Here in the north west of England we are into day four of a very cold spell. Cold for us, that is. Temperatures have dipped below zero every day since Wednesday, and this freezing weather is set to continue for at least the next week. It’s unusual here to have such a succession of cold days , especially in early December, and English winters have been milder in recent years.
Being off work this week, and knowing that the weather change was imminent, I decided to take full advantage of a chilly but beautifully sunny Tuesday to jump on the train and head to Southport, the nearest coastal resort to my home town, just 33 minutes away along the West Lancashire line.
Arriving in the town I opted for the quickest route to the beach which took me up a side street, busier in the warmer months selling ice creams and confectionery to holiday makers, but eerily quiet in winter, empty and rather forlorn.
Reaching the promenade, I was glad to find it was low tide. I usually check in advance but not today. The golden sand looked inviting and was firm under foot, revealing a scattered sea-bed haul to the winter sun before the dark waves would reclaim it in the moonlight.
The mud flats are precarious along this part of the beach, so walking is limited to the short stretch of sand. That’s fine by me.
I sat and appreciated the views, glad of having the opportunity to be by the sea on such a lovely winter day.
Birds circled and swooped above the sea grasses and the mud pools, on the look-out for rich pickings.
Apart from the birds and the occasional cyclist whizzing past, my quiet little spot was my own for the most part. Zooming in with my camera, I spotted the familiar outline of Blackpool, further up the Lancashire coast, its famous Tower unmistakable and the white-knuckle roller coaster at the edge of the Pleasure Beach.
A friendly dog brought me out of my daydream, happy to be petted and complimented before rejoining his person and running off excitedly in the direction of the Pier. Elevated above the sand, a few folk walked the wooden boards, perhaps heading for the refreshments kiosk at the end that serves hot drinks in all weathers. Perfect.
Having enjoyed an afternoon mooch around sunny Southport and a stroll on the sand, I headed back to the train station for the journey home. It was 15:17 and the brightness of the afternoon was fading fast. The journey would take just 33 minutes, but dusk was approaching, and the last of the winter daylight would almost have gone by the time I arrived back in Wigan.
Just a few minutes out of town, behind us now the retail park and long terraces of B&Bs, we reach the start of several miles of mainly agricultural land.
I have my Kindle poised, ready to resume the le Carre I started reading again yesterday, more than 20 years after being enthralled by the paperback publication, later made into a film with Sean Connery in the lead role, playing a very different sort of spy.
The Kindle’s still poised as I find my attention drawn instead to the view from the window, one scene quickly changing into the next as the train speeds ahead through the arable landscape.
The track cuts through a patchwork of fields, a vast open space as far as the eye can see in shades of gold, ochre, muted and vibrant greens, rusted oranges and rich browns. The sky is still blue, and the light plays on water and earth, casting shadows or setting on fire.
A few stops outside Southport and a ticket inspection is underway. At this time on a week day afternoon, we passengers are small in number and a well-behaved lot, every conductor’s dream. In this carriage there’s only me and a young woman sitting behind. We both produce our tickets and receive thanks and a winning smile. The conductor moves on.
Back to the window. In the few minutes that I’ve been distracted, the light has faded a little more, creating a somewhat mysterious effect.
Acres upon acres of farm land lie mostly dormant, long since harvested, recovering and reenergising for the next planting, though some reveal signs of recent working and a few even show off healthy winter crops. An abundance of cabbages and kale are grown in West Lancashire.
The train slows as we approach the next stop, the attractive station house now defunct and possibly under development for another use. The lady announcer reminds us, if we are alighting, to take all our belongings and mind the gap between the train and the platform edge. A passenger from the next coach heads towards the door nearest me, belongings in hand and ready to watch for the gap. She wishes the conductor a good evening and good luck in the next round of strikes next week. Did I really hear that? I must have, as the conductor laughs and replies, “We’ll need it.” Satisfied that no more passengers are going make a last minute dart out of or onto the train, she steps up from the platform, locks the doors, and we’re off again.
A gorgeous full moon is now visible behind the thin clouds, though it has failed to appear in these photographs. Look at the sky and it could be 10:30 pm in mid-June, only the bare-branched trees and the russet hues revealing the true season.
A couple of stops before home, the enchanting views gradually subside, replaced by scenes of industry and domestic life. Russet grasses become trackside rusted metal, and vast housing estates replace furrowed fields. Street lights, Christmas lights, traffic and hubbub announce our return as we slowly pull into Wallgate station. The lady announcer gives the reminder about belongings and another gap to watch out for, and thanks us for travelling with Northern Rail. On the platform, the pleasant conductor gives another winning smile. I don’t mention strikes.
After a week of gale-force winds, rain, sleet and hail, Friday brought sunshine and double figures on the thermometer and felt like it should be taken advantage of. The ground being sodden and unworkable, tackling garden jobs was not an option. I had a couple of long-overdue errands to run in Southport, the closest coastal location to home, so decided to take the pleasant 35 minute train ride, mainly through arable farmland, to the seaside.
To my surprise the train was full, though from the snippets of banter I couldn’t avoid overhearing, some of my fellow passengers were headed to an event at a holiday camp a bit further down the coast. I had a very brief wander around that camp a few years ago when visiting another beach, and I hoped that the ladies, who had apparently travelled all the way from Glasgow and Northumberland, would not be too disappointed.
My errands ticked off the list, I headed towards the sea front to breathe in the briny air. I had thought it a bit early in the year for the seasonal traders, but a sunny, albeit cold, day in half-term week had tempted a few to open up.
The music, the ride, the lot, all sad and showing their age. I felt my age, too. I used to love this place as a child, favouring it over bigger and (to most) better Blackpool up the coast. Much has changed, none of it for the better as far as I can see, but change is part of life and mine is just one opinion. I sat for a minute on a memorial bench dedicated to some folk who had ‘walked here often’ over many decades.
I spotted a couple of my own happy ghosts on the beach, animated in fragments of sunlight, colour and sound, committed to memory.
I’m glad I knew Southport in better times. But it can be a mistake to compare the past with now. My memories are those of my child self, candy-floss flavoured and always in summer sun. Of course, now can never compete with then.
Nostalgia put aside, and back to the moment, I looked down to the sand where a new generation walked and ran and laughed, moving out towards the tide, probably wondering, like us all, if they would ever reach it.
Happy New Year! I hope as we start 2020 all in WordPress world are well and in good spirits. I decided that rather than write a review of 2019 I would write a few thoughts on what I’d like to be blogging about during the year ahead.
Yesterday marked my first visit of the year to the coast (my favourite kind of location), and I can’t think of a better first photo of 2020 than a spectacular sunset viewed from Southport Pier.
Apparently, today is this blog’s birthday. I have been pressing words for five whole years! This is also my 100th post, so a double milestone. Do the maths and you will see that I’m far from a prolific poster, and that is unlikely to change in 2020. I’ll still post when I have something new to share about somewhere I’ve visited or an experience I’ve enjoyed that I think might be of interest to some other people. I’ve never had a writing schedule and have sometimes gone weeks – and in the early days of the blog, months – without writing a word, though I’ve posted more over the last year or two.
Regular readers will know that I love to be near to the sea, in all seasons and at any time of day. Yesterday afternoon I decided to make the short train journey from my home in Wigan to Southport on the Lancashire coast. It was after 2 o’clock when I arrived, so after having a quick bite to eat and a mooch in a couple of shops, I made my way to the Pier. The town was busy, unsurprisingly on such a dry and bright day, but by this time it was about 3 o’clock and the light was starting to fade.
Although it wasn’t a cold day for the time of year the wind coming in from the sea was bitter as I walked towards the end; I wished I’d worn a scarf and gloves. My hands shook a little as I angled my phone towards the western sky, partly cold fingers and partly the biting breeze. It was well worth it though, as I was rewarded with breathtaking views as the sun descended.
At the end of the Pier I sat for a while on one of the wooden benches, watching as the light diminished and the sky changed from one moment to the next, nature’s own light show, unsurpassable.
This is a ‘first’ for me as I have never before written a post on my phone, or used in a blog photographs I took with it. I don’t really like using this small key pad for anything other than texting, but other devices are out of action at the moment, and actually the typing is not that bad and I like the photos. Perhaps that opens a door to more spontaneity in 2020.
Five years ago, this blog started out purely as an extension to my Facebook page where I would share photos with friends and family of places I’d visited but without any details or narrative. People would often ask about the locations, want more specific information or want to share their thoughts. I had the idea of writing a simple little blog which I would link to Facebook where folks could click on a link to see more than just the photographs. I seldom use Facebook these days, but here I still am.
