Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

30th August 2010

Pier Pleasure
Posted by at 7.24pm | No responses | Out and About

Sunday was my final day in Brighton but the first day when I would properly explore the town itself.

We hopped aboard a number 27 bus for the short trip to Brighton Marina. I used a few Brighton & Hove buses over the weekend, and I was impressed. The buses were clean and showed up when the timetable said they would, two things that Liverpool’s bus operators don’t seem to have quite got the hang of yet. Also, nearly all the stops had real-time route indicators showing when the next bus is due: much better than the half-hearted effort made by Merseytravel. And a day ticket costs just £3.60!

Brighton Marina was originally built in the 1970s. Since then, the original facility has been supplemented by shops, bars and restaurants. It’s basically Cheshire Oaks with boats.

Brighton Marina

The weather was not helping us — at this point it was raining fairly consistently and not walking around a largely open-air facility was not a good idea. We retreated to Wetherspoons for a swift drink before walking the short distance to Black Rock, terminus of Volk’s Electric Railway.

Volk's Railway Centenary PlaqueThe brainchild of engineer Magnus Volk, the line opened in 1883 and is the oldest electric railway in the world still operating. Despite falling passenger numbers, the line still operates a frequent summer daytime service between Black Rock and the Aquarium station, near the Pier. It’s owned by Brighton Council and looks more than a little underfunded, but is an interesting curiosity nevertheless.

We arrived at the station just in time to see a train disappearing into the distance. There was no real shelter so we stood in the rain on the platform to wait for the next train, which arrived a few minutes later. Our carriage looked like something from the 19th century, but in fact this one dates from 1926.

Volk's Railway Train

A few minutes later we were all aboard and on our way. The experience is something akin to a milk float on rails. I’m sure I could see sparks flying under the seats, but chose to ignore them. The ride was sedate enough for us to grab a quick picture.

Mark and Me

I’ve just realised I have a very large face.

We trundled past the naturist beach (sadly deserted due to the weather), past a beach volleyball court (hello, men in tight shorts) and within minutes were at the line’s western terminus.

We headed to Brighton Pier (as Mark informed me, originally called the Palace Pier and still called that by almost every Brighton resident)

Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier is your typical brash seaside attraction: noisy amusement arcades with flashing lights, food stands selling the unhealthiest wares possible (I recommend the Belgian Waffles) and souvenir shops selling a variety of tat.

There is also the end-of-pier funfair. Me and funfairs have not had the best relationship (I think it goes back to a trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach when I was about 10 years old when I got completely lost in the Maze). Mark’s powers of persuasion were sufficient to get me onto the Crazy Mouse rollercoaster. I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous, but this weekend is all about trying something different. After a small argument with the ride token machine, we eventually succeeded in paying £4 each for admission. We sat down and strapped ourselves in. I took my glasses off, lest some comical accident fling them off into the distance.

The car climbed to the top of the incline and rolled down a gentle slope from the top. This isn’t so bad, I thought. Perhaps sensing my relief, Mark leaned over and said, “you do realise it gets worse, don’t you?”

He was right. The gentle first slope was followed by a near-vertical drop, and then a series of twists and loops — the car also spinning for added nausea. There are several sharp curves and since the ride is right at the end of the pier, each curve is preceded by the illusion that you might end up catapulted into the sea. I don’t mind admitting that I invoked the names of the deities of two major religions. Two exhilarating minutes later, it was over and we were staggering off the ride. We didn’t pay for the souvenir photo, but suffice to say my expression on it was half-thrilled, half-wetting myself.

Remains of the West PierFrom the end of the pier we also got a chance to see the skeletal remains of Brighton’s other pier, the West Pier. This structure closed in 1975 and has remained derelict since. Plans to revive and reopen it were scuppered in 2003 when an arson attack destroyed the end of pier buildings, followed by the collapse of the main pier in a 2004 storm.

The remains cannot be demolished, however, as the building remains Grade II listed. This does seem slightly silly to me: I come from a city which happily pulled down any number of beautiful buildings in the 1960s and understand the need for listing, but when a structure is as far gone as the West Pier is, it does seem like there should be an option to just admit defeat and demolish it.

After the Pier we headed slightly inland and walked around the outside of Brighton Pavilion. This is a former Royal residence, built for the Prince of Wales in 1811. It’s now open to the public, but we didn’t venture in, put off by the admission price and the fact that it was nearly 4pm and we didn’t think there’d be time to see much.

Brighton Pavilion

Instead we headed for Brighton Museum (it was free!) where Mark showed me round the section dedicated to the history of Brighton. I learned a few things: did you know that the town’s largest employer is American Express which has its European headquarters here? There was also a nice section dedicated to lesbian and gay Brighton – as with the gay scene generally, this was prominently and unapologetically displayed alongside sections on religion and trade unions.

We ended the evening in Legends on the seafront, drinking more Vodka and Red Bull than is probably healthy. Mark had never heard the term “Vodbull” used, while I insisted that everybody in Liverpool abbreviates it like that. Yes, that is what we talked about.

My train the next day was at 11:19, so this would be the last proper day in Brighton for me. It was another great day: a fabulous end to a great weekend. I can’t wait to go again! 🙂

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