Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 15:53 UK

Pier fire's effect across channel

By Kevin Leonard
BBC Wales news

View of fire across Bristol Channel
Smoke from the pier fire could be seen across the Bristol Channel

The effects of the fire which destroyed part of the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare could be seen across the Bristol Channel.

Ribbons of smoke drifted the nine miles or so to the south Wales coast opposite, clearly visible on a bright, sunny Monday morning in Cardiff.

But for many in south Wales, the significance of the fire runs to more than just a few clouds of smoke.

For the Grand Pier is one of those West Country attractions, like Bristol Zoo, that has always attracted thousands of day-trippers from across the water.

Eyewitness video of pier blaze

The quarter-of-a-mile-long walk along the windswept pier, followed by losing a few bob in the slot machines, has almost been a rite of passage.

You could even occasionally get a glimpse of the sea from the end of the pier, not always easy in a resort where the tide carries the water to a distant horizon, leaving bathers far behind.

Weston-super-Mare and its pier may not be everyone's cup of tea, but on this side of the channel, news of the fire was greeted with shock and dismay.

David and Gwenith Morgan
I don't know if it was my imagination but I could smell burning as well, it's terrible
Gwenith Morgan

Ray Evans, 45, from Newport, had visited the pier on Sunday with his wife and four children.

"I had a lump in my throat this morning because you get attached to places don't you and it's history that's gone up in smoke," he said.

"There used to be a photo of me on the pier in 1963 with my father holding me.

"It's a bit of nostalgia when you take your own kids to a place where you went as a kid.

"What brought it home was being there one day and then that happens the next day. It's just unbelievable."

On Penarth seafront in the Vale of Glamorgan, the smoke from the Grand Pier was visible across the channel.

The fire was certainly a talking point among daytrippers on Penarth Pier waiting for a boat excursion on the Balmoral to view various rivers and bridges across the channel.

David and Gwenith Morgan from Cardiff both had memories of a recent visit to the Grand Pier, although not necessarily happy ones.

"We stood at the bottom end of the pier and it was really very, very cold and windy, I could hardly stand up there," said Mr Morgan.

"They've done a lot of work there and it's very sad, the pier is an attraction for us," said Mrs Morgan.

Peter Andrews
I just feel sorry for all the people in Weston and I hope it never happens here, touch wood
Peter Andrews, Penarth piermaster

"The smoke was very evident this morning, it was in a straight line over Cardiff.

"I don't know if it was my imagination but I could smell burning as well, it's terrible."

For Merlys and Ray Evans from Dinas Powys, the Grand Pier had a profound effect on their young daughter about 30 years ago - it put her off fish for life!

Mr Evans, 66, said the family were watching a fisherman on the pier land his catch close to where they were standing.

"The fish came on the deck and he hit it with a hammer and it was still living, it was still flapping and it put her off fish for life," he said.

"She was four or five, old enough to remember that fishing was cruel and she never forgot that at Weston!" said Mrs Evans, 65.

Penarth piermaster and coastal officer Peter Andrews, helping organise the Balmoral boat excursion, said he heard about the pier fire on the news.

"I think it's a shame to be honest," he said.

"I'm friendly with the guy there as well, I'm going to give him a ring in about an hour's time.

"I just feel sorry for all the people in Weston and I hope it never happens here, touch wood."

Tony Gamblin, part of the Balmoral crew, said the scheduled excursion to Weston-super-Mare on Thursday would not be affected by the fire because the boat called at a harbour, rather than the pier.

"I'm sure we will get a few more people now who will get off at Weston and go along and have a look [at the pier]," he said.

"It's the loss of a landmark really because it's the main landmark on the seafront."

That sense of loss was shared by Ron Green, 80, from Sully and his friend Glyndwr James, 79, from Penarth.

"When I was a kid my father was an army man and we used to have parties and Weston used to be our day out," said Mr James.

"It's a disaster because it's their biggest landmark."

Huge fire destroys historic pier
28 Jul 08 |  Somerset
Your pictures: Weston pier fire
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Weston pier fire in video
28 Jul 08 |  UK
Weston not so super says Cleese
22 Jul 08 |  Bristol/Somerset
Fireworks mark pier's centenary
28 Aug 04 |  Somerset

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