If you have some extra time at home during lock down, you might have used some of this time to spring clean or de-clutter. Being able to combine some small steps to having less stuff with sharing something with friends is a win-win. I certainly have plenty of friends I am missing meeting up with during the pandemic and some of them are struggling with their own isolation or have helped me get through my anxiety in some way. Clearing out and distributing old postcards to some old friends turned out to be a really positive lock down project.
Despite being an enthusiastic de-clutterer, having down-sized to a small flat, sold everything to go travelling and recently moved house, a cardboard box full of postcards, all sent by friends from their holidays over 40-plus years still remained as clutter / treasure in our small home. There is something about letters and even postcards, perhaps because they are handwritten communication, that makes them special and I had looked at the box every time we moved, thought about discarding its contents and on each occasion gave the collection another chance.
These days we don’t receive many postcards, there are just a couple of friends who hang on to this tradition that I remember as quite a holiday chore back in the day. I would sit in a cafe or at the campsite with a pile of colourful postcards in front of me, trying to think of something new, interesting and appropriate to say about our current destination to our address list. These days a WhatsApp message, text or blog post reaches everyone more reliably but through the 1980s until well into the 21st century we received plenty of postcards from the UK and more exotic locations as friends found their wings and travelled.
We would display our friends postcards for a month or so on the mantelpiece and then pack them away in a box that originally held a couple of bottles of Christmas-gift wine. I rarely looked at them over the years but when I did there was plenty of joy, the years rolled back and I was hearing again memories of friend’s holiday stories they had shared with us. Many of the postcards reflect the varied characters of our friends; some are informative, giving us a detailed itinerary and telling us about the must-do sights in their chosen destination; others are funny and even surreal, bearing little relationship to their actual trip. A few poetic friends sent us pithy and yet evocative word portraits of their destination. Some postcards were written neatly and others arrived on our doormat covered in uneven rows of spidery handwriting that took hours to decipher.
Early in lock down I took the box out of its resting place in the highest cupboard in our low bungalow and began the process of sorting them into piles, one for each of the different senders. I was somewhat surprised how many postcards some friends had sent us over the years; from just one very good and old friend I counted 52 postcards! These were sent from across the world, from Australia and Japan to Iceland and North America.
A Zoom conversation with another friend put the idea into my head of sending these postcards back to their original sender. What better thing to do while none of us can take a holiday or travel than to remind friends of trips they took in the past. I hoped that by sharing these saved postcards I could rekindle some happy memories as well as make space in our limited storage cupboards.
After reading them one last time, the pile of each friend’s postcards were carefully packaged, along with a new postcard from ourselves explaining why we were returning them. I didn’t want anyone to receive their parcel and think we had decided to enigmatically end our friendship with a dramatic return of our correspondence! Or worse, they might assume that we had died and this was a tidying up of affairs.
Up to now, our friends have been thrilled to receive their package of holiday memories. Many were amazed, thinking they knew us so well, that these postcards had survived our many moves and clear outs.
I have just one small pile of nine postcards left that I need to send to one more friend. One reminds me of his family trip to Ireland and I notice another isn’t even addressed, so I think he handed it over in person when he returned! This latter postcard is a photograph of some typical caves in southern Spain, which he thought would be great to live in and save on window cleaning bills! Another is a night scene of Porto in Portugal and I can hear his voice when I read, ‘I have a full glass of port in front of me now and it’s very nice.’
Have we kept any? Of course! In the box were a few postcards that we sent to each other before we were married and a couple of precious ones from our son and daughter-in-law. These hold a few special personal memories, but are not enough to merit using the box, this has been repurposed …
All in all, through the darkness of lock down, this project has been a small particle of joy.
Under lock down we have stayed at home, getting out most days to walk or cycle the paths, streets and tracks we can reach from our humble Morecambe abode. One of the positive things about this dreadful period of isolation has been the chance to explore what is available from our doorstep and we have found diverse and beautiful areas in this marvellous corner of Lancashire.
If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Morecambe, I hope these walking and cycling ideas will whet your appetite to visit Morecambe when you can.
