It’s been 71 days since I last walked a section of my coastal adventure. In that time the world has become a very different place. Back then people went to pubs and chatted to each other. We went dancing, ate out in restaurants. We kissed and hugged each other. When we needed groceries we just walked into a shop and bought them. In the mornings we went to work, and came home again in the evening.
Then we stopped seeing each other. We stopped going out. We stopped visiting our families and friends. We stopped eating and drinking outside our homes. We queued glumly to get into shops, reviving scenes from Soviet Russia. Police roamed the streets randomly stopping motorists and asking where they were going and why they were out… reviving scenes from Soviet Russia. And worst of all, our elderly died on their own, in their houses and care homes, and in the hospitals, with no family to hold their hands as they slipped away.
Of course all of the former things were necessary to reduce the likelihood of the last thing happening, but still it happened. Most of the population willingly followed the lockdown. We all knew it was necessary, and the love that the country has for our National Health Service was demonstrated every day, and especially every Thursday evening. In some ways the experience has been inspiring and amazing. Everyone has been reminded how important it is that every member of our society can enter a hospital and know they will be given the best care in the world, and can walk out with no debt, no worries how they will pay for it… perhaps some people had forgotten how important that really is. But that experience has been so expensive in terms of the loss of some of our loved ones.
This has been a vicious virus. A newcomer to our species that has voraciously consumed on its new vulnerable hosts. Spreading itself before we even realise we are harbouring it, and cutting us down in far greater numbers than the nasty influenzas that visit us every winter. I was one of its victims, and as a 53 year old male was one of its favourite feasts, but just by being lucky my antibodies managed to adapt to it in time before it ravaged my lungs like it has so many others. I’m thankful to fate for that, as it is only luck that I’m still here.
Living on my own, at times during the height of the disease I envisaged myself fading away and no-one realising for days. A couple of nights at its worst I wondered if I went to sleep whether I would wake up again. That scared me a little bit, and I feel a kind of debt now that I have escaped its clutches.
I’m trying to repay some of that debt by donating my antibodies to a Convalescent Plasma trial, and I sincerely hope that my antibodies can go on to save the lives of many of those that have been struck down worse than I was, and are struggling to win their own personal battles with it. The evidence so far seems to show that it is a very effective treatment.
On Sunday 10th May 2020, the prime minister announced that a small number of the lockdown restrictions were to be relaxed. Unfortunately, in particular for a close friend of mine, it still doesn’t allow visits to see close family in other households. Even if it was a single nominated other household, that would bring so much joy and relief to so many, without significantly increasing the risk. A shame. But fortunately for me and the progress of my coastal walk, it does allow unlimited driving to get exercise, and unlimited exercise, which means I can now resume my adventure.
So the next stage. This was originally planned to be from Heysham all the way to Silverdale, just south of Arnside. That would have been about 14 miles, which I could have managed okay back then. A drive to Silverdale, bus to Heysham, a walk to Silverdale. But we’re still not allowed to use public transport except for emergency commuting to work, so that option was out.
So I bought a folding bike. It had to be a folding bike because the boot of my car, a 20 year old Jaguar XKR, is only really designed to fit a set of golf sticks. Since I’ve never played golf it hasn’t got any of them in it, and it’s just big enough to fit a folding bike. The bike arrived on Saturday, and after the tiniest amount of construction and testing round the block, I was ready.
Now I haven’t been on a push-bike for a very long time, apart from an occasional 3 mile ride to work when the car was in the garage. I’m talking 30 years or so since I did any significant distance on a bike! So I decide to take it easy, and restrict this to 6 miles.
So on Sunday I drive to Hest Bank, significantly south of Arnside, then cycled to Heysham. By the time I got there I was knackered! There was a strong wind in my face all the way, which I think is totally unfair to a newbie cyclist. And don’t even mention the saddle soreness!
I locked the bike up against some railings, and started trudging northwards in a strange John Wayne-type walk.
It’s a pretty grey day, and the wind’s quite strong. In fact, for 17th May it’s bloody freezing! I think some of my coastal walks back in February were warmer than this. Oh well, at least the wind’s at my back, but I didn’t bring a woolly hat or gloves, and I’m starting to regret that decision. Just to cheer me up, it starts raining. Oh, it’s great to be back!
Just after the start point, there’s a tiny pier sort of thing, more a jetty I guess, and you know how I can’t resist a pier, especially ones I’m actually allowed to go on, so I walk the 50 yards to the end of it. It wasn’t very exciting.
Looking south is the familiar hulk of Heysham nuclear power station. The path takes a turn to the north east shortly, and I wonder if this is the last time I’ll see it. It’s been an ever-present for the last three or four walks, and in a strange kind of way I’ll miss it. I get very sentimental!
Actually, looking at a map I’ll probably keep seeing it for quite a long time yet – it’s not so far from the Furness peninsular in Cumbria.
Looking north, the expanse of sand in Morecambe Bay reminds me that I haven’t walked on sand for a long time. (Actually, that’s not strictly true, for some reason there was loads of sand on my lockdown walk along the footpath next to the Manchester Ship Canal, but this is proper sand, beach sand).
