In the summer of 2016, we undertook our PIER PRESSURE challenge. Over the course of 14 days, we travelled around the coast of Great Britain, playing on all 58 surviving piers.
Starting in Scotland with Dunoon pier, and then travelling round approximately clockwise before finishing in Blackpool to play on its three piers, we travelled over 2900 miles, giving over 60 performances (including four evening concerts, and performances at multiple locations on some piers!).
We did this to raise money for two fantastic charities: CHICKS (Country Holidays for Inner-City Kids: a national children's charity providing free respite breaks to disadvantaged children from all over the UK at their three retreat locations); and Alzheimer's Society (the UK's leading dementia support and research charity, here for anyone affected by any form of dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). At the time of writing we have raised over £7800 for the two charities.
An edited version of our daily blog from the tour is shown below. You can see videos of some of our performances on the piers at our YouTube channel. An overall summary of the trip, including our favourite piers and a wider selection of photographs, can be found here.
We're here in Scotland. We've not actually played on any piers yet - that starts tomorrow - but we had the long journey up today, and are staying in Edinburgh tonight (courtesy of Clare's friend and long-term Extreme Cello fan Caroline). The picture is from her flat - looking up at the fantastic escarpment in Holyrood Park. We head west tomorrow to do Scotland's only two piers, Dunoon and Rothesay.
Exact timings will depend on ferry crossings - not to mention the weather, which is looking somewhat stormy after the balmy summer weather of the last three days - but we're hoping to play on Dunoon pier at 11.00 and Rothesay pier at 14.00, before heading back south to England.
In some ways this feels like a bit of a false start: we had originally been planning to do this two days later, and go straight into the English piers on Saturday. However, plans went a bit awry after Clare's daughter's graduation was scheduled for Thursday, so we need to be back in Sheffield for that! The 56 piers in England & Wales will be done in 13 consecutive days from Saturday, which still sounds quite impressive I think. It's certainly challenging enough!
Quote of the day: [on the phone] "Are you really going to play at the end of Southend Pier?" - a local newspaper reporter queries our intentions for the world's longest pleasure pier...
There are only two surviving piers in Scotland. Dunoon and Rothesay piers are both located west of Glasgow, and to make things more difficult they both require ferries to access.
We started the day in Edinburgh, slightly surprised that the forecast storms had not materialised by the time we left. The journey west however certainly brought some of the most inclement weather we'd seen for a while: thunderstorms and very heavy rain making the 2+ hour trip (which saw us approach Glasgow at rush hour) very uncomfortable.
By the time we arrived at the ferry for Dunoon, however, the skies had cleared and after the 20 minute crossing we were able to play in dry conditions! Dunoon pier is mainly used as a landing stage for the foot ferry, and is only short compared with many - but a beautiful Victorian pavilion provided a great backdrop for us to perform some of our seaside-related tunes. We were pleasantly surprised that we actually had an audience, some of whom had come along especially! (including a reporter and photographer from the local paper).
Such is our schedule, though, that there's no time to hang around. So we headed back to the ferry, then a few miles south, and then another ferry to Rothesay on the island of Bute. We found some fish and chips when we got there - we've decided to have this each day of the tour, and are rating them as we go along... we'll let you know all about the best-rated ones at the end of the tour!
The pier at Rothesay is little more than the departure point for the ferries there, and there was not much audience around, so we played one piece before getting back into the ferry (stopping briefly to admire and use the old Victorian loos!). Then the small matter of a 5 hour journey back to Sheffield...
As described yesterday, we've now got a couple of days without piers due to having to reschedule the Scottish leg of the trip - but we'll be back in earnest on Saturday, and then the 12 days following that!
Weather report: Our friends at Jargar Strings have provided us with strings for the tour (as well as making a donation to our charities), and so we're keeping track of the different weather conditions in which the strings have played. Today they worked well in temperatures between 19.8 and 21.6 degrees Celsius, and humidity between 76.5-78.1%.
Quote of the day: "You've really brightened up my birthday!" - one of our audience at Dunoon pier.
Pier of the day (as voted for by the three cellists): Dunoon
And so we’re off again – the English and Welsh leg of the challenge began today! A lot of travelling again, to visit three very contrasting piers… more of which later.
Leaving Sheffield to head north for the second time this week, our first stop was Saltburn-by-Sea, in Cleveland – a place that none of us had visited before, and we were all very taken by it. A simple pier in some respects, it had a classic Victorian air to it, and the setting – under the local cliffs – was spectacular. We were surprised to be met there by Anne, an old friend of Clare’s who lives in North Yorkshire – not the last time we’d be met by friends today! Playing for about 20 minutes in the calm morning air, with just a handful of people around, was a great way to begin the day and the main part of the Pier Pressure challenge.
What a contrast the next place was, then. Cleethorpes – a drive of more than two hours away – was full of typical seaside tourist traps, and was packed by lunchtime, as you would hope a seaside town to be on a sunny summer Saturday; this was exacerbated by several thousand Sheffield United fans, there to watch a pre-season friendly with Grimsby Town. As two thirds of the Extreme Cellists are ardent Wednesday fans, this was something we could only mitigate by playing “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday” to them! Anyway, we were met in Cleethorpes by our Sheffield friends Meem, Max and Monty (and Meem’s sister Lynette), who directed us to a most delightful fish & chip shop for our daily dose, before going to play for 30 minutes on the pier – which had been voted this year’s “Pier of the Year” by the National Piers Society. This performance also included one of the more bizarre moments we’ve had, in which four people dressed as aliens came and danced in front of us for a few minutes while we played “Good Vibrations”! This was also probably our windiest pier so far, and so it's great to report that the Jolly Design stands we're using stood up very well to the task.