Morecambe’s Magnificent Promenade
I have to start with Morecambe’s Promenade. The views across Morecambe Bay from the prom are panoramic, with the mountains of the Lake District a tantalising backdrop to the expanse of the tidal sands; it is said it takes the water from 40 Niagara Falls to fill the bay on a spring tide and looking out to the Irish Sea that is easy to believe. Morecambe’s promenade is a mixed-use 8 km (5 mile) flat cycle or walking route with a good surface. This is an accessible place to take your daily exercise and with the wildlife, tides and weather there is always something new to see. From Heysham in the south curving around to Hest Bank in the north-east you are separated from the traffic on the elevated promenade and, depending on the tides, you can also step onto the sandy and pebbly shore for a truly sea-level view. We pretty much always see oystercatchers and hear their familiar piercing calls as they wing along the shore, we might see a curlew or a redshank and black headed or herring gulls. It is usually clear enough to pick out the familiar bumps of the Langdale Fells in the Lake District. In different times we will stop for hot chocolate in a cafe or [for a treat] in the magnificent restored 1930s Midland Hotel. Ice-cream at Bruccianis, another charming remnant of Morecambe’s Art Deco past, is one more pleasure we are missing at the moment, although we have been delighted to see that some of the ice-cream stalls have re-opened.
Seeking out Statues
Looking to add variety to our daily walk and give us a theme to explore, I took us on a tour of some of Morecambe Bay’s statues. Starting at the Midland Hotel and The Stone Jetty you are surrounded by some of the TERN project stone sculptures of elegant coastal birds. Not much further along the Promenade toward Hest Bank, don’t miss the cheery statue to local lad Eric Morecambe. Born John Eric Bartholomew in 1926, he formed a comedy double-act with Ernie Wise and his statue is an outstanding addition to Morecambe’s attractions, it has even recently been adorned with a face mask! Almost everyone has their picture taken in the iconic pose and sings, ‘Bring Me Sunshine!’
Continuing towards Hest Bank, leave the promenade at the side of Morecambe Town Hall and slip through a gateway to find a hidden fading cemetery opened in 1874 and attached to the parish church. You are in what was the old fishing village of Poulton-le-Sands and among the tree-lined graves are two personality-packed fisher-folk sculptures carved from elm trees by Tim Burgess.
Return to the coast and maybe linger and watch the fishing boats before continuing towards Happy Mount Park. At the end of the Promenade sits the colourful and dramatic Venus and Cupid statue, created by a local artist Shane Johnstone in 2005 in memory of his partner. The two multi-coloured mosaic figures for me exquisitely symbolise love, loss and human connections and offers some sense of comfort during a pandemic.
Taking the road to Jo ‘n’ Lees cafe, looking out for oystercatchers that often sit on the rocks near here, walkers can follow the curve of the pebbly coast to Hest Bank. One of the seven metal sculptures of a wader by Ulverston-based artist Chris Bramall is on the grassy area above the beach here, celebrating Morecambe Bay’s importance for wintering birds. You have walked about 4.5 km by now [just under three miles] and you have to walk back but if you’ve got the time and energy it is worth carrying on along the shore or over the fields to Red Bank Farm to see the poignant and brilliant white Praying Shell sculpture that looks over the sands and is a memorial to the 23 cockle pickers [this is the reported number but it is hard to be sure] who died in 2004 after being left to the tides by abusive gang masters. I will always stop here, remember and pay my respects.
Cruising beside the Lancaster Canal
The Lancaster Canal runs 66 km [41 miles] from Preston to Kendal and is a haven for tranquillity and wildlife. We can reach it easily from Folly Lane that runs beside the new road into Morecambe, The Bay Gateway. The canal was built to transport coal from Lancashire and limestone from Cumbria, the Glasson branch giving the opportunity of cargo transfers from the barges to seagoing vessels. We begin on a section of the canal between Lancaster and Hest Bank that flows peacefully through lush fields, with views back to Torrisholme Barrow on the edge of Morecambe; we often have these first few miles to ourselves.
As you reach the outskirts of Hest Bank, gardens spill down to the canal side and views open out across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells. On the banks of the canal look out for wild flowers and there are always mallards, coots and swans on the water. In the spring sunshine we usually spot a string of tiny fluffy ducklings following mum.
