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Home to one of the longest stretches of sandy beach in Europe – and one of the world’s highest tidal ranges.
Beside the sea
Weston-super-Mare sums up the traditional English seaside resort: two piers, two-miles of Victorian promenade and a runway of a beach, plus donkeys, decks chairs and sticks of rock. A former fishing village, Weston was transformed in the 19th century by the arrival of the railways which kicked off its growth as a hot-spot for working-class holiday makers, many of them crossing the Severn by paddle steamer from Wales.
Like many of these faded Victorian towns, it’s been through tough times but the tide has turned and it’s on the up. Ironically, Weston’s new lease of life is partly down to Dismaland, a ‘theme park unsuitable for small children’, temporarily installed in 2015 by Bristol-born street artist Bansky. In the disused Tropicana lido, his anarchic ‘bemusement park’ attracted over 150,000 visitors putting Weston on the map and helping to draw out its potential as a cultural destination.
From the pier to Portishead
Clevedon is Weston’s smaller, more sedate neighbour: an elegant Victorian town with ornamental gardens and Regency villas on a promenade that leads into a rocky little beach and a Grade I listed pier. Described by Sir John Betjeman as ‘the most beautiful pier in England’, this graceful confection of ironwork was constructed using surplus rails from Brunel’s South Wales Railway. In 2019, it celebrates its 150th birthday.
Clevedon is home to the Curzon, the world’s oldest purpose-built cinema; and the town has had one or two brushes with screen stardom in its own right. Film roles include the town centre in ITV’s drama series Broadchurch, and as a backdrop to One Direction’s video You and I.
Only five miles from Bristol, Portishead – the town, not the famous Bristol trip-hop band – grew up around its deep-water port. The once-industrial docks (there were two power stations here) have now been transformed into a modern marina complete with harbour-side cafes and restaurants. In old Portishead, look out for occasional Curzon Cinema screenings at the vintage Open Air Pool.