In early August this year the BBC Points West local news show reported mysterious goings-on on the seafront in Weston-Super-Mare. There appeared to be a Hollywood production underway judging from the signs which had popped up in the vicinity of the Tropicana, a disused lido, but nobody knew for sure what was going on. Then all was revealed: it was a pop-up exhibition by the Bristol graffiti artist Banksy called Dismaland Bemusement Park, a "sinister twist on Disneyland" with huge sculptures and a 'fairy castle' plus members of staff being wilfully miserable and unwelcoming, in other words the very antithesis of the real thing. This was a departure for Banksy, who is normally known for his witty and topical street art to be found in edgy urban settings (see the Bristol post from 24 August). The exhibition, which ends this weekend, has proved a huge success and has really put Weston on the map, providing a boost for local businesses. So whatever you may think of Banksy, Weston certainly owes him a lot.
Weston-Super-Mare is a typical seaside resort, with a long promenade and a vast sandy beach. However, if you go there expecting to dip your toes in the water you could be in for a disappointment if your visit coincides with low tide because due to the vagaries of the tides in the Bristol Channel the sea is so far out at low tide that you need a powerful set of binoculars to see it beyond the huge expanse of mud stretching as far as the eye can see. The mud presents a potential danger for those who are tempted to walk out to the water's edge. However, there is a nice safe area for swimming in the form of a large marine lake at the northern end of the promenade.
The Grand Pier, originally opened in 1904, has been devastated by fire twice in its history, in 1930 and again in 2008, when the pier was all but destroyed. However, the local community was determined to keep this iconic focal point of their seafront and after a multi-million-pound revamp it was reopened in 2010. There is another pier which remains in a bad way called the Birnbeck Pier, which has been listed among the top 10 most endangered Victorian buildings in Britain. Other attractions include the SeaQuarium where sharks and rays can be observed swimming underwater and an Observation Wheel on the seafront, and there are boat trips and donkey rides. At the southern end of the bay is Brean Down, run by the National Trust and described as a 'natural pier'. There is a Victorian fort on the Down as well as the site of a Roman temple. Also at this end of the bay, in an area called Uphill, is the start of the Mendip Way, a long-distance trail which runs for 50 miles to Frome.
Weston has often been at the receiving end of unkind remarks in the past. Bill Bryson painted a particularly dreary picture of a rain-sodden evening in Weston in his book Notes From A Small Island, an evening he was forced to fill with a long, drawn-out meal in a Chinese restaurant followed by a session in an amusement arcade in an attempt to stay dry. However, I believe that if you catch the town on a nice sunny day it makes a perfectly pleasant spot for a day out or a summer break. There is plenty going on in Weston, especially in the summer months, with events ranging from a sand sculpture festival to a food festival. For a list of events in the town see here.
Map of the area.
|The beach and the Wheel. Photo by Jonathan Billinger, via Wikimedia Commons|