Sadly there was no time to hang around, as we had to press on to Skegness – very much pier of two halves. The shore end is under cover, and full of arcades, bright lights and noise. The outer deck, though, resembled a typical Victorian pier, occupied mainly by deck chairs. It was a lovely setting above a large beach, being well-used on a warm sunny day. Clare’s old friends Kate and Shaun, and Kate’s sister Jane, were there to meet us, and supply us with ice creams as we played for about 40 minutes. We’ve now got a fair repertoire going for this tour – in addition to our usual pieces, we’re doing arrangements of “Tom Bowling”, “La Mer”, “Summer Holiday”, “Sea Fever”, the aforementioned “Good Vibrations” (as it’s by the Beach Boys), “Summertime”, “Under the Boardwalk”, and of course “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”. They all got an outing here!
Weather report: Today’s temperatures varied between 21.3 and 23.1 celsius, with humidity between 62.2% and 67.0%.
Quote of the day: “So, at this roundabout you go round to the right, and then come off to the left. Hold on, that’s what you do on all roundabouts…” – Jeremy showing all the intelligence needed to become a professor…
Pier of the day: Saltburn (for its simple charm and calmness)
Today started with a bang. Well, a very short bang followed by a prolonged hiss. As we were leaving our overnight accommodation (we’d had a lovely evening in Norwich), the car hit a severely exposed drain cover, which punctured one of our tyres and required emergency assistance from the AA and KwikFit before we could leave Norwich. Not exactly the start to the day we’d wanted – a blisteringly hot day which involved performances on five piers, and then an evening concert.
Sadly this means that our visit to Cromer was delayed by about two hours, and we were playing catch-up from that point onwards. Cromer was at least a delight – we met up with people from one of our corporate sponsors, Captain Fawcett. A maker of fine moustache and beard products, I can personally vouch for the quality of their moustache wax and beard oil – and given I’ve grown the facial hair specifically for this tour, that is something I have come to love quite quickly! They are also great hosts, and didn’t mind waiting around for our delayed appearance at Cromer; in fact, provided us with tea and helped us generate some good donations!
But we couldn’t hang around, and needed to get off to Great Yarmouth, where our next two piers resided. For a busy weekend summer day, we got very lucky with the parking, and after the obligatory fish and chips we headed for Britannia pier to perform two very quick pieces before walking to Wellington pier to perform not a lot more. Both piers were fairly busy, but we didn’t really hang around long enough to take many donations.
Still trying to make up time, we headed down to Lowestoft for two more piers. Very different piers here: South pier was mostly a long, exposed but unadulterated concrete jetty that had a strange charm of its own. Claremont pier similarly had a building at the shore end (full of arcades etc.), but the rest of it was closed to public access due to its poor state of repair. Nevertheless we played outside the front for about half an hour as the public passed by, many stopping to listen (and to donate to our charities, Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS).
Even after five piers, though, we needed to press on. We were still at least half an hour behind schedule, and we had an evening concert to give in Southwold. At least the journey wasn’t very far, and when we got to Southwold we had an early evening meal on the pier (which we’ll see again tomorrow - the pier, that is!), before heading up to the spectacular mediaeval St Edmund’s church where our concert was to be held. The concert itself was fine – a highly appreciative audience, and a setting that could scarcely be surpassed for beauty. Thankfully we took a good retiring collection for the charities too.
Weather report: Today’s temperatures varied between 22.6 and 29.2 celsius, with humidity between 41.0% and 72.1%.
Quote of the day: “I’m struggling to get it in – as the actress said to the bishop…” One donor comments as she struggled to get her £5 note into our collecting bucket!
Pier of the day: Cromer
Fortunately, after the dramas of yesterday, today started more serenely. A lot more serenely, in fact, as we had one of the nicest breakfasts we’ve ever experienced, courtesy of our fantastic hosts Rachel and Clare, who had put us up a few miles outside Southwold. With a 9am departure time, it felt almost as though we were on a proper holiday! Of course, this couldn’t last, and so we had to get on with five more piers to play on…
And what a contrasting five piers they were. The first of the day was Southwold, which we’d visited briefly last night, and so we knew what a gem this pier was. We played near the old water clock towards the end of the pier – one of many wonderful features along the way – and with a great view of the town & lighthouse behind us (see picture). A good crowd greeted us, and donated generously towards the causes.
But we had to move on soon enough, and travel down the coast to Felixstowe. This was a complete unknown quantity to us, and there was very little of the pier open after the arcades at the shore end. So we played one piece very quickly, and moved on! Harwich is only a few miles from Felixstowe as the crow flies, but it’s a long drive around the estuary, and so it was nearly an hour before we got to Harwich and our fish and chips (which were great today!).
Harwich was a revelation in many ways. A far nicer town than we had anticipated given its port status, the pier is only a small one, but has a real charm about it. We were also greeted there by some members of the National Piers Society, who had come along especially to hear us! It was one of those places where we’d like to have stopped for a bit longer, but unfortunately two more piers awaited us…
Walton-on-the-Naze was another very interesting pier. After a largish amusement pavilion at the shore end, there is about a third of a mile of simple, old-fashioned boards, full of people fishing. This gave it some real character, and the exposed girders at the far end proved a great place to play the cellos! This was also the hottest place of the day – another great summer’s day, ideal for bringing out the seaside crowds.
Finally we went on to Clacton-on-Sea, which was as busy as you’d expect a seaside town to be in the summer, even at 5pm when we played. Another fairly long pier, this one is mostly filled with amusements, and so we walked along to almost the very end before we could find a spot to play quietly. Unfortunately, this meant that the music stands were more susceptible to the sea breeze, and two of the three toppled over while we were giving a rendition of “Summertime” – a nice bit of irony, perhaps! I think this may have been captured by a photographer in attendance from the National Piers Society, so watch this space for relevant images…
The day finished with James winning a giant “Mr Angry” cushion in an archery contest on the pier. Fortunately this didn’t represent our state of mind after another successful day, in which we made well over £100 in donations for Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS. Thanks to everyone who’s been out to support us today, or made donations via our JustGiving pages.
