An Afternoon Stroll Around Morecambe, Lancashire.
An Afternoon Stroll Around Morecambe, Lancashire.
It was a wonderfully sunny afternoon in the northwest of England as I boarded the train from Lancaster to Morecambe. Just before getting on, I’d treated myself to the latest iPhone. Swish went the bank card… £1000…. and boom I’d finally gotten myself the camera I’d wanted for so long. Ah the spoils of two years working and saving in China.
It was going to be tough saying goodbye to my Sony Cybershot. But it was time, I figured, to lose the weight and continue the simplification process of life as a digital nomad. Thus I was now buzzing to test out my new camera. Indeed I’d come to Morecambe with no real plan other than to walk, explore and test out my new gadget.
It took just ten minutes on foot to reach Morecambe South Beach from the train station. Despite the fine weather, with its flawless blue sky, I arrived to find the sands perfectly empty. Immediate evidence, in fact, of this little town’s general decline from its glory days as one of England’s premier seafronts.
Morecambe grew out of the fishing village of Poulton-le-Sands back in the late 1850s. First came the railway network and the associated harbour. Next, the increase in residents and a cluster of Victorian buildings, some of which still survive today.
In its heyday Morecambe was awash with visitors from across Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria. Buoyed by a growing tourist industry, up sprang cinemas, ballrooms, music venues and a handful of grand hotels. Standing on the empty beach that day, it was surreal to look at old photos of Morecambe and its popular seafront. If only I could’ve gotten my hands on “Doc” Emmett Brown’s time travelling DeLorean.
Moreover, between 1956 and 1989, Morecambe hosted the Miss Great Britain Beauty Contest. Leafing through archive photos of the event and boy it looks and feels like an altogether different world.
Eventually, Morecambe fell on hard times due to a series of catastrophes. First storms destroyed two of the town’s main piers. As a result, a large chunk of seaside attractions closed down. Then key businesses followed suit, including the legendary performance venue Floral Hall, which once attracted rock ‘n’ roll stars such as Gene Vincent and The Rolling Stones.
In 1994 a brand new theme park, Crinkley Bottom, was supposed to rejuvenate Morecambe’s flailing fortunes. However, the operation stands as one of Britain’s most infamous business failures. Beset by numerous scandals, the park failed to attract the anticipated crowds. Which consequently led to the local council withdrawing funding. Then everyone sued each other.
Photo courtesy of Freakmighty Images.
While Morecambe has never managed to recapture past glories, I nevertheless discovered a charming town that has done plenty to honour its rich heritage. On the promenade, for example, one cannot miss the endearing Eric Morecambe Statue.
It stands in honour of Mr. John Eric Bartholomew, better known as Eric Morecambe, one of Britain’s most treasured comedians. Best known for his work in the comedy double act Morecambe and Wise, Eric was a mainstay of British TV and radio from the 1940s right through to his untimely death in 1984.
I remember watching lots of Eric while growing up. Particularly M&W’s Beatles episode and the timeless Singing in the Rain Routine. Furthermore, Morecambe and Wise were a staple of Christmas TV viewing with their eagerly awaited annual specials.
Eric was born in Morecambe on the 14th of May 1926. As a young performer learning his trade he appeared at a number of local venues, such as The Plaza Cinema and The Jubilee Social Club.
The sculptor Graham Ibbeson created the statue, while it was none other than Queen Elizabeth II who unveiled it in the summer of 1999. He stands smiling, forever frozen in a pose from the famous Bring me Sunshine sketch.
Note the binoculars hanging around his neck, a reference to the great man’s love of birdwatching. At the nearby Leighton Moss Nature Reserve, meanwhile, there’s a birdwatching hide dedicated to Eric’s memory.
There are some lovely artistic flourishes around the statue. It only seems right that Eric gets his own star, Hollywood Walk of Fame style.
