A couple of weeks ago our good friend Sal got in touch and asked if we fancied a trip to the Weston-Super-Mare cider festival. Well, what’s not to like in that proposition, so we readily agreed and bought our train tickets. Yesterday was the day for our boozy day trip and a very good day it was too.
I knew nothing about the cider festival, so before departing I looked it up on-line and found that it was not just a cider festival, but also an air show. The prospects just kept getting better and better.
To get to Weston requires a journey of a bus and three trains. First we got a bus into Gloucester, then a train to Cheltenham (which seems odd as you’d think that is in the wrong direction). Here we had a half hour wait, so time for a coffee before meeting up with two of our fellow drinkers: Sal and Tracey. We then took a train to Bristol Temple Meads and, after another wait, the train to Weston.
All of this changing meant that we spent more time on railway platforms than we did actually travelling, but we didn’t care. Travelling by train is an enjoyable, relaxing experience when you are in no particular hurry and it makes it feel like you are off on holiday: a very different experience to commuting by train. It is also significantly cheaper than the commuting experience: a return ticket was £15.50 which I didn’t think was too bad.
And so we finally arrived at Weston. We headed to the seafront and walked along the prom, prom, prom; although I don’t recall a brass band playing tiddely-om-pom-pom. It is a very British scene as you walk along the seafront, although generally the term seafront is a bit of a misnomer at Weston: here the sea is actually the Bristol Channel and, famously, you often can’t see the sea even with a good pair of binoculars.
The weather wasn’t good – it was blustery and overcast with the threat of rain spitting in the wind, but there were still a good number of doughty holiday makers determinedly enjoying themselves on the beach. My wife was excited to see donkey rides on offer, but cruelly thwarted when told that adults weren’t allowed. Her protests of her diminutive stature and her pouty lip, which any six-year-old would have been proud of, did nothing to thaw the resolve of the donkey owner.
And so we headed off to the Grand Pier and the main purpose of the day: the Cider Festival.
The pavilion at the end of the pier was destroyed by fire in 2008 and the new pavilion only opened in 2010. You first have to enter the arcade, which is a noisy mix of slot machines, games and rides all assaulting the senses with beeps, bongs and flashing lights and trying to tempt your hard earned money from your hand. I suspect there is an inner circle of hell that looks very much like this.
Fighting our way through the melee as quickly as we could we made our way out to Captain Jack’s Bar and beyond that the South Deck & Conservatory where the cider festival was taking place. By now it was gone 1 pm and the place was starting to get busy. Next to the bar was a table perfectly positioned to overlook the seafront and offer a perfect view of the sky for the air show.
This prized table was occupied by an elderly couple who were sat in silence without a drink. We politely asked if they would mind us joining them and they acquiesced. As we’d hoped they didn’t stay long and we had this plum table to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon – perfect.
The final member of our cider appreciation group, Jan, joined us as we were on our third round and we spent the afternoon drinking, chatting and relaxing and, every now and then, ooh-ing and aah-ing as planes flew past for our entertainment. I have no problem with being the token male in the group! The weather even brightened and we saw some sun.
The air show was very good: there were several displays of bi-planes flying in perfect synchronicity, with wing-tips apparently only inches apart. There was an appearance by a Vulcan bomber, which seemed just to be cruising along on tick-over but, as it climbed into the sky, it let out a deep, throaty roar which you could feel reverberating in your chest. Finally, the piece de resistance was the Red Arrows, who were as brilliant as ever.
We had a perfect view as all of this was going on and seemed much closer to the action than at most air shows – and this was all for free! Sadly, I had decided that my camera was not a good thing to take to the cider festival, so all I had was the camera on my phone, which was not up to taking air show pictures, so I just had to enjoy it and carry on drinking.
As the day wore on it began to get chilly and, to our amazement, we noticed that this was because the tide had come in and was lapping far below our feet, creating a cold draft up through the slatted pier floor.
Finally it was time to head home. The cider had obviously weakened our resolve and made us susceptible to the lure of the arcade. First we went on the dodgems, where our competitive streaks all came to the fore, then we tried out some motorcycle simulator games, which we decided were clearly rubbish as we crashed almost immediately. Finally, and against all good judgement, Jan and I went on some crazy ride which spun you around, turned you upside down and generally threw you about in a manner not recommended after many pints of cider. Luckily, and against the odds, we both managed to keep our cider down and we all escaped back into the outside world.
You can’t go to Weston without having fish & chips, so this is what we did, and very good they were too. We finally got back to the station to discover that we had just missed our train. Never mind, there was a bar where we could wait for the next one: more cider, just what we needed.
And so we headed for home: winging it now, hoping to find suitable connecting trains. The public transport gods were obviously smiling on us as it all worked beautifully and the train even went the sensible way back through Gloucester, saving us a change at Cheltenham, so only two trains and a bus required to get us home.
All in all a great day: we need to travel by train more often!