I’m sorry to say we can’t make it to Shrewsbury this morning due to a development, so I will start the recap of past adventures early, beginning with the lovely seaside town of Southport, historically in Lancashire but now part of the county of Merseyside.
Status: Sefton District, Merseyside (Historically Lancashire), Town, England
Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Preston) Bus link from Preston (2, 2x)
Eating & Sleeping: Frankie & Bennys, Southport Pier Cafe
Attractions: Southport Pier, Pier Tramway, Marine Lake, Southport Pleasureland, Southport Beach, Botanic Gardens, Hesketh Park, Lord Street, Cenotaph, Model Village, Marine Way Bridge, Town Hall, Atkinson Gallery, Lord Street Shopping, Lake Paddle Steamer etc
Southport is the nearest town to where I live, so I have been hundreds of times during my life. It’s a fantastic town, so in this post I shall give you a whistle stop tour, starting at the end of the famous pier.
I am a great fan of the pier, which as it happens is the second longest in Britain, unfortunately someone decided to build a longer one in Southend-on-Sea in Essex to steal our crown! The pier is also notable as it’s one of the earliest piers to be made using iron.
The pier was first built between 1859 and 1860, to a design by James Brunlees. The piles were hammered into the beach as the foundations for it, and it opened in August of 1860. It was a grand pier, and I have seen some of the old photographs. There was a large Victorian Pavilion (replacing the original that burnt down in 1897) at the land end from 1902, and the 1098 metre long pier stretched out across the sands behind it. Ferries once docked at the pier head, taking customers out to other ports.
Two fires in 1933 and 1959 meant that the overall length of the pier was reduced and many of the entrance buildings were lost. The Victorian Pavilion was demolished in 1968 to make way for pleasureland, a series of gaming buildings, with restaurants and a bar.
The pier was in a sorry state by 2000 and funds were raised to restore and repair, and the whole structure was replaced section by section, and has had new lights fitted above the decking to make it more accessible at night.
There has always been a tramway on the pier, but that yellow engine you can see on the picture is not the tram, the tram is a full size tram with two coaches that runs up and down the pier all day. It started as an electric tram, then switched to a diesel engine, and it now runs on battery power.
On a sunny day it is a very pleasant experience to do the full length of the pier, and you can either join at the land end over the lake, or halfway down it at the sea wall where a set of steps provide the second place to board it.
Coming off the pier, you can head into the town centre, crossing the Marine Lake, a beautiful man made lake from the 1880’s and 90’s. All of this area is reclaimed land, and this side of the lake that this picture is taken from what originally where the sea came in to, and would have been the coast line. This also meant that when the pier was first built it would have had more sections out to sea.
There are three ways to cross the lake:
1) The pier, which has it’s terminus at this side of the lake
2) The wooden bridge further down to the left (out of shot)
3) The newest bridge, the Marine Way Bridge, which was only opened in 2004, replacing a previous bridge that was old and dilapidated. It takes the form of a suspension bridge, with the twin columns rising up to 150 feet high.
If your lucky, you might spot the paddle steamer (pictured) on the lake. It is an old Mississippi style steamer that you can take tours of the lake on. You can also high paddle boats and motor boats.
Crossing the bridge brings you out at pleasureland and the lake promenade, where you will find a statue of Queen Victoria looking towards the main street in the town. If you follow her gaze and start walking, you will end up at Lord Street, and the fantastic municipal buildings.
The first of these is the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library, which also contains the Tourist Information Centre for the town. The Atkinson, which first opened in 1878, has very recently been refurbished and updated, and in 2013 reopened with an impressive gallery of paintings and pictures on the top floor, many of which Southport as it once was. There are more marvels to come in 2014, as the new museum about the Town, local area and Maritime History will open, along with an Egyptian Exhibition that hasn’t been seen for over 40 years.
Just to the left of the Atkinson is the Town Hall, one of my favourite buildings in the town. There are a number of flags flying from it, including the English, British, European and Sefton District Flags.
Built in 1853, it was used by the council of Southport County Borough, which at the time was separate from any counties, before moving to Lancashire and then Merseyside in 1974. Both this and the Atkinson are situated in a square that contains benches, a small cafe, a bandstand and some fountains, looking out onto Lord Street itself.
Further back down Lord Street you will come across the War Memorial, consisting of two twin arched buildings, one at either side of the main obelisk, and the obelisk sat in the centre. These were constructed in 1923, and the obelisk stands at an impressive height of nearly 68 feet.