You can also find a number of his most famous quotes engraved into the pavement, in addition to the long list of household names he worked with at home and abroad. Shirley Bassey… Andre Previn… Cilla Black… Tom Jones… to name but a few.
Another nice touch are the stone seagulls positioned nearby. Made by the Scottish sculptor Shona Kinloch, they are a nod to both Eric’s love of birds and the ever-present community of gulls that populates Morecambe Bay.
Continuing down the promenade, I soon arrived at Morecambe’s iconic Grade II listed Clock Tower. Built in 1905 by the architects Charles Cressey and William Keighley, this red brick structure was Mayor John Robert Birkett’s grand gift to his beloved hometown. Today the Clock Tower Cafe offers lovely views across the bay. Although, sadly, online reviews of the place are shocking.
A little further on I came across some more promenade art. This sprawling metal sculpture represents the distant mountains and fells of The Lake District. Which on a clear day you can see directly behind the sculpture, nestled beautifully between the sea and sky.
There is a wide range of local beauty spots referenced within the installation. The artist Russell Coleman brought the piece to life as part of the Tern Art Project. Looks like I still have plenty of places to explore when I next visit my uncle.
My wanderings took me away from the promenade when I caught sight of The Old Pier Bookshop across the road. As regular readers know I love a traditional bookstore and this place is really something else.
Described in one online review as “wilfully disorganised”, The Old Pier is a treasure trove of literature stuffed into a warren of wonky alleys and cul-de-sacs. It’s a place where, if you’re brave enough to rummage through the often waist-high piles of titles, you might just unearth a lost gem.
I also love all the quirky art, ornaments and.. well.. random stuff that inhabits the place. Where else could one find a pair of detective mannequins working undercover? Or see an elephant-inhabited birdcage hanging from the ceiling?
Elsewhere, there are fantastical sea creatures guarding several bookcases. And a giant Herman Melville style squid balancing a doomed ship on its head. Just a few of The Old Pier’s unusual decorative pieces.
Before leaving, I had a chat with the owner, Mr. Aronne Vettese. “You can call me Tony” he smiled, keen to save me from butchering his name. I asked him if it was true that someone in Scotland once sent him a letter addressed to “The guy who runs the bookshop in Morecambe”. And that it actually reached him. “Yeah, perfectly true” he chuckled.
On the subject of the shop’s unapologetic chaos, Tony confirmed that it’s one of the things that makes The Old Pier so special. “You never know what you might find. One time a customer dug out a David Attenborough book, signed by the man himself. I should pay more attention to the stuff that comes in”.
The Old Pier Bookshop.
Another memorable afternoon came when Tony opened a book of poems to see a handwritten letter flutter out. The author, it turned out, was none other than the celebrated Australian World War I pilot and aviator Arthur Leonard Long. He wrote and sent the letter (along with the poetry book) in 1918 to a lady friend by the name of Miss Burkett. For the full story, take a look at this fascinating article from The Lancaster Guardian.
Back on the promenade, I was taking in more fine views across Morecambe Bay when I came across a jaw-dropping car. And this is coming from someone who generally doesn’t give a crap about cars. Its name is Celestial, a restored and custom designed 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
It’s safe to say that I’d never seen a car quite like this. Designed and built by a chap called Ian D Etheridge, it features all kinds of crazy flourishes. I’m talking chrome tube bumpers, gleaming side pipes, rectangular headlights and a piercing shark fin by the trunk.
Apparently Etheridge has toured the car around Britain on the show circuit, winning dozens of trophies. A few years back he put it up for sale with a price tag of £26,500. It’s not clear who now owns Celestial, nor do I have a Scooby what it was doing in Morecambe that day. But it was definitely fun to have bumped into it.
By this point I was very much in need of a rest, a drink and a bite. And where better to take a load off than the historic Morecambe Hotel, originally built as a coaching inn back in 1828!
Fully restored as a hotel, restaurant and bar in 2015, the interior features local antiques and framed photographs documenting Morecambe’s long history. In the bar lounge meanwhile, above one of the sofas, a TV plays Miss Great Britain footage from the town’s glory days.
