Once in a while a traveler gets a real surprise on arrival (we once went to New Orleans totally unaware that Mardi Gras started the next day) and it gives you a chance to see the destination in a different way.
This May, that's what happened to us as we arrived for a late-spring week at the English Channel resort town of Weymouth. Not familiar with British holidays and school schedules, we had no idea we were arriving at the beginning of both a 3-day Bank Holiday weekend and a week-long half-term school holiday.
As a result, our first two days in Weymouth were spent in a whirl of crowds; booths selling food, crafts and entertainment; outdoor stages and events and a lot of people just having fun. It was a great way to get started!
We quickly realized that holidays at the beach are a serious affair, and not to be messed with. Despite temperatures in the 60s, and occasional wind, there was no shortage of bodies on the beach, even if they were occasionally huddled behind ingenious windbreaks.
Britain's current oldest Punch and Judy show is on Weymouth's beach
Weymouth has a long history, going back into the 12th century, but the big news is that it also has a long history as one of the first real beach resorts, starting in the early 18th century, when a prominent visitor from Bath began recommending it to friends.
By 1780, the Duke of Gloucester built a seaside vacation home, and soon after invited his older brother, King George III, to visit. He did, and kept coming back year after year. Yes, the house is still there, and it's a hotel, but no it's not the Royal Hotel in the top picture. There's a large statue of George III, who's sort of the town's patron saint, along the Esplanade. King's Statue is the reference point for all the bus routes and other directions. For an American, it seems a bit strange!
These days it's a mainly working-class resort, with lots of small hotels and rooms for rent, as well as quite a few self-catering apartments, tucked away in rows of Georgian buildings along the seafront Esplanade, which is highlighted by this landmark clock erected for Victoria's Golden Jubilee (1887, not 1897).
That first weekend featured the "Fayre in the Square," run by the local Rotary chapter. The Square is Hope Square, in front of a former brewery building, where the main entertainment stage was.
All along the harborfront there were booths offering food, crafts and jewelry, food, face painting and other activities, and food. My personal favorite of Day 1 was discovering Bennett's, which is famous for truly expert frying of fish, chips, battered chicken...nearly anything. I was first drawn into the long-ish line by the sign offering a Spam fritter...go ahead and laugh, but I can't resist!
And a few more notes to the weekend: While most of the action was on the two sides of the harbor, there was a fair amount of activity on the water...and for those who didn't feel like walking to one end for the Town Bridge, at the other end there was the Town Ferry...a fleet of 3 boats, rowed back and forth across the short stretch for a small fare.
And on the other side, near a former Channel ferry dock, there were more amusements to be had in a colorful fun park.