Pier Pressure Day 11: Burned by Burnham

Somerset certainly wasn’t summer-set today, as it was the first truly awful day of the tour weather-wise. There was another first too – but more of that in a moment.

We set off from near Taunton after a lovely evening (and breakfast) with our old friends Liz and Guy. All four piers today were in Somerset, so the distances between them (and indeed to get to the first one) were all fairly short. Although the weather wasn’t great, the rain hadn’t properly set in by the time we got to Burnham-on-Sea. We were in good time, so we went and had a cup of tea at the shore end of the pier before playing. This gave us an opportunity to have a word with the staff about playing there. We’ve contacted many of the piers in advance, but not quite all when it was more difficult to get hold of them. Burnham was one we hadn’t managed to get hold of, so we explained what we were doing in the hope that we could play somewhere near the café.

However, the response we got was “No – we don’t do that sort of thing. We don’t have the room or the space.” 43 piers in, and our first refusal. To say we were a bit miffed would be an understatement – not least because we were the only people in a large café area at that time (and we’ve played in much smaller areas previously)! However, rules are rules, so instead we took our cellos down to the beach and played just under the pier. So far there are four piers we haven’t been able to play on, and we’ve played under each of them instead. The difference is, though, that we knew we wouldn’t be able to play on the others, and this one came as more of a shock.

Anyway, up the road to Weston-super-Mare, where the Grand pier was our first port of call. A large pleasure pier, from what we had been told we were expecting it to be a bit tacky. However, that wasn’t what we found. There is a very large pavilion at the sea end, housing a mammoth amusement arcade (and a much posher restaurant); this is certainly highly commercial, but much less tacky than some other piers we have seen. The promenade leading up to that was much more serene, and although there was some piped music, it was far more discrete than in some other places. In fact, there was a covered walkway up the middle, which was great for us because the rain had now started in earnest. We played for nearly an hour as there were a lot of passing punters, some of whom had a sing and a dance along with us!

After a good portion of fish and chips (we’re not getting as sick of them as we thought we probably would – not yet, anyway), we went up the road to Weston’s other pier, Birnbeck. This place is astonishing. It has been closed since 1979, and was obviously a great pier in its day: a massive iron structure leading out high above the sea to an island just off the coast (see picture). We couldn’t get to the pier itself – it is structurally unsound and out of bounds – but we scrambled down the rocks to the shore below, and played under it, despite the rain. One of the most incredible experiences we’ve had yet.

But there was another to come, as we went the few miles up the coast to Clevedon. I had been told about this pier and its Victorian architecture, but even then had not expected something quite so exquisite. Even better, they have recently opened a visitor centre at the shore end (but on the pier), with a new room below the deck level, with a porthole looking down the underside of the pier: the understucture is as delightful as what is above the deck. Now the rain was pouring down, it also provided us with a great venue to perform in. We played here for a good 45 minutes – with lots of people listening, no doubt not wanting to venture out into the wet! – before visiting the wonderful far end of the pier, then coming back for a cup of tea. We all agreed that this was one of the best experiences of the tour so far (and not least because of the many donations we got for our charities, Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS).

And so concluded day 11, and pier 46. We’re staying in Gloucester with Clare’s dad tonight, before having our first Welsh day tomorrow. We’re playing at Penarth pier at 10.00, Mumbles pier at midday, and Aberystwyth Royal pier at 4.00. We’ve then got an evening concert at St Michael’s church in Aberystwyth at 7.30pm, so do come along if you’re in the area!

Weather report: By far our wettest day so far, including one truly outdoor performance at Birnbeck – despite this the Jargar Strings held their tuning just perfectly. The temperatures varied between 15.4 and 20.9 celsius, with humidity between 62.3% and 93.8%.

Quote of the day: “No – we don’t do that sort of thing. We don’t have the room or the space.” The pier staff at Burnham-on-Sea are the first of the tour to refuse us permission to play. As you may see from the picture, we didn’t necessarily agree about not having the space!

Pier of the day: Clevedon