Tucked away between the beach huts of Bournemouth lies a Victorian house filled with hidden treasures.
Think of Bournemouth and what images are conjured up? Miles of beaches packed with holiday makers? Rows of multicoloured beach huts, hotels and guesthouses. Ruggedly beautiful cliffs? Perhaps. But step away from the sea for a moment, venture past Harry Ramsden's up the East Cliff and if you look carefully you'll find one of Dorset's hidden gems. Through the fearsome looking hedges is a strangely beautiful mix of Italianate villa and Scottish baronial castle, surrounded by a Japanese garden and fearsome gates. Venture in and you leave the modern world behind, the high walls and hedges sheltering the visitor from both wind and traffic.
Built at the turn of the century to house the vast collections of artefacts brought back by its owners Merton and Anne Russell-Coates, from their varied travels around the globe it contains whole rooms dedicated to different countries they visited. Left to the town as a public museum the building reveals more secrets and treats on every visit from collections of Japanese metalwork (including a full set of samurai armour) to Italian marble sculpture and Maori woodwork to an odd obsession with dragons.
If artist Rosemary Dickens' work doesn't convince you that Dorset is truly where the Dragons went to hide from marauding knights and patron saints, then a wander through the rooms of the house should change your mind. Perhaps the museum's former owners extensive travels are to blame but there are enough dragons to allow the place to hold a dedicated dragon exhibition. Dragons lurk in unexpected places: on the ceiling, in the hall, in the stained glass windows, in the study, on the plates, in the dining room, in the garden, even under the stairs. Wander through the halls on a sunny weekday afternoon in spring and you might not see another living soul, you could be in another world, another time. When the world wasn't quite as small as it is today and when dragons might just still lurk in the blank spaces of maps.
Quest for your own dragons at www.dragon-quest.org.uk. Photo credits to Wendy McCredie.