Eating fish and chips on a Blackpool pier has been voted the nation’s best traditional day out in a VisitEngland poll.
Which is rather appropriate seeing as this year is the 200th anniversary of Britain’s seaside piers.
The first was opened at Ryde on the Isle of Wight in July 1814. More followed at seaside towns around the country as their peculiar popularity spread. And the attraction was peculiar. Still is, come to that.
I mean, what did a pier give you that a promenade couldn’t? Isolation was only achievable in winter when no other tourists were present. Maybe ladies liked to stand at the sharp end with their arms out and imagine they were on the Titanic or a trans-Atlantic ship of the time, but without the danger of ending up in America?
Perhaps it was a sense of daredevil adventure? Two hundred years ago there were no virtual reality experiences, no-one had been to the moon and pleasures and thrills were simpler. The very unnatural nature of a pier provided the peculiar experience of walking on water.
Blackpool, the destination of best day out in 2014, didn’t just have one pier – it had three. North Pier opened in 1863 to cater for an upmarket clientele. It charged 2d admittance – the equivalent of about £5 in today’s money. They had orchestral concerts and refined comedians who didn’t tell blue jokes about little sticks of Blackpool rock.
Central Pier followed soon after as “the people’s pier” with an emphasis on free access, fun, open air dancing, roller skating and fairground rides.
Huddersfield textile workers flocked to it and I’ll bet their comics told blue jokes. South Pier was built in the 1890s with ambitions to be even more upper class than the North Pier but it never quite gained that kudos.
For holidaymakers wanting a different outlook on the resort, the town even built a tower, inspired by the one in Paris. Trippers could either look down from 500ft or look back from the end of North Pier from 1,400 feet.
Blackpool continues to stay ahead of its rivals. Coming tops in the VisitEngland poll shows it still pulls trippers. It’s also a place where fierce competition means you can buy very fine fish and chips.
Cream teas in Devon came second in the poll and a picnic in the Lake District third. All attractive in their own way, but I’d hate to try and fit them all into one day out.