When you are away for campervan trips that can last two or three months, having a garden is problematic. We like having our own space but it has to work for us. The two most important things are:
1. The garden can cope with neglect for long periods of time while we are away in the campervan.
2. The garden has a fairly level and large enough space for two people to practice tai chi.
However, much I might want to turn our garden into a green and colourful wild flower meadow full of insects and birds, I come back to these priorities. If only practicing tai chi in the road outside was an option! Unfortunately, I know this would not only get the neighbours talking, it would soon get us either run down or abused by passing motorists!
The compromise in terms of plants in our small sunken back garden [probably slightly bigger than we would like] is to grow hardy trees, shrubs and bushes that are drought tolerant. This is a win-win as even when we are at home we can minimise our water usage and the three water butts we have are usually sufficient to get us through any dry spell. These plants surround a sunny paved area that we use as our tai chi practice space.
We will never master tai chi but we have been practicing for many years now, with different teachers. On a good day we will practice both shibashi and some of the tai chi forms we are learning. On a lazy and wet day we will at least try and practice the shibashi or a short form.
Shibashi combines movements and breathing from tai chi in a set of 18 repeated exercises that flow into each other. Shibashi means 18 moves and doing them is calming, energising and excellent for someone who sits at a laptop writing for many hours!
The first tai chi form we learnt was the Sun Style 98 form and I feel connected to this form because it was my introduction to tai chi and it takes me back to the welcoming and friendly Salford class we found. The form has 98 different moves but only takes about seven minutes to complete. Sun style is one of the least popular tai chi styles but I like its fluid movements, the follow steps, the clearly defined transference of weight and the ‘pause’ between movements with opening and closing of hands. It feels beneficial to try and keep the moves of this form in my head and this sums up what I like about tai chi; it occupies both my physical body and my brain and remembering the moves of the form leaves no space in my head for trivia or anxieties.
We have also been learning a more popular tai chi style, Yang. A lock down project was to learn the moves in Yang 40. We haven’t quite finished it, so what we do at the moment is Yang 31! All tai chi forms are related and have similar moves but also have differences and it feels good to experience these variations.
When we have time we also practice some of the other tai chi forms we have learnt so that we don’t completely forget them. We can manage Yang 10, a short form that is compact and we can even push the furniture back in our living room and practice this one there if the weather is poor. We also mostly remember some of Dr Paul Lam’s forms from his Tai Chi for Health Institute that we learnt in Salford.
Some of the garden was already flagged when we moved in but it had obstacles that got in the way of our tai chi and disturbed the flow as we stepped over them! This summer we have moved the hurdles, re-laid some of the wonky flags and moved the gravel areas to the edges. We have re-used the flags and gravel that were already there so we could save money and not to add to the environmental cost of quarrying and production. We added the metal sun plaque on the wall to give me a glimpse of the sun, even on gloomy winter days.
While we are out walking we pick up the obvious litter, plastic bottles, chocolate bar wrappers and cans. We never pick up cigarette ends, although it is said they make up a huge portion of the country’s litter. We also never pick up those small plastic bags that are tied in a knot and are full of dog faeces, although we see them almost everywhere. We do pick up items of clothing that earlier walkers have dropped or left behind. I wrote about our lost property box a few years ago that now has multiple odd gloves in it waiting for a match. Some of these gloves are in use; for example my winter cycling gloves were both found. They don’t match but being black it’s hard for anyone to tell as I flash by. Neither of us will never need to buy a hat again.
While we were in Ullapool on our recent Scotland trip we had a litter misunderstanding. We took a walk up the hill above the town. The path is surrounded by sweet smelling gorse and rewards your effort with a panoramic view over the prettily positioned Ullapool and Loch Broom; I am always happy here. Near the start of the path we found an almost full roll of unused dog poo bags on a bench. We looked around, there was no dog or person in sight. It wasn’t clear how long they had been there but in our experience people rarely come back for small items and they become litter so we stuffed then in the side pocket of the rucksack.
