There are lots of things we associate with seaside holidays in the UK. Some of them are childhood memories, while others come to us as we get older and, if we’re lucky, have the pleasure of seeing the seaside through our children’s eyes.
There are sandcastles, sea and sunbathing, of course. Not to mention candyfloss, crabbing and ice cream cornets or, for that matter, paddling, promenades and postcards home. But, before this alliterative house of cards topples over completely, let me mention one other ‘P’.
And that’s ‘piers.’
Resorts with a pier are, for me, something special. And, believe me, I say this not simply because my constituency, Weston, has one (two, in fact). A pier, I believe, is a wonderfully simple way of providing entertainment, exercise and excitement (that’s enough alliteration – Ed) for young and old alike and, rather wonderfully, they are as popular to visitors today as they were in the Victorian era, when so many of them were built, and when rather overdressed holidaymakers for whom they were a means of ‘walking on the water’, as they saw it, first used them. So my heart sank as I saw the pictures of flames roaring into the night-time sky over Hastings pier, just as – two years ago – pretty much the same thing happened in Weston. It’s too early to say what will happen in Hastings but I’m very pleased to report that in Weston, at least, a brilliant new structure has – quite literally – risen from the ashes of the old one, ready to reopen this week.
Piers are right at the heart of our built coastal heritage, in my opinion, and I cannot agree with the estimable Matthew Parris who was on TV last weekend describing piers as ‘ugly and of no use’ and, as such, not worthy of public money to keep them in good shape. Well, beauty and usefulness are, to a great extent, in the eye and mind of the beholder and, to this beholder, piers generally tick both boxes. So three cheers for English Heritage, who have put in around £2m to help seven different ones over the years, and to the Heritage Lottery Fund have who stumped up more than £8m on eleven. And more power to their corporate – and independent – elbows for so doing, I think.
And credit, also, to the people at Visit Britain who have recently announced a jointly funded campaign with British Airways, with a £1.6 million budget, entitled Britain – A Different Picture Around Every Corner, which is aimed at what they call the ‘classic’ tourism market. They’ll be using brands, if that’s the word, like The Beatles and The Loch Ness Monster to encourage people to come here from important new and growing markets such as India, China and Russia as well, of course, as the usual European countries who are our traditional visitors. This is shrewd marketing. As more and more countries develop their tourist offers while, at the same time, more and more people around the world are able to travel ever further, a campaign that plays to our international strengths and identity makes good sense.
And finally, a word of apology. Last time I blogged, I described Silvio Berlusconi as the President of Italy. He has held many posts in public life and done many things, but being President is not among them. Berlusconi is, of course, Prime Minister while the honour of being president falls to Giorgio Napolitano whose nickname – Re Umberto (King Umberto) – refers to his alleged physical resemblance to Umberto II of Italy (1904-1983) although, in all fairness, I can’t see it myself. This could all come in handy if you ever find yourself taking part in a particularly erudite pub quiz, so look and learn, gentle reader. Look and learn.
Image of Hastings Pier courtesy of Flickr member AndyWilson. This image is not subject to crown copyright and not freely re-usable. For all instances of re-use please contact Andy Wilson.
You can donate to the emergency repair of Hastings Pier through the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust: http://www.hpwrt.co.uk/index.php/donate