As you wander along the seafront at Clevedon, it’s not so difficult to imagine what this Bristol Channel resort was like in its Victorian heyday.
Clevedon has always been regarded by many as a little more refined than North Somerset coastal neighbour Weston-super-Mare. Whereas good old Weston is more about donkey rides and sticks of rock, Clevedon has enjoyed more of a cream teas and bracing walks along the promenade image.
Look at old photographs of Clevedon and you’ll invariably see sepia images of handlebar-moustached gents in three-piece suits and genteel ladies in flowing dresses ‘taking the sea air’.
These days, the favoured attire of many Clevedon residents on the seafront seems to be trendy Dryrobes - those ankle-length changing robes surfers wear. That’s because the marine lake infinity pool on Clevedon beach attracts so many ‘wild swimmers’ all year round. Plus the fact there are no changing rooms.
On the freezing January morning I visited Clevedon, there were several people braving the elements in the saltwater pool. This 250 metre-long tidal pool was recently named among the country’s best wild swimming spots.
These brave souls are carrying on a tradition for bathing in the sea that started with the Victorians when there were saltwater baths close to the town’s iconic pier.
On the morning I visited, thick ice had formed on nearby puddles and the Brecon Beacons across the beige-coloured Severn Estuary were capped with snow. I couldn’t even feel my fingertips as I watched the swimmers jump into the freezing cold water.
Following the path along the sea wall, there was a stillness and tranquility about Clevedon out of season.
The resort obviously gets busy in summer - many visitors drawn to see locations made famous in TV shows like Broadchurch or retracing the steps of Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go - but in winter, it takes on a very different aura.
As I walked past the Salthouse Fields tennis courts, miniature golf course and Clevedon Promenade Bowling Green, I only saw a handful of people. There was a retired couple walking a shuddering dog sporting a quilted jacket, the odd jogger and a grandparent pushing a toddler in a buggy.
The rust-spotted shutters were down at the businesses dotted along the promenade. Clevedon Beach Fish and Chips and the coffee shack next to The Little Harp pub were in hibernation until the spring and another busy season begins.
Like many seaside resorts, Clevedon holds a special place in the hearts of many visitors. The majority of benches along the seafront have memorial plaques with touching dedications to people who once visited.
Just before reaching the bandstand (dating from 1887), I rested on a bench with a plaque in memory of Alan and Rhona Parkinson. Inscribed with their dates of birth (1916-2010 and 1917-2009), it simply described the couple as two people ‘who enjoyed the view and strolls along this promenade’.
Past the boats outside Clevedon Sailing Club, you arrive at a road simply called The Beach, with colourful buildings reminiscent of children’s TV show Balamory.
As well as some stunning houses with unbeatable sea views, the road is home to many of Clevedon’s popular cafes and restaurants, including the excellent Five The Beach, where I stopped for coffee and cake. Even on a bitterly cold January morning, the place was packed, such is its reputation.
Clevedon Pier is the only Grade I-listed pier in the country and was described by Sir John Betjeman as the most beautiful in England.
Opened in 1869 with its stunning Victorian pagoda, it was once used as a ferry port for rail passengers to South Wales. The light railway once linked Clevedon with Weston and Portishead but it stopped just after the outbreak of war in 1940.
A short walk from the pier is Hill Road, a charming sweep of independent shops, restaurants, cafes and even a micropub called the Fallen Tree.
One of the longest-running businesses here is the Indulgence chocolatiers, opened by Amy Bennett 22 years ago.
Amy told me that Hill Road post-pandemic was weathering the ‘cost of living’ storm as well as it could. She said her shop had enjoyed a very good Christmas and there was a sense that locals were really supporting their local independent businesses.
“A lot of people in Clevedon discovered Hill Road during the pandemic. They would go for their daily walks along the seafront but then wander up here, often for the first time, and they’ve come back to use this area ever since.”
Some might say Clevedon’s heyday was in Victorian times but there is clearly plenty of life left in this timeless coastal resort.