diamond geezer

 Saturday, February 10, 2018

Gadabout: WESTON-SUPER-MARE

Weston, as the locals have it, is a seaside resort in North Somerset at the mouth of the River Severn. The Super-Mare bit is a posh way of saying On-Sea, which for a significant proportion of the day is really On-Mud thanks to the Bristol Channel's massive tidal range. To get your bearings, the sea is to the west, the M5 is to the east, and a high ridge of land called Worlebury Hill blocks development immediately to the north. As usual, the town's Victorian growth spurt was entirely thanks to the railways. About 75000 people live here, and an ABCD of people who grew up in the town would include Jeffrey Archer, Richie Blackmore, John Cleese and Jill Dando. The best time to visit Weston-Super-Mare is never a grey weekday morning in February.




Weston has three piers, the most significant of which is the Grand Pier. Originally Edwardian, it's burned down twice, most recently in 2008 (after the fire alarm company failed to ring the fire brigade). The pier's private owners took advantage of £30m compensation to rebuild the pavilion, thereby restoring the town's main attraction. The initial funnel of chips'n'candyfloss merchants is freely accessible, but to get any further requires £1 in a turnstile (or an annual pass). The boardwalk spans a couple of hundred metres of sea, or more likely beach, and has a central covered tunnel in case the weather's foul. I obviously preferred the exterior view, along with helpful labels on the railings pointing out what I might be able to see. Four churches in town, yes. Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, unsurprisingly no.



I hoped to walk right down to the far end, but this was blocked, I suspect for seasonal maintenance. Scores of empty tables, each labelled 'This furniture is provided for our food and beverage customers only', awaited summer's beers'n'burgers crowd. Instead the only sensible option was to enter the main pavilion, essentially a two-storey amusement arcade - a giant palace of paid-for fun. All the usual soft-toy grabs and slots proliferate, plus sit-on rides, an indoor go-kart track and Britain's smallest (track-free) rollercoaster. Top marks for over-excitable branding goes to The Crystal Maze, in reality one of those swingdoor mirrored labyrinths, and not a full-on four-zone challenge. Two Weston families were enjoying the low season's entertainment options, and I walked swiftly round.



Weston's first pier is now a crumbling wreck at the top of the bay, and the only pier in Britain to link to an offshore island. Birnbeck Pier was built to entertain Victorians arriving by ferry, but hasn't seen a daytripper since 1994, nor a lifeboat launch since 2015, and English Heritage aren't the only people worried about it. The third pier seems barely worthy of the name (although I didn't see it when the tide was fully in), and links to the Seaquarium (all the usual marine stuff in a lot of big tanks). Meanwhile Knightstone Island is linked to the shore by a short causeway, and now houses a compact luxury housing development, at prices which in any part of London would count as "genuinely affordable".



Other than distant Wales, the most intriguing sight on the horizon is Steep Holm, one of the larger islands in the Bristol Channel. This limestone lump rises from the waves like the top of an enormous head, and trebles in area between low and high tides. Historically considered part of Somerset, and once home to naval defences, today only birds make their home here (although it's possible to take a day trip in the summer). The other geological peculiarity is Brean Down, a long ridged promontory on the southern shoreline, nicely balancing Worlebury Hill to the north. Although it looks easy to reach, in reality it lies on the far side of the estuary of the River Axe via a considerable marshy detour.



Weston-super-Mare hit the headlines in 2015 when Bansky turned up with his Dismaland theme park. His chosen site was the Tropicana, a former lido gone to seed, whose outdoor pool made a suitably downbeat backdrop for disturbing art. Since then the venue has sprung back to life in a variety of forms - a funfair in the summer and ice skating in the winter, which I watched through the glass being switched over to a half-term skatepark. In February the site feels somewhat out on a limb, its beachfront cafe and tourist information centre generally unbothered, and the neighbouring beachfront shelter packed out with sleeping bags and the bagged possessions of a few of the town's rough sleepers.



The town centre is the usual mix of tiny streets, pedestrianised shopping precincts and one grand manicured boulevard. At the top of the latter is Weston's floral clock, which alas no longer tells the time, but is still planted up every year to celebrate whichever anniversary the Lions Club selects. This flowerbed marks the site of the town's first station, a terminus inserted by Brunel in 1841, but later replaced by a more convenient loop slightly further out. The Town Hall adds gravitas by the mini-roundabout, but a large area between here and the seafront has been reimagined in questionable 21st century format, and a further zone will follow if anyone ever manages to fund more than bleak demolition.



Weston is blessed with several museums, one focusing on Lambrettas (alas "currently in the process of shutting down") and another on helicopters (the world's largest, apparently, with 80 specimens on view almost daily). I only had time for Weston Museum, the official culture repository, inside the former Gaslight Company Workshops. Most weekday visitors come for the cafe, it seems, but I enjoyed the permanent display round the upper floor and a splendid temporary exhibition downstairs - The Art Of Self Expression; Facial Hair and Tattoos Through The Ages. This proved an excellent excuse to pair whiskery Victorian portraits with specially commissioned 2017 photography, and if any Shoreditch gallery were to attempt a similar exposition of hirsute history I'm sure they'd have a hit on their hands.

» Visit Weston-Super-Mare


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream