reserve where the only people that live on the island are rangers who work for the National Trust, and their families. Though there is a hotel you can only stay there if you work for John Lewis as they have leased it from the Trust and offer it as one of their “partner benefits” where employees can stay in a five star hotel at three star prices apparently. Never have I wanted to work for John Lewis more than right then.
Mindful of the time we managed to explore the path that leads from the ferry drop off point, up to the church which is only lit with candles.
Not only is it a nature reserve, with a healthy red squirrel population and hides dotted about to make it easier to spot wildlife, but it is famous for hosting scouting activities. It was here in 1907 that Baden Powell held an experimental camp and from where modern scouting and guiding was developed. In 1907 he brought 20 boys from different backgrounds, for a week, charging £1 to the 11 boys that came from Eton and Harrow, and three shillings and six pence to the other boys who were from Bournemouth. As I saw a group of scouts running around on the field around the church before they boarded the ferry with us, I wondered if they were aware of those original 20 boys, and how different their lives were.
And whilst Scouts play a bit part of island life now, that wasn’t the case for a few years:
Mary Bonham-Christie bought the island at an auction in 1927. In 1932, Bonham-Christie allowed 500 Scouts to camp there to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Scouting, but shortly afterwards she closed the island to the public and it became very overgrown. In 1934, some Sea Scouts were camping on the island when a fire broke out. Mrs. Bonham-Christie blamed the Sea Scouts, although the fire did not start where the Sea Scouts were camping. The fire engulfed most of the island, burning west to east. The eastern buildings were only saved by a subsequent change in wind direction. Although it was not known how the fire started, Scouts were not allowed to camp on the island again until after Bonham-Christie’s death in 1961. Her family becoming liable for inheritance tax on her estate, they put the island up for sale. Interested citizens who feared that the island would be bought by developers helped raise an endowment, and in 1962 the government allowed the National Trust to take over management of the island in lieu of the death duties
Hard to think of such a small island having such a history really!
But we are pleased we managed to get there, even it was only for an hour