Sunderland Point, Lancasire: Sambo’s grave where the river Lune meets the sea

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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.

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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 Globe Inn – 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.

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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

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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.

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Zooming in on Lancaster

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.

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Walking along the causeway

Boats grounded would later be liberated from the silt by the returning tide.

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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.

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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!

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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

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Sculpture by the late Ray Schofield

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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.

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The living cotton tree

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.

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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 man must have experienced being torn from his family, community and land and dying in this place.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Royal bees in the King’s Garden

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I admired the revamped Victorian pavilion shelters and the fountain, where nobody is ever too old to have fun…

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…and I found a quiet spot in the Sensory Garden

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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.

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To read about another visit to Southport, click here

Crosby Sands: Another Place

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Internet image shows Gormley with one of his iron man creations

 

 

 

 

 

Grange-over -Sands, Cumbria.

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Grange-over-Sands, or just ‘Grange’ as it’s known locally, was always part and parcel of family holidays in the south Lake District in the 1970s and 80s. My memories include an expansive golden beach – popular for kite flying and long walks – and an art-deco lido, always full of happy swimmers, and rather impressive. The town is small and pretty and has an air of gentility.

Moving forward three decades there is little sign of the once sandy beach, now transformed into salt marsh with wild marine grasses criss-crossed by briny rivulets.

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Out beyond the Lune estuary the Irish sea meets the horizon. It’s the end of April but the day which started with sunshine now threatens a downpour as the grey sky becomes heavy with dark clouds. No matter, this is the north of England where weather can change in a moment and we carry on regardless.

Once off the train at the pretty, Victorian Grange station, a short walk under the subway leads to the beach and straight onto the promenade. It is lovely and well-kept, clearly very popular, especially with dog walkers, and has a nice little vintage-style café and children’s play area at the south end. Under such dark skies these photos don’t show just how lovely it is – in my opinion one of the nicest promenades in England.

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The promenade includes a ‘stumpery’ where there is a surprise in every hollow.

On the last Sunday of every month from April until November, the promenade plays host to ‘Prom Art’, an open-air arts and crafts market where dozens of independent artisans set up their stalls, show off their talents and display their work for sale. Today was the first Prom Art event of 2018 and I decided to enjoy a coastal stroll and perhaps treat myself too.

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There was a wide selection of art and craft work to look at from paintings, photographs, hand-made jewellery, textiles, ceramics, wood and metal work and hand made cards and toys. Everything on sale has been made by the artisans themselves and some, including one lady seated at a spinning wheel and another crafting something on her sewing machine, demonstrated their talents to fascinated browsers.

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I love to choose items for my home which have a story, and to have met the artist and talked with them about their work – particularly the piece I am taking home with me – is quite special. One of my treats to myself today was a print of ‘The Walk’ by textile artist Liliane Taylor. Liliane, originally a fashion designer, told me that the original textile work is exhibited at the Atkinson Gallery in Southport; I shall have to call in to see it.

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Some examples of Liliane’s work
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‘The Walk’, safely home, preserved from the downpour and awaiting its frame

I am very partial to wind chimes and already have several around my house and garden. My second treat to myself was a marvellous chime made from cutlery. I have seen some of similar design, but this one grabbed my attention as the vintage spoons had been skilfully beaten and polished. No two spoons are the same and they look like beautiful old tarnished silver. No gleaming chrome for me! I chatted with the artist, David Bubb, about how he sources and crafts his creations. He and his wife, Sue, trade as  Lovebubb and also work with wood and fabrics.

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The black clouds above finally burst and heavy April showers poured down on the the pop-up studio tents as artists secured their exhibits, some darting into the shelter of their cars. It was also my cue, not a moment too soon, to put my purse back into my bag and move away from further temptation.

Bursts of sunshine made occasional appearances through the dense storm clouds, reflecting on the surface of the water and revealing the fells of south Lake District National Park in the distance.

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The 1930s lido, where I had spent many hours of fun as a child, has fallen into dilapidation and is fenced off. I managed to take some photographs which still give an indication of what a vibrant and exciting place it once was. It has now been given ‘listed’ status as the only remaining art-deco lido in the north of England. It would be amazing to see it open again in all its glory at some point in the future, but for several years now its fate has been contested locally.

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The security fencing around the derelict lido has been there that long it has been turned into a feature. A poster shows the lido in its heyday. Note how in England at that time, regardless of the temperature the older gents would still wear shirts, ties and jackets on their special day out.

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On the other side of the rail track, station-front side, is Grange ornamental garden which had drawn in a few visitors despite the wet benches and the imminent threat of further downpours.

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Across the road and a little further on from the ornamental garden is the lovely community orchard. If the weather had permitted I would have spent some time exploring the budding fruit trees.

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A few heavy drops hit the pavement and then the deluge followed. I decided to head back to the shelter of the station to wait for my train.

 

Morecambe, Lancashire

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I love the sea and the coast line so feel blessed that firstly I live on an island between three seas and an ocean, and secondly that I can travel from my home to the coast in about 30 -40 minutes.

Morecambe is a town on the Lancashire Irish sea coast, just five miles from the historic city of Lancaster and close to the county of Cumbria. Its notable former residents include Eric Morecambe of the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise (a statue is placed in his honour), actress Dame Thora Hird and DJ  and designer Wayne Hemingway, founder of Red or Dead.

I used to visit Morecambe quite often as a child, when our family would spend long summer days starting in the nearby south Lake District National Park. We would sometimes drive home via Morecambe Bay in the late afternoon to enjoy a couple of hours at the Pleasure Beach and savour cones of salty chips on the promenade.

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My dad was a steam train enthusiast, and nearby Carnforth had a good museum where it was possible to take short trips on long-since decommissioned locomotives. The deal was that we kids behaved ourselves whilst dad revelled in pistons and steam, and a trip to the beach and the funfair would follow.

In the decades which followed, this one-time venue of the Miss Great Britain beauty competition and popular retirement destination lost its sparkle and was heading for further decay. The once renowned art-deco Midland Hotel in its sea front location had once epitomised glamour and luxury, but like much else in Morecambe stood silent and abandoned, a sad memorial to its heyday.   I remember one visit to the town in the 1990s, albeit on a particularly grey day, and not being able to get Morrissey’s lyrics out of my head:

This is the coastal town
That they forgot to close down

Times have changed.

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Reinvestment in the town in the early noughties reversed the tragic trend. The seafront passes muster again and the Midland Hotel was revamped and reopened in 2008. It still contains some original features, apparently, though I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing them. On the one occasion I went for lunch there, I have to say I was a tad disappointed at the ordinariness of the interior; nevertheless, it is lovely to see it restored and it is very popular.

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Across the road from the Hotel, the former train station is now an arts venue, The Platform. I’ve seen musical performances there, none especially to my own taste, though it seems to pull in the crowds. I recall that on one visit to the town I encountered a very loud 1950s musical event taking place in front of The Platform; enthusiastic dancers in full-circle skirts or with slicked-back hair (imagine Grease on Morecambe sea-front!) were giving it their all. Not being a fan of that musical genre, I felt sorry for anybody who had booked into The Midland Hotel for a special weekend treat only to endure the rockabilly cacophony emanating from across the road. I also had fond memories of that building as a railway station and lamented its dubious repurposing.

Morecambe has a busy little town centre and the usual Bed & Breakfast establishments, candy floss and burger vendors that every seaside town offers its visitors, some of them still a touch on the shabby side, but overall it’s delightful to see the changes to the place.

The promenade is lovely with a nice café at the end and provides some lovely views over the bay .

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The Royal National Lifeboat Institute building in the distance
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The fells of the Lake District beyond the Bay

Fylde Coast: it’s not all about Blackpool!

 

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Winter sun sets

Streaks of light above the western horizon

Glittering reflections dance on dark sea

Pale orb retreats in sullen sky

Like smouldering charcoal on muted canvas

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Blackpool is, indisputably, the best known seaside resort in the UK. For several months of the year it is teeming with holiday makers from all parts of the country. A magnet for stag and hen parties, outings for all occasions (and none), it has in recent years earned a dubious reputation as the ‘Las Vegas’ of the north west. Blackpool is bold. It’s brash. It’s cheap and cheerful, depending on the particular type of cheer required. It has become a haven for would-be and has-been celebrities, trying to break into or hang onto the bargain basement of the entertainment world. Its vast array of hotels and ‘B&B’s are hugely popular throughout the year.

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I don’t like Blackpool. I never have, even as a child. To me, Blackpool is garish, vulgar and even sinister. Beneath its façade of raucous laughter, bright lights and fairground attractions lies an emptiness and a sadness and something quite disturbing. Blackpool is a bit like a clown. I try to avoid it, or at least the worst of it.

Blackpool is also like a portal which I pass through when journeying to other parts of the Fylde coast which offer an altogether different experience. Even a relatively short distance along the north coastal road in the direction of Fleetwood there are quiet and peaceful stretches of beach which offer solace and opportunities to sit quietly, enjoy the sea and relax.

Thornton Cleveleys, about 4 miles north of Blackpool, is really no more than a village, yet has a bustling shopping centre and a busy high street which includes several chain stores and a number of eateries. I was surprised to find that even in winter the crowds were out and the cafes were busy. It’s easy to forget that places like Cleveleys, whilst being popular with tourists, have their own communities for whom everyday life comes with a sea view. Cleveleys is one of a number of north west seaside resorts which has benefited from a ‘make-over’ which includes some striking seafront architecture.

