Friday, February 18, 2011

In the West Country

Weston-Super-Mare, 1989

The photo above is one that gets a lot of attention from time to time. I'm not exactly sure why it’s popular. I think it has a lot of issues, photographically speaking.

In 1989 my wife and I traveled in England for the first time. We spent time in London and then lit out for the southwestern coast. One night we stayed in a b&b in Chedder, which in those days meant we would be staying in a family's guest room.

Chedder’s in Somerset, as pretty a sounding name for a county as you can imagine. For me, the name conjures up images of big puffy clouds and bucolic pastures.

Chedder’s a pleasant enough place, most famous for a local gorge of the same name. The home we stayed in was located outside of town. There wasn’t much to distinguish it. But the family was nice and our room overlooked a bucolic pasture.

This being our first trip to England, we’d been told not to expect much in the way of fancy cuisine. Our budget wasn’t overly generous, in any event, so we had a lot of pub fare. A staple of just about anywhere we ate on that trip was lamb and peas. No matter where we ate, whether it was a nice restaurant or a pub, the menu always included lamb and peas.

Realizing that we were only about fifteen miles from the shore of the Bristol Channel, we decided to drive out to the coast and have dinner at the seaside resort of Weston-Super-Mare. Weston was once a really popular place with factory workers from the big British cities. It was known for its beach, which is so flat that at low tide it extends a full mile out from the shore. There’s a big pier that reaches out almost that far and that had an ornate pavilion on the end.

Weston-Super-Mare was a busy place during WWII. Its location made it a strategic protection point for the Bristol Channel and the River Severn. German Luftwaffe bombers dropped some 17,000 incendiary bombs on Weston-Super-Mare.

When we arrived in 1989, though, Weston-Super-Mare had seen its better days. In fact, it was a pretty dreary looking place. We were there at what we supposed to be the height of the summer season and while not completely empty, the town was deserted enough in the early evening to be a little eerie. Such people as did see walking the streets and bobbing in and out of the various pinball arcades looked like thugs. The lights on the pier leading out to the pavilion probably would have been more impressive had more of them been working.

I'm told the decline of Weston-Super-Mare continued after our visit. For one thing, there are fewer factory workers in England. For those who still had job, the traditional August “workers holiday” was no longer the only time people could take vacation. But most crippling was the popularization of discount air travel and the introduction of cheap European vacation packages that made it possible for the working classes to travel abroad. The number of visitors to Weston-Super-Mare decreased each year. The pavilion and the outer end of the pier were destroyed in a fire in 2008.

But none of that mattered when we were there in 1989. We took a walk on the beach and drove up and down the tourist strip a few times before concluding that there was nothing in Weston-Super-Mare that we wanted to see any more of. We got back in our little rental car and headed back to the country. Along the way we stopped at a pub and had our daily dose of lamb and peas.

1 comment:

  1. Well, your photo of it here sure made it look great! The mood is like something out of the French Lieutenant's Woman. Love it!

    Lamb and peas...too funny.