It never occurred to me that anyone else would be reading my blog, or even how they would come across it. Even now, I sometimes wonder what people must have ‘Googled’ to end up here. One day I logged on for the first time in months and noticed a tiny orange circle near the alert bell at the top of the screen which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was probably a notification from WordPress and was very surprised to find it was a message from a real person who had been reading one of my posts. As that started to happen more often, and one or two people started to follow my blog, I changed my style slightly, and wrote for anyone who might visit, not just those readers I knew personally.
It was even longer before I started to explore WordPress and found so many interesting and talented writers whose words and images I still thoroughly enjoy. I’ve discovered great places to visit and have been intrigued, amused, moved, entertained, inspired and educated by the posts I’ve read. I look forward to seeing more in 2020.
So what will I be writing about this year? Probably exactly the same as before. There is no plan. I’m sure I’ll revisit my favourite places and may write about those again if there’s something new to add. I’m also sure I’ll seek out new places to explore which I’ll share here. I’ll probably focus more on places closer to home, though there will be one or two trips further afield too. One thing I can guarantee is that there will be more posts from the coasts and hopefully more stunning views like these.
I’m officially on leave for five glorious weeks. Even if the sun doesn’t shine every day it’s still wonderful having more time to relax and recharge the old batteries and having weekdays at my disposal to do as I please. Monday was scorching hot; too hot to do anything except laze around in my garden for most of the day – so that’s exactly what I did.
Yesterday was another very hot day and I decided to brave the sticky discomfort of travelling on a stifling and potentially crowded train to Southport, the nearest seaside resort to my home, 35 minutes away on the west Lancashire coast. I wasn’t going for a paddle – though the idea was tempting on such a sweltering day – but because I wanted to buy some curtains from a well-known retailer which happens to have a store on the sea-front retail park. I dislike shopping and tend to do it online when I can, but at least this was for something specific (quick in and out) and the beach was a bonus. The train wasn’t too bad as the schools around here don’t break up until tomorrow or Friday – next week will be a different story.
The sea was in when I arrived. To me, nothing is as soothing as the gentle rhythmic rolling of waves, and I can happily sit for a couple of hours, just listening. I think I was about 40 when I first saw high tide at Southport beach; all through my childhood that sight had eluded me and, like many people, I had come to believe that the water never advanced any further forward than a point about half a mile out. As kids, we always had to walk for 20 minutes just to get our toes wet.
Southport is a different place now to the exciting resort that I remember from my childhood. But that can be said of everywhere, and change isn’t always a bad thing. British coastal waters are certainly much cleaner now, for sure. I don’t think people worried too much about that back in the day, or possibly were not even aware. I don’t ever remember being told in the 1970s that I shouldn’t go into the Irish sea, though in the 1990s I was certainly saying that as a mum myself. Fortunately, legislation and Health & Safety initiatives have improved seas for recreation, if not yet sufficiently for marine animals, sadly and shamefully.
In the 1970s Suthport was buzzing. It had a big funfair with the usual thrilling rides, candy floss kiosks and all the rest. There’s still a fair now albeit a much scaled-down version. Though Southport is known as a retirement town, the young families still arrive and appear to enjoy its charms. I was happy to see buckets and spades still seem as popular as ever with the little ones.
It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns, both incoming and outgoing. The seaweed-strewn sand was revealing more and more of itself as I sat and reminisced. Reluctantly, I dragged myself up and across the coast road to get some lunch and search for curtains. In the end I found that the ones I’d liked online were a pale imitation in reality; a bit like memories and the present day. I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time though
Crossing the road back to the beach I saw that during the hour-and-a-half or so that I’d been gone, the sea had also gone, leaving pools and rivulets and sand sculptures fashioned by the waves.
Closer to the sea wall, the grasses gently moved in the delicious breeze. I could have been somewhere far away, tantalisingly exotic…. as long as I didn’t look behind and back across that road 🙂
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.