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From my seat at the top of a flight of concrete steps leading down to the water’s edge (these also serve as cleverly designed sea defences) I spend a happy hour admiring the awesome sight of the waves rolling and crashing against the groynes. Brown and murky with sand from the seabed, the powerful surges of aquatic energy rush in with force, then break and transform into white foam before being gathered on the next currant and taken back out to sea. The sea’s rhythms soothe and hypnotise, telling stories of primal life and the cosmic dance. Salt water is caught in the wind, creating that instantly recognisable aroma found only at the coast, prized throughout time, a cure for those seeking revival and recovery. Sea birds swoop and squawk, scanning the surface for the meal which lies beneath.

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The sun starts to set and the wind picks up, causing me to draw my coat closer around me. Reluctantly, I end my reverie and return to the promenade, still busy with enthusiastic dogs chasing sticks, or happily pulling on their leads, basking in the admiring looks of passers by. Despite the declining day, the beach is still full of life.

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The tram pulls in to rush hour Blackpool and I can’t help noticing that under the street lights and against the backdrop of the now black sea, it doesn’t look that bad after all.

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Carnforth Station Heritage Centre – A Brief Encounter

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Brief Encounter is one of my favourite films – and I’m not alone. It ranks in second place in the British film industry’s list of 100 greatest films. Directed by the much-celebrated David Lean in 1945, the film was based on Noel Coward’s 1936 screenplay Still Life. Filmed at various locations in England, Brief Encounter is set in 1938 and relates the love that grows between Alec, a doctor, and Laura, a middle-class housewife. They meet by chance at a fictional train station, Milford Junction, where Alec comes to Laura’s rescue and gallantly removes some grit from her eye.

A profound yet unconsummated passion develops from that meeting. It’s a very British film of the times; its respectability and restraint make it all the more intense.

There was no big budget and the cast included no A list actors, but Brief Encounter is credited as one of David Lean’s greatest works and was met with wide critical acclaim when it was released. It has gone on to achieve world-wide iconic status.

Carnforth Station sits less than ten minutes outside Lancaster on the scenic line which winds its way along the Cumbrian coast. Designed by architect William Tite and opened in 1846, there is nothing particularly striking about this station, nor – it must be said – about Carnforth. The Station’s claim to fame is that it was chosen as the site of the railway platform scenes in Brief Encounter. Its rural location enabled night time filming to take place whilst avoiding the war time blackout which was necessary in England’s towns and cities.

The Station’s now iconic clock appeared in Brief Encounter, and it is that same clock which today tells the time to passengers and visitors to the excellent Carnforth Heritage Centre. Step inside and you will be transported (pardon the pun) back in time to the heyday of steam travel.

A fantastic team of volunteers works 360 days a year to keep the museum running. Visitors come from all over the world to experience their own brief encounter with British film-making at its best, though they form more of a steady trickle than a flock. I chatted with two Canadian ladies in the gift shop who had digressed from their holiday in the nearby Lake District to see where their all-time favourite film was made.

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The Heritage Centre isn’t just about Brief Encounter. In what was once the main waiting room which is now used for presentations and educational activities, a film runs on loop which shares a potted history of the Station and the wider context of British rail travel in the decades before the end of steam.

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Authentic artefacts are displayed throughout the Centre’s various rooms and a lot of time and trouble have been taken to create a vintage feel.

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A photograph of members of the Women’s Voluntary Service who famously served tea to the troops passing through Carnforth Station during war time

Head towards the gift shop and you will see an array of Brief Encounter themed items on the shelves. I was greatly amused by the boxes of fudge and biscuits, some of which are to be included in suitcases bound for Canada. I bought a mug and ‘far too nice to be used as a tea towel’ tea towel.

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From the gift shop can be heard a melody familiar to fans of the movie: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 –  the soundtrack. Tucked away round a little corner is a tiny cinema where visitors can sit and watch Brief Encounter from proper plush picture-house seats, perhaps whilst nibbling on some of the gift shop fudge.  This is a lovely touch and a nod to the plot, as Laura and Alec initially meet innocently once a week to watch a matinee together.

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The Heritage Centre includes a year-round David Lean exhibition which celebrates the director’s life and work.

At the heart-breaking end of the film Laura and Alec, having decided to put their families and responsibilities before their doomed love, meet for the last time in the same spot where they had that first encounter; the Station’s refreshment room. Those scenes were filmed in a studio, but the set bore a strong resemblance to the refreshments room at Carnforth Station. Though now enjoying modern facilities, it still has a vintage charm.

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It is run by lovely friendly staff who serve a splendid pot of leaf tea; just the ticket on a cold January afternoon whilst waiting for a train back to the 21st century.

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