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George V described it rather well!
Bognor Regis (West Sussex)
Member Name: bollinger28
Bognor Regis (West Sussex)
Date: 05/06/12, updated on 30/01/13 (361 review reads)
Advantages: Retains some of its former seaside resort charm with a traditional pier and buildings
Disadvantages: Run-down and dirty in places. Shopping opportunities rather hit and miss.
For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Bognor Regis is a small seaside town on the south-east coast of England almost slap bang between the better known resorts of Brighton to the east and Portsmouth to the west. Although Bognor Regis is only ten miles from where I live, I rarely go there as it's rather run down and rough. Like a lot of British seaside towns it had its heyday several decades ago, and since then it's been left to quietly moulder.
I happened to visit Bognor Regis just last month and things haven't improved all that much. It must be getting on for 4 or 5 years since I was last there, and the recession hasn't been kind to the town - it looked dirty, there are cracks in many of the pavements and every other shop front was either empty or closed. However, despite its down-at-heel demeanour, there are parts of Bognor Regis that recall its glory days, and if you look hard enough you can unearth the odd gem or two. It has to be said that Bognor is still a fairly popular town for many a holiday maker looking for an inexpensive seaside holiday. Bognor is cheap, it's mostly cheerful and your holiday pound will definitely stretch further here than a lot of other places on the south coast.
~~~ BOGNOR GETS A ROYAL UPGRADE (AND THEN AN INSULT) ~~~
Bognor can trace its origins all the way back to AD 680 when it was a Saxon settlement known as Bucgan (which meant shore or landing place). It remained a sleeping little fishing village (as well as a popular haunt for smugglers) until the late 18th century, when it was transformed into a resort by a gentleman known as Sir Richard Hotham. He must have had some success, as it became a popular place to "take the waters" throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, it was chosen as the ideal location for King George V to convalesce after a lung infection in 1929 (he and Queen Mary stayed at Craigwell House in Aldwick). After his return to London and his royal duties, the town of Bognor petitioned the King to bestow the suffix "Regis" (of the King) on the town. The King is purported to have cried "Oh B*gger Bognor"...but he granted it anyway. That the King said "Oh B*gger Bognor" has never been up for dispute, but the reasons behind his outcry are unclear. Some say that the outcry was not as a result of the petition request, but at the news he may have to return to Bognor when he became ill again! Just before he died the King was told he would soon be well enough to revisit the town and have a second convalescence there. He is said to have then uttered the famous words, thus implying he had very little regard for the town. Who knows, maybe the thought of a return visit to Bognor was what finally finished him off :o(
~~~ THE SEAFRONT ~~~
One of the main attractions of Bognor Regis is definitely the seaside. It's not a massive seafront at Bognor, but it's along the lines you'd expect from your traditional British seaside resort of the 1930's, 40's and 50's. You have a pier, a shingle beach, amusement arcades, rides for the kiddies and the odd fish and chip shop. And of course not forgetting plenty of shops in which to buy ice-cream, buckets and spades, pink rock sticks and candy floss. There are some lovely old buildings overlooking the seafront which must have been stunning in their glory years. Sadly, a lack of visitors, bracing sea winds and general neglect has resulted in most of these into looking rather run-down and unloved.
The pier at Bognor is as traditional as you get. It's evidently the oldest in Britain (built in 1865), but it's quite short and lacks the attractions you find on better known piers in towns like Brighton and Boscombe. The pier used to be a lot longer at Bognor, but a storm put paid to its former grandeur in 2008 and 60 feet had to be removed due to storm damage. The pier houses an amusement arcade and a nightclub (now called "Vision" as the former incumbent "Sheiks" gained such an awful reputation for drugs and fighting). Despite its smallness, the pier pays host the "The International Bognor Birdman" competition every summer, which is huge draw for residents and tourists alike. Basically the competition is for various madmen (and women) to dress up in costume, throw themselves off the pier and see who can "fly" the furthest. All the contestants design their own flying machines and the record currently stands at a rather impressive 89 metres. It's a rather popular event as you can imagine as it's certainly rather unique. Nobody takes the contest all that seriously, it's just a bit of fun with plenty of silly costumes and outlandish flying machines. Rumour has it that Richard Branson even took part one year!
