Best of British: Piers

BY Fiona Hicks

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Best of British: Piers

Long a symbol of a grand day out, these iconic structures have much to offer a modern crowd. Here are our favourite piers from across the UK. 

Cromer Pier, Norfolk


Stretching outwards from the Norfolk coast, this 115-year-old structure is home to the last end-of-pier show in Europe. And as shows go, it’s a corker. In the tradition of loud, colourful, vibrant, live variety performances, it encompasses pop music, West End ballads, speciality acts and comedians… and it never fails to incite whoops of delight from the 500-strong audience.

“The show is known for being the incubator for some of the familiar acts and faces we love, including various Britain’s Got Talent finalists,” says manager Jo Atherton.

There’s plenty to enjoy here during the day too. As well as the view, lovely ice creams and the historical lifeboat house, crabbing is popular throughout the summer (and don’t worry if you forget your bucket, you can buy one on site).


Southport Pier, Merseyside

southport pier

This Grade II-listed structure was the proud recipient of the National Pier Society’s “Pier of the Year” award in 2003. At 1,216 yards long, it’s the second-longest pier in Britain (after Southend). Opened in 1860, it’s also the oldest iron pier in the country and one of the first to boast a tram. 

Its long history hasn’t been without incident, however. In 1889, a storm swept away the refreshment rooms at the pier-head, while an enormous fire destroyed all its buildings in 1959. 

Refurbished at the turn of this century at a cost of £7m, it features a “funland” at the entrance, breath-taking views of the North Wales coast and, of course, that coveted award—which provides a nice talking point as you stroll down its length.


Southend Pier, Essex

southend pier

So impressive is Southend Pier that it inspired poet John Betjeman to soliloquise, “the Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier”.

Certainly, the Grade-II-listed landmark has put the Essex town on the global map—at a staggering 1.34 miles in length, it’s the longest pleasure pier in the world.

The first wooden construction on this site was opened in 1830. A popular tourist destination for sea-seekers from London, the pier was deemed a clever way to enable visitors to appreciate the waters while avoiding the large mudflats.

Its original 600-feet length was extended and eventually replaced by iron structures to become, in the words of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s deputy leader Ian Gilbert, “a national treasure and the jewel in the crown of the ruggedly beautiful Essex coast”.

The Royal Pavilion, which hosts events, concerts and exhibitions, was added in 2012. It also houses a cafe, where you can enjoy an especially nice cup of tea.


Southwold Pier, Suffolk

southwold pier

Whereas some piers are relics of a bygone era, Southwold’s is very à la mode. Robert Gough, of the Suffolk-based Gough Hotels group, had fond memories of visiting the pier as a child. So when an opportunity to buy it popped up in 2013, he leapt at the chance.

Having been taken into the Gough family fold, it’s received not only a new lick of paint, but revitalised attractions and a fabulous new food scene. Visitors can choose from a cream tea at The Clockhouse, good old fish ‘n’ chips at The Beach Cafe or—if it’s more of a special occasion—fresh and seasonal fare at The Boardwalk restaurant.

There’s also entertainment reminiscent of the Victorian heyday of pleasure piers—and Gough Hotels’ Alex Paul recommends taking a moment to “enjoy the laughter from the Wacky Walk of Mirrors”.


Garth Pier, Bangor


This majestic pier in beautiful North Wales has also had a somewhat dicey existence since its erection in the late 19th century. In 1914 a cargo steamer broke free from the pontoon, causing extensive damage to the neck of the pier. Further deterioration was patched up during the two World Wars, and by 1971, the pier was closed on safety grounds. 

Arton Borough Council made the decision to demolish it, but locals fervently objected, and at the last-minute Bangor City Community Council purchased the pier for the nominal sum of one pence.

After six years of careful renovation, it was reopened by the late George Paget, seventh Marquess of Anglesey, in 1988. There’s no charge to access to the pier today—except a small honesty box that politely suggests a voluntary 50 pence—and it’s a great spot for spying seabirds.


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