Category Archives: Seaside Piers

Cromer Pier

We manged to find a parking space within striking distance of the pier this time, though I decided not to go all the way down the ramp to the pier. Downhill walking isn’t good for bad knees – I know this from past experience. And then there would have been the problem of getting back up to the top.

I like Cromer, but I do think they could have built the pier in a more convenient place. Next to a car park, for instance. (This, if I’d known, was to become something of a motif over the next few days).

About 500 yards from the end of the pier a very strange shipwreck took place on 9th August 1888 when the paddle steamer Victoria  hit a church tower. Yes, that’s right, a ship sank after hitting a church tower. It actually wedged itself on the tower of the lost village of Shipden – originally lost to the sea in the late 13th century. Even then, it didn’t actually sink until they used dynamite to remove the tower and blew a hole in the bottom of the steamer.

That has little to do with the pier, but it’s such a great piece of trivia I felt you’d excuse me.

There have been a number of piers in Cromer. The first one known was mentioned in a document of 1390. Several have been destroyed – one by a storm and one by a ship. The current one was opened in 1902.

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Cromer Pier – a fine looking pier

It’s a fine looking pier, even from a distance, and a tribute to the owners (North Norfolk District Council) and the amount of work they have done to keep it up to standard. It’s recently been cut in half by a drifting barge (1993) and damaged by a storm surge in 2013.  Other people obviously like it too, it’s been Pier of the Year in 2000 and 2015.

It claims to be “One of only five UK seaside pier’s with a full working, flourishing theatre and home to the only end of pier show of it’s kind in the World!”.  I don’t want to get into an argument about it, as I don’t have any evidence one way or the other, or know what the definition of an end of the pier show is. I’m also suspicious about anything using the words “of it’s kind”.

Apart from the obvious problem of weasel words being used by a marketing team there’s the problem of apostrophe abuse. If they can get their apostrophes wrong, what else can you get wrong?

Even without the pier Cromer would be an interesting place. This is the Hotel de Paris. After photographing the pier all I needed to do was turn round and take this picture.

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Hotel de Paris – Cromer

It was originally opened in 1830 by Pierre le Françoise, who had come to England as a child when his family fled the revolution in France.  It was successful and several notable people stayed – including Edward VII and Oscar Wilde (though probably not together).

I looked it up on the Internet – prices seem quite reasonable. We may be back.

 

 

Hunstanton Pier

It looks good in the picture doesn’t it? What more could you want in a pier? Well, a bit of length wouldn’t go amiss – it doesn’t actually reach the sea.

Hunstanton Pier from the side - can you see the problem?

Hunstanton Pier from the side – can you see the problem?

l must have been going to Hunstanton for around 50 years, often unwillingly, as my parents forced me to tour Sandringham, Norfolk Lavender and a variety of other boring horrors. As a youngster all I required was sand and water, progressing to arcades and birds as I grew older. Stately homes, lavender and art sales did nothing for me.

It’s a nice place but not really an aspirational destination for anyone under 40. It has a sensory garden, a blue crab scheme (blue crabs stencilled by drains to remind you that pouring unpleasant things down the drains is bad for wildlife on the beach)  and a catering outlet called Tubbie’s. The grammar is confusing, maybe even dodgy but the food is cheap and stodgy, and, as it says on the side “Tubbilicious”. Four freshly cooked doughnuts and two very nice coffees cost £3.

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A very fine takeaway

Tubby, or Tubbie, is a well-rounded man, though Julia was not totally impressed. Let’s face it, she’s been a bit spoiled in that department. I’m not just Tubby, I look like I eat tubby men for breakfast.

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Four doughnuts for £1 – diabetes for free

The pier was opened in 1870 and was 830 feet long. By 1882 a steamer service travelled between Skegness and Hunstanton.

In 1939 the pavilion was destroyed by fire, and as there were more pressing things to do, it was never repaired. I imagine that the pier was breached in 1940 as an anti-invasion measure and after that it just deteriorated. They built a new arcade in 1964, which is the one I remember, though I’m not sure I actually remember the pier extending out to sea.

The pier was destroyed by a storm in 1978 and the arcade burnt down in 2002, which is when the new arcade was built. In 2012 an application was made to the National Lottery Fund for £7.5 million to build a new pier, but as you can see, it was not successful.

It was a pleasant few hours, and, as you will see in days to come, the town has a lot to offer.

For now I will leave you with a picture of the cliffs.

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Hunstanton Cliffs

Great Yarmouth – the end of the beginning

Great Yarmouth was bright and hot and crowded when we called. You can probably tell that from the heat haze in the featured image.

