Sunday, 24 November 2013


Natives of Southport, which lies on the Sefton Coast of Merseyside, have the intriguing nickname Sandgrounders, but there are very strict rules as to who qualifies as a true Sandgrounder.  According to legend a Sandgrounder must be "born on sand land 'betwixt Alt and Asland.'" - Alt and Astand being two specific areas of town.  As with other resorts in the area, Southport's growth coincided with the industrial revolution and the attendant coastal downtime which was increasingly sought by workers in the industrial towns of the north.  As early as 1792 a local man called William Sutton, aka "The Mad Duke", saw the possibilities arising from this trend and built a bathing house at South Hawes, the former name of the original town.  He also built a hotel at the southern end of Southport's main shopping street, Lord Street.  There is a plaque in Sutton's memory which is placed at the corner of Lord Street and Duke Street.  

As well as Lord Street, Southport's attractions include the obligatory pier and tramway.  For the kids there is the Pleasureland fairground and the Lakeside MiniatureRailway.  Older folk will enjoy strolling in its parks and gardens, particularly the Botanic Gardens in the suburb of Churchtown.  Nature lovers can head to the Sand Dunes NNR a short distance to the south of the town, while for walkers there is the Sefton Coastal Footpath.  There are numerous events throughout the year in Southport, most notably the Southport Air Show and the Southport Flower Show, as well as a food and drink festival and a jazz festival, to name just a few.  There is a memorial in the town to the lifeboats, which commemorates a tragedy in 1886 involving a barque called the Mexico which sent distress signals when it got into trouble in heavy seas.  A lifeboat called the Eliza Fernley was sent to help but tragically the lifeboat capsized with the loss of 14 of its 16 crew members. 

For a list of events in Southport see here

Map of the area.

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South Marine  Gardens. Photo by Sue Adair, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 21 November 2013


There are actually two main communities occupying the stretch of coast between Blackpool and the Ribble Estuary, an area which has been inhabited since the Bronze Age: Lytham and St-Anne's-on-the-Sea.  Tourism came to the area with the advent of recreational opportunities for the workers of the nearby mill towns, and thus the two settlements gradually melded into one resort, commonly known as Lytham St Annes.  The resort is best known for its golf, with four courses in all.  One of these, the Royal Lytham & St Anne's Golf Club, founded in 1886, has hosted many important tournaments over the years, including 10 Opens and 2 Ryder Cups.  The Walker Cup is due to be held there in 2015. 

The main feature of Lytham's seafront is The Green, a strip of grass between the main road and the shore.  If strolling along The Green for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking you had been flung across the country to Norfolk, as one of the most prominent sights you are greeted with is The Windmill, a handsome whitewash building, built in 1805 and restored in 1989.  The windmill houses a seasonal museum telling the history of mills and milling.  Next door is the Lifeboat Museum - also seasonal - housed in the Old Lifeboat House.  The views from the seafront are lovely, taking in the mountains of North Wales.  In the gardens next to the pier is a statue of Les Dawson, the late comedian, who lived in the town.  Another comedian who was resident in the town was the late George Formby, while Roy Walker, originally from Northern Ireland, currently lives there.  On the outskirts of town is Lytham Hall, the family seat of the local Clifton family until 1979.  The grounds are occasionally used for open-air concerts and plays.

St-Anne's-on-the-Sea started out as a 19th century planned town, from a plan drawn up by businessman Eliljah Hargreaves, aimed at attracting visitors from the mill towns.  It is a traditional resort with a sandy beach, donkey rides and a small pier.  There is also a nature reserve occupying an area of sand dunes.  One piece of trivia associated with St-Anne's-on-Sea is that it was the original home of the Premium Bonds and ERNIE, the machine that decides who is going to be rich and who isn't by generating the random numbers of the winning bonds.  The operation moved to larger premises in Blackpool in the late 1990s.

There is a third area between Lytham and St Anne's called Fairhaven, which has a wildfowl reserve at Ashton Marine Park, aka Fairhaven Lake.  There is also an RSPB Visitor Centre dispensing information about the birds of the area.  The Ribble Estuary, meanwhile, is an important habitat for waders.  

