Monday, 2 June 2008

What a Diff'rence a Day Makes

I wonder if Dinah Washington ever visited Southport; maybe, maybe not. I was certainly reminded of the wonderful Miss Washington on a recent visit to that delightful Lancashire resort. ‘Southport by the Sea’ as I remember it from childhood. For the memories, though pleasant enough, do not include the recollection of seeing the sea itself.
Our return visit, minus the children all these years later had an inauspicious start. The drizzle was unrelenting, belying the fact that June beckoned. The town buzzed with impatient traffic, seemingly driven by growling, scowling individuals, crossing the road somewhat dangerous. We found the seafront at the third attempt, (I thought we’d actually found the sea but alas it was only a lake), parked up on miles of almost empty asphalt and peered out across miles of mud come sand to where the sea presumably existed. And we very nearly went home.
‘What a diff’rence a day makes
Twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain.
Next day the sun did indeed shine; smiling was once again allowed and we began to appreciate Southport, for it has much to offer. (One of the things it offers is an abundance of bright orange people, and I mean orange. I kid you not. Not tanned, brown, black, olive, nut coloured, definitely, unequivocally orange. Is it too many carrots. Is it a genetic aberration exclusive to the area. Do they know they're orange. Do they like being orange. Fascinating, is it a phenomenon exclusive to Southport. I'm dying to know. Would someone out there please put me out of my misery.)
The town itself dates back to 1792 when a certain Mr Sutton opened a hotel. Other key dates include 1848 when a rail service linked Southport to Liverpool and 1853 and a rail service linking the resort to Manchester. From which point Southport never looked back.
The Victorian legacy is both obvious and pleasing. Lord Street, a tree lined boulevard is one of Britain’s finest shopping thoroughfares. Lord Street was named after the Lords of the Manor whose foresight and money made such an impressive street possible. The idea was a deliberate attempt to develop a resort for the ‘refined’ and ‘the well to do’. The aim of creating both a select residential town and high class resort has in the main succeeded. The Victorian buildings particularly in Lord Street have to be seen to be appreciated. Neither is the attraction of Southport confined to its main street.
The pier is the oldest surviving iron pier in the country and the longest overland for good measure; an excellent fine weather walk with a tram ride available for the faint hearted. Rewarded at the end with an arcade of Victorian and Edwardian penny style attractions. Old style pennies available for the machines though the exchange rate, one old penny equalling ten new pence is eye watering! Or am I just being an old meanie. But Southport is not merely an advert for the past.
The Marine Lake (the largest man made leisure lake in the UK) has the Miniature Railway Village and the Southport Belle Mississippi style paddleboat. Plus I was particularly impressed by the Marine Way Bridge into the town, very futuristic, very aesthetic. Southport definitely grew on me.
Southport offers something for all. Culture lovers, try the Theatre and Floral Hall or the Arts Centre. Skateboarders have their own park whilst the Dunes Leisure Centre is particularly accessible to disabled visitors. And where else in the entire country could you visit a museum dedicated to the humble lawn mower.
If you fancy a ride out the Martin Mere Wildlife Wetland Centre is a must for bird lovers of all ages and a stone’s throw from the town. Home to over one hundred species of rare and endangered ducks, geese, swans and flamingos. Internationally important, offering ten hides and numerous exhibits, Martin Mere is an all year round attraction that appeals to all, not just the professional ‘twitcher’.
Further down the road is the European Capital of Culture, Liverpool of course. An afternoon visit can only wet the appetite for further visits. Suffice to say we found Liverpool amazing, vibrant, the place has truly arrived. The bus tour round the city was exhilarating and extremely educational. A couple of hours spent at the Albert Dock made me realise how far Liverpool has come in the twenty first century. The last time I visited was as a schoolboy not long after the war. I remember only ruined buildings, a rattling yet wonderful overhead railway and men performing on the banks of the river. One of whom was tied in a sack and destined for the river unless the collection by his cohort from the bystanders dictated otherwise. (He never did get thrown into the filthy river, much to my childish disgust.)
With regard to Southport I get the definite impression the British seaside is fighting back after years of decline. Presumably in part I suspect due to the availability of European Union money. But there again I never did really understand the political scene. If it helps British seaside resorts, Southport included, all well and good. That being the case, black mark Southport for the sad derelict frontage of what was once a railway station at the far end of Lord Street. I am assured by locals neglect of this frontage goes back many years.
Overall my wife and I enjoyed our stay immensely. Much helped by the fact that, as members of The Camping and Caravan Club we could stay with a pleasant Yorkshire group, in this case the East and West Yorkshire BCC on a local commercial site for a saving of over two thirds of the normal cost; for four nights a saving of a massive £64. Well done both the Camping Club and the EWY BCC for organising this particular holiday meet.
Even the fact that whoever is in charge of roads in the area decided to start major roadworks on the Saturday bringing the whole area to a standstill didn't detract from our overall enjoyment. I know you've got to start jobs sometime but a Saturday, lads, come on!
Picture the Council offices the week before.
"The roadworks, John on the A565, when shall we start?"
"How about Wednesday, Harry.
"Forecast's poor, John plus it'll be bit quiet on the roads."
"Forecasts hot for the weekend, Harry, and it's bound to be busy."
"Right you are, John, Saturday it is."
Nevertheless we enjoyed our stay and we will return. And by the way, we still didn’t really see the sea.

1 comment:

Marian Dean said...

The sea is there Ken! I remember it coming over the 'old' as opposed to 'new' promenade and flooding for many roads inland including our house( it was a small hotel) 4 blocks back, as the roads slope away from the sea front ( planning hiccup?) By a coincidence I and my hubs are journeying there tomorrow for a weeks stay. My sister still lives in the area, so have more than sentimental reasons for a return visit. We only manage to do the trip now about every two years. We used to go in our motor-home but this time round we are going by car and staying at a hotel in the town centre. I was brought up living on Lord St as my parents had a flower shop there from about 1948 till 1960's. I still think it is the most lovely street... I hope I don't get too disillusioned now! I hear a lot of change has been going on. Will drop in a photo or two on my blog. ( I haven't had the courage to write anything as yet)
Enjoying yours anyway.