Written by Helen Rhodes
(A Highly Commended entry in the Off the Beaten Track Writing Competition.)
I am standing on a windy promenade in Lancashire, looking out across Morecambe Bay, towards the Lake District. The view is breath-taking.
Across the bay, famous for its delicious potted shrimp, you can see three layers of Lakeland hills when it’s a clear day, like today, and one of the world’s best sunsets in the evening.
There are sail boats bobbing about, a happy couple eating fish and chips on a bench and a group of people fishing on the edge of the jetty. It is tranquil and quiet. The only sounds are the distant laughter of children on the beach, the waves lapping and the occasional cry of a hungry sea-gull.
It was a very different story a couple of decades ago. On the seafront there were piers, an Olympic sized swimming stadium, an abundance of theatres and dance halls and a theme park. Guest houses were booked up for miles around and you couldn’t move in summer for crowds of people. Cheap overseas package holidays were introduced soon after, with ‘guaranteed sunshine’ drawing the crowds abroad.
Although it’s not as busy now, the town still quietly pulsates with the vibrancy of a bye-gone age. If you take a walk you will see hints of the past around every corner – old pubs with original features, art deco and Victorian shop facades and little old tearooms still in their original style.
One fine example is The Winter Gardens, a beautiful grade II* listed Victorian theatre on the sea-front. Since it opened in 1897 it has paid host to the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Edward Elgar, George Formby and Morecambe and Wise, playing to packed houses every night.
But this was in the heyday of British seaside resorts and couldn’t last forever. Dwindling audiences at the theatre caused the council to stop subsidising the theatre’s summer season and it closed in 1977.
After laying dormant for a while it is now owned by The Friends of the Winter Gardens, who are working hard putting on shows and events and giving guided tours to help restore this gorgeous theatre to its full glory.
The Midland Hotel is another surviving relic of a lost age. This gorgeous art deco hotel has been restored beautifully and offers rooms with a view, a full menu, afternoon tea in the glass fronted restaurant overlooking the bay and drinks in the rotunda bar.
The entertainment and arts calendar is starting to pick up again in Morecambe and there are some great events and festivals throughout the year. The recent Vintage by the Sea Festival, organised by Morecambe born designer Wayne Hemingway attracted 30,000 visitors to the town.
You may recognise parts of Morecambe from the 1960 film The Entertainer, starring Lawrence Olivier, which was set in and around the town. The neighbouring village of Heysham also appears in the movie and is well worth a visit while you’re here.
Strolling through Heysham you will see an old pub, little tea-rooms and shops, and an old church with original Anglo Saxon features. Meander up through the little wood towards the sea and you will arrive at a lovely green area full of wild flowers. Standing proud atop the headland are the ruins of the 8th or 9th Century St Patrick’s Chapel and its ancient rock cut graves that look out towards the sea. The church’s archway makes a great photo opportunity, with the Lakeland hills or sunset in the background.
I walk around the ruins and stand on the headland, taking in a deep breath of sea air. I look left and see a ferry pulling out of Heysham Harbour, which runs daily trips to the Isle of Man. A brightly coloured kite soars past some children exploring in the rock pools below turning my gaze right, towards Morecambe.
There, young families are playing on the beach trying to keep their ice-creams sand-free while building castles. A middle-age man with binoculars is looking out across the bay, home to some rare and interesting bird species and a couple stroll hand-in-hand, forgetting about the cares of the day.
Morecambe offers a lot to a different type of holiday-goer, one who wants to escape the crowds and enjoy a slower pace of life. If the bright lights and noisy crowds of Blackpool aren’t your cup of tea, maybe consider travelling a bit further north on your next seaside trip, because there’s plenty of room if more come to Morecambe.
POSTED 17th OCTOBER 2018 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of HELEN RHODES. Photographs 1 was taken by Michael Rowson, photograph 2 by Cameron Seddon, photograph 4 by Sharon Louise Mulholland-Helme and photograph 5 by Adam Ashton.