Hale to Lytham St.Annes / Blackpool to Grange-over-Sands / Humphrey Head to Muncaster


LANCASHIRE

The name comes from the Brittonic/Anglo-Saxon meaning 'the Roman fort on the River Lane'. The local English population often called a Roman settlement 'ceaster' hence Luneceaster became Lancaster

TramThe names Lytham St Anne's, Blackpool, Southport, Cleveleys and Morecambe conjure up seaside jollity, but have you ever spent a wet weekend in Blackpool? February is not the month one would associate with a northern resort but at least it was quiet and we were able to see the towns in their dormant states (which we prefer!)

 

Lancashire's industrial tradition grew up 200 years ago, first on cotton and then on coal-mining, chemicals and engineering. Lancashire will forever be remembered for the leading part it played in the Industrial Revolution, with inventions such as Kay's Fly Shuttle, Hargreave's Spinning Jenny and Crompton's Mule.

Lancashire coastSouthwards, blackened buildings are being cleaned and as industry declines, tourism is being attracted. At its northern boundary the county meets the Lake District and to the south the River Ribble rolls through pleasant countryside. Famous for Lancashire hotpot and Morecambe Bay shrimps, the county also offers Eccles cakes and the Goosnargh cake from Preston is tasty.

The Romans built a fort at Bremetennacum, near Preston. Angles settled in the valleys and in the 7th century it was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria and descendants of the Vikings established their thwaites on the moors. The House of Lancaster provided the kings of England for 62 years until Henry VI was deposed during the Wars of the Roses. In the Civil War, Lancashire Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Preston in 1648, and in 1715 a large contingent of Lancastrians joined the Scots army to proclaim the Pretender King at Lancaster, but the rebellion was soon put down.



Hale


Pickering signAbout a mile northeast of Hale, a former waste tip has been transformed into the Pickerings Pasture Nature Reserve. It has very pretty wildflower meadows and riverside walks and close by is a pentagon shaped 'duck decoy' that has banks surrounding a freshwater lake in the salty marshes. The ducks are no longer trapped for food - only for ringing.

MeadowHale is a quiet village of whitewashed cottages right beneath the flight path to the main runway of Liverpool airport. In the 17th century John Middleton, better known as 'the Childe of Hale' grew to 9ft 5in and he is buried in St Mary's churchyard.



Liverpool Airport


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Lennon statueWe stopped right at the end of the runway where a crowd of plane spotters had gathered and watched as the aircraft flew low above us.

terminal insideThe airport has been renamed in honour of John Lennon and the new £32.5 million terminal building was opened by the Queen only 3 days before our visit.

Inside is a nice bronze statue of the man himself.



Speke Hall


Speke HallSpeke Hall is situated in a most unlikely setting, at the edge of an industrial estate and bang in the centre of all the airport runways. It is a miracle that the building has survived at all. The last owner, Adelaide Watt, had the foresight to bequeath it to the National Trust as she anticipated the growth of Liverpool. The estate was sold after she died in 1921, and the farm complex transformed into an aerodrome - the farm house was the first terminal!

Speke Hall

It is an intricately decorated, half-timbered mansion built during the 16th century by William Norris but the dilapidated estate was neglected and sold in 1795. Richard Watt, who made his money in Jamaica from sugar, decided to invest in property and left Speke to his great nephew, who refurbished it, but it was again vacated in 1813.

Yew TreesAfter a period of tenancies, the house became thoroughly neglected before Richard Watt V and his bride began the task of restoration in 1856. Both dying young, and leaving only a young daughter to inherit on her coming of age, Speke was leased to Frederick Leyland for 10 years. He ploughed in a lot of money and the Arts and Crafts featured prominently in the Victorian refurbishment.

It surrounds a courtyard with two massive yew trees and is exceptionally pretty both inside and out. Unusually there are corridors on the courtyard sides and there is a lot of wood panelling. I completely fell in love with the place as it looks like a jigsaw picture. Before we left, we went to the restaurant and had 'Pan Haggerty' for lunch.

