I visited Weston-super-Mare for the first time in the mid Nineties. It was a long bank holiday weekend. I’d gone with a friend who had family there. He’d lived there for a while when young.
The friend had two reasons for asking me: I had wheels to get there; having someone to go drinking with beat sitting round with his mum and stepdad for four days.
It worked. We were meant to stay with them four nights. Though, such were the attractions of Weston it only ended up being one. Maybe two, memory’s a little hazy. There was definitely a making a point of going back specifically for a roast dinner, grabbing a shower then shooting off down the pub again; my memory might be counting that as a night.
If you like pubs, by which I mean the traditional old British style pub, full and buzzing most nights of the week with joviality, singing and dance, then Weston was at that time like Disneyland.
It’s not a big place to start, but one area in particular, dubbed the West End as Weston’s two theatres are there, felt like it had a pub every other building, plus all the hotel bars along the sea front literally just around the corner.
One pub had five distinctly different bars, another three; one of which was above the other and had an open viewing area in the middle from where the downstairs bar could be looked down on. While elsewhere another had a horrible little rundown back bar, electric fire in corner, torn posters on paint-pealing walls, no windows and one of the best punk jukeboxes ever happened upon.
Weston-super-Mare beach, taken from Grand Pier, Easter bank holiday weekend 2011 (further info and permissions here)
It was the greatest damn pub crawl ever and I never wanted it to end. I meant it too, despite the beer consumed when making the declaration. I’d been thinking of moving from my birthplace of London ever since returning from a funeral in Wiltshire only to find faces in the cars stuck in traffic desperately more miserable than had been at a service for someone who’d died accidentally a good few years before their time.
At the next pub my mate went to the bar while I found a vacant low table and stools in a small alcove. When he returned with our beers, he had a local with him.
“Tell him what you just told me.”
At the bar my mate had told him about it being my first visit and what I’d just said about wanting to live there.
The local, a lad around the same age as us—mid twenties—had replied, “It be more likely than not, given the curse.”
Shocked by the reply, he was asked to come and tell me in case I didn’t believe it.
Many years ago a wizard had lived in Weston. Locals became suspicious of his behaviour and ran him out of town under threat of being lynched if caught. He was chased in the direction of Uphill, a real place on Weston’s south border that was apparently named by someone with no imagination whatsoever.
When reaching to top of Uphill hill (the village next to it is also called Uphill, something that gets a bit confusing as it isn’t up Uphill hill but next to it) he turned to look back upon the town of Weston and, with an ironic twist, cast a returning curse on it; meaning, anyone who visits once is destined to return.
The Church of St Nicholas on top of Uphill (taken by self):
Looking at Weston from the top of Uphill (taken by self):
Not only did I return for more bank holiday piss-ups, I lived there by the year 2000.
It turned out the bloke in the pub wasn’t alone in his belief. If anything, the amount of locals who told me they were aware of the curse cast doubt over my friend’s claim to have lived there when a kid given he’d never heard of it before.
The story of the curse has variations. One being that it was none other than infamous occultist Aleister Crowley (pictured circa 1912). Scant evidence exists that Crowley ever visited Weston, never mind lived there. Besides, the story just rings as something that happened way before Crowley’s time.
It wasn’t the only one, either. Another popular tale being the presence of ninjas in Weston Woods (located on the hillside above the town); a fantastic story, in that in being ninjas no one has ever seen them. More was to come with the likes of Jesus visiting the very same Uphill with Joseph of Arimathea. Even people twenty-two miles away in Bristol know that one (more Legends of Weston here).
True, that might not be all that far. But the UK is not a big country; the furthest point from the sea one can ever be is a mere seventy miles. Church Flatts Farm, just southeast of Coton in the Elms, a village in Derbyshire, being established as that very point.
To compensate each mile must seem further than it is, and many ingenious ways have been found of achieving this: roads unable to handle traffic volume, so adding unnecessary hours onto otherwise short journeys; not only unreliable public transport, but more so train prices that might make a ticket buyer think Aberdeen somewhere near Alberta.
Weston also has the added bonus of feeling isolated from the rest of country. To the north, the above mentioned hillside and woods. East, the M5 motorway runs north/south, and while there is a junction for Weston, a wide road that can only be joined/crossed at a certain point in a vehicle doesn’t exactly create a boundary-less mindset, even if it is there so everyone can (allegedly) get places easily.
To the south is the big hill called Uphill. And west there’s the glorious sea, where even there a sense of enclosure prevails thanks to the outcrop of Brean Down to the south and Wales being clearly visible on the other side of the water.
The Outcrop of Brean Down barely visible through mist (taken by self on Uphill).
There’s even a small village near the motorway called Locking.
Along with other idiosyncrasies, such as the tidal range (below), Weston is unique beyond its size. Take the above mentioned story of Jesus visiting. It stems from one Monks at Glastonbury started so as to sell more ale. Weston isn’t really on the way. If anything Burnham on Sea would be the more logical landing spot.
Weston’s tidal range is the one of the largest in the world, second only to the Bay of Fundi in Canada (source Telegraph).
Car parking is allowed on the beach, but with it comes the warning to be off by a certain by else. Many visitors don’t realise, much to the amusement of locals every year. A selection of images returned from searching ‘Weston-super-Mare cars in the sea’:
Nowhere else in the surrounding area tried to jump on the bandwagon. Burnham doesn’t contest the Weston version or have one where it’s claimed he left Glastonbury by that route. Plenty of closer places—Cocklake, Wookey Hole, Shepton Mallet, Ditcheat, Butleigh Wooton, Curry Rivel, Middlezoy, to name but a few—have more geographical justification to claim likewise bragging rights, but don’t.
The Cheddar of the famous cheese could easily have claimed Jesus popping by for something to eat after all the ale quaffed with the monks, declaring when He did that the fare found in the village the most delicious ever tasted. But it didn’t.
When living there I started writing: a first person narration with the intent of showing how insular the world can look through the eyes of someone suffering the impact of Abandonment Issues.
Personal experience was the motivation. A desire to show how many are misunderstood, often making bad decisions, when not realising suffering is what they are.
Photos of Weston beach taken at the Uphill end (taken by self)
One aspect being the falling back on clichés despite it being the fastest way to get people, particularly women, groaning in the complete opposite way to intended. No one ever stops to consider why someone would so willingly go down a road only guaranteed to cause rejection and recoil. Likewise, I often see posts online about not understanding how so many can vote against their best interests. This is what I hoped to go someway to explaining.
I’m a strong believer that if laughing at anyone, it should be the self; and if one doesn’t or can’t, they certainly shouldn’t be laughing at anyone else.
Weston’s geographical setup represents the mindset perfectly, and men writing alter ego first person narration debut novels is considered a literary cliché; a main protagonist travelling from London in pursuit of ‘Her’ made perfect sense for what I wanted to convey.
Readers of early drafts would often return them with the nervous question, ‘is it meant to be funny?’ I was in the intended ballpark.
Then something happened to add another layer added to the story.
To be continued . . .