I could’ve happily sat there awhile watching it. But it was too nice a day to stay inside, so I headed out to the garden with my beer and nuts. The perfect way to refuel before setting off in search of some more Morecambe art.
There is a genuinely sweet collection of murals to enjoy throughout town. Wandering the streets, I managed to tick off a chunk of them on my way back to the train station. One of the biggest is this dedication to local birdlife at the corners of Union and Victoria streets.
There’s also a number of murals celebrating Morecambe’s connection with the sea. One is this fishing boat at sunset silhouette, located at the junction of Victoria Street & Edward Street.
Above the Farrell Heyworth Estate Agents, there were paintings of the acclaimed comedy stars Laurel & Hardy and Victoria Wood in the boarded up windows. Laurel and Hardy came to Morecambe just once for a performance in 1947. Their show was at The Winter Gardens (currently being restored), while they stayed at the (now demolished) Elms Hotel for a couple of nights.
The Sheffield based artist Rocket01 depicts Victoria Wood in the BBC sitcom Dinnerladies, which Wood wrote, co-produced and starred in. The comedienne spent her formative years as a struggling artist living in Morecambe. In fact, it was here that she developed some of her early comedy sketches. And where she wrote her first play, Talent.
A short while later I discovered this train station mural expertly hidden behind a tree. You can find it about halfway down Edward Street, just across from the abandoned St Laurence’s Church. It represents the historic Northumberland Street Railway Station, which served Morecambe between 1848 and 1907.
As for St Laurence’s, this former Anglican Parish Church fell into disrepair in 1981 after nearly 100 years of service. The art here, painted over the windows, celebrates Morecambe’s old fairground and circus heritage. A local artist, Shane Johnston, created the paintings in honour of Morecambe’s past and future. Read here for more on the story.
Finally, I saw this playful mosaic tribute to Eric Morecambe. “That’s easy for you to say!” was a recurring catchphrase for Eric whenever Ernie, or indeed any of his fellow performers stumbled with their lines.
The Mancunian artist Mark Kennedy made the mural as part of a series. Other stars to get the mosaic treatment include the Morecambe born BAFTA winning actress Dame Thora Hird. And Laurence Olivier, who came to Morecambe in 1959 to shoot the movie The Entertainer.
I certainly packed a lot into my afternoon stroll around Morecambe. One day I’d like to come back, see some more, and bring you a fresh set of stories from this wonderful seaside town.
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What lovely weather you had for your visit to Morecambe to make good use of your new iPhone’s camera. Love the statue to Eric Morecambe on the promenade and that wonderful independent bookshop. Have you seen the TV series ‘The Bay’ which is filmed in Morecambe? If you get a chance to track it down I’m certain you would both enjoy it. Series 3 has just finished with each series of six episodes resolving one detective case. I really liked it and would love to stay at the art nouveau Midland Hotel one day. Hope your week is going well, I got back home on Monday so just catching up with boring things like housework now!
Thanks for leaving such a considered message Marion. Love the sound of ‘The Bay’, particularly Sladja who can’t get enough detective shows. If we get to swing by Morecambe at the end of the month (which seems unlikely at this point) I will definitely take a look at The Midland Hotel.
I really like the detail of your research, I’ve lived here 20 years and every one of your articles reveals new and interesting facts.
Cheers Dave, really appreciate that. Thanks for your support of the blog.
Well I have to say the beaches look much nicer than I was expecting! And have you seen The Bay? It’s a fun show based in the area I think 🙂
Thanks Hannah, you’re the second person to recommend that show to me! We’ll definitely be looking into it, thanks for reading.
A lot of history to uncover here Leighton. Loved the old beach scenes and the prim and proper swimsuits of the day. The bookshop is indeed a humble jumble. The quirks are what make seemingly forgotten places come to life. Thanks for digging them out. Stay well. Allan
Thank you Allan, with so much of Britain’s retail industry looking exactly the same from town to town, city to city, finding places like The Old Pier does feel special. Glad you took the time to dip into Morecambe today.
I don’t know if it’s fair to call Morecambe quirky but it certainly seems to have its own refreshing personality. Left me wondering if Crinkley Bottom was a joke or a person’s name from a comedy sketch. I would love to tackle that book store. No problem finding anything as I use that same system myself.
Hey Memo, I think Morecambe is a little quirky… quaint… charming… nostalgic and plenty of other adjectives. The history behind Crinkley Bottom is a long and very British one at that. You might be interested to Google the English broadcaster Noel Edmonds and the TV character Mr. Blobby. Good luck trying to wrap your head around all of that ha ha.
Wow! To say you packed a lot into your afternoon is an understatement. I’ve never seen a happier statue than the one of Eric Morecambe! Also it’s amazing how much the camera quality of iPhones improves every year, and you picked a beautiful place to test out the new camera.
Thanks Lyssy, I was so happy that day playing around with my new piece of kit. As much as I love taking photos and having good quality shots, I remain a point-and-shoot guy at heart. So the iPhone has really delivered for me in that respect. Thanks for checking out this charming seaside town, Eric was indeed a happy crappy and the statue definitely reflects that.
there’s plenty here to show why you remain the best travel blogger on wordpress. This piece really gets under the skin of morecambe in so many ways. how fascinating the story of arthur long and the first world war letter
Stan, you are making me blush! I’m humbled to know you’re still reading and thanks for the kind words, I will strive to keep on improving. It’s stuff like the Arthur Leonard Long letter that makes me feel like I’ve struck gold as a blogger.
Going to the beach is not only fun it is also good for the body and the soul especially if you happen to visit on a sunny day ☺️ I’m glad to see you had a great time exploring Morecambe and its magnificent sweep of coastline. Thanks for sharing and have a good day ☺️ Aiva
Thanks for visiting Aiva, as ever, and for adding to the thread. I wish some of the sunshine and blue sky from this article would find its way into this gloomy, rainy afternoon.
I had to smile at the beach clothes of the “heydays” 😁. I like that fun-looking statue of Eric Morecambe (and the stone seagulls). Oh, and that bookshop … I would need at least a day in there! The beach at Morecambe is definitely a beautiful sight on a sunny day!
Hey Corna, thanks for taking a look at Morecambe. I do enjoy writing about these inherently British stars like Eric Morecambe, who remains largely unknown outside of The UK. Hope you and Berto are both well!
Thanks Leighton, we are both doing great … busy packing for yet another camping trip (we have a long weekend in South Africa) and this is the perfect time to take out our tent and have a few night’s braai’s next to the ocean again 🔥. Hope you and Sladja is also enjoying your time in the UK.
If you ever get a hold of Doc’s Delorean, you let me know and we’ll go on the most epic history tour! What a delightful town to wander through. I had never heard of Morecambe before but with a statute like that I’m sure I would have enjoyed his skits. And that car by Etheridge is amazing! That is the ride for a road trip across the country…although I would still take the Delorean.
It would be fun right? Let’s just agree to stay away from our parents, it seems like that would only bring disastrous consequences 😉 Thanks for taking this whirlwind tour of Morecambe Meg.
agreed! Parents belong in our present and not their past 🙂
It sounds like Morecambe has a delightful history with so much to see. I love the bookstore! I could spend hours there. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for coming to Morecambe, appreciate your contribution to the thread 🙂
The beach looks so inviting it is astonishing that it was deserted on such a fine afternoon. It is strange the way places like Morecambe fall in and out of favor. The Trans Am is an iconic American muscle car but I’ve never seen one that looks like that. Thanks for the tour and these photos show you made a great investment.
I agree that it seems odd how such a historic and once booming town like Morecambe could just fade away to the extent it has. Luck plays a big part I think, but then so does bad decision making and mismanagement from those in positions of authority. I do like how they’ve honoured their heritage despite the prevailing sleepiness. Thanks for visiting John.
Great captures around Morecambe. What better way to test out a new camera than by going on an adventure. I’m such a sucker for old bookstores. They’re so much fun to explore and I just love the smell of them.
Funny you should mention the smell, because The Old Pier definitely had that smell of history to it. Thousands of titles that have passed through countless hands. Old furniture, worn comics and so on. Thanks for reading!
What an interesting town. From the original description of its downfall and the sad picture of Crinkley Bottoms (what a name!!!) I had expected a very sad town. Maybe it’s the blue sky, but it seems like a fun and quirky town with possibly the best bookstore ever. Maggie
Thanks Maggie, it is a lovely little town that, like so many places in England, seems utterly transformed when the weather is fine. The biggest thing that struck me was how deserted and quiet the whole place was from top to bottom. Strange, even without knowing its illustrious history. The bookshop is worth the visit alone.
I didn’t know about Morecambe, it’s true that from the Continent it’s hard to associate England with beaches, which is unfair as I remember my scorching summers spent in Avon. I wish my place would not end up like the bookshop, but it is on the way 🙂
Yeah, we are not famed for our beaches, that’s for sure. I have always been curious about Blackpool, but it looks like we will run out of time for that even on this trip. I am trying to picture your home, is this something about the lifestyle habits of creatives I wonder? I am getting messier and messier as I get older.
Wow, £1000…that’s insane money to spend on a phone! It better have all of the gizmos and applications installed on them, along with the best-quality camera in the world! Thanks for taking us on another trip in Lancashire: Morecambe might have had a notorious history, but it appears to be reviving again after all of these years. Your stroll from the beach to the bookstore made for a very expansive visit!
It’s a lot for a phone eh? Luckily I was flush at the time while hey, nearly three years later and (touch wood) it’s still in tiptop condition. Morecambe is a lovely little place and I’m sure I could find a fresh set of stories should I ever get the chance to have a second afternoon stroll one of these years. Thanks for dropping by Rebecca.
Love your insights into Morecambe and full marks to you, we thought this is a place I’m not getting out of the car. We didn’t .
Ha ha fair enough Gary. I’m trying to imagine how my afternoon here would’ve gone on a typically wet and grey English day. Pretty different I imagine.
Strange that Morecambe should have been the birthplace of two of my (and my father’s) all time favourite comedians. When Michaela and I got married, we walked back down the aisle to “Bring Me Sunshine” just when everyone was expecting something deep and meaningful!
My dad is also a huge Eric fan, hence I was raised on all that stuff. Remnants of a bygone era for sure, which I find a little sad. Nice choice of song, unusual for sure but hey, it must have created an uncompromisingly positive vibe.
Love the tribute to Eric, such a classic show. What wonderful murals you found, I’m always snapping murals and also like to find out who painted them. Sometimes there’s no information at all. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Morecombe. I’ve also seen The Bay, a brilliant series. You sure had a jam packed day.
Thanks Alison, yet another recommendation for The Bay, I should really check it out. You’re right about murals, often you are left in the dark over who made them and why. But it’s great when you manage to track down the stories behind them. Thanks for checking in!
Another bookshop I would absolutely love to wander. This town was an interesting exploration. I’ll have to look up Eric – his fame may not have extended across the ocean, but the statue is great.
I have a feeling Eric will be right up your street Ruth. One of a kind and an icon of a bygone era.
Just found the sketch with Andre Previn. I have seen it before. Now I know who Eric is! 😄
Ahhh great, that’s one of my favourites.
I love the look of that book shop and my goodness the ‘Celestial’ really is draw dropping 😮 fabulous!!
Hey Cherryl, thanks for going through my recent articles and for all the likes. Morecambe really does have a special bookshop and yeah, even a non-car enthusiast like me was impressed by Celestial.