Opposite the pier, is a rather good crazy golf course, and it's always a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. When my nephew wasn't too old to enjoy such simple pleasures we regularly used to play a round there. You can also have your fortune told by Gypsy Lee, but she is housed in a wooden shed rather than a tent! There are no big rides at Bognor, just a few small ones for the kiddies on the seafront.
The beach at Bognor is still a massive draw for the town, despite being covered in pebbles. During a heat-wave it will be full to bursting with both locals and holiday makers sunbathing and swimming. If pebbles aren't really your thing, then you will find nicer and sandier beaches nearly - try Elmer Sands, Aldwick (the posh part of Bognor Regis where all big houses are), West Beach in Littlehampton or West Wittering near Chichester.
~~~ BOGNOR HIGH STREET ~~~
It's sad to say but Bognor town centre is even shabbier than the seafront. At least the seafront still has the charm and ambiance of an atypical British seaside town despite the scruffiness of some of the buildings. In the town centre, it all feels a little bit squalid and dirty. The pavements are cracked and uneven and there's rather too much litter everywhere. The main shopping area is a bit cleaner and it's pedestrianised, but the areas surrounding it are filthy.
The recession has hit hard here, and it's reflected in the number of empty units on the high street. Every other shop is either a charity one or some kind of pound shop. There aren't too many well known high street names here - you're more likely to find small independent traders. Although it's great to see any independent traders on the UK high street in this day and age, they're not particularly nice shops in Bognor Regis. You're unlikely to find a nice greengrocer or butcher here, more another variation on a "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap" pound shop. I thought it was quite ironic that a pound shop calling itself "Mr Bankrupt" had obviously gone the way of its moniker with its doors were firmly sealed shut and its windows blacked out. Sadly yet another casualty of the recession and lack of tourism to the town.
It's not all doom and gloom on the high street - there are some famous names here - there's a Morrison's supermarket, a Boots, a New Look, an Iceland and a WH Smith. Sadly Marks and Spencer left a good few years ago and is unlikely to return. What you will aplenty here are pawn brokers, cheque cashers and money lenders. And fairly recent addition to the town since my last visit is a plethora of Polish supermarkets throughout. It has to be said that if you want better shopping opportunities, you'll be better off heading into Chichester....though it will inevitably be more expensive there.
~~~ SIR BILLY BUTLIN MOVES IN ~~~
Bognor Regis is well known as being home to Butlins holiday camp. Evidently this is the oldest holiday camp in Britain, and Butlins has been dominating the skyline at Bognor since 1960. Although Butlins used to be renowned for cheap family holidays and accommodation, there has been much building work here in the last few years, and many of the old wooden chalets have been knocked down and replaced with huge glass-fronted hotels which look a lot like massive cruise liners (The Shoreline was built in 2005 and it was followed by The Ocean in 2009). The onsite entertainment and facilities have all been upgraded and it certainly looks a lot more 21st century than it ever used to. Butlins holiday camp used to known as Southcoast World but has now rebranded itself as Butlins Bognor Regis Resort. It houses all sorts of attractions from swimming pools, fairground rides and tennis courts to a multiplex cinema and a concert hall / stage arena.
I've been to the cinema there and had dinner in the restaurant and both were very modern and welcoming facilities. I do draw the line at a day pass though, as it is still Butlins and it's a bit naff. However judging by the number of families who flock there, it seems like a popular way to holiday with plenty to see and do.
~~~ HOTHAM PARK ~~~
Hotham Park was a magical place for me when I was a child. In those days it had a lovely little Pet's Corner and lots of twisting paths throughout the woods with hidden statues of cartoon characters. Sadly these have all gone now, and the Pet's Corner is no more. It's not a magical place for me anymore, but there is still plenty to see and do there, and it's certainly a lovely little haven of greenness after the squalor and brashness of Bognor town centre. It's free to enter (but you do have to pay (inexpensively) to park), and there are lots of little attractions scattered throughout the trees. You can ride on a mini-train, hire a boat on the miniature boating lake, play pitch and putt or crazy golf, or just enjoy a walk. The squirrels seemed to be virtually tame when we visited last week and came running up to anyone carrying food on them. The rooks were just as cheeky, and we were glad we had left the dog at home or there may have been an international incident where she would have tried to "play" with them.