Weather report: Today’s temperatures varied between 22.1 and 28.6 celsius, with humidity between 36.0% and 46.5% (by far our driest day so far).
Quote of the day: “Is that a new type of fishing rod?!” A fisherman on Walton pier reacts to seeing James carrying his cello!
Pier of the day: Southwold
Today was by far our busiest day so far, even without the dramas of car breakdowns. Five piers, an evening concert and playing a garden party (which we are still working towards as I write this)!
We started the day in Basildon, where we’d stayed with our hosts Paul, Mike and Mary, and made the short journey to Southend where we encountered the longest pleasure pier in the world. At around a mile and a third, it was a long way to the far end, so we walked there and back before playing at the shore end for a small audience (including a couple of old friends) and getting on our way. Brief performances and dashing off has very much been the theme of today, although we managed a quick bacon sandwich for breakfast before departing Southend and leaving East Anglia behind.
Over the Thames to Kent we went, and our first stop was Gravesend Town Pier. A short pier that is mainly taken up by a restaurant, with a walkway down to a boat departure point, we played a single piece here before getting on our way again. We were however filmed by our first cameraman of the tour – by a strange coincidence one of James’s former pupils! We were also accompanied here – and for all the piers today – by Andy and Suzie from the National Piers Society, for whose support we are very grateful.
Along the north coast of Kent to Herne Bay – a lovely little seaside town, with an old-fashioned feel to it. Our daily fish and chips were consumed before going along to the end of a short but very pleasant pier, full of fun for the family. There was evidence a long way out to sea of the former end of the pier – it used to be one of the longest in the country, but unfortunately (or fortunately for our legs!) much of it was destroyed. Again, just a couple of quick pieces before we had to move on, this time to Folkestone.
Ah yes, Folkestone. We had thought of this as our nemesis – it was only recently classified as a pier again, after it was reopened last year, and until a few weeks ago we thought we would “only” be playing on 57 piers. When we found out that Folkestone Harbour Arm was now recognised by the National Piers Society, we struggled to think how we would fit it in. In the end we decided to slot it in before Deal today, and slightly resented it. What a wonderful surprise it was then to find that it is a very tasteful (and different) pier, with all sorts of nice cafés, stalls and art to keep people entertained. In fact, we got to the café at the end where the owner greeted us (he hadn’t been expecting us), and was delighted to find that we would be able to play. He and the pier designer were extremely welcoming, and playing with a view of the White Cliffs of Dover (see picture) was rather special.
We were a bit delayed by the time we left, however, and a bit late getting to Deal. However, when we did, we had another great surprise – a crowd of dozens of people waiting to hear & see us (most of whom we didn’t know – although Clare’s brother, Paul, was amongst them!). Well done to the people of Deal for getting the message out there! We played for about 25 minutes, to rapturous applause and generous donations to our charities, before we had to leave for our next appearance – a concert at St Margaret-at-Cliffe, a few miles down the road.
A beautiful old church, we had a lovely audience who not only welcomed us in the concert, but one of whom (Clare’s old friend Deb) provided us with a very welcome spot of tea afterwards! Now we’re on to our final thing of the day – our hosts tonight are holding a charity garden party, so we’re going to play there too, before finally getting a rest…
Weather report: Another hot and dry one – the hottest so far, in fact. Today’s temperatures varied between 23.9 and 32.8 celsius, with humidity between 29.4% and 52.0%.
Quote of the day: “I suppose you shouldn’t have Champagne?” The café owner from Folkestone making us realise what we are missing out on…
Pier of the day: Folkestone Harbour Arm
Following the seven performances of yesterday, just the five today, all on piers. And all in Sussex, moving from East to West. The day started with our hosts in Kent, Nick and Sue, who provided us with a hearty breakfast before Jeremy did a live interview on Radio Sussex. Not the last media operation of the day!
We were slightly late setting off, and were disappointed to encounter our first rain of the tour. By the time we got to our first pier, Hastings, a lot had passed by, but it was still rather wet in the air, and very windy indeed. Hastings is somewhere we’d performed a few weeks earlier, at the National Piers Society AGM, and therefore we knew what to expect of this newly (and tastefully) refurbished pier. A BBC crew from South East Today met us there, and began filming us – something they continued at the next two piers, resulting in a rather nice article on the news this evening. A few friends met us here as well, which was another theme for the day, and improved our mood despite the espieglerie of the weather.
As ever, we couldn’t hang around, and had to head off West to Eastbourne. There we were met by Jeremy’s sister Mary, as well as some other friends. A relatively short performance, this time in much wetter weather, but enjoyed by several passers-by, including quite a few who seemed to be out catching Pokemon…
Then onto Brighton, accompanied by Mary. This was always going to be one of the bigger events: we knew that some of our corporate sponsors from Allianz Musical Insurance were going to join us, as did Clare’s brother Paul, and several other friends and family. Given the footfall on Brighton pier, we also had a large number of passers-by. We were very well looked after by the pier staff too: one of the nicest welcomes we had (thanks Brighton!). But the performance, accompanied by dancing toddlers at times, went down very well!
We’d barely had a chance to catch our breath at this point – by now about 2.30pm – so we stopped for some fish and chips as we left the pier. The weather by this stage was starting to improve, so we had higher hopes as we set of for Worthing.
Ah, Worthing. We were about 15 minutes late arriving, so we had thought there might be one or two people waiting for us. It turned out there were lots – including the Mayor of Worthing, who had turned out to welcome us and support us! A few other friends and family came along too, including our old friend Damian, who is hosting us this evening. The performance here though was memorable – not only is it a fine pier, with many lovely Art Deco features and displays of current local artists, but the presence of so many children observing the performance gave us a real sense of satisfaction.
