When a friend suggested an evening drive to the beach at Formby point, I gladly accepted. Accessed by way of a lonely road through woodland, the sand dunes at Formby would not ordinarily be somewhere I could visit by my usual means of public transport as night time loomed.
We exchanged greetings with dog walkers and joggers. An older couple helped a small child look for shells whilst sea birds trotted across the damp sand, investigating the shallow pools left behind by the outbound tide.
Staying close to the shore, we made a seat out of stone steps at the foot of the lifeboat station and looked out to sea.
Dusk was descending. The sky shifted through a muted palette of greys, mauve and smoky amber as the sun’s lamp was slowly dimmed.
The camera’s zoom lens revealed the hazy shapes of distant pedestrians, on four legs and two, traversing the expanse of the beach, out to the water’s edge and back again.
Buoys bobbed in the shallow water, guiding to safe passage marine vessels bound for the port of Liverpool, or sailing into the night towards Dublin. Towering wind turbines stood still, imposing but strangely graceful.
The silver ribbon of sea, its mirror-surface bouncing back the last of the light, marked the end of the road where the silhouette of a solitary vehicle was stopped at the water’s edge.
Happy New Year to all – and welcome to my first post of 2019! I’m really excited about the year ahead and about sharing some of my adventures with you as we travel around the sun one more time. I’m quite new to blogging myself and have been inspired by some great writers who I have found over the past year or so; I look forward to following my favourite blogs again this year and to making some new discoveries.
And so it begins. January arrived, dry and bright. I carried on with the ruthless clear-out I started after Christmas, and I even got out into the garden for a bit of a tidy up in preparation for the start of the new growing season. Spending time in the sunshine always makes me feel good, no matter what the time of year.
Today was reasonably mild and the sky a joyous blue, so I decided to make my first seaside outing of 2019.
Formby is a coastal town between Liverpool and Southport in the north-west of England. Its abundance of very rich and celebrity residents (including premiership football players) and luxury properties has resulted in the dubious nicknames Califormbia and Formby Hills. The chances of me recognising (or even having heard of!) a reality TV ‘star’, a current ‘soap’ actor, or a football player are roughly equal to the chances of one of them recognising me. I was really hoping to see some of Formby’s other famous locals, the indigenous red squirrels whose abode is the large area of National Trust pine woodland which stretches out along the Formby coast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Temperatures had dropped overnight and the ground frost sparkled in the sunshine. Sections of felled fir trees had been left on the path.
There are two approaches to Formby beach: the first which is shorter and probably more popular involves a very energetic scramble over a range of steep sand dunes; the second – which I opted for – took me on a longer, beautiful meander through the dunes along a sandy path. The azure sky and the landscape reminded me of long ago Aegean holidays.
Several benches along the walk have been dedicated to the memory of people who loved to spend time here. What a lovely way to be brought to mind each time a loved one or stranger sits for a while to admire the vista.
On top of the dunes, sand mountaineers looked out to sea.
Squawking magpies kept their own lookout from the trees tops.
And apparently it’s never too cold for an ice cream.
The National Trust has laid a long board walk to make the beach accessible for prams, wheelchairs and folks like me who don’t climb dunes.
The entire path from the Lifeboat Road car park down to the beach is navigable for wheels and bad knees. Here, I made some new friends in their stunning hand-knitted jackets.
The board walk ended and the wide beach came into view. The tide was out and the firm sand was perfect for walking. whether on two legs or four.
One of my new colourfully-clad friends insisted we had a long game of throw and fetch the stick. Fortunately, he did all the running!
With my playmate called away to rejoin his family pack, the steps of the lifeboat station served as a convenient bench for me to sit for a while and enjoy my first beach visit of the year… hopefully, the first of many.
I recently visited the little-known village of Trim. It is a unique place on the west Lancashire coast boasting an abundance of desirable residences and traditional independent shops on the edge of the village green.
Brightly painted narrowboats are moored along the canal, attracted to the peaceful surroundings and the hospitality on offer at the Horse’s Head pub.
In some ways, this place has been frozen in time and gives the impression of an England that no longer exists.
Trim enjoys impressive facilities for a rural location of its modest size, including a post office, fire station and a police station.
Two train stations: Trim and Brady provide frequent services, which seem to be unaffected by industrial action and chaos resulting from new timetabling.
