This was my first proper day-night walk. The first half on banks and paths, the second half along the beach. I planned to come into Blackpool after sunset – after all, Blackpool is so much nicer in the dark!
I seem to have developed a habit now of starting off with a picture of a bus stop. So to make sure none of my readers are disappointed here’s the bus stop I started the walk from today. Everyone loves a good bus-stop pic, don’t they? Don’t they?
This section starts from a small flight of concrete steps that scales a low wall, delivering me onto a bleak muddy path crushed between a drainage ditch and a brutal spiked metal fence. It’s only a very short distance before another set of concrete steps takes me over a style, and I’m suddenly out in the open, rewarded with the dramatic panorama of the Ribble Estuary.
My coastal path turns to the right, along a raised bank, reminiscent of the banks on the south shore of the estuary. Swans are resting in the field on my right. I’ve seen swans just sitting in fields a few times now. I never knew they did that, but I guess I’ve only ever seen swans in cities before where there aren’t any fields for them to sit in.
It’s high tide around now, and the function of the banks is made clearly evident as you can see the sea level on the left is higher than the fields on the right.
I planned today’s walk to start at about 2:30pm, because the weather forecast correctly predicted downpours up until then. However, sunset is at 5:20pm and this walk is four and a half hours long, so most of the second half of it will be in darkness. Looking over the estuary I can see that the sun is already low in the sky, and the light is perceptibly fading. I just hope I’m off these rough paths and banks by sunset otherwise there’s a good chance I’ll end up in the water!
In the distance to my left I can see a bridge of some sort. Checking on my iPhone compass and map, I realise it’s the road bridge at Southport.
It’s only 7½ miles away as the crow flies, but it was 38 miles back for me. Progress is so slow around estuaries. This can easily become frustrating, even disheartening. It feels even worse when in some parts you must walk southwards – I’m trying to head north! My solution to this negativity is just to think about eating up the miles. The whole walk is 5,500 miles long, and I’m very slowly devouring those miles, one by one. Whether I’m heading southwards, or in a huge semicircle around an estuary, I’m nibbling away at that unthinkable total. Even better, the 38 miles around the Ribble estuary has chipped 0.7% off that colossal block, while still keeping me within easy travelling distance from my home. Now that feels better!
The path on the bank swings round to the right, past a yachting marina and rejoins the main A584 momentarily just to cross a small brook.
I pass through a modern housing estate, which is strange, being ensconced in this suburban scene when I’m walking the coast. A bit like the normal-world scenes in Harry Potter, where normality is uncomfortably peculiar, and wildness is homely.
The route soon returns to the coast, but in a very suburbanly safe way, with clipped lawns, mock-Victorian streetlamps, and strict signs to deter any unruly behaviour.
The whole scene is guarded from the extensive balconies of the identical residences of the affluent inhabitants.
At the far end of this oasis of excessive normality, the path should drop down onto the beach and pass alongside the marshy banks of the Ribble. Unfortunately, the combined efforts of Storm Ciara and high tides have transformed the path into debris-strewn swamp, and I have to backtrack slightly and take the main road for a few hundred yards until I reach the far end of the submerged path.
The recent storm has taken its toll. Over a few miles I come across its destructive handiwork in several places…
The route now either becomes a stroll along the promenade, or the shingle beach, which I drop down onto whenever I can. A picturesque windmill sits in company with the old Lytham lifeboat station, now stranded too far up the beach to be useful, as the upper reaches silted up over the years.
Here are placed two ancient anchors which were caught in the nets of a fishing boat, rescued, and put on display. One is from the “Mexico”, a barque that was wrecked off Southport on 9th December 1886 on its way to Ecuador. The tragic story of her demise is memorialised in Southport’s cemetary. Lifeboat crews from Southport, St Anne’s and Lytham all launched to try to save her that stormy night. The Southport lifeboat launched first, but was capsized, losing fourteen of her sixteen crew to the sea. Twenty minutes later, the St Anne’s lifeboat launched. All that is known is that by noon the next morning the lifeboat was found capsized ashore, with the bodies of three of its crew hanging on the thwarts, heads downwards. Every man in the crew was lost. The third lifeboat from Lytham managed to reach the Mexico, and rescued all twelve of her crew, who had lashed themselves to the rigging to prevent being thrown to the ravaging waves. Twenty-seven lifeboat-men died that night, the worst disaster in the RNLI’s history. It seems that in many of my walks I encounter some historic disaster. The sea is truly an unforgiving neighbour.
Right, so far I’ve resisted the urge to add any of my Super-Zoom pictures in this posting (OK, the Southport bridge one), but I can’t forgo just one crow picture because I love them.
Just beyond the windmill I come across the site of old mussel tanks. Mussels were collected here from ancient times, but by the early twentieth century increased pollution in the waters resulted in more and more cases of food poisoning. To address this, three mussel tanks were built in 1935 containing fresh water where the mussels would be placed for a few days. Their natural filtering behaviour flushed the poisonous water out of their bodies, and they were then fit to eat. With the decline of the fishing industry the tanks became unused and derelict. This monument was built on the site of one of them to keep the memory alive. Not very interesting, but nice all the same.
Here’s a picture of a sunken yacht beneath a setting sun, courtesy of Storm Ciara.