For a list of events in Lytham St Annes see here.  

Map of the area.

File:Windmill, Lytham - DSC07143.JPG
Photo by Green Lane, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 17 November 2013


It is an undeniable fact that Blackpool is the premier resort of north-west England.  The town's popularity started when the mill workers in the booming Lancashire textile industry starting flocking there in the years leading up to World War I.  The British Pathe website has some wonderful footage from the year 1900 showing turn of the century people enjoying the resort's delights.  One of the most enduring landmarks over the years in Blackpool has been BlackpoolTower, which was prefabricated in Manchester and brought to Blackpool by train to be assembled.  The tower was modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, though half the height of its renowned French cousin.

Blackpool is popular year-round, but one of the times of the year when it comes into its own is from late summer through into the autumn, when the Blackpool Illuminations dominate the resort.  Such is the allure of the Blackpool Illuminations that people travel to the resort from all over the country to feast their eyes on this annual spectacle.  Added to which the resort boasts three piers and a 7-mile promenade which, for those who don't fancy the legwork involved offers an electric tram service.  There are countless other attractions, too numerous to list here - best to visit the Blackpool Tourism website.

One group of people which has become inextricably linked to Blackpool over the years are the good folk of Coronation Street.  From the year 1961 when Ena, Minnie and Martha took a trip up the Blackpool Tower to 1985 when Bet Lynch declared that "Everybody's letting their hair down. You can cut smell of shrimps and best bitter with a knife."  Fast forward to 1989 when one of Coronation Street's worst villains, Alan Bradley, met his end at the hands of a Blackpool tram while stalking Rita Fairclough, who had moved to the town to escape from him.  Then there was the recent heart-rending scene involving Roy and Hayley Cropper who went to Blackpool to try to blot out Hayley's terminal cancer.

For a list of events in Blackpool follow this link.

Live streaming webcam view of the beach and pier.

Map of the area.

File:Central Pier, Blackpool.jpg
Photo by Parrot of Doom, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 15 November 2013


Fleetwood is one of the most interesting coastal towns on the north-west coast of England.  The most fascinating aspect of the town is its lighthouses.  There are three of them, two on land and one out in the bay, and all three of them came into use in the year 1840.  The Lower Lighthouse, aka the Beach Lighthouse, was designed by Decimus Burton, a protege of John Nash.  It appears to have an identity crisis, with its neoclassical colonnaded base more reminiscent of a civic building than a beacon for troubled mariners.  It is a beautiful sight though and worthy of preservation.  The Upper Lighthouse, or Pharos Lighthouse was also designed by Burton and looks much more like a traditional lighthouse, apart from the fact that it is very much in the town.  It also has a striking red colour, from the sandstone used in its construction.  The relative positions of these two lighthouses was a deliberate attempt to ensure a safe passage into the channel leading into Fleetwood.  The last of the three lighthouses is the Wyre Light, an iron "screw-pile" lighthouse built by a blind engineer called Alexander Mitchell.  The lighthouse, which has fallen into disrepair, is sunk into the seabed at the edge of a sandbank in Morecambe Bay.  Every year the local RNLI organises a four-mile guided walk across the sands at low water to the remains of the lighthouse, an event dubbed the Wreck Trek.

Lighthouses aside, Fleetwood is a perfect example of a traditional Victorian seaside resort.  Landmarks along the seafront include the Marine Hall, an art-deco building which hosts shows and concerts.  The North Euston Hotel and Gardens is another prominent landmark.  Designed by Decimus Barton and opened in 1841, the hotel became a School of Musketry in the latter half of the 19th century before reverting to its original purpose around the turn of the century.  The pleasant gardens outside the hotel house a number of features including an obelisk and memorial stone dedicated to those who have lost their lives at sea.  Other attractions in the town include the Freeport FleetwoodOutlet Village and the Fleetwood Museum, housed in a handsome building and telling the story of the Fylde coast.  One of Fleetwood's claims to fame is that John Lennon had a cousin who lived in Fleetwood and the young John used to spend his summer holidays there. 

Each year at the end of August/beginning of September the town hosts the Fylde Folk Festival.  For other events on the Fylde coast see here.

Map of the area. 