The vintage green line train passed by about 20 times or more during my short visit. Another train of an unusual European design conveyed some eccentric passengers including a Princess Diana lookalike and her consort, both in Edwardian dress, and another woman – possibly an artist – who offered me a rude two-digit salute, though she may just have been flashing a particularly showy ring.
Trim has a fascinating ethnically diverse population. A community of faerie folk lives deep in the wild grasslands to the west of the village.
Based on my observations, they appear to go out in pairs or threes, looking utterly miserable. Seemingly interested in watching from a distance the comings and goings of the human villagers, the wee people don’t appear to participate in village life. I didn’t see any faerie men in the locality, so it’s possible they live as a female only collective.
A recent increase in crime and wickedness is threatening the very fabric (or mainly the glazing) of what should be a perfect place to live. Close examination of some of the posh properties revealed cracks in the surface of the shiny windows.
Despite extensive house-to-house enquiries carried out by the local constabulary, they haven’t yet found out who is behind the window-smashing campaign. My money is on the person I saw peering through the panes of one house, rock in hand, about to strike. An enormous white sock pulled over his head made a cunning and effective disguise.
A more worrying development is the giant bird which has been making an appearance recently.
Though it has been mainly foraging amongst the reed beds near to the faerie habitation, I saw it for myself in the centre of the village outside the taxi rank, and again later on top of the post office where it seemed, somewhat ironically, to be taking an interest in a cat which had ventured onto a nearby rooftop and fortunately was about to be rescued by the emergency services.
Happily, the village people seem unperturbed by the colossal feathered presence, and life carries on in its typical timeless way.
The cricketers watched their wickets on the green; a newly married couple emerged from the church; outside Bistro Pierre, a fine diner momentarily rested against the wall for support, possibly having had one glass too many.
Outside the pub, a man served his time in the ancient stocks for some unmentionable crime. The faeries looked on…. still miserable.
It has been a glorious summer in the UK but here in the north west of England we have seen the first hints of the arrival of autumn. The central heating has been on several times this week as wind and driving rain have brought a significant drop in temperature.
A few weeks ago, under an azure sky, I enjoyed a blissful walk by the estuary of the river Kent in the charming Cumbrian town of Arnside.
I had passed by dozens of times previously when journeying by train northward along the rugged Cumbrian coast line, but I had never before disembarked there. Friends had gushed about Arnside’s beautiful coastal paths which even very humble amblers such as I could enjoy before partaking of afternoon tea with a view over the water. It sounded like my kind of place.
A short walk down from the station brought into view the most prominent local landmark, the Kent Viaduct which was built by the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway in 1857 to carry the railway over the estuary, connecting Barrow-in-Furness to Lancaster. With 50 piers and at 522 yards long, it was a feat of engineering in its day
A grassy area seemed to serve as both car park and picnic spot where sun lovers had set up their deck chairs and were tucking into chippy lunches, the tang of the vinegar lingering temptingly in the salty sea air.
I resolved to resist and walked further along the promenade to see more of Arnside.
It is impossible to see from the window of a train passing over the viaduct the genteel façade of Arnside prom with its classy collection of quirky gift shops, luxury ice cream parlour, two excellent cafes and very interesting restaurant to which I will be returning to sample the impressive vegan options on the ‘east-meets-west’ fusion menu.
I was surprised to find an award-winning 5* bed & breakfast establishment amongst the other handsome private and hospitality residences lining the impressive promenade. Any guest would be delighted to stay in a room with such a view.
At high tide, the sea returns rapidly as elsewhere around Morecambe Bay. A siren is sounded by the coast guard at regular intervals to warn unsuspecting beach-combers of the incoming danger, but I was quite safe to enjoy my stroll along the rocky track, headed in the direction of Silverdale to the south.
The fells of the south Lake District rose in the distance to meet the sky; across the bay, Grange-over-Sands glittered above the water.
My strappy sandals were not the best choice of footwear for the terrain and I decided after a mile or so to head back. Next time I’ll have to wear my trainers so I can explore further.
The old county of Westmorland (now Cumbria) erected 139 cast iron Fingerposts between 1894 and 1905. They were made by Joseph Bowerbank at the Victoria Foundry in Penrith. Of the 30 that are still in existence, one on Arnside beach points the way to Silverdale.