This was something that continued in the final performance of the day, at Bognor Regis. A smaller pier, with lots of people fishing at the end, there were still a variety of people who turned up to listen (either by accident or design). In particular, a pair of young children who sat cross-legged immediately in front of us for the whole 20 minutes we played were hugely inspiring – one of the purposes of Extreme Cello is to give exposure of cello music to kids, and we did that lots today. Bognor also had the largest gaps between boards on the boardwalk so far, resulting in a good view of the sea below but also two lost pegs (which we had been using to stop our music from blowing around…)
Weather report: By far our wettest (and coldest) day so far, but the Jargar Strings still held up well and didn’t lose any tuning at all! Today’s temperatures varied between 16.7 and 21.6 celsius, with humidity between 75.3% and 95.6%.
Quote of the day: “Hi, I’m the Mayor of Worthing!” We’re welcomed onto Worthing pier by local dignitaries. We could get used to this…
Pier of the day: Worthing
Actually, a ticket to Fishbourne, just up the coast from Ryde – only passenger ferries to to Ryde, so given we needed our car to get around the four piers on the Isle of Wight, the car ferry to Fishbourne it was. This meant an early start (up at 5.30) from Worthing, where we’d spent a lovely evening with our old friend Damian – beer, pizza, whisky and conversation bringing back the good old times!
The ferry from Portsmouth was straightforward enough, and a short journey down the coast to Ryde saw us reach the first pier of the day. We didn’t realise it was actually possible to drive up the pier, so we parked on the land and walked up – this felt more authentic anyway! A strange pier this was, as not only is it possible to drive up it, but there’s a train that goes up to the far end too – linking the foot ferry passengers. We just played three pieces in the car park, and also met up with some friends who had come to meet us and follow us around the island.
Then off to Sandown, which although only a few miles round the coast, took nearly half an hour to get to thanks to roadworks. We also ended up having to park quite a way from the pier, though the walk did help build up our appetite. Sandown Culver pier is a fairly typical commercial pleasure pier in some ways, with a large arcade section at the shore end, and various rides including dodgems further up the pier (and a fishing platform at the far end). It also included large old-fashioned (i.e. saucy) seaside postcard images, with cut out heads for tourists to stick theirs through, and create their own images. All a bit bizarre! We played here for about 15 minutes, and were joined here by another couple of friends (one the same as this morning!) before moving on. A lovely setting, but the pier felt a bit stuck in the past (and not necessarily in a good way).
We got our fish and chips before leaving Sandown – amazingly there didn’t appear to be a proper chippy in the town, so we got a café to do some as a takeaway. Then the longer drive right across the island to Totland Bay, which provided one of the highlights of the day.
Totland Bay pier is derelict (see picture), and there was no way onto it – in fact, there was barely any pier to walk on at all; it is mostly only the structure that remained. By this stage it was raining and the wind blowing, so we found a spot on the beach under the few remaining planks at the shore end, and managed to play “Under The Boardwalk” actually under a boardwalk for the first time! We were also joined there by our old friend & long-time supporter Martyn, together with his wife and parents (who live nearby). Martyn had recently composed a piece, “Dan’s Waltz”, especially for us, and we were proud to give it its first proper outing here.
Then out of the cold and wet, we headed a few miles up the coast to Yarmouth, where we were treated to a nice cup of tea and piece of cake by Martyn’s family in Gossips café at the shore end of the pier. Yarmouth has the longest fully timber pier in the country (see the picture at the top of this post, in which James's cello is sitting on one of our great Jolly Design stands), and is a delightful promenade, used copiously for fishing. After our tea and cake we walked up the pier and back, before playing outside the café itself for those enjoying the refreshments there. This included a second performance of “Dan’s Waltz”, and some impromptu sight-read Gilbert and Sullivan for Martyn’s parents who are big fans of their music!
So, overall the Isle of Wight was very different from what we’d experienced recently: more laid back, only four piers in the day (and no extra media commitments), but still with huge variety of piers. And now, seven days and 29 piers in, we’re exactly half way through!
Weather report: Despite the varying wind and rain conditions, the Jargar Strings did a good job yet again. Today’s temperatures varied between 19.9 and 22.4 celsius, with humidity between 53.3% and 77.7%.
Quote of the day: “Here are eight pieces of cake. Choose whichever one you want!” Our supporter Martyn knew just what we wanted to hear on arrival at the café this afternoon!
Pier of the day: Yarmouth
We always knew that today was going to be one of the quietest days of the tour; although we hadn’t planned it that way, it was nice to have a bit of respite before things start getting busier again tomorrow. Even yesterday’s jaunt to the Isle of Wight, relaxing as it was in many ways, still involved a very early start and two ferry crossings.
So today’s leg of the tour (which still included four piers, mind), gave a chance to catch some breath, and even have a bit of free time during the day – for the first time in a week! We didn’t have to go far for our first two piers of the day. We’d been staying in Portsmouth overnight at the flat of a friend, Oliver, and we’d enjoyed a pint in the Dolphin Inn and a fine Indian meal before having a much longer sleep than we’d experience the previous night. We left at 9am, had a quick breakfast, and went the short distance along to Southsea South Parade pier.
Unfortunately, this lovely old pier is currently closed and undergoing renovation (see picture above), meaning we couldn’t get properly on (or even under) it. However, the canopy at the shore end of the pier was open as usual, so we played one piece there to no-one in particular before remembering we’d not paid for our parking, so Jeremy ran back to sort the car out while James and Clare packed up and took some photos.