You can return the same way but we like to make this a circular walk and the options are varied to suit the time we have. Follow The Crescent and Station Road in Hest Bank and you are soon on the path along the shore [see statues walk above] that will take you back to Morecambe [a 12 km / 8 miles round trip from the centre of Morecambe]. We like to carry on to Bolton-le-Sands to enjoy the views and calmness of the canal for as long as possible and head down to the coast via Mill Lane. This route gives us a chance to come by the memorial statue to the cockle pickers [see statues walk] and stroll along the lovely pebbly bay near there and adds about 5.5 km / 3.5 miles, making something like a 17.5 km / 11.5 mile walk.
The coast draws us on our walks and reaching it we can choose to turn either right or left. Up to now the walks have turned to the right, but turning left at the Midland Hotel it is about 5 km / 3 miles mostly along the Promenade to Half Moon Bay at Heysham. This takes you to a different side of Morecambe, away from the bustle of the 20th century resort. Reaching the end of the Promenade at Heysham you will see St Peter’s Church above the bay. Follow the winding village lanes to explore its lovely graveyard and enjoy the views. Take the time to go inside the church and you will find a carved Norse hog-back stone which would originally have been a grave cover. Adjacent to the church is Glebe Gardens, a charming community garden that is a colourful place to linger.
Eventually you will want to climb the steps onto Heysham Barrows and Heysham Head. Here are perched the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel and the rock cut graves dating back to the 8th century. We like to follow the coast around the hidden sandy cove lined with fragrant yellow gorse bushes and enjoy the views to Arnside Knott before continuing on to Half Moon Bay. Heysham Port, where freight and Isle of Man ferries sail in and out, is now in sight and provides an active scene with the two bulky nuclear powers stations as a backdrop. Construction on Heysham 1 began in 1970 and it came into operation in 1983, followed by Heysham 2. At Half Moon Bay you will find Anna Gillespie’s SHIP, a sculpture that features two men sitting on the bow and stern of a ship looking in opposite directions. The views along the coast are so good that returning the same way is no hardship.
The seaside resort of Morecambe grew in the late 1800s from a collection of villages. A harbour and a railway, linking the coast with Yorkshire, arrived by 1850 and the town expanded to absorb Poulton-le-Sands, Bare and Torrisholme. The name of Morecambe was officially adopted by the town from 1889, after the bay it overlooks. Despite many 1960s housing estates, there are a surprising number of snickets, alleys or ginnels around Morecambe and I enjoy exploring these and the streets of our home town and finding glimpses of the past.
Opposite the handsome 1930s Midland Hotel, built to look like an elegant ocean liner, is The Platform, today an unusual music and theatre venue, this was built in 1907 as a railway station for Morecambe Promenade. Look to your left and you will spot the splendour of Morecambe Winter Gardens, a grand Victorian landmark building in red brick that is currently being renovated.
Follow the entertaining bird-themed walkway alongside The Festival Market, a cornucopia of stalls in pre-lock-down days that I hope will return, and set off along Victoria Street. Keep your eyes peeled above and behind you for murals of fishing boats, motorcycles and celebrities.
Take a left back to the sea front and turn right, passing buildings constructed to entertain and house the abundance of visitors that came to Morecambe in its heyday; you will certainly see signs of cinemas and boarding houses. The 1905 Clock Tower is another landmark and further on the Pier Hotel and the Old Pier Bookshop, a warren of a shop stuffed with second-hand books, both give you a clue as to what once stretched out to sea here. Morecambe’s Pier, like many, suffered from fires and was demolished in 1992.
Take Clarence Street by the bookshop and admire the tall, bay-windowed buildings and look for old fishing cottages, you might decide to check out an alleyway. Make sure you turn back near The Bull to see the large fisherman mural on the gable of one of the houses. Left onto Poulton Road takes you by Queen Victoria Hospital and at the Police Station turn left into Church Street to wander around the Parish Church and through the old cemetery, noting the pretty cobble-stone wall.
Double-back briefly and take the narrow inviting lane opposite the school, crossing Thornton Road onto a snicket called Stuart Avenue that runs between playing fields. Turn right onto Grasmere Road and you will eventually wind your way through tidy bungalows to Bare Lane Railway Station. Although now part of Morecambe, Bare still retains a village feel and on early 20th century maps is clearly shown as a separate village. Even on our 1940s map, Bare is a one-road settlement clearly distinct from the resort.