On the top of the hill we were enjoying the amazing view when a couple with a dog joined us. We both had the same thought at the same moment, maybe they could use our find. Smiling kindly at the dog-owning couple we said hello and then asked, ‘Do you use dog poo bags?’ They immediately became defensive, no doubt expecting us to launch into a tirade about dog fouling [I can do this] and clearly feared that we would soon be accusing them of fouling the paths of Scotland. We had to hurriedly explain that we had found some bags, had no need of them and wondered if they could use them. They immediately looked relieved and, once the misunderstanding was cleared up we laughed and chatted amiably. They went on their way with our find of the day and will put it to the appropriate use.
Sometimes litter finds are so bizarre I make up stories about the people who have dropped the litter and why. On a walk near Port Logan in Galloway we started counting the cans of Red Bull we saw flattened and scattered down an otherwise gorgeous grassy lane lined with wild flowers and between fields of sheep. When we reached 20 cans we gave up counting! The track was clearly used by a farmer and I imagined him to be over-worked and sleep deprived during lambing and getting through in a haze of energy drinks. I can’t even guess why he didn’t have the energy to take the cans back to the farm! Of course the Red Bull cans could be from a regular local walker too but we saw no other hikers the day we were there.
In Morecambe we pick up an empty half bottle of cheap vodka from a ginnel near our local Co-op most times we are out, sometimes even two. We pop them in our recycling bin and the bin men must think we have quite a habit! We assume this is young people drinking outdoors at night but have never knowingly met the drinkers. I really hope they’re not drinking alone.
It seems there will always be litter for us to pick up, some of it useful and some of it just rubbish. I’m waiting eagerly for the deposit scheme on plastic bottles to start and then I can get rich from my pickings!
In Lock Down One we explored our local area and discovered a bonanza of fantastic walks around Morecambe. Lock Down Two was mostly spent watching our new kitchen being installed so we didn’t go far. In the cold winter months of Lock Down Three we once again set off on some local walks. I crave new places and sights and so, as well as the familiar, we searched out new places to walk, finding variety and interest as we mixed up the coast with woodland and canal walking. Here is a flavour of what we found.
On the Fringe of Morecambe Bay from Carnforth to Morecambe
This walk has been on my list of things to do for some time and a sunny and frosty day in February was the ideal opportunity. We took the bus to Carnforth, walking back along the coastal path. This is a level walk, the navigation fairly straightforward and is about seven miles.
From Carnforth you are soon out on the salt marshes at the River Keer estuary. I enjoy this green coastal landscape and it was fun on a sunny morning to meander around the pools and channels. Across Morecambe Bay we could see Cumbria and the Lake District and behind us was Warton Crag. This is a wild landscape that feels cut off and we didn’t meet many people until we were near Red Bank Farm and the parking area there. After Red Bank Farm, if you follow the rocky shore you can climb up to the white stone memorial to the 21 [at least] cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay on 5 February 2004. If the tide is high, or you find walking along the rocky shore tricky, then the path over the fields of sheep from Red Bank is lovely and you can see the memorial over the fence.
Walking by Hest Bank you might spot the big house that featured in The Bay series two on ITV before you reach the car park and Jo ‘n’ Lees By the Sea cafe, a good refreshment stop. You are now on the Morecambe Promenade and for us it is an easy walk back home.
The Sea, a Park, a Canal & Woodland all in a Few Miles
This walk is only a few hours but in that short time packs in plenty of variety with a walk along Morecambe Bay, a wander through Happy Mount Park, a stroll along the canal and even a turn around the woodland off Barley Cop Lane. We walk it in either direction to add a bit of variety to those hard-to-tell-apart lock down days.
Is there ever a better name for a park than Happy Mount? From home, we will walk to the sea and the Promenade and walk around Morecambe Bay to Happy Mount Park on the edge of town. As we follow our noses through the park, which is usually busy with families on a fine day, we pass the cafe on our right, the train on our left, the Japanese Garden on our right and into the play area. From here you can find a route through the hedge onto the woodland path, turn left and skirt around the golf course then go firstly over the railway line and then underneath [it can be muddy here]. You are now on a track that crosses the canal.