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Lower Lighthouse. Photo by John Driscoll, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


The River Wyre cuts through a coastal plain known as The Fylde, meandering towards Morecambe Bay, where at its mouth Knott End-on-Sea and Fleetwood gaze across at each other.  Knott End-on-Sea is a quiet little place with a big wide beach of sand and mud.  In summer it is linked to Fleetwood by a ferry service.  Walkers can set off along the eastern shore of the estuary on the Wyre Way, which leads the long way round to Fleetwood.  The path leads south to an area of salt marsh with two nature reserves: Barnaby's Sands and Burrows Marsh. 

Moving round to the west shore, Skippool Creek attracts birds such as lapwings, ducks and herons, while humans use its moorings and jetties for sailing.  Skippool was a port way back in the 16th century, serving Poulton-le-Fylde, just inland.  Incredibly, the port was allegedly doing more trade than Liverpool by the mid-18th century, with a range of imports including guano from Africa, which was used as fertiliser for the farms in the Fylde.  Further up the west shore at Stanah is the Wyre Estuary Country Park with the Wyreside Ecology Centre giving information on the estuary's wildlife, which includes golden plovers, redshanks and oystercatchers, along with many other birds on the mudflats and sandbanks.  The Wyre Way leads from here to the southern end of Fleetwood, of which more in the next blog post. 

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Dr Neil Clifton, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 11 November 2013


Glasson, also known as Glasson Dock, lies at the mouth of the River Lune.  There has been a port here since the late 18th century when the dock was built as an alternative to the harder to reach docks in Lancaster.  The port was linked to the main Lancaster Canal in 1826, and it handled raw materials for Lancaster's mills and slate which was imported and transported to Preston, while coal was exported to Ulverston, North Wales and Ireland. Due to the nature of the river at this point entry to the dock is tightly controlled and limited to short periods.  Nowadays the working docks share the area with a yacht basin and the barge-lined canal.  There is a six-mile walk from Glasson to Lancaster via the Lune estuary which is great for birdwatching.  The village has a website with a history of the port and photographs. 

Map of the area.

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Photo by Tom Richardson, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 9 November 2013


What do rock band Black Sabbath and Heysham have in common?  Answer: there is a collection of graves at Heysham Head in the grounds of the ruined St Patrick's Chapel, close to the present-day St Peter's Church, which featured on the cover of The Best of Black Sabbath album cover. St Patrick reputedly landed here after crossing from Ireland.  The grounds of  St Peter's house many Saxon and Viking remains, and there is a Viking hogback stone (grave marker) in the church.   Heysham was visited by the artist J. M. W. Turner, and he produced a number of paintings of the village with the Lake District peaks in the background, including 'Heysham and Cumberland Mountains', painted in 1818. To the east of the town is Heysham Moss Nature Reserve, which provides interest for botanists, with such delights as twelve species of "bog moss" or Sphagnum on offer, while ornithologists are likely to encounter breeding birds such as Reed Bunting and wintering birds such as Snipe.  As a contrast to Heysham's ancient heritage and nature, Heysham is the location of a nuclear power station, in fact two of them, Heysham 1 and Heysham 2.  Near the power stations is a ferry terminal offering a ferry service from Heysham to the Isle of Man.        

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Tom Pennington, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Halloween may be over, but that's no reason not to share a good ghost story.  The Midland Hotel in Morecambe was built in 1933 in the art deco style.  During World War II the hotel was used as a hospital for officers of the RAF, and its cellar was used as a mortuary.  This may explain the ghostly occurrences that have manifested themselves within its walls.  There have been reports of a misty figure which apparently has the ability to operate the lift.  The figure would emerge from the cellar and float towards the lift, whereupon the lift doors opened, allowing the figure to enter.  The doors then closed again and the lift ascended complete with its nebulous passenger.  It is said that these events caused the hurried resignation of several members of hotel staff.

