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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
A seaside pier with pedigree
Bournemouth's pier
The Victorian pier is still Bournemouth's top attraction

If you had to pick one symbol of the British seaside, most people would probably nominate the pier.

There are many attractions along the typical prom, from fairgrounds to fish and chips, from candy floss to crazy golf.

But no resort of any note seems complete without its pier, preferably an ornate structure with a Victorian pedigree.

As a seaside town that prides itself on being a cut above the rest, Bournemouth has just such an attraction.

Bournemouth is Britain's top resort, so what better place is there to be than by the pier?

Madam Rosina

Jutting out one thousand feet into Poole Bay, it provides ample space for a gentle stroll above the waves.

Less flashy and a lot less noisy than some piers, it has an air of solid respectability that seems entirely in keeping with the town.

Russ Bundy, the seafront inspector for Bournemouth Borough Council, believes it is the town's central feature.

"People still come here for a traditional family holiday, and the pier is part of it," he told me.

"I think it has a fascination for the public. They like to stroll to the end and watch the boats going around the bay."
Seafront inspector Russ Bundy
Russ Bundy says visitors love to stroll along the pier

It was in 1855 that local people constructed a modest jetty on this spot, the forerunner of more ambitious structures.

The first wooden pier was badly damaged by storms in 1877, and the following year work began on an iron structure, funded by local donations.

During the second world war, a military commander given the task of defending Bournemouth from Nazi invaders, blew up part of the pier.

In peacetime, the structure was repaired. In the boom years of the 1960s and 70s, a series of improvements included the building of a theatre for the now familiar end of the pier shows.

Beautiful view

Very much a part of the seaside tradition, these summer productions still pull in the crowds.

There is a small funfair on the pier, but it is not loud enough to disturb the senior citizens who occupy the lines of deck chairs, admiring the coastal scenery.

"It is such a beautiful view," said Mrs Ann Wood, a pensioner from Newcastle, who is taking a short break in Bournemouth.

Clairvoyant Madam Rosina
Clairvoyant Madame Rosina predicts a bright future for the pier
"I love the sea, and it is lovely walking around the pier because you are out on the water."

The pier is undoubtedly the resort's focal point. It attracts around half a million visitors a year, and many attractions have set up shop around it.

Among them is Madam Rosina, a clairvoyant who will read your palm, consult her tarot cards, or gaze into a crystal ball to help you face up to the future.

Among her clients are some of the stars who have appeared in the shows at the end of the pier.

"People are here to relax and you also get the theatricals in, so it is the whole caboodle," she told me as she dealt the cards.

"Bournemouth is Britain's top resort, so what better place is there to be than by the pier?"

Changing tastes

A short distance away, Kate Porter is applying temporary henna tattoos to a queue of youngsters looking for some cool body decorations.

"This spot is absolutely fantastic. It is one of the best places I have ever worked," she told me.

"Everyone comes to the pier when they visit Bournemouth."

A short distance away, holidaymakers are line dancing, Texas style. Yet despite changing tastes, Bournemouth still manages to retain a character all of its own.

A fairground ride on Bournemouth pier at night
The funfair brings the pier alive at night
One man who has seen fads come and go is Nick Hopkins, the Pier Master. It is a title that makes him sound rather like the captain of an ocean liner...even if this one never leaves port.

He's been working along the Bournemouth seafront for 35 years, the last ten on the pier itself.

This is only a summer job, but Nick is happy with the arrangement, returning to the pier each year at Easter to prepare for the season.

Then at the end of October, he's off on his travels, usually to some exotic location such as Burma.

"At the end of the summer, I need some peace and quiet," he told me with a smile.

"I just want to find a nice quiet beach, with nobody there, where I can get my head together. Then I go off exploring."

It is a world away from Bournemouth, in every sense. But you just know that next year he will be back on his pier.

The BBC's Peter Gould
"Enjoy a gentle stroll above the waves"

At the seaside

See also:

14 Aug 01 | UK
25 Feb 01 | Business
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