Otterspool

Driving towards Liverpool, there is a 3-mile riverside promenade at Otterspool, with wide views across the Mersey. We found the large indoor amusement park of Pleasure Island that is marked on the map but it looked closed and neglected with security fences all around.



Liverpool


Liver BuildingWe went to Liverpool on a very wet day but there was plenty to see under cover. We parked at the Albert Dock and walked to the Pier Head where the famous ferry runs across the Mersey. At the top of the huge Liver Building are two green statues of the fictitious Liver Birds. Its ground floor was once a shipping hall serving the major passenger liners.

Maritime museum

When Chester was cut off as a thriving port in the 18th century, Liverpool began to grow into one of the most important ports in the world. Nine million emigrants began their voyage to America from Pier Head, and by the end of the 19th century some 40% of the world's trade was carried in Liverpool's ships. With the shift to containerisation, activity moved to more modern docks at Bootle and the Albert Dock closed in 1972. Its huge Victorian warehouses have been transformed into a heritage area with shops and restaurants surrounding the water.

After a rather delicious lunch in one of the bars we went to the National Museum Customs and Excise which was excellent. In the same building, the Maritime Museum has all sorts of displays on emigration and Liverpool's role in the Battle of the Atlantic.

CavernThe most impressive thing was that we bought an annual pass for eight of the museums for only £3. We wandered over to the Tate Gallery of Liverpool to see some modern works of art. We decided we must have had an 'arty bypass'as we really couldn’t appreciate the exhibitsl.

Lennon statueYou can’t visit Liverpool without having the Beatles thrust upon you so we paid an outrageous £15 to go to the Beatles Story exhibition. We walked through a time trail of rooms that are very well done and very familiar, but rather touristy.

Much better was the visit to the Cavern and the Wall of Fame in Matthew Street, with all the famous singers' names carved on it.

Anglican CathedralLiverpool's Anglican Cathedral is the largest in Britain and was only completed in 1978. When you enter the red sandstone building, it’s awesome size is breathtaking but it doesn’t have the right churchy atmosphere somehow. To reach the top of the tower, it takes two lifts and a hundred steps.

Catholic CathedralIn complete contrast, the Roman Catholic Cathedral - only completed in 1967 - is circular in design and very attractive inside. There is a very calm atmosphere and it has wonderful stained glass windows and paintings.

If I were a religious person, this would be the place where I would be most comfortable! We loved it.



Crosby


CrosbyThe vast Royal Seaforth Container Terminal at the mouth of the Mersey has taken over from the Liverpool docks for most of the shipping. We arrived at lunchtime and went to find a hostelry in a place called Waterloo. To the north, an expanse of open grassland contains a Marine Park, where two lagoons form the centre of a nature reserve with colonies of cormorants and Arctic terns and there is sailing on the lake.

Crosby is now a suburb of Liverpool but wealthy local merchants built the town’s impressive Regency crescents and terraces. About a mile inland is the original hamlet of Little Crosby with its 17th century cottages and the Georgian Crosby Hall. North of the town is a large area of dunes, parts of which are an MOD rifle range with no public access north of the River Alt. Bit of a pity really as it is so wild.



Formby


We left the sprawl of Liverpool behind and reached Formby. The sea has been steadily eating away at the land south west and in 1730 the 12th century Formby Chapel had to be abandoned and a new church built at a safe distance from the sea, where the present town was established. This is obviously a very prosperous commuter area of Liverpool as there is some very impressive property around.

Church of St LukeIn the porch of the Church of St Luke is the gravestone of the 7ft Richard Formby, known as 'Richard the Giant', armour-bearer to Henry IV and Henry V. Members of his family are buried in a group of altar tombs and a cross in the churchyard, which once stood on the village green, was used during the Great Plague of 1665, when its hollows were tilled with vinegar so that coins could be disinfected.

Formby Point

The National Trust owns parts of the beach and we arrived as it was getting dusk so we were only able to enjoy the solitude of Formby Point for a short time. Between the beach and the town there are high grassy dunes, part of one of Britain's largest dune systems, stretching from Crosby to Southport with the Sefton Coastal Footpath running along them.