On the walk back, I passed a drinking fountain with a sad story attached.
A memorial to little Richard Moberly Clayton Grosvenor who died in 1903, aged 4, it was commissioned in commemoration by his grandparents. I didn’t fancy imbibing the rather ferrous looking water so decided instead on a pot of tea at the Ramblers Café as I congratulated myself on discovering yet another Cumbrian haven.
I have a new location to add to my list of favourite places: Sunderland Point. Today, I had the chance to finally explore a unique Lancashire village which exceeded all my expectations in its beauty and serenity.
Sunderland Point is a peninsula between the Lune estuary and Morecambe Bay.
It is unique in that although it is part of the mainland, it is cut off twice daily at high tide, making it impossible for about eight hours each day to cross the causeway which separates it from the village of Overton. Sunderland’s small population must to some extent organise their lives around tide timetables. Since early spring, I too had been consulting the tide times on those Saturdays when I was free, but my hopes were repeatedly thwarted either by tides and trains not matching up, or by inclement weather. As my travel is not restricted just to weekends at present, I found that today the Fates had smiled, and everything came together.
Waiting at Lancaster station for the connecting train to Morecambe, I felt a bit peckish and bought a packet of crisps for the exorbitant price of £1.10, a purchase I was later very glad I had made. From Morecambe, I boarded a bus to Overton, arriving there 35 minutes later. I was very disappointed to find that The GlobeInn – the closest building to the causeway and where I had planned a light lunch and visit to the loo before making the crossing – was closed for refurbishment.
No longer resenting a single penny spent on those crisps but frustrated at not being able to spend a different penny, I set off on the 1.5 mile walk across the causeway
The walk was peaceful and for the most part I had the road to myself, enjoying the sounds of sea birds and admiring the views over to Lancaster 5.5 miles away.
The greyness of the sky only added to the atmosphere. A few cars passed me heading in both directions. The road beneath my feet and the salt marsh around it had earlier been submerged and would be again later in the day.
Boats grounded would later be liberated from the silt by the returning tide.
The end of the causeway came into view and I saw other boats with their best days behind them and unlikely now to be seaworthy.
To my relief – quite literally – the first building I came to was a toilet block, looked after, according to the sign outside, by the parish of Overton. Bless that parish! The toilet even has a twin in Afghanistan!
I walked along First Terrace and Second Terrace, two rows of Georgian houses overlooking the old dock area. The houses look bright and some are really lovely with colourful gardens and some with quirky touches. Two or three are occupied as artists’ studios, part of a flourishing and creative community
On Second Terrace is the stump of a cotton tree, believed to have been brought back as a sapling on a ship in the early 19th century. The tree finally fell in 1998 after particularly strong storms and due to its old age. Cuttings were taken and are thriving in the area. Its fruits when it blossomed resembled cotton.
In the 18th century, the terraces would have been occupied residentially and commercially by people who worked in the shipping trades. Vessels returning from the West Indies would dock at Sunderland if they were too large to enter St George’s Quay, Lancaster, or if they had to wait for high tide. Developed by George Lawson, a Quaker, in the early 1700s, Sunderland had ceased to operate by the end of the century as nearby Lancaster had expanded and opened a deep dock at Glasson.
Lancaster had been the third largest port in England after Liverpool and London and traded not only in goods such as cotton and sugar, but also in human beings. Sunderland Point is the burial place of Sambo, a slave who was ‘elevated’ to the position of servant to the Master of an unidentified ship which docked in 1736. He was sent to stay with other ship hands at the inn whilst the Master travelled on to Lancaster alone on business. The popular narrative is that Sambo thought he had been abandoned in this strange place. He became distraught and ill, refused to eat, and died. The ship’s mates buried him in unconsecrated ground near to the estuary due to him not being a Christian. Sixty years after Sambo’s death, his unmarked grave was given a headstone which was organised by James Watson, brother of Lancaster slave trader, William Watson, perhaps out of a sense of family guilt. Strong opposition to slavery was gaining momentum at that time.
The grave is reached along a sign-posted bridle path which leads to the beach.
Lots of visitors now come to pay their respects at the grave and leave a message or memento. I added something of my own, and spent a few minutes trying to imagine what this boy must have experienced being torn from his family, community and land and dying in this place.
