I spent the New Year period in Southport, once of Lancashire now Merseyside. For those that have never visited the area, Southport is sometimes called ‘the classic seaside resort’ and for some appealing reasons. I can relate that Liverpool is 16.4 miles south along the west coast, and that the Blackpool Tower is visible to the north up the coast. I can also inform of the facilities available and detail the formidable calendar of events, but I hope to make this a more personal view of the town rather than a straightforward travelogue.
Not a very long distance from my home in Nottingham, the journey is however not a direct one and bizarrely usually means driving quite a few miles south and over to Stoke-on-Trent before joining the M6 motorway and the the quickest way to the west coast resort. An attractive option is to drive through the pretty Derbyshire Peak District though there is a cost in time. It’s a very slightly tortuous route through small villages and hamlets to Southport from most meaningful places, and perhaps this is what ultimately adds to it’s unspoilt appeal.
Southport’s affluence is not lost upon one when passing through the suburbs. Grand old homes abound where once money was made in Lancashire’s mills for the original owners. Entering the town’s main shopping thoroughfare, Lord Street, one notes that many of the businesses are not of the standard, identikit High Street chains but rather of individual stores and eateries that defy thematic analysis. Individuality is the key amongst the bistro’s, book shops and shoe stores. Lining the street is a pleasant Victorian iron awning, offering shelter to shoppers from the odd sea squall.
Southport boasts a huge wide sandy beach punctuated by the second largest pier in the country. A regular tram trundles along the construction all day to it’s destination of a small amusement arcade and cafe at the pier end. Unusually, the delights of the amusement arcade operate on old currency! My partner and I having relations in the area are fortunate enough to have visited Southport several times but barely ever have I seen the sea underneath the pier and this remains a standing joke! Towards the town is a picturesque boating lake and the elegant Marine Way Way Bridge which is visible for many miles.
A walk along Marine Drive along the coast in the morning gave the sight of many photographers and enthusiasts from the bird-watching community. The vast marshlands which are a feature of the area are a great haven for bird-life. Indeed, a good quantity of housing is erected on reclaimed marshes. These more modern homes compliment some ancient ‘cocklers cottages’ which though once modest, are now much sought after in the area.
The previous night we had a visit to Churchtown, one of the older, more historic areas of Southport with it’s pretty white-fronted buildings and St. Cuthbert’s presiding over the small square. Churchtown has two old pubs, The Bold Arms and The Hesketh Arms. Different in character, both pubs are worth a visit. The Bold remains very much a drinkers pub to my eyes whilst the Hesketh had a major refurbishment in the recent past. The latter was subject to dismay by some locals who had seen their original pub knocked around and its originality being lost forever. An interesting piece of research into Churchtown also uncovered St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church and it’s quaint story in the area known as ‘Little Ireland’. Originally a small community of 49 Irish people lived in the little town, listed as cocklers, in-service and other local jobs of the day. The original St. Patrick’s had been but a small cottage where Mass was once held.
On Hogmanay we revisited Churchtown, this time for food and the celebrations at The Hesketh Arms. The food was ordinary but adequate on a traditionally difficult and expensive night for dining out. The atmosphere in the pub was pleasant however with the bar staff efficiently pushing the drinks over the bar at the reasonably rapid pace which is a solemn requirement of New Years Eve. Midnight and 2008 ushered in and a nice moment was the fireworks of the town visible outside whilst people happily conga-ed between the two neighbouring pubs. Happy moments for some, inextricably mixed with more wistful, longing and sadder thoughts for some of us.
The following day I managed to locate St. Marie-on-the Sand, Roman Catholic Church on Seabank Road close to the seafront. I had been reliably informed in a most excellent second-hand bookstore the previous day that the church was the oldest in the area and would have formerly indeed sat exactly ajacent sands of Southport. I took a stroll away from the crowds of shoppers on Lord Street in the quiet sanctuary and sat awhile. A few others scattered around the church in contemplation evidently had similar thoughts this New Year’s Day.
Is New Year’s Day possibly the most miserable on the calendar? I’ll leave you to consider that question. This particular one was an interesting and thought-provoking one for me however. As soon as I could gather myself after the previous night’s celebrations it was on with the running kit and a drive down to the beach for some blessed and healing sea air. There were few cars parked in the town but rather a myriad of colourfully swaddled walkers on the promenade. The beach felt good under my shoes as I ran, and the distant waves restful and peaceful. It’s easy to contemplate life and its important things on a beach and this is the reason that beaches, apart from holding a million mysteries and stories, have such an attraction for me.
The run was over. Satisfied and sated, I looked over to the waters edge and found a spot for a promise that I’d been making to myself for some little time. It was the moment for a new start, one to deny the shackles of the hurt and pain of the past year. Where better than here by the water’s edge? Slowly and surely, “NEW STU 2008” was driven into the soft sand. It was underlined too – A Line in Southport’s Sand. The unstoppable tides of the seas will have long obliterated those words but the sentiments will remain. A small, insignificant seashell and a healthier and altogether more impressive one representing the two years and two different people respectively were pocketed and now sit in my home as a reminder that the tides cannot wash away.