Discovering the many delights Clevedon has to offer
PUBLISHED: 15:04 13 June 2019
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Clevedon's splendid Victorian pier is celebrating its 150th anniversary, but it's not the only attraction in town, discovers Laurence McJannet
Brighton, Blackpool, Weston-super-Mare, Southend. Think of a pier and a plethora spring to mind, each with their own story and unique place in the history of our seafront towns. Southend is the longest in Britain, Ryde the oldest, Blackpool and Brighton perhaps the most famous and Weston-super-Mare perhaps the unluckiest. But there is one pier that often gets unjustly overlooked - indeed it was missing from a recent compilation by BBC Countryfile of the nation's favourite piers - and that belongs to the North Somerset seaside town of Clevedon.
Standing beside the first of this marvellous 312m-long structure's eight 30m spans, it's hard to see why Clevedon's is one of the lesser-known piers in the UK. After all, it attracts some 100,000 visitors a year and according to one of our most cherished writers, Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, it is, "the most beautiful pier in England". An impressive Victorian construction built to receive paddle steamer passengers from Devon and Wales, it is the only Grade I-listed pier in the UK that you can set foot upon. Featuring the awarding-winning Tiffin restaurant and visitor centre, as well as an interactive Discover exhibit, Porthole function room and shop, it is not only a popular spot for fishing, with its very own sea angling club, but a licensed wedding venue too.
This year more than ever Clevedon Pier promises to become the focal point for the town as it celebrates its 150th anniversary, hosting a series of events that are sure to cement its place in the beachfront-promenading public's hearts.
Much like the pier, whose grand, sweeping iron curves have come to epitomise this handsome Victorian resort, there is another famous building here that lies at the heart of Clevedon life. The community-run Curzon Cinema has been drawing residents and visitors in droves since 1912 and is now one of the country's oldest, continually running cinemas, providing a welcome slice of nostalgia compared to today's vast, gaudy cineplexes. Alongside a varied film programme, showing classics and new releases alike, as well as live theatre broadcasts, the space hosts live comedy, music and performance.
While the cinema embraces its cultural heritage, with its stunning historic auditorium, the world's longest run of skelionite (1920s tin panelling) and a unique collection of historic film equipment, the rest of Curzon's facilities are bang up to date, with cosy lounge bar, public wifi, and workshop and meeting spaces available for hire, giving the space a modern feel and making the building something of a community hub.
Another performance space worth visiting, though in truth it couldn't be more different to the Curzon, is the Theatre Shop in Queen's Square. Originating as a pop-up theatre in a disused shopfront, the Theatre Shop has set down roots in its tiny home and provides an eclectic programme of events, including some unique and highly entertaining kids' shows, and has managed to pack a bar in to boot! June's performances include a one-woman play about lido culture, a mini opera and an improbable potential Poet Laureate!
Staying true to its Victorian roots Clevedon remains a traditional seaside resort at heart and is at its bustling best during the summer months when visitors flock to its half-mile-long pebbled seafront, often congregating among the beautiful ornamental gardens and milling around its bandstand. Other buildings that hint at Clevedon's Victorian heyday include the splendid Grade II-listed clock tower, while further afield lies a similarly listed and magnificently restored 17th century Walton Castle, though nowadays its turreted walls can only be breached for private gatherings and weddings.
More accessible, however, is the 14th century Clevedon Court manor house on nearby Court Hill. Owned by the National Trust, it is set among beautiful 18th century terraced gardens and has an extensive collection of artwork and period furniture, not to mention a striking display of Eltonware pottery and a fascinating collection of Nailsea glass. The house was purchased by Abraham Elton in 1709 and it is still the much-loved family home of his descendants today. Tickets are available and allow you to explore the entire property or just the gardens.
Clevedon's Salthouse Fields is another hugely popular spot in the summer months. Set in a fantastic location with woodland surroundings and picturesque sea views, salt panning was carried out here as early as 1689. Now an unashamed place of leisure rather than industry, it features a skate park, extensive children's play areas, tennis courts, a bowls club and Clevedon's very own model railway that runs round the field. In a throwback to yesteryear you can also go for traditional donkey rides along the fields.
If you have any time left after a day-trip to this feature-rich town, one last place worth a visit is Clevedon Marine Lake, which at 90 years old is celebrating an anniversary of its own this year. Home to the world's largest sea water infinity pool, and a backdrop to the third highest tidal range in the world, the lake is an amazing space the size of two football pitches, which hosts numerous swimming and sailing events and is open open all year round.
So whether you fancy a good old fashioned promenade, a slice of Victoriana or a more immersive cultural experience, Clevedon has as much, if not more to offer its visitors now than during those halcyon days of the 19th century. And with the pier's 150th anniversary promising to put it on the coastal heritage map at long last, Clevedon's popularity as a summer daytrip destination looks set to last.