A steamer trip from Penarth to Somerset
Steam engines, bakelite museums and sea
(Photos © urban75, Aug 03, updated Feb 2009)
Lying on the north shore of the Severn estuary at the southern end of Cardiff Bay, Penarth was once a popular Victorian seaside resort.
Promoted as "The Garden by the Sea", the town attracted visitors from the Midlands, the West Country and the Welsh valleys, most of whom travelled by rail (a much reduced rail link to Cardiff still survives, but the through line to Sully and Barry closed as part of the Beeching cuts).
The tourist trade shrunk dramatically with the rise of cheap foreign holidays in the 1960s, and the town is now best known as a dormitory town for Cardiff commuters, with a substantial retired population.
The town retains much of its attractive Victorian and Edwardian architecture, including its 1894 pier, constructed from cast iron and timber.
The 219 yard long Penarth Pier opened for business in 1895, with a wooden pavilion was added at the sea end in 1907.
After being sold to the Vale of Glamorgan Council, a new landing stage and ferro-concrete pavilion was built in at the shoreward end in 1927.
The pavilion proved to be very popular, with regular events including tea dances packing 'em in.
In 1931, a disastrous fire along the entire length of the pier caused considerable damage. The fire took hold on a busy August Bank Holiday with hundreds of tourists packed on to the the pavilion for a holiday dance.
Thanks to the sterling efforts of brave Penarth yachtsman, all 800 souls were saved, but repairs to the pier cost £3,157, and the wooden sea-end pavilion was lost forever.
Another calamity followed in 1947, when the Canadian ship 'Port Royal Park' smashed into the pier during a gale.
Weighing 7,000 tons, the substantial vessel caused extensive structural damage, which took two years to repair at a cost of £28,000, which represented a hefty sum of money.
On 20th August 1966 another ship decided to make its acquaintance with the pier, with White Funnel paddler 'Bristol Queen' hitting the pier and causing some damage.
The biggest blow looked to have landed in 1981 when P & A stopped their White Funnel Cruises to Penarth, thus depriving the pier of its main source of income.
Thankfully, the MV Balmoral and PS Waverley, operated by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, came to the rescue, offering summer cruises to attractions like Clevedon, Minehead and Flatholm.
Penarth Pier Project
View from the deck of the MV Balmoral as we cast off from Penarth pier.
Steaming towards Somerset.
Arriving at Clevedon pier, the only fully intact Grade 1 listed pier in the country.
Made from Barlow rail discarded from Brunel's broad-gauge South Wales Railway, the slender and graceful iron pier opened on Easter Monday, 29th March 1869.
Incredibly, this graceful Victorian structure only narrowly survived demolition in the the 1970s.
A waiting coach took us on a 40 minute ride to Bishop's Lydeard, the eastern terminus of the West Somerset Railway.
The line which runs 20 miles to Minehead, and perfectly recreates the atmosphere of a Great Western Railway branch line, with authentic flower bedecked stations, signalboxes, steam engines and carriages. Lovely!
The locomotive takes on water.
THE BAKELITE MUSEUM
We broke our journey at Williton and walked up to the Bakelite Museum, some 15 minutes away - and it was well worth the walk.
This uplifting labour or love packs in three floors of Bakelite beauties in a lovely old watermill.
We finished off our visit to the museum with a satisfying cream tea outside (scones and clotted cream...mmm....!) before walking back to the station to catch the steam train on to Minehead.
Minehead station, western terminus of the West Somerset Railway.
The impressively-sized terminus in Minehead is almost on the beach itself, right in the middle of town, and it makes you wonder what kind of idiot it was who closed the line back in 1971.
View 360º panorama of Minehead station.
Our ship back to Wales awaits!
Disembarking at Penarth.
The pavilion on the landside end of the pier.
Dusk on Penarth pier. You can just see the ship on the right.
More: Ogmore-by-sea photos, 2008
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