Mrs G and I visited our nearest 'seaside' resort yesterday, that being the birthplace of John Cleese, Weston-Super-Mare. I've always thought of it as Weston-Super-Mud, a long standing Dad-joke in our family and no doubt many others due to the nature of an estuary tidal system which means that when the tide is out, it's out of sight.. Well, almost. More like a mile away in point of fact.
Apart from the mud, which is actually sand for the first couple of hundred meters from the shore and makes for some gorgeous beach, donkey and sandcastle action, Weston is also world famous for it's pier.
The original 'Grand Pier' was built in 1904 with a theatre at the end and thrived until 1930 when it was hit with a fire. The pavilion was rebuilt at a cost of £60,000 (no small sum in 1930) and once again thrived until 2008 when for a second time, fire wiped it out. So now were in 2010 and sadly the rebuilt pier is not quite ready to open (very nearly, but there's been a couple of hiccups along the way as is the way of things in our contractual world). And the bill this time round? £51million. Yes, you read that right. An insane sum of money.
I'm sure you'll agree that from the shore it looks very nice, but there's just no knowing if it's £51m well spent... yet.
However, North Somerset council have also been hard at cheque writing with some assistance from Central Government and from the look of the work they've been buying, this money has certainly been well spent. The seafront enhancements project consists of £29million (in comparison to the pier a piffling sum) from Defra's Flood Defence Grant in Aid, The South West Regional Development Agency's Civic Pride initiative, the Wessex Regional Flood Defence Committee and the Joint Local Transport Plan.
They've also managed to drum up a further £960,000 from Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment's Sea Change initiative to create a series of artworks to go along with the project. Clearly someone on the North Somerset Council knows their way around the government departments, and knew who had the most spare cash to hand.
In my youth we spent many happy childhood day out, adventuring around Weston and while, to a 7 year old, it was a magical sandy place, in more recent years it has taken on the mantel of a long lost and well loved teddy bear of that era. My Weston has been discarded at the back of an old wardrobe or in a chest in the attic where it's very slowly started to lose it's stuffing and from there some of it's appeal. I stopped by a couple of years ago (pre pier pyre) and while I was pleased to see the old place, that's exactly how it felt. An old, tired, worn out and run down old place. I placed My Weston back in the wardrobe and forgot all about him again.
And this is still partially my view of the place. It's caught somewhere between being a Victorian/Georgian perfect example of a British seaside town, a maniacal mess of urbanisation and 70's and 80's town planning and a sleek & modern shoreline resort. Parts of it are all but crumbled away (some into the sea), others decaying while some are so new they're not even finished yet. There are builders everywhere!
One of the saddest sights I've ever seen was the Prince Royal Hotel and Birnbeck pier. These are at the far end (Northerly) of the front and just around the headland. Both are closed to the public. The hotel has been badly vandalised, the pier far less so and I suspect that's because it's actually disintegrating and not a safe place to be. The pier, built in 1867 does have quite a claim to fame though as it's the only pier in the country to connect to an island outcrop. To my mind, that makes it a bridge, but apparently not.
It's actually the spot that helped make Weston the popular seaside resort it still clings to being because its main use was to allow ferries from Bristol And Cardiff to dock at Weston. This was immensely popular until the severn bridge and the M5 were built in the 1960's. It still houses the local RNLI station which is well maintained but the remainder of the pier and island look ghostly in their abandon. Here's a few pictures of them:
They are the most depressing views of Weston, but perhaps more worrying are the remains of the 70's and 80's urbanisation that are dotted around the place. Here's a few shots of what I considered the scariest bits, which includes something which looks suspiciously like the infamous "Three Wolf Moon" T-Shirt, but with just the one wolf:
And yet there are still plenty of delights hidden in plain sight. The work carried out by the lottery fund on Knightstone Causeway is also a pleasure to behold. I'd recommend 'Stones' for a coffee in the sea air while the new kids adventure playground and the crazy golf had me wishing I really was 7 again and Grove Park for instance, is a joy:
And then, walking along the seafront, it occurred to me, that what had happened here, was as if my Gran or my Mum had found My Weston again. They'd taken him from the forgotten cupboard, dusted him down and dropped him off at the teddy bear factory, where they'd replaced his stuffing, sewn his ear back on and buffed up his nose. Even his voice box is almost finished (but at £51m that bit is particularly expensive and did I mention, contractual?).
Take a look at some of the work here, but you should go and see it for yourself...
Truly they have done an excellent job and if you're looking for British seaside resort to visit, I couldn't begin to recommend it more. There is something here for all ages from 2 to 200 but bring your bucket and spade, plenty of change for obligatory slot machines, kiss-me-quick hats, sticks of rock and for the gentlemen - a proper knotted hankie for your deck chair. Long Live the great British seaside.
Today.... Well let's see now... Daughters sorting her MOT, Mrs G is popping into S's house for a cup and a chinwag which leaves me to write my blog (That's that job done then) and finish off the last of my little list if jobs. Can't believe it's Thursday already!!
Keep working hard you lot!
Cheerio for now.
This post originally appeared here: Posterous