A curious low structure on the beach creates an angular pool, for who knows what reason…
A little further on, the sand becomes a bit muddy, and plants are growing on the beach, including this lovely Armeria Maritima, or “seapink” (No, I didn’t have a clue, I had to look it up on PlantSnap)
Walking along the beach you miss quite a lot of what’s going on up on the shore road, but there’s really not a great deal in this part of south Morecambe until you get to the old Alhambra Theatre, which is now just a fishing tackle shop.
It was built in 1901 as the Alhambra Palace and served as an entertainment venue for many years, until 1970 when a fire gutted it, and destroyed quite a bit of it. Here it is in its wonderful heyday:
Just beyond the Alhambra is the rather grand entrance to West End Road, marked by two turreted buildings. It’s just a shame they didn’t put the steps down to the beach in the dead centre ‘cos it’s ruined my photograph. No consideration!
I reach the nearest thing Morecambe has to a pier – “The Stone Jetty” – which was built by the North Western Railway in 1851 as a wharf and rail terminal for both passenger and cargo transport to serve ferries to Ireland and Scotland. It replaced a previous wooden jetty which also incorporated a railway line.
Down its length are numerous artworks, including these delightful cormorants (I think).
Near the end of the jetty is a stone building which used to be the railway station terminus.
To my delight, attached to the old railway station is a tiny lighthouse, to add to my collection of lighthouses I’ve seen.
A few old fishing boats are scattered forlornly on the muddy beach.
The snaking channels of unnamed rivers meander gently down to the sea…
Overhanging the jetty back near the promenade is a Tide Bell, that tolls with each turn of the tide. Unfortunately the tide was far out and I could hang around to experience it, but you can see and hear it on this YouTube video. Cool.
Just north of the stone jetty is the site of the old Morecambe Lido. It’s filled in now, and at the moment there’s a circus tent occupying the site, with all the caravans, but of course no shows to put on. Hopping around it is a little black and white bird, which I tried to identify on the RSPB bird identifier site, but couldn’t find it. Any ideas?
…and any ideas about this one…
The Morecambe Winter Gardens was opened as the Victoria Pavilion Theatre in 1897 as an extension to the existing Winter Gardens complex, which unfortunately has since been demolished.
Shortly after the winter gardens, Eric is still keeping passersby entertained. This really is quite a lovely memorial to the town’s favourite son.
Heading out of town now, another artwork replicates the mountainous horizon over the water, and names all the peaks. Can you see them all in the distance?… it’s a great idea, but doesn’t work so well on such a grey day.
Whitelow House, now a nursing home, stands out amongst the inconspicuous houses around it, with its patches of art nouveau style. Just beyond on the seaward side of the road is a little boating lake. It seems much too small for boats though. One pull of the oars and you’d be at the other end. Maybe for model boats….
I’m out of town now, and opposite the golf club is a beautiful sculpture of a mother and child, called Venus and Cupid. So I guess it’s not a mother and child. If it was a mother and child it would make sense, playing together, but why would Venus be swinging Cupid round by the arms? Reading up the Wikipedia article it’s described as “…a seated woman, facing out to sea, holding the hands of a child who is suspended in the air extending horizontally from her arms, as if being swung round”, so it is a mother and child, so why’s it called Venus and Cupid? Hmmm.
I’m not getting anywhere here, am I? Anyway, I love it whatever.
I hear a buzz overhead, and look up to see a small plane…
I imagine I’m Richard Hannay being pursued by German spies, dodging in and out of the bushes. It’s so exciting… except there aren’t any bushes. And the plane doesn’t come any lower. And I think I’ve been locked up in my flat for too long during the lockdown.
Soon after, a lane branches off to the left following the coast, and I arrive at a cafe with a sign proclaiming “Still open during the lockdown“. It’s closed. OK, admittedly it’s 6pm on a Sunday, it’s freezing cold and drizzling, but really they should get their signage right.
Beyond the cafe the footpath at the top of the beach becomes strewn with very large pebbles, or small boulders, (same thing) and is a bit tricky to walk on, so I head down onto the sand.
The remains of an old concrete jetty emerge out of the sand, standing in lonely isolation from the shore. It comes from nowhere and leads to nowhere, reminds me of my life! Somehow it looks almost prehistoric… I like it.
At the top of the beach the boulders give way to a grassy shoreline. What look like boulders turn out to be huge lumps of muddy clay that the waves have disdainfully wrenched from the land and thrown upon the beach.
The coastal path passes through a dry stone wall, into a field of sheep, and rises up a steep hill. It’s nice here, this is one of the images I had in my mind when I first considered a walk around the coast. Sandy beaches, ice creams in pretty little coastal towns, and pleasant pastures atop cliffs with the sea below.
In reality there have been only a few of those things so far, but many more estuaries, mud, depressing towns, factories, and sewage works.
At the far end of the field, in a little corner fenced off with barbed wire, is this statue, called “Praying Shell“. It sits above the site where 23 Chinese cockle pickers working for criminal gang–masters died in 2004, although it wasn’t originally made to commemorate that tragic event. It’s a nice memorial to those poor people.
I stare out to sea and imagine how frightened those people must have been when the tide cut them off, when they realised they would have to swim such a long distance through the icy February waters, and realised they stood little chance of survival…. so sad.
The path passes through a tiny static caravan park belonging to the farm, and then squeezes through a tight gap between the stone wall and the farmhouse, emerging into the car park where I left my car.
A far too poignant way to end a walk.
This walk was completed on 18th May 2020, and was about 6¼ miles long. Here’s the map:
Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…: