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.
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.
Like this? Why not leaf through my other articles from Lancashire.
Or maybe take a look at my many travel articles from all around England.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.