Sunday, 7 August 2016

A Day In Southport

On Wednesday I breathed a sigh of relief having finished the decorating of the bathroom and toilet, which have been keeping me from updating this blog for a while. I was starting to think of articles I could post and series that I should get on with (the next issue of Film Review coming shortly...) but then the weather turned nice and I thought - and Miss Franny insisted - that we should go out for the day.

So Friday saw us in Southport. It's quite a long time since we visited that particular town and it does hold some memories for me, particularly running round the boating pond as a child, holding onto the mast of my yacht which I was watching to the exclusion of noticing the path taking a 90 degree turn which resulted in me neatly running off the edge and... SPLASH!

"Mu-u-u-m! Mu-u-u-um! I've fallen in the water! Mu-u-u-um! I'm all wet!!!" [SMACK!]
"Look where you're going next time! Look at you! We're going to have to go home now, you've spoiled the day!"

We didn't of course. We just walked round, my parents looking at shops, me being left outside so I didn't drip in them... "Don't you dare move an inch from there!"

I imagine that the boating pond is still there somewhere but we didn't find it. This is the Marine Lake. The sea retreated from Southport's Promenade and the Marine Lake meant people could enjoy the water and go boating without the hike over the beach. We used to park our car on the beach in fact, though they seem to have stopped that again now and in fact the sea was fairly close to the sea wall, only a short bus ride from the Marine Lake (joking there!!!)

On the edge of the Marine Lake towards the north is The Lakeside Inn, which claims to be the smallest pub in Britain. It can officially claim that too, having been recognised as such by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1989 and again in 2011. Other pubs challenge the claim, particularly as although it measures only 16 x 22 feet, it has a somewhat larger beer garden outside catering for drinkers.

The pier front is dominated by a large amusements arcade (no pinball machine though...) and a carousel of gallopers, both owned by Silcock's, a Warrington based firm whose name will be instantly familiar to fairground customers and visitors throughout the north west. The sound of a karaoke artist came from a pub just behind these. We passed by on the pier later on and lots of people were singing along with him. Strange how each one of them managed to hold the notes a bit longer than he did...

Just off the main Promenade road, between that and the shops of Lord Street are lots of small shops and cafes that just typify a seaside town for me. Colourful and presenting a bewildering range of goods both behind the counter and on displays on the pavement, this rock shop is a good example.

Here's another, with rock, ice cream, balls, buckets and spades for the beach and enough signs to make you forget that you forgot to bring your book with you...

Then there's the other type of seaside shop. This is where you buy your postcards during the week, your Dad gets his newspaper to read on the beach, Mum stocks up on sun tan lotion and TCP for any cuts, scrapes or bruises (caused by falling in the boating pool perhaps)... Then at the end of the week on your last day before going home, this is where you hoped to be brought so that you could choose a toy to take home! Perhaps that new Corgi or Dinky Ford Cortina or Triumph Herald...

And the boring bit, because every day Mum will want to spend at least some time away from the beach looking at the shops along Lord Street. You are dragged along by the hand, mutinous and glowering whilst Mum spends ages trying on at least fifty pairs of shoes until her feet are all raw and bleeding and even Dad is starting to look a bit fed up... "I'll have these!" she says triumphantly, limping in a pair of ridiculous heels to the angled mirror at floor level to admire her size 7 feet crammed into a pair of size 5 shoes...

As a grown-up (well...) I can admire these old arcades and shop fronts from an architectural point of view and I did love this one, the Wayfarers Arcade. A plaque informs us that it opened in 1898 as the Leyland Arcade, Leyland being the name of Southport's MP at the time.

It had two levels with the ground level at the rear of the arcade being exactly halfway between the ground level at the front and the first floor level! So behind me as I took this photograph were doorways to the street.

And it had a guitar shop!!! I had to go in and chat to the owner. I told him how I loved the name of the shop. "Oh, that was never in doubt," he said. "As soon as my kids heard I was going to open a guitar shop they said 'What will you call it? Dad's Guitars?' So I did..." Specialising in quality second-hand guitars there was plenty to drool over from 1950s vintage Strats to a couple of lovely Gibson SGs.

We had some lunch and then returned to the Promenade. The theatre and conference centre has another memory. This is where, in 2009, Creeping Bentgrass shrank from a trio to a duo and as a consequence we found ourselves able to accept far more bookings. We started in 2000 as a four-piece, then became a trio, then a duo... I keep telling David that his days are numbered... He keeps telling me... - well, no, it doesn't matter...!

We caught a little road train to the Pleasureland fairground. Not because it was a long way to walk to it, but more because it seemed a fun thing to do. We arrived at the Pleasure Beach and handed out some money for the driver who asked "Are you just going back or do you want to return here?" He hadn't noticed us get on or off...

Southport's Pleasureland was owned and operated by the Thompson family of Blackpool Pleasure Beach from 1913 to 2006. There was an outcry when they pulled out and dismantled everything including some vintage and much loved rides such as the wooden Cyclone roller coaster. In 2007 the park re-opened under the ownership of Norman Wallis.

Here's a few photos taken as we wandered through!

We came out of Pleasureland onto the Marine Drive, the coast road. The coast here runs south west to our left and north east to our right. I'm sure the tide never used to come in so far when we used to come here during my childhood. I always seem to remember the end of the pier still being a long walk away from the sea's edge. The pier is Britain's second longest after Southend. It is 1,216 yards long and extends more than a kilometer out towards the sea.

There had been a tram service up and down the pier intermittently from 1863 up to 2015 when the tram was scrapped and it has now been replaced by the land train similar to the one we had ridden on to Pleasureland.

Taken from the pier this looks out over the River Ribble estuary to Lytham St Annes and beyond to Blackpool with the Tower clearly visible and behind it again, the hills and mountains of the Lake District.

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