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
Rain has recently fallen on my part of the world for the first time in four weeks; and very welcome it has been! I love the sun and the heat and have basked and baked under the glorious rays, enjoying each day as it has arrived in all its fiery glory. I have trudged nightly, heavy watering can in hand, across the lawn to quench the thirst of wilting flowers. My little lawn has suffered in the extraordinary heat. Straw-like patches have appeared amid the verdant blades. It is incredible how quickly the lawn has rallied after just three heavy downpours; new growth has already sprung forth, and the dry but cooler weather of the last few days has aided the revival. I eagerly await the return of the intense heat but a (hopefully brief) respite is literally a breath of fresh air.
Lawns. Mine is only small. We Brits love them. We love sitting on them. We love walking barefoot across them. Playing tennis on them is another British pastime. Most of all we seem to love mowing them. All this lawn talk reminded me of a museum I had heard about that is dedicated to that instrument of lawn beautification, the trusty mower. When I first heard about this repository for mechanical grass cutters, I thought it must be a joke. Certainly, these most labour-saving of horticultural contraptions hold pride of place in our garden sheds, but could there really be a museum celebrating their existence? I decided to head to the coastal town of Southport to find out mower (sorry!).
Shakespeare Street, just a short walk outside of the centre of Southport, is quite ordinary except that it is the location of a centre of national gardening heritage, the British Lawnmower Museum This fascinating place was created by owner, Brian Radam, whose family business, Lawnmowerworld, is adjacent. In fact, visitors must go through Lawnmowerworld – a business which specialises in the sale, servicing and repair of all things lawnmower-ish – to enter the Museum. According to its website, ‘The Museum retains a character not often seen in these modern times’; I would not disagree.
I paid my £4.50 entrance fee and passed through the turnstile which separates the shop from the Museum. Brian – curator and business owner – explained that there would be an audio guide which would provide details about some of the many exhibits and about the history of lawnmowers in general. He asked me if I was interested in the devices, and I confessed that I was not, beyond their usefulness in my own garden, but that I was fascinated by the idea of a museum being dedicated to them. Fortunately, Brian didn’t seem to take offence at my frank response.
The audio commentary proved to be very informative, containing lots of interesting details about the invention of the first models and how they were initially dismissed by critics who thought they would never take off! The commentary and the Museum’s website inform that ‘the lawnmower was patented by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830’. At the time, Budding was thought to be insane and ‘had to test the machine at night so no one could see him.’ Needless to say, Brian has the prototype in his collection and was happy to demonstrate to me how it worked. Two men would have been needed to move this revolutionary piece of machinery, so Brian had to multi-task in this demonstration.
Only a fraction of the Museum’s total collection is on display, with the rest being stored away at a secure location. It wouldn’t be possible to show everything. It’s a rare thing to be guided through a museum by a curator. Brian helpfully hovered, powered by enthusiasm, revealing interesting snippets. I learned a lot on my visit, though I have to say that as I’m not mechanically-minded, some of the more technical details went over my head.
I found the Museum a lot more interesting than I had expected to, and was particularly entertained by the collection of celebrity mowers and devices which the rich and famous have donated. Here are just some of them.
I asked Brian if he contacted celebrities to request their expired devices. I was quite surprised to hear that it was they who contacted him and invited him to their posh pads to collect the aged contraptions. I was particularly amused by an anecdote about Nicholas Parsons who went on to offer Brian not only the mower originally promised but virtually the whole contents of his shed! With all that stuff to get rid of, Nicholas Parsons could have put on the car boot Sale of the Century! (if you were born after 1970 you will have to ‘Google!’)
On one wall, Brian has displayed some photographs of himself meeting celebrities at various events to do with gardens or machinery or when they have visited the Museum.
Brian didn’t mention during our conversation that he is a former racing champion and played down taking part in (and winning) a TV quiz show, various media interviews over many years and participating in other TV programmes and conventions. As a curator, Brian Radam is a cut above (sorry again!) those of most other museums and brings back to life through enthusiasm, knowledge and humour the rusting relics of gardening yesteryear.
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 from time to time. I have very early childhood memories of playing on the beach with family and friends, the great expanse of sand 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 suggest more than the possibility of it, by way of marine offerings strewn across the damp sand: slimy seaweed; shiny shells, flotsam and jetsam deposited by the always absent waves. 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 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 been amongst its attractions, seemingly operating under a 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 one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s descendants, who sojourned on Lord Street, it has always maintained a bourgeois air. Home to millionaire footballers and other celebrities, Southport and surrounding areas have status. Royal Birkdale, a short and 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 2017 had brought and taken away.
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.