Cromer Pier, Norfolk

Cromer Pier, Norfolk

‘I say, I say, I say, what’s 450 feet long and home to Britain’s last traditional seaside show?’ ‘I don’t know, what is...?’ Actually, I do know, the answer’s Cromer Pier, and while it might not be the country’s biggest and brightest, the town is justifiably proud of their iconic landmark; so much so that when a 100 ton storm-tossed rig-barge smashed through the middle of it on the night of Remembrance Day 1993, the council immediately made the money available for repairs, and again after substantial storm damage in November 2007.

Unlike most of the piers in the UK’s more popular resorts, stepping onto the boardwalk at Cromer, doesn’t mean first passing through the obligatory amusement arcade. There isn’t one ‘Penny Falls’, ‘A PrizeATime Grabber’, or ‘Pump-It-Up Dance Machine’ to be seen, or thankfully heard.

Instead at the pier head, you’ll find the booking office for the Pavilion Theatre, staffed by two blue-suited matrons. A little further on and opposite Tides Restaurant, there’s Footprints Gift Shop, which might claim to sell traditional seaside favourites, but you could turn the place upside down and not find a sniff of an edible willy, or any other hilarious novelty naughty bits. Sorry, but you’ll have to make do with Belgian chocolates and handmade fudge.

From here on in, your pier experience depends very much on the season and the weather. A bit of sunshine brings out the families and it’s a snapshot of any summer of the last fifty or so years. Kids dangle crab-lines over the rail, while grandad sits in one of the shelters, dangling a roll-up from his lips, and fishermen vie for position between the theatre and the lifeboat house.

In the colder, wetter months, these same fishermen pretty much have the pier to themselves, during the day anyway. In the evening theatre-goers have to brave the elements all year round and they’ll often find themselves making their way along the planking, with heads down against driving rain and a northerly wind that could strip flesh from bones.

When conditions are deemed too dangerous, as on the night of the 2007 storm, the entrance is closed off, but the weather doesn’t have to be at its roughest for someone standing on the decking to appreciate the power of the North Sea. Waves crashing into the seawall are thrown back as spray over the pier head, while underneath the roar of the tide drowns out all other sounds; an experience which makes you fully appreciate the importance of the lifeboat that is launched from the other end of this walkway over the water.

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I grew up in south-west Norfolk and I go back to Cromer at least once a year - it feels like home. There's a fantastic view of the town from the edge of the pier; a good way to see how the town fits onto the cliff. Add to that great chips, great ice cream and memories of childhood flute competitions in the town hall... Heaven.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/abirobertson/1031259602/

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