Along with the War Memorial, there are gardens down this side of Lord Street, also in remembrance. On the very left of the picture you can see Lord Street. That side of the street is mainly shops, with covered walkways. The whole street is said to be one mile long, with a large roundabout marking this at each end of the street. As I have just said there many things along the street, including memorial gardens, the main Town Hall and Art Gallery buildings, as well as trees at regular intervals which are lit up at night.
There are many old buildings, including stone ones, and a Clock Tower from 1884 that once greeted customers into Southport Lord Street Railway Station (Closed in 1952), has now been converted along with its associated building into a hotel. I was glad to see the building being renovated as it had sat empty for many years and was all boarded up, but has now been restored to its former glory.
The most famous tennant of Southport has to be Napoleon III (1808 – 1873, first President of the French Republic) who loved the layout of Lord Street so much that he took the idea to Paris and it was the basis for many shopping streets in Paris.
At the back of the picture is the spire of St George’s Reformed Church from 1874. There are many impressive churches around Southport, and a lot of them look so ornate you could confuse them for small cathedral’s. My favourite is Holy Trinity Church, which is finished in fantastic red brick, and can be found at the North end of Lord Street, then look right at the roundabout and you will see it.
Moving back to the lakeside, you can get a much better view of the Marine Way Bridge, which can be seen on the approach to Southport using the coast road that runs along the sea wall. The sea wall itself extends all the way around Southport and does a great job of protecting it from the tide and the sea. The sea wall was a basis for some interesting sculptures to do with fish and the maritime history.
Also along the lakeside, is a building that claims to be the “Smallest Pub in Britain”, and you can see why.
From many places along the sea wall, and the pier, if you have a good camera you might get this shot. Directly across from Southport going off to the right is Lytham St Annes, and behind that, Blackpool. The Tower is easily visible to the naked eye, as is Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the mighty roller coaster that headlines it.
Behind Blackpool, on a clear day you can make out the rolling hills of the Lake District National Park, up in Cumbria. Looking the other way (but not pictured) you can (also on a clear day) spot the Welsh Hills, including the tallest peak in Wales, Mount Snowdon.
Southport is a very large town, and encompasses the local villages of Marshside, Crossens, Birkdale and Churchtown. It is in Churchtown and Marshside that you will find two very large open parks.
The first of these (coming out of the town centre) is Hesketh Park. A road goes all the way around the park, which makes up a full circle. Designed in the 19th century, with updates in the 20th, it is a beautiful place to visit, with a lake at one end that has a pavilion housing some exotic plants, various sculptures around the park and lots of trees to sit under in the summer months. I have walked around this park many times, collecting conkers, running through the leaves and showing around family members who live in distant parts of the UK.
The second park is the Botanic Gardens, which is slightly smaller than Hesketh Park. A channel of water runs through the middle of it, almost like a long lake. There are a few bridges over it, and many species of birds congregate here. For fans of more exotic birds there are some bird cages near the cafe and flower beds that contain birds from all over the world.
The flower beds here are quite famous in Southport as a lot of time and effort is put into making them look absolutely perfect. My favourite part of the town is the stone tunnels that run under some of the small hills around the park, but if your getting tall like me (6 foot odd) then you might have to duck down a bit.
The last time I visited here was with Gemma and we enjoyed an ice cream from the cafe, and sat out in the sun. There used to be a museum in the park but this has long since closed down.
Else where in Southport itself you will find the Lawnmower Museum, showcasing the lawnmowers of many famous celebrites and gardeners. I admit its an odd choice to have a museum on, but then in Belgium I found a potato museum once so its not that strange really.
There is also a Model Village near the lake, which I love to visit. Miniature model trains run around the outside of the model village, which contains a lot of very detailed buildings. For the kids, there is often a challenge on to find certain items as you walk around it.
Transport wise, Southport is very well connected using the Merseyrail Network with trains every 15 minutes to Liverpool City Centre and on to Hunts Cross. Trains run the opposite direction through to Wigan, Salford and Manchester and from to Manchester Airport. Both Liverpool and Manchester airports can be reached by train (bus link from the station for Liverpool) and these provide both domestic and international fights. There are bus links to Liverpool as well, and also to the large city of Preston in Lancashire with Stagecoach, and Arriva buses run to other parts of the local area.
Southport is a beautiful seaside town, with lots to see, museums to visit, a great coastline and beach, fantastic buildings, and enough fish and chips, ice cream and seaside candy shops to keep all the little ones happy. If you are in the Merseyside area, and want somewhere to take a relaxing break, then pick Southport.