~~~ FOOD, DRINK AND SLEEP ~~~
There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Bognor, but they're mostly along the lines of fish and chips shops, cafeterias or tearooms. There are a few outlets from the better known chains such as KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks, but they're mostly independent traders. Restaurant wise you have a couple of high street names such as Brewer's Fayre and Wetherspoons, but that's about it. There are a few nice restaurants in Bognor - namely "Sen" (Spanish food) or various Indian, Chinese and Thai eateries. To be honest there's much more choice in nearby Chichester, but the prices will be dearer there than you'll pay in Bognor.
Night life in Bognor tends to be centred either on the pier at "Visions" nightclub or at Butlins. Accommodation wise, Butlins is where most visitors stay when they come to Bognor. However, if holiday camps are not your thing, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts to choose from - no doubt many housing the ubiquitous seaside landlady! If neither of those options floats your boat, then you can stay at Royal Norfolk hotel (a lovely white painted seafront building with plenty of charm and more than a whiff of a bygone era) or the Russell Hotel overlooking Marine Park Gardens.
~~~ NEARBY ~~~
There is plenty to see and do in this part of the world, as you have both the lovely coastline as well as the majestic and rolling hills just inland known as the South Downs. The historic town of Arundel is only 8 miles to the north and houses a world famous castle and cathedral. You can read about Arundel in my review at http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/destinations-national/ arundel-in-general/1074333/.
The old Roman town of Chichester is 6 miles to the west of Bognor (http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/destinations-national / chichester-in-general/1165555/) and has lots of great shops, Chichester Cathedral and Pallant House Art Gallery. Near to Chichester are both Fishbourne Roman Palace and the Goodwood Estate (horse racing, motor sport, golf and a stately home). Please see my review for further details at http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/sightseeing-national/ goodwood-estate-west-sussex/1533106/
~~~ RECOMMENDATION? ~~~
Sadly Bognor Regis can no longer rely on tourism the way it once did, and that is reflected in the whole town. Although parts of the seafront are charming and obviously historic, they've become increasingly shabby over the years and everything looks a little unloved. The town is still a popular choice resort for a cheap seaside holiday, but it looks a rather rough and squalid in places.
Bognor needs to undergo a huge regeneration programme to become the charming seaside resort it was in George V's heyday. There is a glimmer of hope for Bognor as there appeared to be plenty of building work going on to the edges of the town. We noticed some stunning looking glass fronted flats and penthouses in development near Butlins. There are also plenty of new homes being built on estates to the north and west of the town. We drove past legions of new estates advertising show homes from Barratts, David Wilson, Berkeley Homes et al, so there is plenty of new blood being bought into the area. If it's been planned right then that should mean plenty of refurbishment or new shops and leisure facilities for Bognor Regis to house the influx of new residents.
As it stands I can only recommend Bognor if you love the British seaside and want a relatively cheap holiday on the south coast. However it is very far from ideal if you like your resorts upmarket and clean...because it's very far from either. George V definitely summed it up oh so well when he shouted "Oh B*gger Bognor!" back in 1929!
~~~ HOW TO GET THERE ~~~
By Car - Bognor Regis is easily reached via the M27 (and A27) coastal road which links
Sussex, Hampshire and Kent. From London the town is best reached via the A29 or A24.
By Train - Bognor Regis station is situated within a two minute walk of the centre of town, and is served by regular trains from London Victoria (1 hour 45 minutes), Portsmouth and Brighton.
Car Parking - Car parking is quite easy in Bognor as there are plenty of relatively inexpensive pay and display car parks within easy walking distance of the town centre and the seafront. Obviously on a hot summer day, parking is going to be a problem in a seaside town like Bognor, but outside of hot days parking isn't much of a problem here.
~~~ FURTHER INFORMATION ~~~
Bognor Regis Tourist Information Centre
Phone: 01243 823140
Summary: A seaside town on the south coast of England which has sadly seen better days.