It was also short of parking and so our visit to the Wellington Pier was not extensive. In fact we stopped where we could get a photograph and moved on. We’ll have time to do it later, when we return to East Anglia, but after several days of walking I had to admit defeat.

Of course, as I get older I really ought to stop saying things like we will have time to do things later, as there’s a growing chance that one day I will be spectacularly wrong and find that I don’t have any time.

 

The pier itself is supposedly the seventh built in the UK, and was named after the Duke of Wellington, who died in 1852, the year before the pier opened.  It was successful at first but suffered financially after the neighbouring Britannia Pier opened. In 1899 the corporation of Great Yarmouth took on the running of the pier and, in 1903 added Winter Gardens to the pier complex.

The Winter Gardens, originally erected in Torquay in 1878, were not a success in Torquay and the owner went bankrupt. In 1903 Great Yarmouth bought the building and transported it by sea to the position it now occupies. Since then, despite looking fragile, it has survived storms, air raids and bombardment by German battleships.

It even survived a period of ownership by the comedian Jim Davidson. He’s not my favourite comedian but you can’t fault him for putting his money where his mouth is and supporting the traditional end of pier holiday shows.

Back at the Britannia Pier, the parking is easier. I was surprised to see some of the big names that work the pier. (In some cases I was surprised they were still alive).

Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth

Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth

Where the Wellington Pier is elegant and Edwardian, the Britannia is obviously a modern pier and it’s open for business. There were, I swear, more people on the pier than there were on the beach.

 

I wasn’t very keen on some of the boards, which seemed a bit soft in places, and the size of some of the gaps was a worry. It looks like it would be easy to put a stick in a gap that size. It probably wouldn’t but it was a bit of a worry. Of course, as soon as you start looking down at where you put the stick, you start to see right down to the sand and the vertigo starts…

It can be a long walk to the end when you’re worried about falling through. It was nice to walk along a properly used pier, where the only gulls were making use of the fun fair rather than using the place as a roost.

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Gulls on Britannia Pier

The end of the pier seems a bit abrupt, with a selection of rusting ironwork at the end.

It’s had an interesting history – opened in 1858, shortened by a ship in 1859 and by a storm in 1868 before being demolished in 1899. Reopened in 1901, fire damaged 1909 and again in 1914 (allegedly by Suffragettes, who were more violent than their current image suggests). Another fire in 1932, breaching by Royal Engineers in 1940 and a further fire in 1954 completes the list of misadventure so far.

All in all it was a good, traditional pier and you can have a look at the donkeys (very traditional) and Scroby Sands Wind Farm (less so).

They actually have a Scroby Sands exhibition on the seafront (Julia looked round it and used a telescope to watch the seals that were basking in the sun). I sat outside with an ice cream.

 

In 1922 the steamer SS Hopelyn was driven onto the sands and wrecked. Such things happen. Heroic acts also happen, and on this particular occasion heroism was well to the fore when the Gorleston lifeboat, powered only by oars, took part in a lengthy rescue. It took 30 hours in all, involved several vessels and resulted in the rescue of 23 crew, the Captain and the ship’s cat. You can read about it here, and about Coxswain  William Fleming here. He served with the RNLI for 49 years and helped to save 1,188 lives.

And that is the end (at last) of the first part of the reports of the pier visits.

 

Eight down, forty sevenish to go

I’m behind on my pier reports – I still have a report on Great Yarmouth the write. After yesterday I also have two others to report on – Cleethorpes and Skegness.

My orderly side says I should do Yarmouth first and the other two in turn. Another side says I should write up the most recent visits while they are still fresh in my mind.

And yet another part of me says I should review another piers book, or even write about something completely different so that I don’t become a pier bore.

The picture at the top is a flattened penny from the machine on the pier. This is what the other side looks like.

Squashed penny - reverse

Squashed penny – reverse

The trick with squashing pennies is to use a dirty one so that traces of the design show up and make things a bit more interesting.

For now I’ll leave you with that, as I need to get to work on the other posts. I put up a 1966 medallion for auction today.

1966 medallion - Jules Rimet still gleaming...

1966 medallion – Jules Rimet still gleaming…

World Cup Willie - sounds like some sort of repetitive strain injury you get from too much celebrating

World Cup Willie – sounds like some sort of repetitive strain injury you get from too much celebrating

The medallion is only 30mm across in real life.

Then, in a new low for quality standards, I put a lot of 100 National Transport tokens up for sale. I have no pride.

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Book Review – “Pier Review”

Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside by [Bounds, Jon, Smith,Danny]

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Summersdale (11 Feb. 2016)
  • ISBN-10: 1849538115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849538114

Again, with this being a Kindle book I’ve taken the book cover art from the Amazon website, so thank you Amazon.

It’s a good book, though one with quite a few rough edges. You can tell this before you pick the book up because the less enthusiastic reviews, and even some of the more favourable ones, refer to grammar, blokiness, bad language and beer. I’m not that bothered about grammar, as you can probably tell from reading the blog, and, in truth, I didn’t notice any bad language. That probably results from me being desensitised by having two sons and a background of working on farms and markets. Like so many of my contemporaries that year at Finishing School eluded me.

It’s a tale of two immature mates and their driver, Midge. The narrative is based on them travelling round 55 piers in two weeks. It is, unsurprisingly, a badly organised and under-funded trip. It’s a familiar model and it felt like I’d read books by this pair before. After looking at their previous books I discovered that I hadn’t. I’ve merely read other gimmicky travel books by similarly immature, badly organised blokes.

This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. It was interesting to spend time learning about different lives and their relationships with the seaside, each other, their laundry and their past. There’s even a bit about piers in places, though not a lot.

One of the things they discuss early on is a quote from someone – J G Ballard, I think – that travel books never mention the parking. I take this badly, as my post on Cromer, our first attempted pier visit, does feature parking quite heavily. Now it’s going to look like I’m copying them.

Apart from that, I have a sneaking feeling that they planned the book better than it looks on the surface. They meet people, they stay in various places (a B&B, camp sites, floors of friends) and they space out the reminiscences. It could be an accident, but it could, under all the casual chaos, be quite a well-planned book.

It can be a bit tedious reading about people drinking (even more tedious than actually having to listen to them whilst they are drunk) and about their constant bad planning, but they are likeable idiots and the time passes quite easily as you read.

It cost me £3.99 on Kindle, which is more than I normally pay for a Kindle book, but I was happy with it. However, it’s a book about mates on a road trip: if you want to learn about piers buy a different book. I’ll review that later.

 

The Piers of Lowestoft

There are two piers at Lowestoft – the South Pier and the Claremont Pier. The Claremont Pier is, I assume, named after something or someone named Claremont, but none of the published sources seem to mention who it is. Confusingly, the South Pier is, according to my map, north of the Claremont.

This called for some heavy-duty lucubration. (Yes, I’ve been reading that website again).

Things fell into place with a quick look on Google Maps. The South Pier, though North of the Claremont Pier, is actually South of the North Pier. The North and South Piers are the concrete breakwaters that form the harbour.

Like so many words, we expect quite a lot of it and it means at least three things.

This becomes clearer when you start to walk along the South Pier, which, in some ways,  isn’t a pier – it’s just concrete. There are no legs, no boards and no sight of the sea underfoot. Chris Foote Wood, in Walking Over the Waves, is considers that it isn’t really a pier at all. However, as he points out, the National Piers Society says it is, and they have the final word on the subject.

The South Pier is quite good, apart from the puzzling name and the lack of legs and stuff. When you drive up to it, it appears to be quite an elegant Edwardian building situated conveniently close to a large car park. As you park, you notice that the elegant pavilion isn’t part of the pier. It’s actually the East Point Pavilion and, according to the internet is only 25 years old.

Ah well!

The South Pier has a traditionally garish front (I speak only for my lifetime – obviously if I was Victorian I’d have a different idea of tradition) with plenty of amusements. It then has a concrete deck, a notice about lobster pots, a lifeboat shop and a trawler that is open to the public. We wondered about the lobster pots, and when we saw someone throwing what looked like a keep net into the water Julia asked him about it.

That morning he had caught prawns and shrimps (which I thought were the same thing) and some crabs. He does catch lobsters now and then, which was a surprise as I’d never thought of them being caught off the east coast. He uses bacon as bait. This would work for me too, as I’d be happy to crawl into a net for bacon.

From the pier you can see a massive crane on the other side of the dock. This, according to the internet, is based on the North Pier and is doing construction work.

Unlike many east coast piers, which had sections removed to stop them being used by the Germans (see previous comments) the South Pier couldn’t be breached, though it was damaged by German bombing. Around 20 bombs fell on the harbour, with one falling next to the pier and one destroying the reading room/pavilion.

Lowestoft was bombed 90 times during the war and suffered 261 fatalities. It isn’t much compared to the bombing of London or Germany, but it must have been a massive contrast to the holiday season of 1939 when the town was crammed with holidaymakers and the pier was full of happy faces.

The South Pier is linked to the Claremont Pier by a road train along the sea front. It’s based on Thomas the Tank Engine, though I suspect that Thomas is considerably faster – we used it and had trouble overtaking pedestrians. A pair of joggers actually overtook us.

I was surprised how many people waved at us as we went by. People aren’t normally that pleased to see me. The proprietors of “all you can eat” buffets are particularly not pleased to see me.

The Claremont Pier doesn’t have a buffet but it does host a selection of eating outlets, which mainly seemed closed. I suppose you have to do whatever pays the bills but restaurants that only open in the evening don’t really make for a cheery atmosphere during the day. Nor does an empty roller-skating rink, despite the flashing lights. It really isn’t my sort of thing (I last wore roller skates around 50 years ago, fell down a lot and ended up bruised and annoyed) so I didn’t feel inclined to have a go. That just leaves the amusements, and it was a bit hot for getting excited in a confined, badly ventilated, space.

The pier’s website shows photos of the eating places and bars, and it does seem to be a much brighter place to be when they are open. If I lived 150 miles closer I’d be seriously tempted by their Sunday Lunch offer, though “beef jus” isn’t really my style. I’m a gravy man. The menu for Scott’s, the restaurant that does fish and chips, looks interesting, and seems to be hammering the local Redpoll population. I notice they do that thing where they miss the £ sign off, as it makes food seem cheaper. Looking at their prices you can see why.  Note also that prices are for fish – you have to buy the chips as an extra. I was a bit miffed that the special at Sutton on Sea didn’t include tea. Guess what I think about chips being treated as an extra.

As part of a developing theme, the bulk of the pier is merely a seagull playground. It’s a shame, as the walk is often the best bit of the pier. It can be particularly memorable when accompanied by spongy boards and the fear of plummeting through the broken deck into the sea. Let’s face it, when you’re my size this can be a consideration even on a well-maintained pier.

Felixstowe Pier

The logical next step after Southwold seemed to be Felixstowe. We arrived, had fish and chips (to be covered later), visited Landguard Point, photographed a Martello Tower and, finally, parked by the pier. This was not because I had a plan to accommodate a lot of sight-seeing in one trip, but because I couldn’t remember how to get to the pier.

I don’t have overly fond memories of Felixstowe Pier. We used to go there when visiting Julia’s parents in Suffolk and my clearest memories are a stony beach and architecture that always makes me think of a barrack block in the 1950’s.

It’s all changed now. Apart from the beach – that’s still stony. I don’t mind stony beaches myself but they are cheerless places when you have kids, and I did ache a bit the morning after  I threw myself full length on Hastings beach to stop a shot on goal from one of the kids. Competitive? Me?

The new pier has been open less than a year and cost £3 million. It seems like a bargain for a lovely new amusement arcade, which includes a new carpet, with appropriate logo. Compared to the old Felixstowe Pier this is a magical place, but compared to Southwold it’s a bit basic. An Arcade, some food, a carpet and some railings cannot compete. Even the gulls on the fenced-off  section aren’t enough to raise the game – without people to walk the boards a pier is merely a method to collect guano.

It was once 2,640 feet long, one of the longest piers in the country. It had an electric tramway and a pleasure steamer service operated from the end of the pier, with services to Yarmouth and London.

All went well until 1939, when the Army took a section out of the pier to stop it being used by invading Germans. I’m not really clear why piers were seen as such an important factor in the German invasion. It was probably like the metal collections that resulted in the loss of my grandparents’ garden railings. Rumour has it that we didn’t need all that ironwork, but that it was a way of bringing the reality of war home to the population. The breaching of the piers on the east coast was probably similar, being a propaganda measure rather than a serious military necessity.

After the war the pier was never repaired.

The tramway never ran again and the detached seaward end was eventually demolished. The only reason there is anything running out to sea is because it is too expensive to demolish. Eventually I suppose the whole lot will fall apart, which will be a shame, but despite all the regeneration of the seafront Felixstowe seems destined to be more famous as a container port rather than a holiday destination.

There’s a picture on the internet showing a Short 184 seaplane on the pier after crashing in 1920. Having been a seaplane base in the war Felixstowe was no stranger to aircraft accidents.Though it’s virtually unknown these days the Short was a notable aircraft in its day, with a number of records to its credit.

Felixstowe also saw the crash of the Felixstowe Fury. Having missed the chance to fly the Atlantic non-stop when the Air Ministry decided to leave the attempt to commercial interests, the Fury was being prepared for a record-breaking flight to South Africa when it crashed in the sea off Felixstowe, killing the radio operator. At the time it was the largest seaplane in the world and the largest ever British aircraft. With a wingspan of 123 feet it was 21 feet wider than an Avro Lancaster.

I’ll leave it there because, although I’m fascinated by early aviation, it’s not really anything to do with the pier.

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Felixstowe Pier