Walk on water: English immersion

Penarth Pier and Pavilion

Do you sometimes think it would take a miracle to make you fluent in English? Well, come to the land of miracles!

On Penarth pier you can walk on water, when the tide is in. We have the second highest tidal range in the world. So if you’re used to the Mediterranean, you’ll have to start building your sandcastles further up the beach!

Test our tides by walking to Sully Island – only possible when the natural causeway is visible, and even then it’s slippery with wet seaweed – but make sure you get back safely before the tide rushes in.

Even when the tide is out, visiting the pier is a dramatic experience. Looking down at the mud, sand and pebbles far below you can be hypnotic. Sit in a sheltered viewing spot, snug and cosy even on a winter’s day, and gaze along the coast painted by Sisley. Or out to the islands, if you can see them. Heat mists can hide the opposite coast. On a clear day, we seem to see a thousand islands – we could be in Indonesia. In fact, only two true islands can be seen from the pier, Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Everything else is part of the English coastline. Headlands, promontories, hills, they all masquerade as separate isles. Even when they’re in sight, those two islands seem to move, changing position depending on your location on the winding coastline.

The great thing about the pier and the promenade is that they are meeting places for friends and strangers, giving you an opportunity to practise your English. Just this morning I met a man carrying a bike. Nothing unusual about that, you might say, but we were on a rocky stretch of the beach where loose pebbles can make it difficult to walk around Penarth Head from the Marina to the pier. It’s a 20 minute stroll and must have been hard-going with that bicycle. We had a pleasant conversation about his home in south-west Ireland, our shared love of the sea, and the dinosaur fossils found in Penarth’s unique cliff structure.

The refurbished Penarth Pier Pavilion is worth a visit. In fact, it’s one of my favourite “classrooms” when teaching individual immersion courses. You don’t have to get under water to be immersed in English here. You can walk on it, on the stilted pier.

Have a coffee as you admire the view and watch the seagulls, see a film or visit the art gallery. But don’t forget to look down as you walk along the pier. If the tide is in, there might be a paddle steamer moored at the end of the pier, picking up passengers for Somerset or Lundy Island. In that case, you’ll be walking on water. Your dream of speaking English will have come true.


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