EVERY summer thousands take to Bournemouth’s beautiful beaches as soon as the sun shines.
But in these Covid crazy times, the sight of sunbathers packed cheek by jowl raised eyebrows last year.
Since then, government scientists have dismissed links between Covid outbreaks and crowded beaches.
But with opportunities to holiday abroad this summer looking dicey at best given travel restrictions, many British families will opt for stays on the coast.
And the good news is you don’t have to be on the beaches to have a brilliant time there.
Our trip was aimed at investigating Bournemouth and the wider area “beyond the beach” — and given where we were exploring, that instantly opened up the opportunity to crack out perhaps the daddy of all dad jokes.
“We’re off to Poole this weekend.”
“Yes, I’d recommend it to anyone.”
Never an eye-roll in sight when you crack out that banger . . . Poole Harbour was the setting-off point for our 20-minute ferry ride over to Brownsea Island.
The National Trust site is home to all manner of wildlife and it really captured the imagination of our two daughters.
Upon hearing there were peacocks in full displaying mode, our six-year-old Freya made it her mission to see this magnificent plumage in action.
And within half an hour, we had already ticked off two strutting peacocks and a further four peahens, who couldn’t fail to have been impressed by the lads’ frankly obscene feather-fluttering.
Chuck in sightings of tiny red squirrels, a natural adventure playground and a stroll along the coast with views of rugged Studland, and Brownsea Island made for a pretty perfect family trip out.
Heading back to the mainland on the ferry, we got caught in the type of weather that would clear Bournemouth beach at its busiest.
And that’s why it’s always a good idea to have options “beyond the beach” when holidaying in the UK.
Fortunately, our next activity rather relied on us getting wet — and even a whipping wind had a big upside.
With gusty conditions in our favour, the guys at Easy Riders watersports, based on Sandbanks, helped us give wing surfing a go.
After a brief on-shore lesson to get to grips with what is basically a huge, inflatable, hand-held kite, it was on to the water.
Much falling over was made worthwhile when my wife Esther, eight-year-old daughter Madeleine and I were all able to eventually stand up on the boards and be blown along for a few glorious feet.
Mad props to our instructors Sam, Spencer and Amy who not only managed to get us vaguely competent within an hour or so but also entertained young Freya.
She decided wing surfing wasn’t for her and adopted the fetal position on a paddleboard about 100m from shore for the last 30 minutes.
After an exhausting day, we were delighted to head back to our base at Marsham Court Hotel.
Our vast room had views of the sea and the hotel’s own heated outdoor pool.
With two swimming-mad little ’uns, there was no way I was getting away with not getting in that pool…even if I would have preferred it to have been a little warmer outside for our stay.
The hotel staff were polite and enthusiastic throughout and they all contributed to a lovely stay in this tricky, Covid-compliant adjustment period for hospitality.
Our second day started with a slightly more leisurely and cultured option, the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.
I was convinced the kids would struggle with this but the fact all the art is on display in a grand seaside villa, with rooms kept as they would have looked back in the late Victorian era, meant they loved having a good nose about.
And to enhance our cultural standing further, we also loved our round of crazy golf at Smugglers Cove, next to Bournemouth Pier.
Perhaps my favourite thing to do “beyond the beach” (and, frankly, anytime and anywhere) is eat — and a couple of spots set within Bournemouth’s rather lovely Lower Gardens more than did the trick.
The Stable served up belting pizzas and a buzzy atmosphere — blimey, I’ve missed long, lazy dinners sitting inside a restaurant.
And the Urban Garden specialises in fresh, local, seasonal food.
The quality of the ingredients and the cooking shone through in my route-one choice of fish and chips.
All in all, a lovely break, proving there is fun to be had away from thousands of other people on the sand.
So, a holiday on the South Coast without taking a beach ball to the face or suffering a mild case of sunstroke?
Yes, I’d recommend it to anyone.