I luxuriated in an undisturbed half hour on a nearby bench with just the landscape, the sea birds and the flotsam and jetsam for company.
Many years ago, I experienced a frightening incident when some friends and I were almost trapped on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne which is also separated from the mainland by a tidal causeway, only just making it back ahead of the returning water. Keen to ensure nothing like that happened again, I started my walk back in plenty time though the tide had already turned, and fishing boats bobbed around on the water.
Back in Overton, I was looking forward to a cold soft drink at its other pub, The Ship. I had drained the last of my water hours earlier and was incredibly thirsty.
Discovering that the pub only opened at 5pm and that there wasn’t a shop in the village, I asked a lady pruning her roses if she would refill my water bottle; fortunately, she was happy to oblige. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing.
Southport is a seaside town in the north west of England. It’s the nearest coastal resort to my home, so although it’s not my favourite beach location, I go there from time to time when I want to smell that distinctive sea air and walk on the wet sand. The town has some nice shops and a genteel ambience, though it is has lost some of its former glamour. Of course, as adults we see through other eyes the once beloved places of our childhoods, and they are never quite the same.
I went to the town last week to visit the British Lawnmower Museum (you can read about that unique experience here ) and decided to spend some time relaxing in one of Southport’s pretty green spaces. The King’s Gardens covers an area of about 17 acres between the town centre and the sea front, which now includes the funfair.
In the reign of King George V, for whom the Gardens are named, the Irish sea used to come much further inland than it does now, so the King’s Gardens would have been a splendid crowd-puller on the promenade. Although development of the shore area started in the mid-19th century, the King’s Gardens came to completion under the design directive of celebrated landscape architect Thomas Mawson in 1913 when they were opened by King George V and Queen Mary.
Last week, most schools in the region had not quite finished for the summer, so although it was a pleasant day the mechanical sounds of the funfair rides and the screams of the thrill-seekers were happily absent, and Marine Lake’s true feathered population enjoyed the water unencumbered by the people-powered imposters.
I admired the revamped Victorian pavilion shelters and the fountain, where nobody is ever too old to have fun…
…and I found a quiet spot in the Sensory Garden
It was a joy to see hundreds of bees darting in and out of the flowers, taking succour between the petals. I found myself engrossed in their vital and urgent foraging; their purposeful yet graceful endeavours for queen and hive in the Gardens of the King.
To read about another visit to Southport, click here
Blundell Sands, Crosby, sits along the estuary of the river Mersey to the north of Liverpool. It’s the site of Another Place, a brilliant art installation by sculptor Antony Gormley (now ‘Sir’ Antony). I’ve seen several of Gormley’s installations, including arguably his most famous, The Angel of the North, but Another Place is my favourite and is in the north west of England which is where I live. I recently went to see the iron men again.
The installation consists of a hundred solid cast iron figures which stand at intervals along the beach. At low tide they can all be seen but my favourite view is at high tide when some are partially submerged. Some appear to be sunk into the sand whilst others are raised and stand proud. All of the figures look out to sea.
Gormley cast the figures in 17 different moulds made from his own body, so he’s sharing more than just his artistic vision. I wonder how he feels whenever he returns to see a hundred iron selves, barnacled and briny as they stand stoic, tide after tide, year after year.
Gormley’s idea was to “…test time and tide, stillness and movement, and somehow engage with the daily life of the beach” as well as a “meditation on emigration.” Looking in the same direction, all of the figures could be pondering new horizons beyond the Irish sea, some wading out to their destinies with the turning tide .
Birkenhead docks doesn’t make for the most enchanting backdrop but for Gormley this was real life and not romantic escapism . Although Another Place will now remain at Blundell Sands, it didn’t come into being there. Its first home was in Cuxhaven, Germany where, as in Crosby, busy container ships would pass by along the river Elbe.
A figure observes Burbo Bank offshore wind farm or maybe he’s more interested in the other figure who can just be seen to the left partially covered by the water.
After Germany, the installation was sited in Norway and Belgium before it arrived in Crosby, and should have voyaged on to New York, but it had become so popular here that a decision was made to make the figures permanent features, something which Gormley approved of.
Not everybody is a fan of Another Place; some local people hate it. I think they are very lucky!