Formby PointMarram grass is being planted to stabilise the dunes and flood banks protect the land from tidal surges. One of the lanes, Lifeboat Road, takes its name from Britain's first lifeboat station built in 1776 and the ruins of a later station can be seen on the beach. Just inland, red squirrels can be found in the large pine plantations.



Southport


Ainsdale SandsThe coast road into Southport runs through the Ainsdale Sands but although it looked interesting on the map, was shielded from any good views by high sand banks.

Southport

We rapidly passed ‘Pleasureland’ and arrived in the town centre as it was getting dark. The main shopping centre around Lord Street has glass and metal canopies over the pavements and stately Victorian buildings; we were greatly impressed by the fairy lights in the trees. The town is much bigger than we imagined and we decided to take an evening stroll before driving through Birkdale to our hotel just outside of the town.

Southport PierAfter a very pleasant meal and a lovely room for the night we went back for a better look the next morning. The sand stretches for 7 miles and hence it became a popular resort. There has been a pier since 1860, construction of which was swift; it's full 3,600ft length having been completed for the grand opening, a memorable occasion.

There was a tramway to the sun-decks nearly a mile away. Although visited by many steamers in its heyday, services had all but ceased by 1929 as silting in the channel left all but the smallest boats unable to reach the pier-head. This has however allowed much of the beach to be reclaimed, which is why the pier passes over a lake and a road, before finally reaching the beach. There is a restoration project underway at the moment and so the pier looked rather forlorn.

Along the seafront there is a zoo and a marine lake where some youngsters were out boating in the freezing wind. Every August (when the weather is hopefully better) the famous Southport Flower Show is held in the Floral Hall.



Ribble Marshes National Nature Reserve


We needed to drive around the estuary of the River Ribble and headed along the coast road, known as Marine Drive, towards the first crossing point at Preston. Stretching along the south of the estuary are the salt marsh, mud flats and sandbanks of the nature reserve. Each spring and autumn, up to 80,000 waders arrive at Ribble Marshes on their way to and from Arctic breeding grounds.

Banks Marsh

To the north, a footpath leads along Banks Marsh embankment but we continued towards Hesketh Bank passing greenhouses and acres of rotting vegetables. Fortnightly spring tides can cause flooding, making the salt marsh dangerous and the severe flooding this winter put paid to most of the plants.

The map showed the West Lancashire Light Railway but after a search we only found a couple of rusting trains. At this point we decided the Little Chef was a more promising option! At Longton, the site of former brickworks, ponds have been created from flooded claypits and a wetland nature reserve now occupies the site.



Preston


PrestonThe birthplace of Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning frame, Preston was a centre of the cotton trade for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. The house in which he developed his water frame in 1768 survives on Stoneygate. Still mainly industrial, Preston has been a market town since Anglo Saxon times.

The docks have now been redeveloped as Preston Riversway, a marina with the usual trappings. The waters are recovering from a century of pollution, but wild habitats are being nurtured and there is a dock trail along the river. We have driven through the town before when we needed to escape congestion on the M6, that is, to by-pass the Preston By-Pass!



Lytham St Anne’s


Lytham windmillWe drove through the sprawling village of Freckleton and on to Lytham; nearby, Naze Mount is thought to have been a Roman port. A windmill stands behind the promenade, built in 1805, it produced flour until 1919 and now houses an exhibition of milling and of local life.

St Anne'sNext to the mill, in the former lifeboat house, the story of Lytham's lifeboat service is displayed. The town overlooks the muddy beach and the wide Ribble estuary but has flower-lined walks and the championship golf course of Royal Lytham and St Anne’s.

St Anne's PierWe parked by St Anne's Pier and walked into town but it looked forlorn in the drizzle and we didn’t stay long. St Anne’s was built in Victorian times as a holiday resort for the better off and has the usual traditional resort attractions: a pier, a bandstand and flat, sandy beach, as well as gardens, a teddy bear museum, and a miniature railway. Fairhaven Lake is used for water sports, and sand dunes at the northern end of the town form a nature reserve with a good vantage point for bird-watching.



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