“ Address: The Toll House / The Beach / Clevedon / North Somerset / BS21 7QU / Tel: 01275 878846 „
The idea of a pier has always been to me a very English one, images of the Victorians enjoying a stroll along it dressed in their Sunday finery with parasols. Most piers in our country were built at the end of the 19th Century as a direct effect of the industrial revolution, it gave people somewhere to walk and socialise and it provided a practical use such as landing stages for passenger steamers and of course fishing.
Clevedon is possibly one of the finest examples of a Victorian Pier surviving in the UK today, and it is no accident that it is still in use today as an area to promenade, to fish and as a landing stage for pleasure cruises. In 1970, at the end of the pleasure cruise season, the pier was having its annual safety test for insurance purposes and the 7th and 8th sections collapsed. Fortunately it was under 'test conditions' so whilst it must have been an awful shock for everyone there, no one was hurt.
The future of the pier was immediately in jeopardy with some people suggesting that the remainder of the pier be destroyed and it didn't take long for locals to start to come together to ensure that this did not happen.
Clevedon is a small village on the coast of the Bristol Channel, just around the coast from Weston Super Mare, which, particularly since the recent fire and restoration, has a far more famous pier, which is a proper seaside pier, with bumper cars and arcades. Clevedon has a very different more authentic Victorian feel to it.
The pier has always had a place in my consciousness as my parents spent their honeymoon at the pier head hotel in 1965. So growing up in the 70's I remember many a day out with a picnic on the beach, (well I use the term beach loosely it is very rocky with a small slip way for boats to go down into the sea, certainly no point bringing a bucket and spade) and as a child I would far rather have been at the more lively Weston around the corner. I could never quite understand my parents fascination with this pier that you couldn't walk along because there was a gap in the middle and I could never work out how people had managed to get the 'save our pier' banners on the end of it, for some reason the boat idea didn't occur to me.
In 1984 with help from English Heritage and National Heritage they were able to start work on rebuilding the pier and it eventually reopened in 1989. Now, every now and then, I drag my kids down there for a walk along the pier as well.
The pier is only closed on Christmas Day, and is open longer during the summer peak season.
Admission Charges are currently
Children under 4 and wheelchair users: Free
To maintain the pier today costs (according to the website) £200,000 per annum and this year they need a further £300,000 as the legs need repainting which must be the devil's own job, I certainly wouldn't want to do it. So I certainly don't begrudge any of the entrance fee, although as there isn't any further entertainment on the pier they couldn't really charge anymore.
They raise much of their money by the buy a plank method, so you donate money to the pier and get a small copper plaque as dedication to whoever you want on there. There are larger ones on the lanterns all along the pier and the most recent one, as we walked along there yesterday the 30/4/11 had been unveiled the day before in a massive pier party held to celebrate the marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton.
These plaques are fascinating to read as you walk along, some in memorial, some in celebration of births, marriages and anniversaries. One was clearly bought as a 7th birthday present for a little girl who I hope appreciates it and didn't just say 'but I wanted a my little pony!' Although I'm sure she'll appreciate much more as she gets older. You also notice lots of names that are nothing to do with you, but could be, the 'James Potter' plaque in the right hand corner at the very end always gets a giggle from my kids.
At the end of the pier is a Victorian style pagoda that has a small tea shop in it. The views from the end are lovely, I always like looking at our shadows in the sea at the end (and waving to yourself of course or is that just me?) The lanterns along the pier are the same as they used to have on the pier at Weston, which I wish they'd left at least one up after the fire as they are circular in shape but made of a very tough but not tacky plastic and the heat from the fire melted them into all sorts of bizarre shapes.
The old toll house, which looks almost fort like but was built in the Victorian era, is now used as a small shop, selling local books and cards, the usual stuff. You can still see the old stone spiral staircase but it isn't used. There is often an art exhibition upstairs with displays by local artists but this was closed yesterday.
There is very little information on the history of the pier on the pier itself, just a few information boards about when it was built, with almost nothing on the 1970 collapse and subsequent rebuilt, as a tourist attraction they are clearly wanting you to enjoy it for its purpose as opposed to dwelling on its history. The website www.clevedonpier.com however is a wealth of information on the history of it.
You can also hire parts of the pier out for weddings, parties and the like. They also do ashes scattering ceremonies on there but I'd think twice about that as even on a calm day it is very windy there.
The pier is very accessible, they will open the main gate for those in wheelchairs and it is very easy to walk along. They do however still run pleasure cruises out into the Bristol Channel, although I've never seen a boat there, and the landing stage does not look easily accessible at all, so if you were wanting to do that and feel you would need assistance I would check it out first.
I feel quite safe on the pier, some of the planks I'm sure will soon be replaced as I think the extreme temperatures of the last couple of winters haven't done it any favours. But unlike some other bridges or piers I don't feel a sense of relief when stepping back onto firm land, although looking down between the planks at the swirling muddy waters beneath is always an experience.
I wouldn't usually mention the staff in a review like this, but the toll shop yesterday was manned by two young lads, too old to be students and much younger than the retired people you usually get running heritage sites. They have such a passion for the pier and will happily answer all questions, but they also provided a plaster and cleaning wipe for my daughter who slipped and gashed her knee on the rocks very deeply, the plaster was the largest one they had and it only survived until we got back to the car and were able to do a better job.
Clevedon pier is a piece of old England, it has been lovingly restored and is beautiful and calm to walk upon, there are no slot machines, not a bumper car to be seen. It is a lovely and traditional way to spend a couple of hours strolling along with ice cream in hand. Unless you are a pier and history of piers enthusiast it is probably not worth the trip from the other end of the country, but if you are visiting the area it is definitely worth a detour and a beautiful place to while away the time.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH