Pier elegance

If you’re not familiar with the West Country, there are two seaside resorts of note on the English side of the Bristol Channel; Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon.

If Weston is the noisy lively teenager, all arcades-kiss-me-quick-candyfloss-and-donkey rides on the sand, Clevedon, the seaside town just to the north, is it’s restrained decorous maiden aunt.

It always seemed thus to us anyway. With two boys and a dog to amuse Weston-super-Mare was the favourite. Ten pin bowling, a visit to the nearest amusement arcade for Outrun, Sega rally or a shoot-em-up game, an air hockey tournament on the end of the pier and then a long leisurely stroll along the beach to Uphill while chucking a frisbee about and trying not to let the dog run off and bury it.

In comparison, the boys found Clevedon boring. We’d park up next to the flat grassy recreation area behind the sea wall and they might look briefly at the small traditional kids playground, we’d have a dog walk up the path over the cliff but that was about it.

Walking in the opposite direction there was a section of rock optimistically described as the beach and a view of the wrecked pier – dilapidated and abandoned since disaster struck during load-testing in l970 when the two end spans buckled and collapsed into the sea.

Every time we visited Clevedon, we gazed out at the forlorn wreckage of the pier and wondered why someone wasn’t renovating it. My mother had spoken of cross-channel voyages on the Waverley paddle steamer and landings at Clevedon. She knew how to live, our mam.

So when I revisited Clevedon recently, it was a lovely surprise to find that not only has the sad little pier been fully restored, it is in fact a Celebrated Pier;  the only intact Grade I listed pier in the country. It’s both a credit to the Victorians and the pride of Clevedon.

The surroundings had also been refreshed considerably with stylish iron railings and a variety of bars and restaurants with sitting out space, continental style, from which to watch the sunset over the low hills of Wales. Ahem. No such luck the day I was there but I should imagine, at the height of summer, with a cocktail to hand, it could be very pleasant.

Even on a chilly grey day, the pier is a construction of rare elegance and beauty, with slim graceful arches stretching out into the Bristol Channel towards Penarth and a pretty little iron and glass construction (cafe upstairs)  perched at the end plus sheltered seating areas. Its eight spans were made from rails surplus to Brunel’s requirements which he built the South Wales railway.

It was also the first pier built on mathematical principles to cope with, remarkably, the second highest tide range in the world.

While I only discovered it a few weeks ago, the world is about to discover it as it’s featured in “Never Let Me Go” the film of Kashuo Ishiguro’s excellent book which is on general release.

The film crew had long gone when I was there. Walking along the plain boarded walkway, most of the wooden planks beneath my feet were sponsored and the barriers either side are studded with brass plaques from all those who have contributed to the restoration. Many of them are in memory of someone passed on, others are tributes to the living, there are marriage proposals and among all the others, a rather larger plaque marked Griff Rhys Jones.

With a windchill factor of minus 2, the fishermen lining both sides of the pier hoping to catch codling and sea bass were muffled up in several coats each and equipped with flasks and refreshments.

Meanwhile down the “beach” (yes they do call it that. Perhaps there is a smidgeon of sand right up against the esplanade wall that I didn’t notice) three hardy souls – two men and a woman, were trudging, dripping, out of the freezing, brown Bristol channel. Yes, it was Saturday the 29th January 2011 and the men wore Speedos.

There must be a tradition in Clevedon for swimming all the year round. There is also a tradition for swimming long distances – right across the Bristol Channel and back in some cases. The youngest and fastest person to swim the Bristol Channel from Penarth to Clevedon was a 17 year old, Gary Carpenter in five hours 35 minutes in 2007.

Another plaque on the pier commemorates Steve Price’s first ever nonstop Clevedon to Penarth return swim – a distance of 30 miles – in 15 hours 43 minutes and 17 seconds on 2 September 1994.

I do hope they were both sponsored. Looking at the colour of the channel water and feeling the keen bite of the winter breeze, I think every penny was well deserved.

About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Coast, Dogs, Seaside, Watery things and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Pier elegance

  1. I’ve never been to Weston or Clevedon to be able to discern the attractions of either. I have come off the M5 at the Clevedon junction on several occasions though, on my way to the airport in a rather circuitous manner to avoid the traffic in the centre of Bristol. I’ve also been on the Waverley steamer about 30 years ago.

    Lovely pictures. The Victorians really knew how to make the most mundane things beautiful!

    • janh1 says:

      Good idea to approach the airport from the south. I just liked the way the pier has been properly restored just as it was, a place for promenading, fishing, just sitting or catching a boat. No frills, no plastic, no neon.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Pier elegance | Janh1: Mainly fair with occasional rain. -- Topsy.com

  3. IsobelandCat says:

    I visited Weston a few years back when I spent a week walking in the Mendip Hills, but I missed Clevedon. I found Weston a bit depressing, but it was winter. Looks like I need to go back. Maybe this time I could also visit Secret World. Great pix, particularly one and two.
    Have you seen Never Let Me Go? I want to, as, like you, I thought the book was excellent, and very haunting, and although I am not a big fan of Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan seems a very good actress.

    • janh1 says:

      I’m not guaranteeing you’ll like Weston at all, Isobel. A bit noisy, smelly and brash but once you get away from the pier and the busy family bits, a very refreshing walk to Uphill and up the hill (as the placename suggests) to a church with views. Very pleasant on a sunny day.

      No I haven’t yet but coincidentally have *just* booked it for tomorrow night!! I’ve been looking forward to it for months. Not sure how the movie can be as good as the book but we’ll see….. 🙂

  4. Pseu says:

    Pier Excellence

  5. Darrel Kirby says:

    Great pics! I am all too familiar with Weston: many a childhood day out there. It was years before I realised that beaches were supposed to have a sea attached! These days I only really enjoy it when the beach race is on – great for pictures!
    Never been to Clevedon though – seems like it’s worth a look!

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