The sea: mighty, powerful, deep, dark, mysterious, salty, soothing, calm, as old as the world. I always feel as though I am taken in by its great gravitational pull. It seems to call out to me and I love to answer that call and be in it or near to it. I lose track of time when I sit on a seaweed- covered rock and become absorbed into the rhythm of the rolling waves and watch the majestic sea birds soar and swoop above the foam and into the rock pools. The hypnotic horizon where the sun sets into the depths tantalises the imagination with suggestions of mysteries beyond.
Southport, whilst not the greatest or most inspiring of coastal locations, is the nearest seaside resort to my home and I go there quite often, in all seasons. I have very early childhood memories of playing on the beach with family and friends; the great expanse of sand was seemingly endless. The sea never seemed to make an appearance on Southport beach and, as a teenager, I had come to believe it was an urban myth. My passion is for the water; I want to paddle in it and feel the waves lap around my legs. Southport never seemed to offer more than the possibility of it, teasing the mind’s reason by way of marine offerings strewn across the damp sand: slimy seaweed; shiny shells, flotsam and jetsam deposited by the always absent foam. Over the years I lost patience and interest and for a long time I stayed away. However, I have learned that taking the trouble to consult tidal timetables produces wondrous results: the urban myth has been dispelled……..the sea, in all its glory, DOES grace Southport sands with its presence.
Southport seemed to lose interest in itself for a while, slipping into decline throughout the 1980s, ’90s and the early part of this century. The fairground closed and the lurid yellow safety boards were, at one point, the brightest things to be seen along the front.
The town’s few shopping streets had always retained their elegance and pulling power, seemingly operating under an alternative pulling power unconnected to the phases of the moon. Southport has always had a reputation for refinement and though this brooch of honour has slipped a little way down the town’s tailored lapel since its Victorian heyday, everybody knows that Southport has standards. Famously the one-time home of Napoleon Bonaparte, who sojourned on Lord Street for a time before embarking on the French Wars, it has always maintained a bourgeois air. Home to millionaire footballers and other celebrities, Southport and surrounding areas have status. Royal Birkdale, a short an pleasant trek along the sand dunes, is home to one of Britain’s most prestigious golfing tournaments.
The town holds its own amongst the better known and commercially more popular Irish Sea coast holiday resorts. A popular retirement destination and general desirable place of residence, this little town is synonymous with quality and class. It is commerce more than sandcastles which has kept Southport on the holiday map; it has succeeded where places such as Morecambe have declined. Massive investment in the promenade has injected new energy into Southport as a place to take a holiday, and it is now, happily, back on track.
It seemed fitting that on a grey afternoon at the end of the year I should visit the sea and contemplate the ebb and flow whilst considering what 2015 had brought and taken away. A tiny Christmas market had pulled in more shoppers than would probably have been there otherwise on a damp December day where the dark clouds were poised, pregnant with downpour.
Beyond the twinkling festive lights of Lord Street and the garish electric luminosity of the side-street amusement arcades and candyfloss kiosks, the lonely promenade was almost deserted. The heavens opened as I crossed the road in front of Silcock’s Funland, its flashing lights surreal in the winter gloom.
The heavens opened, sending down a sheets of rain, bouncing off the wooden board walk of the pier, adding to the strange atmosphere. As a moment in time it was quite beautiful.
The sunset could just about be seen behind the smoky grey clouds to the west, as millions of raindrops fell into the sea, adding to its vastness.