A trip round Britain’s seaside heritage
Piers are true icons of the British seaside, unique feats of Victorian engineering and as British as black cabs and bacon and eggs.
And with bold regeneration schemes, today’s piers are no longer just rusting relics of a bygone era. To mark the start of Biritish Tourism Week on 12 March they’ll be events at piers around the country. Get the festivities started with a jaunt around Britain’s top 10 piers…
Eschewing Victorian finery for streamlined modernism, the redeveloped Boscombe Pier was voted Pier of the Year in 2010. It retains its wonderful modernist entrance with a 1950s flying wing design and the concrete pier itself stretches boldly out to sea with a shiny, minimalist windbreak. Red or Dead designer Wayne Hemingway has also turned the nearby beach huts into cool ‘surf pods’ – a good job, too, given their proximity to the new Boscombe artificial surf reef.
The charming Suffolk village of Southwold boasts one of the most beautifully renovated piers in England. Originally built in 1900 it’s emerged from the slump in pier popularity of the 1980s and 1990s with several restaurants, tasteful shops and 'Under the Pier’, a collection of whacky homemade arcade machines and automata.
Clevedon Pier is the only fully intact, Grade 1 listed pier in Britain and it’s an absolute beauty. Its ironwork structure is strong but elegant with delicate arches on iron piers reaching down to the water below. Walk out along the pier and you’ll get far-reaching views across the Severn Estuary. Look out for the pier in the film Never Let Me Go starring Keira Knightley.
Britain’s most famous seaside town has not one but three piers. Head for Central Pier to take a turn on the Ferris Wheel, admire the sedate North Pier (the longest of the three) with great views out across the Irish Sea, or head straight for North Pier with its arcades, bars, dodgems and thrill rides. Elsewhere Blackpool is packed with entertainment from family shows to nightclubs and, of course, the white-knuckle rides of the Pleasure Beach.
Brighton is a great mix of traditional seaside fun and 21st-century chic. The Palace Pier is famous for its rides, fish and chips and sticks of rock, arcades and, the Super Booster – a terrifying ride on which brave passengers are hoist up 38 metres then dropped swinging through the air at 60mph.
Built to allow passengers disembarking from ferries to continue their inland journey by rail, this 19th-century pier still allows holidaymakers to jump straight on a train. If you’re arriving on the Isle of Wight it’s the most charming way to travel. The line is still served by 1930s London Underground trains which make the whole experience pleasurably nostalgic.
Saved from the wrecker’s ball, Bangor Pier was purchased by the council for a penny and restored to its Victorian majesty in 1988. At 1550ft (470m) it’s the longest surviving pier in Wales and one of the best examples of Victorian pier architecture in the UK. Look out for the beautifully made iron lamps and traditional polygonal timber kiosks.
While Bognor Regis Pier is in itself unremarkable, it’s certainly worth a visit for the International Bognor Birdman event that sees crazy costumed ‘fliers’ launch themselves form the pier each summer in support of charities.
At a whopping 1.3 miles, Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world. Built so craft could moor away from Southend’s perilous mudflats it has survived several fires, boat crashes, two world wars and economic decline. Take the train to the pier head, or better still, stroll along this record breaking survivor for the full Southend experience.
One of the last surviving Victorian piers in Wales, Penarth Pier was built as a docking platform for steam ships travelling across the Bristol Channel. The pier itself has been restored but the future of the spectacular 1920s Pier Pavilion is still in doubt. The good news is, is that an initiative has been launched that may preserve this magnificent structure. For more details check the Pier Pavilion website.