Oct 04 2016
a heroine’s travel guide to Bognor Regis, England / by Cassy Fry
A heroine doesn’t always get to decide where her story starts, but she can always choose her own adventure. I may not have picked Bognor Regis to begin my tale, but it is my hometown, and it is a setting that has shaped my story and my seaside-y soul. I grew up in this town, most of my family still live here, and I returned to it last year. Sometimes our stories come full circle and we get to re-explore and rediscover ourselves and our surroundings and see them in a new light.
Bognor Regis is a seaside town on the south coast of England, established as a healthy holiday resort by wealthy Victorians, before becoming a cheap and cheerful destination for families. It is well known amongst us Brits and is most famous for having a Butlins Holiday Camp, being the home of the International Bognor Birdman Competition (an annual extravaganza of Great British eccentricity where people dress up or assemble flying machines and jump off the end of the pier) and for the much quoted words from the deathbed of King George V… “bugger Bognor”.
Reactions I’ve received on disclosing where I am from include hysterical/nervous laughter, “is that a real place? I thought it was a joke” and “I’ve been there…” followed up with a story of caravanning as a kid or a wild weekend at the modern day Butlins resort. In reality it is an ordinary town. Then again, there is something wonderfully weird and endearingly edgy about the joy among mundanity you find at the Great British seaside. It is just so very British.
I do like to stroll along the prom soaking up the sunshine and getting plenty of sea air. We have a great 2.5 mile promenade that runs along the seafront in Bognor. Why not recreate the opening scene of the classic British film ‘Wish You Were Here’ (which was filmed in the town) by cycling along the prom with your skirt tucked into your knickers, just like the gritty and gorgeous heroine played by Emily Lloyd (bonus points if it is out of season or an unseasonably grey day).
This summer Hotham Park has become my favourite place in the town, lots of lovely laid back green space with beautiful trees, you can lounge on the lawn or wander the woods. There is miniature golf, a miniature railway, a boating lake, and a bandstand with a music programme. In the late 1700s, Sir Richard Hotham decided to make the town a health resort for his aristocratic chums, and so it seems fitting for a modern day heroine like myself to head to the park seeking a rejuvenating hideaway.
Like most heroines, I take delight in exploring traditions and creating my own, and you cannot visit a seaside town without seeking your fortune – whether that means playing the penny machines at the arcade or visiting fortune teller and palmist Gypsy Lee in her hut opposite the Pier.
My favourite building in Bognor is the old cinema – The Picturedrome. Actually I love a lot of the architecture on this crossroads, which also features the railway station. The Picturedrome is fantastic, with an affordable varied film programme and an lovely old style auditorium which makes me so nostalgic, not just because I saw many movies for the first time here and got inspired by all sorts of on-screen heroines, but because it still has that classic cinematic vibe.
The beach is wonderful, with clean clear waters, so a swim in the sea is simply glorious. There is a reason all those wealthy Victorians came to sunny Bognor. Personally I like to splash about, pretend I’m a mermaid and float on my back, but more serious swimmers may be inspired to know we have had some bathing heroines live in the town. Mary Wheatland was known as the ‘Bathing Woman of Bognor’, she operated an old horse-drawn bathing machine and saved over thirty people from drowning – there is a portrait of her in the National Portrait Gallery. Swimming champion Joyce Cooper also lived in the town and held all the British freestyle records and won Olympic medals in 1928 and 1932.
The museum is run by the local history society and is full of fun things, including the Ron Simpson Wireless Collection which features an amazing selection of beautiful old radios. Oh, and there is also a dressing up box for small children and fully-grown heroines to transform themselves into 1920s starlets. There is a whole lot of history to be discovered in this small museum, which was really helpful for me writing this guide and rediscovering my hometown.
William Blake, one of my favourite poets, spent some quality time living in the village of Felpham on the outskirts of the town. In 1800 there was a footpath from Felpham to Bognor, so the trail follows Blake’s footsteps (and no doubt also those of his heroine wife Catherine who was a printer, engraver, and artist herself). See for yourself the landscapes that inspired many of his best known works and recent art and creative projects inspired by them.
Cassy Fry (@cassyfry) is a writer, poet, artist and creative blogger. She loves dancing like a wild woman, wearing red lipstick, and cuddling cats. She believes in the power of creativity (and your favourite pop song).
Is your hometown the perfect fit for a heroine? I’m always looking for fabulous locals to contribute to this Fit for a Heroine travel guide series. Get in touch: email@example.com
As an American expat living in the UK, it’s no surprised that I get this question all the time: why do you live here? I got used to giving the boring, practical answer, probably because when that question is asked it summons my boggart, UK Visas & Immigration, knocking on my door accusing me of skirting […]
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