Cross the railway line, turn left into Fairhope Avenue and right onto Low Lane. You are now well away from the old fishing villages and are walking through a tidy housing estate of mainly bungalows that attract retirees. In this flat landscape you will notice a rise to your left with trees. Turn left down Fulwood Drive and look for the narrow path on your right that will take you onto the hill that is topped with Torrisholme Barrow, a round barrow from 2400-1500 BC. Alternatively, continue along Low Lane and take the snicket into the trees and make your way behind the houses and uphill on informal paths to the barrow. There is a triangulation pillar on the hill but only scant evidence of a barrow. What Torrisholme Barrow has is views that surely make this a perfect spot for burials. Some say this hill was an old moot or meeting hill and at Easter you will often find a cross placed here. On a clear day, as well as seeing your route through Morecambe, you will gaze across the bay to the Lake District and Barrow-in-Furness. Turn around and over the row of hawthorn hedging you will spot the line of the Lancaster Canal and beyond that the bulk of the Bowland Fells. The elaborate and domed Ashton Memorial perched above Lancaster is another local landmark.
Torrisholme is one more village that is now incorporated into Morecambe. The triangular green of Torrisholme Square remains and is surrounded by smart stone houses, some dating back to the 17th century. Head down Torrisholme Barrow to your left and climb over the stile in the corner of the field onto Slyne Road, turning right. Left onto Russell Drive will take you to the main road to Lancaster, turn right and cross the road to take the snicket enigmatically called The Way that cuts behind the houses. Over the main road you will find a road [McDonalds to your right] which leads to a path following parallel with the Bay Gateway for walkers and cyclists. This reaches the old railway line that is now a multi-use route. Turn right towards Morecambe and you are soon back at The Midland Hotel.
This interesting circuit is about 10 km / 6 miles with options to make it shorter if you wish.
Perfect cycling along the River Lune to Caton
You can walk this route but 30 km [almost 20 miles] could be a long day and it is much easier on a bicycle. The lovely traffic-free path is also perfect for cycling. The popular old railway line runs from near Morecambe Railway Station to the historic city of Lancaster (5.4 km / 3.4 miles). In spring you cycle under green birch trees, alongside drainage ditches and eventually reach the banks of the River Lune. Look ahead and you will spot Lancaster Castle on the hilltop and the splendour of the 18th century waterfront below. On the way you pass the cycle route to the fishing village at Sunderland Point (6.8 km / 4.2 miles) where you can stop and watch the wading birds on the tidal marshes.
In Lancaster the old railway line is well signed, continuing along the River Lune for a further 10 km (6.2 miles), although at the moment work on the canal aqueduct means that cyclists and walkers have to follow Caton Road for a short distance. Cycling by the river you get occasional glimpses of the water through the trees. Crossing a road, you might want to detour a short distance to look at Halton Bridge, a narrow bridge built from the remains of Lancaster’s old wrought iron Greyhound Bridge in 1913. At only 6 feet wide, many a vehicle has lost some paint on the bridge’s bollards!
The best views of the River Lune are where the track crosses the river twice at the horse-shoe bend of the Crook O’Lune and pretty much everyone stops to take in the scenery at this much-loved local beauty spot. You can find a grassy spot to picnic here, looking across the picturesque river to distant hills or follow a short circuit of the river bank.
We prefer to carry on to Caton and maybe cycle up the steep hill to Caton Moor to sit below the wind turbines and take in the wide views over Lancashire. Alternatively we might leave the bikes in Caton and add a 13 km / 8 mile walk to our cycle ride. Climbing up the quiet lane to Caton Moor, we will take the lovely track back down the hillside through the gorse bushes and bluebells and along the woodland edge to Claughton. The Claughton Aerial Ropeway crosses high over the track. Built in 1924, the ropeway carries shale from the quarry high on the moor down to the brick works. Cross straight over the A683 in Claugton and leave the track for a footpath that takes you to a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Lune. I could sit here watching the sand martins wheeling over the river for hours. The grassy paths take you back to the cycle route and Caton.
The River Lune to Glasson Dock
From Morecambe take the railway line / cycle track once again to Lancaster [see above]. In Lancaster a tarmac and later gravel track along the quayside and river takes cyclists and walkers to the hamlet of Conder Green and on to Glasson Dock (9.3 km / 8 miles one-way). This is a quiet and peaceful route with occasional views across the river that is nevertheless popular with walkers and cyclists. Today the pleasant village of Glasson has a marina packed with colourful boats, connected to a still busy harbour by a lock. The harbour at Glasson originally opened in 1787 as Lancaster became un-navigable for ships and goods came through Glasson and were distributed via the Lancaster Canal. If you’re lucky the village shop will be open and have some local Wallings ice-cream in stock.
I am sure most of us had plans for the spring that involved something more exciting than staying at home; everyone’s plans for celebrations, days out, weekends away and long holidays have all turned to dust. So much upbeat anticipation of exciting places to visit and people to meet has vanished in a storm of viral infection. As soon as lock down came into force the internet brimmed with advice on how to stay positive during a pandemic and I am working on staying in the present and co-operating with the inevitable, a wonderful saying that a loyal reader gifted me. My mostly outward calm hides my inner turmoil where I feel trapped and the waves of anxiety that this will never end wash over me, as sure as the sea fills Morecambe Bay twice a day.
‘Set a routine,’ is the mantra of many self-help gurus. My partner is good at this but I have never been one for regularity. I like to think of myself as spontaneous and living in the moment, although you might see me as hopelessly restless. If it is a sunny day I want to make the most of it, on the off-chance that it is my last, and I am the one who is always ready to drop any other plans and go camping or walking.
In an effort to endure this lock down stoically and with fortitude, I have tried to add some structure to my day to see if the gurus are right. The daily strength exercises and tai chi are helpful, our morning coffee and daily outdoor exercise are all positive and there is some sense of adventure in going to the supermarket to see what they do and don’t have on the shelves. I find I can fit these things into my day randomly, mixing them up to give me some sense of impulsiveness. Our daily exercise from home can be hiking to the sea or the countryside, sometimes we take an evening walk along the sands to see the sunset over the bay, other days we take a morning cycle ride along the river Lune or the canal, taking best advantage of the tide or the weather. We have a variety of supermarkets nearby and we can choose which one to patronise. And still the days merge and seem almost the same and the happiest days for me are when we ditch the routine and do something different!
Like many in the campervan community we had plans for 2020. Each trip we make it our campervan requires some planning and days of research for the travel articles I expect to write after each trip. In January this year I, foolishly it now turns out, had the first six months pretty much mapped out and it was going to be a busy time. I had at least eight trips and corresponding travel articles planned and I was working hard, doing the preparatory research as the virus began to lurk.
Never having the patience to wait for spring or summer, we go away in our campervan all year and I have never been more glad that we were away camping in January, February and early March on different trips. From early-March we were planning to be in Scotland for a full month; this was a trip we were both happily anticipating. As it turned out we were in Scotland for a shorter time before we had to return home. I am pleased we got there at all but still can’t bear to even glance at, never mind edit, the photographs from that trip; they remind me too much of what I am missing.
Last week I had to ring the ferry company to cancel our ferry to Europe in early May. A small and fairly simple action that was distressing because it put me face-to-face with the reality that we wouldn’t be travelling around mainland Europe this spring, never mind summer and probably autumn. My brain had been protecting me by compartmentalising; one half optimistic and ill-advised, thinking this was all a bad dream, while the pessimistic section is over-actively creating apocalyptic scenarios! This simple administrative call shattered my fragile equilibrium.
The pile of guidebooks, phrase books and maps I had purchased and sorted for our springtime European trip sat on the living room floor taunting me for four weeks. I would look over at them hearing my pessimistic brain area banging on about how much money I had wasted and that they needed putting away but in the background my optimistic brain put its hands over its ears and sang, ‘Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.’ It wasn’t until lock down was extended that I caved in and packed them all onto the book shelves where they still mock me quietly when I dare to glance across.
There are more bookings to cancel / postpone but small steps and one day at a time is what the internet recommends!