Places to go: Pier review

Who doesn’t love a pier? We’ve found the best around Britain for every sort of seasidey day out

Herne Bay Pier by Rob Ball

Herne Bay Pier by Rob Ball

Who doesn’t love a pier? We’ve found the best around Britain for every sort of seasidey day out

Piers for pleasure are a uniquely British thing, which is a surprise really. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be able to head out into the sea without getting their hair wet, after all? We’ve selected a few of our favourites from around the country, each celebrated for its own particular pleasures.

Best for a good stroll

You don’t want to take a long walk of a short pier, do you? So head to Southend, which is Britain’s longest pier at 2,156m long. Quite a whopper. Sir John Betjeman, founder of The National Piers Society once said ‘The pier is Southend. Southend is the pier.’

Best for train travel

Many piers have a small railway on them. If it wasn’t nailed down the Victorians put a train track on it, of course. But Hythe Pier is home to Britain’s oldest continuously operating narrow gauge pier railway and has services every half an hour. You can take the train to the ferry service from the end of the pier that crosses Southampton Channel to Southampton.

Best for foodies

You won’t go hungry on Llandudno pier. It has a stall selling freshly baked pies, others selling smoked oysters and muscles, a branch of the Great British Cheese Company and a traditional sweet shop. You can wash it all down with a pint of craft beer from the Pier Bar.

Best for fishing

Deal Pier is apparently a prime spot for landing mackerel, as well as pollack, sole, garfish and mullet in the summer months. Best spots are the lower deck at the south and north corners and the upper deck between the second and third shelters, facing towards Dover. Fact fans: Deal is also Britain’s ‘youngest’ pier.

Best for thrill and spills

Bournemouth Pier has a pier-to-beach zip-line, so you can play at being the Milk Tray Man, and its old theatre now houses activities for adrenaline junkies, such as climbing walls, an aerial assault course and a vertical drop slide. Wheeeeeeeee!

Best for old-fashioned fun

Blackpool’s North Pier is one of the most iconic of all and a trip here is like stepping back in time. Fish and chips, fortune tellers, traditional sweets and carousels… We can almost hear strains of ‘Oh I do like to be Beside the Seaside’.

Best for a brush with wildlife

Fort William Town Pier, on the west coast of Scotland is home to the fabulous Crannog Restaurant. It used to be a bait shed but you can now sit and enjoy some of the best and freshest fish you’ll ever taste and then take a cruise from the pier down Loch Linnhe where you’ll often spot common and grey seals, porpoises and sometimes golden eagles.

Best for completely bonkers entertainment

Southwold Pier is a lovely day out but its best bit is the Under the Pier Show, a room full of homemade penny slot machines created by Tim Hunkin, a writer, cartoonist and engineer. Try, if you dare, the Autofrisk, where a pair of inflated rubber gloves give you the experience of being frisked. Or hop on Walk The Dog, a treadmill with a life-size fake dog and screens simulating both your view and the dog’s view of the walk - watch out for the sudden increase in speed when the dog spies a cat! And don’t miss Fly Drive, a simulator in which you are a fly and have to gorge on as much sugar as you can before being swatted. Utterly mad and total genius.

Find out more about British piers at The National Piers Society. And in our June issue, we have more of the stunning pictures (above) from Funland by Rob Ball (Hoxton Mini Press), a celebration of British coastal communities and their architecture in pictures.

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More from our June issue…

More seaside pleasures…

Forgotten bookmarks

We won’t judge a book by its cover… though we might judge it by what’s left among its pages

Shakespeare and co.jpg

Illustration: Jane Mount

A shopping list for a supper with friends, last summer’s postcard, a card advertising a restaurant you don’t remember going to… The things you find you’ve left in books to mark your place, and then forgotten, often bring back a wry smile.

But the things other people have used as bookmarks and then abandoned to the pages can range from the indescribable to the indigestible.

When Washington librarian Anna Holmes tweeted earlier this year: “Dearest patrons, PLEASE stop using cheese as a bookmark. Please. We give away actual bookmarks for free. Or like use a receipt or something. Just not perishables” one would have thought the world would reel, but no.

The world responded with its own tales of bizarre bookmarks they’ve had the misfortune to find: bacon, a circular saw, a piece of broccoli, toenail clippings and a clump of hair.

It turns out forgotten bookmarks are quite a phenomenon. (We’re assuming they’re forgotten and that people aren’t putting deli items into library books intentionally).

To prove it, enter New York State second-hand bookseller Michael Popek, of Forgotten Bookmarks, who catalogues all the strange and wonderful things he has found between the pages of the books that enter his shop.

From four-leafed clovers to a marijuana leaf, love notes to a suicide note (which he chose not to photograph, understandably), each item is a tiny snapshot of an anonymous person’s life and utterly compelling for it. He photographs each object, along with the book he found it in and publishes them together. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine the reader, and the scenario in which the object ended up in the book. One can almost picture the small, slightly grubby little boy who left his Bear Cub Scouting patch inside a copy of Adventure in the Haunted House. Less easy to conjure to mind is the owner of the photograph of a coffin (occupied) inside a copy of Amelia Earhart’s The Fun of It.

Popek has published photos of some of the forgotten bookmarks he has found over the years in a book called, unsurprisingly, Forgotten Bookmarks. We thoroughly recommend it. Don’t forget to take your cheese slice out of it when you’ve finished it though.

And if you’re in search of a new favourite tome in which to lose a slice of cheddar (or worse), you might like to read ‘Looking for Books’ in our November issue, in which Frances Ambler takes an illustrated tour with Jane Mount, author and illustrator of Bibliophile, around some of the world’s best independent bookshops.

More on books…

More from November issue…

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