Travel: The dead poets' seaside society

Bournemouth does not seem an obvious destination for writers but many have flocked there.
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The Independent Culture
THE SOUTH coast resort of Bournemouth has been busy re-inventing itself. Fed up with being portrayed as a genteel watering-hole, it now prefers to be known for its Baywatch-style lifeguards and vibrant club scene. But you may want to check out one of the resort's least known aspects: its literary connections. In their own way they are quietly impressive - even ignoring Dorset's most famous son, Thomas Hardy.

A good place to start your tour is Lakeside Road, close to Branksome Chine, once home to JRR Tolkien. This must be one of the most desirable addresses in town, although the bungalow at No 19, where Tolkien retired in 1968, is one of the road's more modest dwellings. The author left Lakeside Road following the death of his wife in 1971.

Robert Louis Stevenson was only 34 when he arrived in 1884, but was already struggling with illness. His years in Bournemouth were to be among the most productive of his life, resulting in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and his classic Scottish novel, Kidnapped.

He lived at a house in Alum Chine Road, Westbourne, overlooking a wooded valley. Stevenson renamed it "Skerryvore" after the Scottish lighthouse designed by his uncle. The house was demolished after being damaged in a German bombing raid in 1940. The site is now a memorial garden.

A few streets to the north is the Quality Cadogan Hotel, Poole Road. The French poet Paul Verlaine taught drawing at a school on this site. While living at the resort he wrote two poems - Bournemouth and La Mer de Bournemouth.

Other sites of significance include 48 Dean Park Road. The war poet Rupert Brooke stayed at the house, which belonged to his grandfather, in 1896. He described the town as "a strange place of moaning pines but quite ungentlemanly sunsets" and teasingly gave his address as "Bournemouth, south of France".

St Peter's churchyard is home to the poet Shelley's heart and the remains of his wife Mary, of Frankenstein fame. The poet drowned off Italy and his corpse was burned on the beach. Mary snatched his heart from the funeral pyre.

In 1850, his son, Sir Percy, bought Boscombe Manor (now the site of a little museum totally devoted to Shelley), preserving the heart in a private sanctum until his death, when it was buried alongside him and his mother.

Just around the corner, where St Peter's Road joins Fir Vale Road, stood a "go-as-you-please boarding house" where DH Lawrence spent a month in 1912 recuperating from an illness. The boarding house is no longer in business but the curving row of Victorian villas, where it was probably located, still stands.

During his stay he wrote the erotic novel The Trespassers, but insisted in a letter at the time: "I do not flirt with the girls even though there are some very pretty."

Despite his ill health, he "went the razzle with a Yorkshireman with plenty of cash".