Winning tip: Bangor, Gwynedd
Bangor pier holds many memories for us. It’s the place where my husband lost his car keys 50 years ago. Luckily those were the days when you could hotwire a car (or in this case minivan) to start it. We return there often. The pier has breathtaking views of the Menai straits on one side and to the Great Orme behind Llandudno on the other. In front is beautiful Anglesey; turn round for wonderful views of Snowdonia. It is a pier that is unrivalled anywhere. It has refreshments and ice-cream too!
School holidays were punctuated by sealing the plastic over Merseyrail travelcards to begin an adventure with Dad. Liverpool, Birkenhead, Formby – each offered something. Southport always won, though. After walking through manicured (accessible) gardens and the buzz of Silcocks arcade, the 161-year-old Grade II-listed pier feels like the start of further adventures. Smugly spy Blackpool’s tower from a tranquil viewpoint on clear days. Appreciate the bleakness on gloomy days, as you almost disappear into the sea. Time-travel in the Victorian penny arcade. More recently, I took Dad to Southend from my London home. “It’s no Southport,” he lamented. I agreed.
Worthing, West Sussex
Worthing pier is unfussy, uncommercialised, and beautifully preserved. It has a wonderful Southern Pavilion, a modest central amusement arcade and the lovely Pavilion theatre at the landward end. The pier is one of a few that I know of that still allow anglers to add to the overall scene. Worthing promenade is wonderfully unspoiled in comparison with the raucous and rowdy seafront nightmare that is Brighton, and the pier is the jewel in the crown. Free access.
Ullapool, Scottish Highlands
The “wee pier” at Ullapool extends into the clear waters of Loch Broom. Surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, this makes the perfect backdrop to sit and fish for mackerel that glitter and glisten in the sunlight like a disco ball. Following recent redevelopment, three rockpools have been installed at different tidal zones to provide an opportunity for the whole community to learn more about the marine life that calls this place in the Highlands home.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
It has to be the wonderfully windswept Cobb at Lyme Regis. Each time I go I’m reminded of Tennyson’s words: “Don’t talk to me of the Duke of Monmouth; show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell.” It’s an absolute must for fans of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. There’s also something about a French Lieutenant’s Woman! The pretty town is full of interesting fossil shops and delicious homemade fudge.
Portstewart, County Derry
Portstewart promenade in Northern Ireland is a classically simple seaside affair. Traditional Italian ice-cream made for a century on offer – tick. Fish and chip shops – tick. Bucket and spade shop – tick. Delicious craft coffee to be enjoyed while the kids undertake hours of “daring” rock walks or dipping toes in the sea – tick. Sightings of porpoises and fishing boats heading out of the harbour – tick. Beautiful sunsets, ever-changing waves and happy people from all walks of life watching them – tick. No entry requirements or pre-booking needed. Enjoyed since Victorian times but still not out of fashion. Our happy place.
Perhaps this is not one of our most impressive costal structures: it is a simple stone jetty. But it has wonderful views of Morecambe Bay and the Lakeland fells. There is a real sense of escape from the mainland, which is the essence of the appeal of piers, and chips and ice-cream are close at hand! I took my elderly parents there last September. Covid cases were on the rise in the north-west and I had a feeling I may not see them for a long time. That was the case, but the memories of lunch on Arnside pier have been sustaining.
Pier Bae Colwyn/Colwyn Bay Pier, Denbighshire
As a teenager, I spent many hours on this pier – amusement arcade, Slush Puppies, record fairs, sixth-form socials. It was long past its best then but familiar and loved. After I left home, our beloved pier fell into disrepair, was sold and years of ownership dispute and deterioration ensued. Colwyn Victoria Pier Trust preserved it. The pier was dismantled, leaving the original stanchions. Victorian ironwork was salvaged and restored, and a short pier has risen, including the ironwork and replica lighting. Opening soon, it is a fantastic achievement, breathing new life into the regeneration of the Bay of Colwyn.
The town’s glorious promenade sweeps past its North and South beaches with their attractive seafront terraces. In between, it snakes alongside castle ruins, a striking statue-topped war memorial and the Grade I-listed Old College building that accommodated Wales’s first university college. Also look out for nine mosaics below the castle’s walls. Completed in 2006, they depict the castle’s history. And then there’s a vibrant mural by Lloyd the Graffiti, incorporating the winning designs from a competition for local young people. It includes a starling – thousands of the birds use the pier as their roost over winter.