Join the canal towpath and walk towards Lancaster. This is an idyllic rural stretch of the canal and we have spotted a kingfisher here but, even if you are not that lucky, you will certainly see some ducks. Leaving the canal at Folly Lane we walk by the farm, around the fields and under the Bay Gateway turning right onto Barley Cop Lane. If we have time we will take a turn around the earthy woodland at the junction, particularly now the paths have been resurfaced. Then we head home through Torrisholme.
Looking for Seals along Heysham Harbour Wall & South Jetty
Although we have walked to Heysham Head and Half Moon Bay many times, we had never explored the other side of the port, near the two Heysham nuclear power stations. We walked along Money Close Lane from the junction to the port, turning right into the car park and then left onto the gravel path through the Heysham Nature Reserve that skirts around the two nuclear power stations. This is a grassy area with trees and ponds that is popular with local dog walkers. We crossed a lane and picked up paths towards the sea, emerging between the power stations and the Ocean Edge Holiday Park. This holiday park certainly is on the edge of the Irish Sea and has unrivalled sea views but its publicity doesn’t mention the EDF nuclear power stations that hum gently alongside the park.
We had timed our arrival here for around an hour before high tide as we were hoping one of the seals that are occasionally spotted in the sea here would be around. The sea hadn’t quite covered the rocks below us and oystercatchers and redshanks perched among the surf and a group of wigeon dabbled in the shallow water. Turning to the right, ahead of us was an impressive wide concrete sea wall leading to the mouth of Heysham Harbour. The wall makes a dramatic sight under a blue sky with the power station to one side and the sea to the other. We set off walking the over half a mile along the wall to the squat lighthouse and the wooden remains of the South Jetty.
At the lighthouse we sat and had our flask of coffee looking out, unsuccessfully, for seals. We could see the ships in the harbour and we watched cormorants and gulls on the top level of the wooden frame of the old South Jetty. On the lower levels were a group of tiny knot and we watched with fascination as the sea level rose and the small birds had to flutter up to higher struts. In the distance we spotted the bulk of a ship from the Isle of Man which powered across the sea and was soon dominating our view as it came through the narrow harbour entrance.
The only option is to walk back the same way, no hardship as this is such an unusual and exhilerating spot, with or without seals.
Around the History of Sunderland Point
It was a frosty day when we took the bus to Middleton and walked down Carr Lane to the coast and the sandy Potts’ Corner car park. This is really the obvious starting point for car drivers planning a walk around Sunderland Point and we had merely added 1.5 miles by taking the bus.
Where you can walk will constantly depend on the tides around Sunderland Point so take care, don’t put yourself in danger and check the tide times. The tide was on the ebb while we were walking and we could follow the shore of salt marsh and pebbles, strewn with trees and branches. Eventually you will pass the turning onto The Lane that would take you straight to the village. Carry on by the coast and just beyond here is what is known as Sambo’s Grave, a poignant reminder of Lancashire’s part in the slave trade. The grave is a memorial to a young man from Africa who is thought to have arrived as a slave in 1736. Becoming ill he died and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1795 a local schoolteacher raised money to erect a memorial to the young man. Before carrying on, stop and pay your respects, read the elegy and admire the painted stones and maybe even flowers that decorate the memorial.
Walking around Sunderland Point, where the River Lune flows into the Irish Sea, is to be somewhere that feels as remote as it is possible to be on the Lancashire coast. Walking at sea level, the view across the river to Glasson Dock stretches away into the distance and you will catch any breeze on your back. My sense of isolation disappeared as we reached the handsome Georgian houses of Sunderland but this is no usual village. The road to this sleepy village of around 30 houses is cut off twice a day by the high tide. It was once a busy place for ships to unload or wait for the tide into the port of Lancaster.
From the village we followed the dike to the road and walked to Overton where the bus terminates. If you are heading back to Potts’ Corner car park there are plenty of footpaths that will take you there.
Combining the Lancaster Canal & the River Lune
Eager for a walk that took us somewhere new on a sunny day, we set off on our usual route to the Lancaster Canal and headed into Lancaster, over the Lune aqueduct. So far so normal. On this occasion we carried on through Lancaster and into a lovely wooded section of canal around Aldcliffe. We walked as far as Stodday where we picked up surprisingly busy lanes around the sewage works that took us to the footpath and cycle way from Lancaster to Conder Green that follows the River Lune.
We stopped at a picnic bench for our lunch and then, as we weren’t cycling, took the riverside path along the dike, rather than the lane and cycle route, so that we could enjoy the views over the River Lune and across to the pub at Snatchems. Apparently there used to be a ferry across the river to the pub and as we walked we wished that still existed. Skirting the wetland pools we emerged into the new housing along the quay road. We crossed the River Lune by Carlisle Bridge that carries the west coast train line and has a pedestrian walkway that takes you high above the river.
From here the cycle and pedestrian path back to Morecambe is an easy walk home. For us this walk is about 12 miles.
Morecambe Prom Updated
Morecambe is dotted with paintings on walls and sculptures of birds. A new addition to the Morecambe art scene has recently made walking along the seafront in Morecambe even more interesting. Local artists have been painting panels to cover the plain blue panels that surround an area of waste ground next to the supermarkets.
The photograph above shows the first four colourful painted panels. There are now more and I find it is worth checking on every visit to the sea as another may have been added since we were last there.
Well done to all the people who are putting in considerable time and effort to brighten up this part of Morecambe.
As we all emerge from Lock Down Three, we will be keen to focus on looking forward to the new world and the ‘new normal’ as it is called. I am the sort of person that looks to the future, rather than the past and I certainly don’t want to think back to the dark days between January and March this year. I have come through all the lock downs and tiers physically healthy but mentally mangled. Lock downs never got any easier and I found Lock Down Three particularly tough and lonely.
Readers might live in a friendly street where your neighbours smiled across the road as they clapped on a Thursday night in Lock Down One and continue to check in regularly via a Street WhatsApp Group. I imagine this is the sort of street that, in Before Coronavirus days, held a communal street party. I don’t know where these streets are but in all the places I have lived [just seven streets in five places so a limited sample] I have never experienced anywhere like this and mostly hear about them in the media and soap operas. Do they really exist in the real world?
Thursday nights at 20.00 during Lock Down One were quiet here on our Morecambe road. No one shamed us into going into our front garden to clap for the NHS. We were therefore taken by surprise when a Zoom call with two friends in a wealthy part of Greater Manchester had to be cut short so that they could join in the clapping. They risked being socially shunned by the neighbourhood if they didn’t show their faces!
Wherever we have lived we have always got to know our neighbours but we had only lived in our Morecambe home for four months when we were confined to its four walls. We had met some people at tai chi classes and were on chatting terms with the residents either side of our house but there was still some way to go to feeling a part of the community. Although the sunny weather during Lock Down One meant we did meet a couple more neighbours from across the street while we were out in the front garden I certainly wouldn’t say that it was a chance to settle into a community. Most people around us are retired and the majority of our neighbours are single households so we are surrounded by a generation who are terrified of catching Covid-19 and who kept themselves to themselves. Any chances to get to know them were fleeting and superficial. The only positive in the first lock down was spending time with our immediate next door neighbour. We saw him pretty much everyday and with all the time in the world we enjoyed long chats over the fence.
Lock Down Three has been a totally different scenario. Even our chatty neighbour was curled up on his sofa in the dark winter months of January and February and we have hardly seen anyone. Thank goodness in January our tai chi teacher eventually got to grips with Zoom and for the last three months our weeks have revolved around his entertaining Wednesday classes.
When we moved to Morecambe we thought we would meet people in our new town by joining some clubs or groups, attending some events and seeking out like-minded folk. The steps we had made towards this before Lock Down One kicked in were small. It isn’t that I want to be part of a community WhatsApp group but Covid-19 has certainly made settling into a new town more difficult.
We know we are lucky to have each other, lock downs have been very lonely for single people. But life has been so different for everyone. For the most part, and for the first time in our lives, geography has determined our social life. Most, but not all of our good friends are in the north west of England but as lock downs and tiers came and went we were constantly cancelling plans. In Lock Down Three we couldn’t even see two long-standing and close friends who live locally. In normal times we would meet as a foursome for a walk but the rules only allowed two people, not two households, to even take a stroll in the open air.
Lock Downs have been lonely experiences for me and they must have been miserable for others. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I always look forward, rather than back. This can be positive and also a cause of anxiety. Even as we take the small steps to a restriction-free life, in a corner of my mind is a dread that another lock down will come out of the blue! And so, I am seizing the day and can’t wait to be back on the road again on Monday 12 April.
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.
Three years ago we spent a couple of months without our campervan while it was being repatriated from Greece and repaired after a bit of a bump. Loyal readers will remember that being without our campervan was agony. Of course, in retrospect those two months don’t seem so tough … we could still travel and we tried different ways of taking holidays while we were without our Blue Bus and I learnt that nothing compares to being away in a campervan. The coronavirus pandemic lock down is a whole new scenario, one that is shared worldwide; we are all staying at home so that Covid 19 patients don’t overwhelm the NHS.
I know there are people far worse off than me and that I have a lot to be thankful for. We have a private garden that I never expected to give so much attention to and although we will be hit financially I am confident we can cope. I am used to being away from friends and family for months at a time and don’t feel lonely, what I have lost is the rhythm of my year. It is Easter weekend as I write this and we have spent this time in Scotland pretty much every year since 1979.
I have always enjoyed seizing the day, making the most of the time I have knowing I might not be here tomorrow. I am finding it tough to have to watch, what feels to me like the apocalypse approaching, from my sofa. In my imagination I always pictured that when the warning sirens rang Anthony and I would leap into our campervan and drive to the mountains to witness the end of the world.
As much as I love Morecambe and feel so glad that we can walk to the sea, I only really expected to be here for about half the year! I can see how shallow I am, there are people living with much greater hardship than not being able to travel in a campervan but the loss I am feeling and the fear that I may never be able to go camping again is real. Reading about how others are struggling I find that my anxiety has a name, it is anticipatory grief. I hope that with a label for how I am feeling I can maybe deal with it [I am bringing myself back to the present right now, looking around I can see a futon, some herb seedlings, a candle, a cushion and a roll of sellotape].
In the past I have worked through anxiety by writing but for almost three weeks I have been silent, unable to write down any words. Sitting in front of the laptop is where I spend my time planning campervan trips or writing travel articles. This association is so strong, I haven’t been able to face the unkind reminder of what I can’t do and I have sought out other ways to occupy myself. On top of this my embarrassingly self-pitying inner voice asks, ‘What is the point of your ramblings when the world is ending.’
I am taking the writing one small step at a time. Here are some pictures of life in Morecambe over the last three weeks.
Holding back the tears
I don’t need sympathy, I am just trying to be honest; it is a pretty good day if I don’t start weeping about something. There is no doubt there is plenty to be distressed about; in no particular order, here are some things that make me cry:
People all over the world being very ill and dying and health services unable to cope with the numbers
Favourite small businesses facing financial difficulties due to the temporary closure
People being judgemental and spiteful about the actions of others
Empty supermarket shelves
Finding strong bread flour on the supermarket shelves for the first time in three weeks
Watching the oystercatchers on Morecambe Bay
The moment after waking when I remember that nothing is normal anymore
Those tormenting inner thoughts, ‘Where would we be camping now?’
Not being able to meet up with our son and daughter-in-law
Being so anxious and tense for most of the day that I go to sleep with a headache almost every night
A small scene from life in Morecambe …
I am waiting in our local Co-op, at a safe distance from all the other shoppers, clutching my milk and essential hot cross buns. At the checkout is an elderly woman. The assistant was calm and patient as the woman slowly placed her shopping by the till and she asked her to move back to the line marked on the floor. The elderly customer looked confused and shuffled to the side, although she had a stick she was more comfortable with the counter to help her stand while her shopping was rung through and bagged. The assistant noticed and smiled, ‘Oh you need the counter, that’s fine you can stand there.’ Once the shopping was totted up, the customer got her purse out. ‘We are only taking cards now, not cash,’ the assistant reminded her; she was clearly a woman who usually paid in cash. The customer understood and fumbled for a little used card and with help tried to use it contactless. After several assisted attempts, the assistant relented and let her pay in cash. The woman looked as if the world was spinning way too fast and trying to throw her off, everything had changed, she had seen the news but hadn’t realised how this would affect her weekly shop at our little Co-op. A lump in my throat I hid my face, desperately wanting to go over, take her arm and offer comfort.
Connecting with friends
For the first couple of weeks our What’s App groups were buzzing, everyone checking in on everyone else. The novelty of social distancing is now wearing off, no one has anything to say and I can go all day without my phone pinging.
My Twitter friends have been supportive, as always and often make me smile. I find Facebook a bit more of a challenge and although useful for connecting, I limit my usage. We have an inter-continental quiz game going on with our friends in Australia that is getting pleasantly competitive.
We have chatted to six households at one time using Zoom, our friends in little boxes on our laptop screen, sitting on top of each other like they are on University Challenge. Although it is hard to have much of a conversation with around ten people online together and the ‘meeting’ bears no resemblance to seeing them in real life, it is lovely to connect with them all and the laughter is great medicine. No one talks about how awful social distancing is at these gatherings, everyone stays upbeat with stories of what they are achieving in isolation and says they are fine. I wonder if it is just me that is crying inside.
Too much socialising during social distancing
One evening, after two video calls with different groups of friends, we both collapsed into bed exhausted from so much socialising!
Empty supermarket shelves
As I mentioned, seeing empty shelves in the supermarkets triggers tears and panic. One day there is no butter, strong bread flour was becoming just a distant memory and there is still no yeast. It seems the small 568 ml of milk are no longer worth producing and we have to find ways to use up a litre while it is in date in sauces etc.
Sending parcels of joy
While we can’t meet friends, the post office is still open and we can send small gifts in the mail. We have sent out books and jigsaws we have finished with and food parcels to other friends and I have other surprises planned.
I have also volunteered for our local food bank.
We chat to our next door neighbour over the fence most days and when we are out for our daily walk or cycle ride I say hello to pretty much everyone we pass [at a safe distance]. I do this partly to use up some of my surplus words, I have words to spare these days and I can give them freely. Some people just grunt a response or ignore me but others cheerfully say hello back and maybe for just one person I am the only human being who has spoken to them all day … here come the tears again.
When we moved to Morecambe we received a whole pile of cards wishing us happiness in our new home and a few lovely gifts. One of the most memorable gifts was from an old friend whose grandma had lived in Bolton-le-Sands on Morecambe Bay. She generously gave us two items that had once belonged to her grandmother.
The old half-inch map for cyclists and motorists for the Lancaster District is a beautiful cloth map that has been unfolded and folded many times. I enjoy looking at old maps and this one gives an interesting insight into how Morecambe grew in the latter half of the 20th century. Our bungalow was built in the 1960s and the map shows the fields that were here before and Morecambe is shown as a fishing village and not the seaside resort it is now. Inside the cardboard cover to the map are two adverts that give a glimpse into another world. One is to Tranter’s First Class Temperance Hotel in Bridgewater Square and the other is for Dr J Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, a remedy for coughs, colds, consumption, bronchitis and asthma which will also cut short attacks of epilepsy and hysteria and makes claims as being useful for a wide range of illnesses from gout and cancer to toothache!
My friend’s other gift was , ‘The History of Morecambe Bay’ by Michael McDermott, an illustrated pamphlet from 1948. In his forward, Michael McDermott tells us that, ‘For years it has been my custom to cycle along the coast, and thus come across many of the antiquities of the area.’ I am sure Michael McDermott also owned a copy of the old cloth map.
Michael McDermott begins by considering the origin of the name Morecambe [pronounced more – cam, the b and e are silent] and suggests the name may mean the bending shore or the beautiful haven or that it may derive from Mwr Cwm, meaning hollow in the hills. Today, according to The Morecambe Bay Partnership, the name is from, Morikambe eischusis [tidal flats in Greek]. This name was recorded on a map between the Solway and Ribble estuaries by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in 150 AD.
Michael McDermott’s journey around Morecambe Bay begins in Lancaster with the Romans and then follows the River Lune to the picturesque Sunderland Point and the gem that is Overton Church. He then takes his reader by bicycle on to Heysham, which he describes as a ‘wooded headland’ with the stone coffins on the headland and he gives some details about the area’s links with St Patrick.
Moving north, Michael McDermott frustratingly doesn’t have much to say about Morecambe itself. ‘Adjacent to Heysham we have the holiday resort of Morecambe, which has developed in the last hundred years from a small fishing village called Poulton-le-Sands. Morecambe has the usual theatres, fair-grounds and swimming-bath of a holiday resort, and beyond that is of little interest to us.’ So much has changed in Morecambe since 1948, with the fair and lido now gone and I would have been very interested to read about what the town was like 70 years ago.
This clearly isn’t the booklet to get a clear picture of Morecambe back in the 1940s but reading it aloud to each other we did learn about Torrisholme long barrow. Michael McDermott writes, ‘The skulls found in barrows like this are peculiarly elongated in form, and the name given to the particular race who erected the long barrows is “the long-headed men.” Some barrows are round – they were built by the “round-headed men.”‘ Now referred to as a Bronze Age Round Barrow, some suggest Torrisholme Barrow was the old law hill of the area before Lancaster Castle was built but no one refers to the people that built it as having particularly elongated heads!
Michael McDermott does give us a glimpse of the fishing industry that existed around Morecambe Bay. He tells us that you would once have seen fishermen cleaning mussels on the promenade at Morecambe and at Bolton-le-Sands he meets Mr and Mrs Wilson who search for cockles in the bay in all weathers. He describes the cockle beds and the ‘cram,’ a curved fork used to scoop up the cockles and a board with handles that was called a ‘jumbo’ and was used to bring the cockles to the surface. He romanticises the hard work of these ‘fisher-folk,’ telling us, ‘Living close to nature as they do, the minds of the fisherfolk are totally free from the inhibitions that are the curse of an over-industrialised society, and their spontaneous generosity, humour, and interest in simple things make their friendship a pleasure for all who are fortunate to come into contact with them.’
Much of the pamphlet gives readers the details about the route across the sands of Morecambe Bay. Before the railway and good roads this was a frequently used, if perilous, way from Ulverston to Furness and Kents Bank to Arnside and Hest Bank. There is still a Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands living in the house on Cart Lane at Kents Bank and regular cross bay walks for charity occur in the summer and are a marvellous and safe day out. Michael McDermott tells us that, ‘The post of Guide to the Sands is many centuries old, and was created by the Crown in 1337, after several people had lost their lives while making the crossing.’
The other method of traversing Morecambe Bay is also referred to in the pamphlet. It seems that swimming across Morecambe Bay used to be a summer event that attracted many competitors. The course from Grange to Morecambe was first completed in 1907 by “Professor” Stearne in three hours 45 minutes 41 seconds. Due to changes in the waters of Morecambe Bay the swim was stopped in 1991.
Although out-of-date, this charming history booklet has told us about a number of places we didn’t know. On the Cumbrian side of Morecambe Bay are the earth works of a motte and bailey castle on Adlingham’s Moat Hill. In the 1940s this was thought to be another burial mound and Michael McDermott quite alarmingly writes, ‘In view of the many signs of early man which have been unearthed in this neighbourhood, there is no doubt that in the dim past this area was the most important part of the bay, and countless young girls must have been butchered in the exotic religious rights which the old heathens carried out at their stone circles and caves.’
While ideas about the activities of ancient people have changed considerably, Morecambe Bay remains an English gem that is well worth exploring.