The next pier was Southsea Clarence pier – a short drive around the coast – so we got there in plenty of time. So much, in fact, that we had time for a coffee and to do something we’d been threatening to do all tour but hadn’t had time: get a big bag of 2p coins and play on the slot machines in the arcade! Of course they all went in a relatively short time, but that’s how it goes. When we did get round to playing, there wasn’t much choice about where to do it: the entire short length of Clarence pier is taken up by the amusement arcades & outdoor activities, so we played on the short bit of decking to the left of the main pier. Not much of an audience, but it did give us the chance to have a photo under the “Pier Pressure” sign: they’ve obviously had the same idea for their assault course name as we did for our tour name…
We then made the trip west to Southampton – a city that none of us knew well, and a pier we had only read about. The main part of the pier is derelict, with a great chunk of it having collapsed into the water; it’s completely inaccessible to the public. The only part of the pier to be open is a restaurant (or, more accurately, a pair of restaurants) at the shore end. Seeing that one of these, the Gatehouse Grill, serves fish and chips, we decided to have lunch there, and then asked to play out on the terrace, so we would actually get a chance to play on the pier itself. Fortunately the restaurant agreed, and indeed were very happy to take photos & videos of us playing! When we went out, however, we found a small audience of three people who had travelled to see us specifically (including the membership secretary of the National Piers Society), so we gave a longer performance in the public area just outside the end of the pier. Having the derelict pier in the background made this rather special (see picture below).
Our final pier of the day was Hythe – another that none of us knew much about, but we were delighted to find a sweet, mainly timber pier, going out to the landing stage for a small ferry going across the water to Southampton; a small train took people up the 600m length alongside the walkway (but of course we chose to walk it!). We played briefly at the far end, before coming back to the shore end and playing for about 20 minutes outside the station ticket office. It was still only about 3.30, so we decided to take a bit of time to have a look around Hythe (a delightful small town) and grab an ice cream and/or drink before heading off!
The 45 minute drive to our home for the night in Christchurch (another absent host – many thanks to Mr and Mrs Morris!) was lovely too, right across the heart of the New Forest. We’ve even got a nice blank evening ahead, so we’re thinking of going to see a film! This concludes a relatively restful day,
Tomorrow we’re doing Boscombe (9.00), Bournemouth (10.00), Swanage (12.30), Weymouth Bandstand (15.00) and Weymouth Pleasure (16.00). Note that the first two times are half an hour earlier than originally advertised, and that the Swanage performance is part of the Purbeck Pirate Festival, so is likely to be quite busy!
Weather report: A much stiller and more consistent day; largely overcast but with sunny spells. Today’s temperatures varied between 21.6 and 24.4 celsius, with humidity between 55.2% and 66.9%.
Quote of the day: “Ah, you’re obviously musicians!” Someone states the obvious as we unload the cellos from the car…
Pier of the day: Hythe
Back to a much busier day today, although it was a fairly unconventional one in many ways. We started the day in Christchurch, having enjoyed an evening off (and a spot of Ghostbusting) down the road in Bournemouth. But we headed back there first thing, in order to play at the two local piers – first Boscombe and then Bournemouth.
Boscombe pier is a curious but delightful little one, notable for a couple of reasons. First, on the beach next to it are some rather glorious rocks which enabled James to get some interesting cello photos (see picture). Second, the pier itself is a so-called “musical pier”, with a number of large tuned percussion instruments along the way down. The crowning glory here is a set of 88 tubular bells, which when struck in order, sound “I do like to be beside the seaside”. Naturally, we played this on the bells, before playing it on our cellos, as we have done on every pier!
We then headed down to Bournemouth – barely a mile down the road – where we met James’s old friends Ashley and Claire and their young daughter. The pier here has a massive zip wire going from the end to the shore: we were sorely tempted to try this with our cellos, but our schedule would not allow! We did find some other audience here: a few people had turned up having heard about us in advance. We played for a good 20 minutes or so before we got the impression from the pier staff that we should move on.
So our next pier was a particularly interesting one. Swanage pier has to go down as one of the most beautiful Victorian structures we have seen, but it wasn’t the architecture today that provided the most notable element. We were playing as part of the Purbeck Pirate Festival – a weekend-long festival involving all sorts of pirate-related activities, including a tall ship moored at the end of the pier, cannon battles re-enacted, and so on.
We had a half-hour slot to play (wearing pirate uniform), and a crowd of several dozen people were waiting for us and seemed to love what we did! This included our first performance of a “hornpipe” arrangement, which we maybe took a little bit quickly… but the crowed joined in with “Last night of the Proms”-style movements and clapping, which was great Because of the particular theme of the festival, we did not collect for our usual causes of Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS, but donations went towards the appeal to Save Swanage Pier.
Then onto Weymouth. Now, Weymouth is an absolutely glorious seaside town, with a fantastic beach and beautiful setting – especially in the afternoon sun of today. However, the two piers don’t really do it justice. The first one we played at, the Bandstand pier, is barely a pier at all: it is a building that juts out above the beach, presumably allowing the sea under it at high tide, but as the tide was out and there was nowhere to play on the pier itself (it being taken up entirely by a restaurant and other businesses), we played under it, on the beach itself. We then headed around the esplanade to the so-called “Pleasure pier” – I think that once it actually met that description properly, but these days it is a small fishing promenade adjoined to the harbour car park. There were a few people fishing around, as well as a few teenagers diving into the harbour, but not a massive audience for cello music. We did here, however, play “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” – to celebrate West Ham’s contribution to England’s solitary football world cup victory, 50 years ago today – before going to find a drink & ice cream a little back around the beach.
The day finished with the long drive down to Cornwall, where we’re staying in anticipation of Falmouth tomorrow morning. We’re playing there at 10.00, followed by Paignton (13.30), Torquay (15.00) and Teignmouth (16.30). We’re particularly looking forward to the last one, as we’re expecting a bit of an audience there, and it might be the last one in dry weather for a day or two…
Weather report: A bit of a mixture today, although the Jargar Strings are really sticking well in the conditions. Today’s temperatures varied between 20.6 and 24.5 celsius, with humidity between 53.0% and 86.2% (we had a bit of drizzle in Swanage!).
Quote of the day: “If you’re wondering what the connection of that last piece with the sea or pirates is, it’s called Nessun Dorm-aarghh!” Jeremy raises a groan from the audience at the Purbeck Pirate Festival…
Pier of the day: Swanage
OK, that’s another slight bending of the truth in the interest of including a song lyric pun. But although we started the day in Cornwall, and are finishing it in Somerset, the bulk of the afternoon was spent on the English Riviera on the south east Devon coast.
We began the day with a hearty Cornish breakfast near Bodmin, before driving down to Falmouth for the first pier of the day. The Prince of Wales Landing pier there is not a pleasure pier: there is a short promenade to where people can board boats, some benches, and that’s about it. We were expecting it to be deserted at 10.00 on a Sunday morning, but there were actually quite a few people about – some fishing, some waiting for a ferry, but several just walking around. This gave us more of an audience than was anticipated, which was a nice start before the long drive east to Devon.
The next two piers were both in the Torbay region: Paignton and Torquay. None of us had been to either of these towns before, and did not really know what to expect. We certainly hadn’t expected such a contrast between the two. Paignton didn’t really fill us with joy from the start: we spent ages trying to find somewhere to park; the fish and chips we had were OK but not great; and then the pier (despite being very nice structurally) was not the most appealing: lots of arcades in the shore half, and lots of other attractions in the other half, which wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for the loud piped music giving us competition as we played!
As we walked back to the car, however, something magical happened. A young boy of about 10 or 11 cycled up to us with a friend, and shouted “Are you from CHICKS? Is Steve still there?”. He’d seen the CHICKS t-shirts we were wearing, and assumed we worked there too. We explained what we were doing, and he told us that he’d been on a CHICKS break himself, which he’d really enjoyed. James let him (and his friend) play his cello for a few minutes, and we could tell that he was really grateful to the charity. Having seen what great work they do when we visited their Daleside retreat house in June, this just redoubled our determination to raise lots of money to enable more disadvantaged children to get these respite breaks.
Then a few miles round the coast to Torquay Princess pier, which despite being in a very busy resort, had a much more relaxed feel. In fact, there is pretty much nothing on it besides some benches, but this just revealed the lovely architecture all the more. We gave a slightly longer performance here, looking at the boats in the harbour and the hotels on the hills overlooking it. A beautiful setting indeed, but we needed to press on and get to the final pier of the day.
Teignmouth Grand pier has seen better days in some ways, and the far end of the pier is shut off (we think for structural reasons). We were met here by a couple from CHICKS as well as some other friends, so we had a warm welcome! We played out on the deck beyond the amusements, but as there was limited footfall here we moved after about 15 minutes to the front of the pier where there were many more people about. The sun was shining strongly by this point, but the wind was also gusting occasionally, blowing down our music stands on at least three occasions! Nevertheless, we played on and made the most of our last Devon slot.
And so onto Somerset, where we’re staying tonight with our friends Liz and Guy. Tomorrow we’re keeping fingers crossed for better weather than forecast, and we should be playing at Burnham-on-Sea at 10.00, Weston-super-Mare Grand pier at 12.00, Birnbeck pier at 14.00, and Clevedon pier at 16.00.
Ten days and 42 piers gone, four days and 16 piers to go!
Weather report: More consistent good weather today than we’ve had recently. The temperatures varied between 18.1 and 27.3 celsius, with humidity between 39.5% and 57.2%.
Quote of the day: “Are you from CHICKS? Is Steve still there?” As reported above, when we see the benefits of the charity work that is done, it just encourages us further. And we’re pleased to report that Steve is still there! (Although we didn’t know that in time to tell the boy in question, unfortunately.)
Pier of the day: Teignmouth
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).
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.
Pier of the day: Clevedon
Today has been a long day – and at the time of writing, we’ve not even finished it yet in terms of performances. Having stayed in Gloucester last night with Clare’s dad, there was a 90 minute drive to our first pier, at Penarth (just south of Cardiff). The Welsh leg of the trip encompasses two days – today and tomorrow – and so it was with some despondency that we noticed heavy rain setting in after we crossed the River Severn. On arrival at Penarth this barely abated, but fortunately for us there were a couple of small sheltered sections on the pier – one opposite a small café operated by a lovely lady, Nicola. We played a couple of tunes while having a morning coffee, much to Nicola’s delight, and had a good look up the delightfully structured pier which was mostly empty except for a large pavilion at the shore end.
We then headed further west, past Swansea – to the Mumbles pier, at the Eastern tip of the Gower peninsula. Not really knowing anything about this in advance, we were completely thrilled to find a beautiful Victorian structure, set by some stunning rocks, which leads out to a lifeboat station (see picture above). The views were great, and if you haven’t been (as we hadn’t before), I can certainly recommend it! Unfortunately, due to the extreme weather (the rain having now been joined by high winds), the majority of the pier was closed for safety reasons. However, this didn’t put us off: the shore end included something for everyone, and they asked us to play in their lovely café area, which we were very happy to do. We were even more delighted that they then offered us our lunch for free: of course this was another portion of fish and chips each, and it didn’t let the side down. We’ll reveal the top ratings for all our lunches at the end of the tour!
Then we had to face the long and winding road to Aberystwyth, some two and a quarter hours away, much of it on smaller roads through the rolling hills and valleys of west Wales (and a fair amount stuck behind a lorry…). When we got to our destination, though, we found that Aberystwyth Royal pier contains a lot of commercial units at the shore end, a snooker hall and bar in the middle, and a smaller outdoor seating area at the sea end. We were joined here by James’s colleague Delyth, and also our old friends from Sheffield, Andrew and Mary, and their friends who live locally whom they are visiting. We played for around half an hour in the outdoor seating area with a wonderful backdrop of cliffs and a gorgeous façade along the curving coastline (just seen behind the Welsh windmill in the picture!). Fortunately by this time the rain had cleared, and the wind was low enough that our pages didn’t get turned over too often…
And so onto this evening. I’m writing this before the final performance of the day, as I’m not sure whether I’ll get a chance afterwards. We’re performing a concert at St Michael’s church at 7.30pm (not sure how much of an audience we’ll get – we’re not expecting a sell-out, that’s for sure!), after which we’re going to go for a pint and a meal with our visiting friends. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll head down to the nightclub on the pier itself. Its name? Pier Pressure!
Tomorrow starts with another long drive (Aberystwyth is a long way from anywhere else of any size!), and we’ll play at Bangor (11.30), Beaumaris (13.00), Llandudno (15.00) before completing the Welsh leg of the trip at the slightly derelict pier at Colwyn Bay at 16.30.
Weather report: Some real variety in the weather today, but mainly in terms of different levels of wind and rain. The temperatures varied between 19.5 and 22.6 celsius, with humidity between 74.6% and 88.1%.
Quote of the day: “I do think you’re brave.” The café owner at Penarth presumably is confusing the word “brave” with something else, such as “stupid”…
Pier of the day: Mumbles
Actually we’re starting this write-up with the end of day 12, where we left off yesterday, in Aberystwyth. We had a concert at St Michael’s church there, and although the audience was on the small side, they were very enthusiastic! After this we retired to a local hostelry with a couple of Sheffield friends who were at the concert, Andrew and Mary, and two of their local friends, before all going for a very nice curry together. At this point, we decided to head back to the pier, where the club is named after our tour, “Pier Pressure”. Sadly (perhaps) it was shut, so we didn’t get to enjoy the Aber nightlife, and just got a selfie instead…
However, through the night we could hear the wind picking up, and by the time we left there was truly a gale blowing across north Wales. A long and beautiful drive through the heart of Snowdonia wasn’t enough to abate this, and when we arrived at Bangor at 11.30, the wind seemed stronger if anything. Certainly walking down the long pier here was difficult with the cellos being blown about, and fortunately there were a couple of shelters at the far end which enabled us to play. In these winds, I don’t think we’d have been able to even hold the cellos in the open, let alone play them effectively! This pier was also notable because James’s wife Zoe, and his young son, came out to meet us, which was lovely (and explains why there’s a small child in the picture below!).
After this we headed over the Menai Straits to the Isle of Anglesey, and a few miles up the road to the coastal town of Beaumaris. The pier here is not so long, and although unspectacular in many ways has a beauty in its simplicity. It was also busy with people (old and young) fishing, despite the even stronger winds, which caused both sand and water to buffer our faces as we walked up. Like Bangor, we were grateful for some shelter in which to play (a covered bench, at least), and we were delighted to see our old friend Emily turn up here. Nevertheless, we were pleased to get out of the wind after about 20 minutes’ playing to go and get our fish and chips – our thirteenth portion, and we are now starting to get slightly sick of them…
While on the road round the coast to Llandudno, we got word from BBC North West Tonight that they’re going to follow us round tomorrow, so that put a spring in our step. Llandudno is a lovely pier in a lovely setting, and fortunately the strong winds here were mitigated by the massive hill behind the town – the Great Orme. It was still quite cold however, and started to rain as we played for about 30 minutes with lots of passing holidaymakers. We were also met here by our old friend Shaun and his daughter Catherine, who then followed us around to Colwyn Bay for the last pier of the day.
Ah yes, Colwyn Bay. This was one of the piers where we knew we couldn’t get on: it’s been closed for years, but we had contacted the Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier Trust, a local organisation who have been battling to save it (the County Council preferring to demolish it, although they are unable to due to its listed status). The Trust put the word out far and wide, and we turned up to find dozens of local people (including two professional cellists!) waiting to see us perform outside the locked gates of the pier. They gave us such a warm welcome (as well as donating generously to our charities, Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS), that we felt really moved by the whole thing. The pier itself is obviously in a poor state of repair, but there was nothing to us that seemed worthy of demolition, and clearly it was a great traditional pier in its day. Hopefully it will be again at some point in the future. We played for about half an hour there, before having all sorts of photographs and conversations with members of the Trust. Good luck to them for their continued battle!
Weather report: More cold and wet weather at times, but it was the gale-force winds that really threw us off. Fortunately the Jargar Strings held up not only through this but also through James’s cello case taking a serious bump in Llandudno! The temperatures varied between 18.7 and 20.1 celsius, with humidity between 66.5% and 70.5%.
Quote of the day: “I tell my pupils about you to inspire them to play the cello!” A cello teacher we met in Colwyn Bay, who has also taken lots of her pupils up Snowdon to recreate what we did!
Pier of the day: Colwyn Bay
We left Chester at a very civilised hour of 9.00, giving James the opportunity to spend some more time in his own house! The journey to Southport started to worry us, however, as the rain set in – this hadn’t been in the forecast we saw! By the time we arrived about an hour and a quarter later, there was a distinct chill in the air, the wind was still strong, and the rain was a steady drizzle. We’d visited Southport pier last year to do a bit of busking, so we didn’t feel the need to explore fully or hang around: we found a shelter towards the sea end, played one piece, and there being no audience around for us, then headed back for the car. When we were just about to leave, however, one of James’s former colleagues turned up with his family, so we got the cellos out again – this time under the pier – and played them a tune before we left!
St Anne’s is only about 7 miles north of Southport, but due to the Ribble estuary, the trip around in the car takes around an hour. When we did get there, however, we were joined by a crew from BBC North West Tonight, who accompanied us for our final four piers. They’ve done a nice piece on us for their evening bulletin today: it starts at about 20:45 here. By this time the rain had relented, but the wind was if anything even greater. We played a few pieces, and did a few bits for the camera, before heading for our fish and chips. When we did so, however, James looked longingly at a MASSIVE éclair in the café window, prompting the café staff to bring it out for us free of charge (which was gratefully appreciated by all!).
Then the short distance up to Blackpool, where we were met by a few friends, including several members of James’s family. Blackpool is the only town in the country to have three piers, with the South and Central piers being largely covered by traditional amusements and rides, but North pier including a lot of clear space and some more old-fashioned features. We did both the South and Central piers relatively quickly, with plenty more filming along the way, including a good sing-along to “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” on South pier after we spotted a West Ham fan passing by… but then made the walk up the shore to pier number 58 of the tour, Blackpool North.
A final spot of filming outside the pier itself, then a few tunes on the lovely Victorian main deck of the pier meant we had completed our challenge. Well, almost: after the film crew had done their bit, we headed to the far end of the pier and the Sun Lounge, where the pier organist, Trevor Raven, graciously allowed us to interrupt his set to play a few more pieces to the audience there. This was a truly lovely way to end the final day, and helped us boost the donations even further.
So, there we are. We’re now all back home, and completely worn out, but very happy that it all went so well! This won’t be quite the final blog post of the tour: tomorrow we’ll post one more, in which we’ll reflect on the tour as a whole, and reveal (amongst other things) the top three fish and chips places we visited, our favourite three piers to visit, and give an update on money raised. Suffice to say for now, we’ve smashed our initial target, so many thanks to all for your generosity – both the charities, CHICKS and Alzheimer’s Society, are truly grateful!
Weather report: Still quite blustery, with a bit of everything thrown in. One final word of support for Jargar Strings here: despite all of this, we seldom had to retune any of our strings, even from one day to the next. Today’s temperatures varied between 15.9 and 22.4 celsius, with humidity between 63.7% and 71.6%.
Quote of the day: “Can we just have that one more time please?” Said several times by the TV crew: one of the joys of being filmed in this way!
Pier of the day: Blackpool North
First of all, some statistics. 2925 miles travelled across 41 counties, including six ferry journeys. 83 hours and 7 minutes travelling time (in 15 days – 14 pier days plus one travelling up to Scotland at the start). 58 piers visited (53 played on the pier structure itself, four played under, and one – Colwyn Bay Victoria – played outside the front as there is no way on or under). At least 20 different pieces played (including one, “I do like to be beside the seaside”, well over 60 times).
But the most important statistic: to date, £7,758.95 raised for Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS, with donations still coming in. This is thanks to some fantastically generous donations from supporters both online and who have seen us in person, friends and strangers alike. It makes it all truly worthwhile, and knowing that extra support to people with dementia, and that several more children like the little lad we met in Paignton will be able to have respite breaks as a result of this, is just wonderful.
We’ll post occasional updates on the blog over the coming months, as we have more things to report (and of course in our occasional newsletter: subscribe here if you want to receive it!), including the current status of the fundraising. But for now, there are a couple of subjective ratings that we need to report…
Pier of the Tour
As we have done with our piers of the day, this is a subjective view about our overall experience of visiting each pier: taking into account the architecture and set-up of the piers, the reception we received from pier staff, locals and visitors, and the general enjoyment we had from them. The three of us each nominated a top five, and when collating the ratings this left us with the following top three…
In joint second position, we have Saltburn-by-the-Sea and Swanage. Saltburn was a delightful surprise to us all: we hadn’t anticipated such a beautiful structure and setting, and a fantastic start to the English part of the tour. Well worth the long drive for! Swanage was also a lovely Victorian structure in a delightful setting, but we had the additional joy there of playing for the Purbeck Pirate Festival, giving us a brilliantly large and receptive audience, and the experience of playing in pirate costumes!
In first place, however, was Clevedon. This is an absolute gem of a pier, with stunning architecture, and recently restored in quite brilliant fashion. Despite the weather being dreadful when we were there, the new visitor centre gave us a sheltered place to play, but still with a marvellous viewpoint. We also had a large and generous audience here, and were made very welcome by the pier staff. Congratulations!
Honourable mentions also go to Southwold and Colwyn Bay, each of which made at least two of our lists.
Fish and Chips
As regular blog readers will know, we had fish and chips every single day of the tour (and now need to go on diets!). We each rated these on ten categories, with a mark out of ten per category, giving each meal an overall score out of 300. The top three were:
3. Pieseas Chip Shop, Harwich (239 points). An excellent traditional chip shop.
2. Gatehouse Grill, Southampton (258 points). Slightly upmarket, on what remains of the pier itself, but great quality food and lovely view.
1. Beach Hut Café, Mumbles Pier (270 points). A wonderful café, beautiful setting, and top quality fish and chips. It’s worth disclaiming that we were given these free of charge by the staff, but we discussed how our ratings may have differed even if we’d paid for them in full, and it would have still been clearly in first place.
There are some thanks we need to give, of course. First, thanks to all the pier owners and staff who allowed us to play on the piers, including some who went out of their way to welcome, support and promote us. Thanks also to the many friends, old and new, who have accommodated us as we went round: your help is critical to making this work, as we probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it if we’d had to pay for accommodation each night! Thanks to our corporate sponsors, who have both donated to the causes and provided other forms of help: Allianz Musical Insurance, Jargar Strings, The Jolly Design, Captain Fawcett, Henderson’s Relish, and Thornbridge Brewery. And finally, thanks again to everyone who has donated to Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS, and/or come to support us along the way. Your support has kept us going!
So, what next? Well, there will certainly be more Extreme Cello antics in the future… we anticipate another major event in 2018, so look out of details for that in due course!