Over the years following the post-war period the hotel, along with the resort as a whole, went into a decline.  In fact Morecambe deteriorated to the point where it was included in a book called Crap Towns about some of the most dismal locations in Britain.  However, the authorities have made sterling efforts to turn things around.  TheMidland Hotel was renovated and reopened in 2008, still retaining the artworks by the controversial artist Eric Gill which graced the original building.  His work called "Odysseus Welcomed from the Sea by Nausicaa" has pride of place behind the main reception desk.  All of which is fitting treatment for a hotel which in its early days was frequented by the likes of Coco Chanel and Noel Coward.   Another listed building is the MorecambeWinter Gardens, aka the Victoria Pavilion, which is being looked after by a preservation trust.  Meanwhile, the promenade has been enhanced with the addition of public artworks such as sculptures of the Morecambe Bay birdlife.  Another point of interest on the seafront is the statue of Eric Morecambe of comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, whose original surname was Bartholomew but who renamed himself after the town of his birth.

The leisure activities on offer in the resort are many and varied.  Active types can enjoy a round of golf at the Golf Club, learn to sail at the BaySea School or take a guided Cross Bay walk across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay.  Morecambe is also the eastern terminus of the Way of the Roses CycleRoute, the other end being Bridlington.  There are open top bus tours of Morecambe Bay and the WackyWarehouse for the kids.   The Winter Gardens offers ghost hunts along with its other more conventional entertainments.

Live streaming webcam.

Map of the area. 

File:Midland Hotel, Morecambe, Lancashire, England-31Aug2010 (1).jpg
Midland Hotel. Photo by Tom Heyes, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 3 November 2013


One of the most memorable images from 1940s British cinema is that of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson gazing meaningfully into each other's eyes in a station cafe in Brief Encounter.   Those who want to relive that romantic moment should head for Carnforth, because it was the cafe at Carnforth Station, now known as the Brief Encounter Refreshment Room, which was used in the film with the station acting as Milford Junction.  It is a fitting name, because at that time Carnforth was a major junction in the railway system of the north-west, and during the war thousands of servicemen passed through on the way to their overseas destinations.  However, Carnforth was a victim of the Beeching rail cuts in the 1960s, and the station was turned into a mere branch line station with a lot of the buildings from its heyday falling derelict.  Recent restoration work has resulted in the opening of the Carnforth Station Heritage Centre, incorporating that famous cafe.  There was once a major ironworks in the town, making use of the excellent railway links of the time, but this has now gone and all that remains of the site is an industrial estate.  One of the most popular leisure activities in Carnforth is to take a stroll along the Lancaster Canal, which passes through here.

Map of the area. 

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Carnforth Canal Basin. Photo by David Medcalf, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 1 November 2013


Arnside lies at the mouth of the River Kent and forms part of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).  It is a perfect area for keen walkers, with wooded walks around Arnside Knott, a hill on National Trust land just outside town, and a walk to a distinctive Victorian jubilee monument called the Pepper Pot near Silverdale, as well as coastal paths.  Or just take a stroll along the promenade, enjoying the views across the estuary towards Grange-over-Sands and the Lake District peaks.  It is an area of towers, such as the ruined pele towers Arndale Tower and Hazelslack Tower.  The pele towers were built to provide protection from Scottish invasion, and these are just two of many such towers in north-west England.  Then there is Lindeth Tower, where the Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell regularly took up residence while holidaying in the area, taking the opportunity to write some of her works there. 

Murmuration is a word we've been hearing a lot on the BBC this week.  This year the ever-popular Autumnwatch has been beamed onto our screens from the LeightonMoss RSPB reserve just to the east of Silverdale, and one of the most memorable sights viewers have been treated to is that of the starlings doing their 'murmurations'.  This incredible display takes place each day just before dusk and the one at Leighton Moss involves some 30,000 birds according to Martin Hughes-Games of Autumnwatch.  The birds flock together and wheel around in the sky, weaving themselves into a constantly changing shape.  It is thought that they do this to protect themselves from predators by presenting the illusion of one gigantic creature in the sky.  When they are ready to settle down for the night they swoop down en masse into the reed beds and suddenly it's all over.  There are many places around the country where this impressive spectacle can be observed, but Leighton Moss must be one of the best.  Autumn is also a good time to see the charming bearded tits (no sniggering at the back), who made a guest appearance on last night's Autumnwatch.

Map of the area. 

Arnside. Photo by GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons