The joys of sea air: The visitors' guide to Weston-super-Mare
- Credit: Archant
The tourism trade in Weston-super-Mare was delighted to have welcomed back day-trippers and holiday-makers to its seafront and beach at the start of the summer season, after more than a year of most of it being closed due to the pandemic.
As always, visitors have been travelling from the Midlands, South Wales and the wider West Country to enjoy the outdoor attractions our glorious area has to offer, in a Covid-safe way of course!
Many of the resort's hospitality businesses increased their outdoor seating capacity to cope with demand when they reopened at the start of the 2021 summer season. All are ecstatic to report excellent trade so far this year, with the recent good weather a welcome boost.
And with indoor attractions including The Grand Pier, Clip N Climb and the arcades welcoming visitors back through their doors, it's really beginning to feel like the Weston is getting back to normal.
But before you plan your visit please remember to behave responsibly - bin or take your rubbish home, maintain social distancing, and wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces if you are able.
Here is a potted history of the former fishing village dominated by a long stretch of glorious sandy beach and the perfect gateway to all the attractions that Somerset offers.
Famed for having ‘air like wine’, according to its 19th century advertising boards, the first hotel opened in 1810, followed by a health spa on Knightstone Island in 1820.
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The railway’s arrival in 1841 provided rapid growth and the population of the town, which began 200 years ago with 150 residents, doubled each decade following. By 1871 the town had more than 10,000 residents, with many more seasonal visitors staying in an increasing number of hotels and guest houses.
Trade, tourism, and retirement services flourished, as did the building industry. Locally-quarried grey limestone and rail-delivered cream-coloured Bathstone were used to create elegant crescents, terraces and hillside villas, along with rows of semi-detached and terraced properties.
The High Street’s farmhouses gave way to shops and local architect Hans Fowler Price designed more than 800 of the town’s buildings, giving it its distinctive style. Original windows, carvings and even a Shakespearian quote and Egyptian elephant heads can still be seen in the High Street if you look up.
Nowadays, as well as its 76,000 residents, the seafront is teaming with visitors in the summer months, enjoying a range of activities including paddling, donkey-rides, swing boats, bouncy castles, and a stroll along the promenade, And all these would not be complete without a stop at an ice cream parlour, or for fish and chips, plus a dip in the newly-cleaned Marine Lake if the tide is out.
On the promenade stands the famous Tropicana building, built as an open-air fun pool in the 1980s, but closed to bathers in 2000. Following many failed attempts to resurrect it as a pool and leisure complex, its tired and gloomy façade and derelict interior prompted underground graffiti artist Banksy to use it as the setting for his Dismaland exhibition in 2015. The collection of macabre and thought-provoking installations, cleverly forming a dystopian theme park, was open for just six weeks but managed to pull in visitors from all over the world, including many celebrities, and thrust Weston into a global media spotlight.
Keen to capitalise on its success, North Somerset Council began bringing the building back into use, giving it a makeover and turning it into a theatre, a bar with live music at weekends and the shop-front into a café. The outside area hosts a children’s funfair during the summer and welcomes the country’s biggest covered ice rink, Icescape, at Christmas and a skate and scoot park during school holidays.
The flanking Beach Lawns host year-round events including an air, dairy, car, dog, beer and cider festivals, as well as the annual beach race, and is home to a high-ropes and crazy golf course and a big wheel during high season.
One of the resort’s biggest landmarks, The Grand Pier, rebuilt following a fire in 2008, houses numerous amusements and rides including a go-kart track, an Edwardian tea room, a soft play area, a restaurant and bar. The attraction also hosts live bands and special events throughout the year.
The owners have recently turned the abandoned SeaQuarium site, further up the seafront near the Tropicana, into a special concept restaurant and glow-in-the-dark mini-golf complex.
The town’s original pier, the grade II-listed Birnbeck Pier, has been derelict since 1979, providing a ghostly charm to the Weston coastline and is the only pier in England which links the mainland to an island.
Opposite Marine Lake is a popular children’s play area with water pads and jets and there are crazy golf courses this end too.
The nearby town centre with its bars, shops, cafés, theatres, cinema and restaurants is dominated by a modern leisure complex hosting big name restaurants, multi-screen cinema, climbing centre and 24-hour gym.
The refurbished town square and Italian Gardens with its ornate balustrading and dancing water fountains is another proud feature of the main shopping area. Food and circus festivals are held here and Weston’s first hotels, The Royal and what is now a bar called Olea are here, as well as the 1860s Florentine palazzo-style bank which is now Sass Bar and University Centre Weston’s modern addition to the 1920s Winter Gardens Pavilion.
There are also a number of beautiful parks to enjoy, including Grove Park with Jill’s Garden and war memorial, and Clarence Park, both in the town centre, and Ashcombe Park which is slightly further afield but still well worth a visit.
On the hillside overlooking the town is The Old Town Quarry which was extensively worked during the 19th Century to produce the stone which built Weston into a thriving Victorian resort. It ceased trading in the 1950s and is now a nature reserve where cliffs provide nesting sites for a great variety of birds, and where limestone vegetation attracts butterflies.
There are also two farm parks for children in outlying villages - Court Farm, in Banwell and Puxton Park, in Hewish.
Weston is easy to get to, with more people now visiting just for the day than for a holiday since the 1970s, having its town centre railway station and good M5 connections at J21.