The shingle beach goes on and on for a couple of miles, until looking up on my right I realise the brand new sea wall now has “No Entry” chains at the top of each of the stairways. I don’t worry about this too much and keep going until the water reaches the base of the sea wall and I’m forced to ascend the next flight of steps and hurdle the chain.
It turns out that a long section of the sea wall is being rebuilt, and I’m now fenced into a construction site, with no obvious way out. There’s no way I’m going to retrace my steps back the mile or so that would allow me to escape easily. Luckily, a helpful passerby, bemused as to how I managed to get in there, helps me to force back one of the barricades to allow me to squeeze through.
This whole section of coast, delightfully named Granny’s Bay, is a construction site until the new seawall is complete in the summer.
Unfortunately that does mean that I have to divert inland a little. First I cut through Fairhaven Lake, where a full size replica Spitfire is mounted. This is a tribute to all the air crew who served in the second world war. This particular one, W3644, was flown by Alan Ridings from Middleton, who at the age of 20 was lost while returning home from battle. No trace of Alan or his plane was ever found.
I trudge my way along the main road for a mile or so. I’m starting to feel quite tired, it feels like I must be nearly at the end of the walk, and so I check my Komoot app to see my progress. I’m shocked to see I’m not even halfway yet! Maybe it’s this section along the main road that’s making me feel weary. I always had a theory when I was an athlete that when you first feel knackered you’ve probably only expended about half your available resources, so you can normally repeat again what you’ve just done. I hope so!
A small bunch of happy white crocuses encourages me on my way.
On my left the buildings give way to woodland, and then shortly after to grass and dunes, which makes for a more comfortable walking surface.
I’ve been hungry throughout this walk, even though I had breakfast this morning which I normally skip. I’ve almost exhausted my oat bars which I bring with me on every walk, so when I encounter this cafe which they proudly proclaim is open all year, my mood lifts….
…only to be dashed when I find it closed.
A ramp down onto the beach lets me finally get back onto the sand again. It’s been a long time since I was walking along a sandy beach – between Formby and Southport I think. Before I started this mammoth adventure, I envisaged a coastal walk to be mostly sandy beaches and clifftop strolls. I’ve had some sandy beaches, no cliffs yet, but a lot of it seems to have been main roads, estuaries, and mud. I guess that’s just the nature of the British coastline.
I wonder, when the English Coastal Path is completed, will they incorporate many miles of road-side walking? That would be the cheapest – and so most likely – solution, but it’s then not really a path, is it? That section I walked from Preston to Warton was alongside a dual carriageway which at times was up to a couple of miles from the coast. Surely they wouldn’t leave it like that, would they? Hmmm….
A row of beach huts overlook the near-empty beach. In the distance you can just see the pier at St Anne’s.
This is my second pier. There are at least 40 piers still in existence around the coast, and it was my intention to walk to the end of every one. I finished my Southport walk at the end of its pier, but this one is closed. So much for my plans, thwarted just two piers in! Apparently it’s only open from 11am to 4pm on Saturday’s and Sunday’s so perhaps I’ll visit it by car on Sunday before or after my Blackpool to Fleetwood section. I’ve talked about my OCD need for completeness in my collections before, and this will be a stone in my shoe until I manage it!
It’s starting to get dark now, and I follow a sandy path through the dunes down to the sea again. From here I can follow the beach all the way to Blackpool.
There’s something quite eery about walking along a beach at night. These pictures show it lighter than it actually was. I was completely alone, only able to see roughly where I was on the beach by the ambient light scattered through the clouds overhead. I could tell how far up the beach I was by the feel of the sand under my feet. Too high up and the soft shifting sand makes it hard to walk, too far down and the waterlogged sand gives way beneath my feet. By sticking to the hard, un-ridged sand I knew I’d be OK. This picture was the last that my camera was able to take with no artificial light, the exposure being so long that it appears much brighter than I could see with my eyes.
I have to say, I love walking along a beach at night. The spooky eeriness, the sound of the crashing breakers to my left, out of sight in the gloom, the dim orange glow of the paraphernalia of modern life peering over the dunes on my right. I love the vulnerability, the feeling of insignificance in the unseeable infinite expanse around me.
The feel of the sand under my feet suddenly changes, feeling squidgy. That surely can’t be sand? I peer down in the gloom, and can just make out the shape of a starfish. My phone torch confirms that the beach is littered with thousands of dead starfish. I wonder what happened to them all – was it the storm? It seems so – a couple of years ago many more than I encountered were washed up after a storm in Lincolnshire. It was quite a sad sight, big ones, and baby ones, all dead.
A glow of white lights and red lights ahead indicate that the beach is finally coming to an end.
The white lights turn out to be from the southernmost station and depot of the Blackpool tram system. The red light from atop “The Big One” roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
The final mile or so is along the southern promenade of Blackpool, up to the South Pier. The sculptures that dot the route seem overly restrained in the darkness, and the solitude is something I never associated with Blackpool. Short of the casinos and bars, here at the southern end of the town it feels quite desolate and lonely.
That soon changes however when I reach the end-point of this walk, at Blackpool’s South Pier. Again, the pier is closed, so I’ll have to walk to its end at the start of the next section.
This walk was completed on 14th February 2020, Valentine’s day, and there were couples everywhere, which made me feel a bit sad. It was about 12.9 miles long.
Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…