Sunday, September 4th 2011
We start the day with breakfast in the hotel room. The hotel breakfast is not cheap and there isn’t much choice for vegetarians so it’s better the save the money and make our own. Yesterday evening we bought instant porridge (add boiling water and stir) and some "breakfast biscuits" (a bit like a fruity breakfast cereal in a biscuit). We also have tea, of course.
The weather is what I call "bright grey", that is, the sky is overcast but it looks as though the day might brighten up later.
After breakfast, we went to take the lift down to the ground floor. There are three lifts serving 16 floors plus the car park. This was also the time when the housemaids (some of whom were men) were setting out to clean the vacated rooms and many guests were on their way out. The result was that the lifts were whizzing up and down like yoyos but none were stopping at our floor. In the end, we gave up and walked down.
We went first to the bus station to enquire about bus rover tickets. The information office is closed on Sundays so we drew a blank. We took a bus to the train station and were advised that there was a bus information office there. Maybe there was but, if so, it was closed. Perhaps the bus company doesn’t think people need information on Sundays.
Our destination today is Weston-super-Mare and we are going there by train. There is one train an hour on Sundays and as we had about 45 minutes to wait it seemed a good idea to go to Bonaparte’s for coffee and croissants. There are two clocks in the buffet and one of these has been stopped at 6:56 or, as they would have it, 1856, the year in which the station opened. Just as well the opening wasn’t delayed 4 years until 1860, eh?
The train, having come all the way from Paddington was a few minutes late but on the positive side, by the time we reached Weston, the sun began to shine, dismissing the earlier threat of rain.
I visited Weston twice as a child, just for a day trip each time. I remember going to the bathing station on the first occasion and the beach on the second. Needless, to say, I recognized nothing today and it was as if I were visiting it for the first time.
We explored a little and then looked for somewhere for lunch. We settled on a small cafe called the Lighthouse, mostly because it was not crowded like most other places on the seafront. All I will say is that, despite the amiability and enthusiasm of the staff, we will not go there again despite the modest prices.
Like many seaside towns, Weston rose to prominence in the 19th century, and has grown apace since then. Its name combines Anglo-Saxon – west tun (‘west settlement’) – and medieval Latin – super Mare – meaning “on Sea”, appropriately enough. Why not call it simply “Weston-on-Sea”? I don’t know: perhaps it wasn’t posh enough – too much like so many other resorts. Mare, by the way, is pronounced like ‘mare’ (female horse) and not ‘maray’. They also insist that super be written with a small ‘s’.
The map shows how Weston stands at the mouth of the Severn and looks across the water to Wales and the city of Cardiff. That must have been fun in more warlike periods of history!
As a well established town, Weston has all the usual amenities, such as a handsome Victorian Town Hall, parish church (idem), and a rather blocky but no doubt functional courthouse.
Visitors to Weston are naturally drawn to the seafront and they will find there all the usual facilities, a mixture of a genteel earlier age and modern entertainments.
There is an esplanade, called Pier Square, where you can stroll or sit and where we found several cafes and restaurants. The centre piece of the Square is a fountain, known as The Coalbrookdale Fountain or The Boy and the Serpent.
At first sight, you may think this is a Victorian fountain but the relative lack of curlicues and complex decoration shows it is later. It was donated to Weston in February 1913 by Thomas Macfarlane and was refurbished and reinstalled in February this year, being inaugurated by Mary Macfarlane, great granddaughter of Thomas – a nice touch.
There is a Big Wheel which, if it is not the London Eye is nonetheless of a respectable size. It has been here about two years but has had a troubled history, being rescued from administration in January. It was not working today, which seemed ominous.
Like any self-respecting seaside town, Weston has a pier. This one is called the Grand Pier, no less, and the name is perhaps merited because the structure was gravely damaged by fire in July 2008 but seems to have risen again triumphantly, like the Phoenix. Certainly it was very busy when we visited it today.
Weston is known for its long, broad sandy beach. The tracks in the sand were made by the horse-drawn carriage taking people for rides along the strand. As I recall from my childhood, the beach slopes only gradually so that you need to walk for what seems miles to reach water deep enough to swim in. Perhaps this is an advantage, though, for families with small children.
We walked north along the seafront (which faces almost due west at this point) to the Winter Gardens Pavilion where we found a tourist information bureau. From here we took an open-top bus. Where to? Well, I’ll show you… 🙂
The bus brought us here, to Sand Bay. It is a small village on the banks of the Severne. It is very quiet and peaceful, and its main attraction is the unspoilt beach.
There is a car park which doubles as a bus stop and provides a public toilet. Apart from that, there is an almost complete lack of facilities for the visitor. We did spot Grandma’s Tea Rooms but even this seems to be up for sale. Paradoxically, this lack of amenities is Sand Bay’s great attraction as you will not find here the coach parties, the families with fractious infants or the beer swilling football fans that form the staple visitor diet of the more developed locations.
Yet Weston is just around the headland, marked here by Birnbeck Pier, and…
the Welsh coast is visible half-hidden in the heat haze.
We sat here in the sun for a while, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and the pleasant scenery, and amused ourselves trying to photograph some of the small creatures that were flying or walking about.
We scored a butterfly, a hoverfly, a rather fluffy bee and a curious spider who explored Tigger’s arm and hand.
By the time we returned to Weston, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. The sun disappeared behind stormy-looking clouds and a few drops of rain fell. In any case, Weston seemed to be closing down for the day as shops and cafes locked their doors and turned off the lights. It seemed a good time to start back to Bristol.
We did, however, photograph this strange little building. It is well known but I have yet to see a plausible explanation of what it is. An inscription on the chimney apron calls it “Weybridge 1866” but I remain sceptical. I suppose there might be a weighbridge inside that might date from 1866 but without seeing it, who can tell? The building is certainly not 19th century vintage and looks more like an abandoned minicab office.
We returned to Bristol and our hotel. We vaguely thought of going out again later in the evening but as the weather there was no better than in Weston, we stayed in and finished the day cosily.