7 places on the North West coast to visit after lockdown
PUBLISHED: 08:14 07 July 2020
As lockdown restrictions ease, it’s time to re-connect with the Lancashire coast.
Bolton-le-Sands is a village divided. There’s no controversy or consternation, simply the Lancaster Canal which cuts through the centre of the village. The newer additions to the village stand to the west of the canal, across the water from its older parts.
The village, which enjoys glorious views across Morecambe Bay, was known simply as Bolton until the railway arrived and the name was changed to avoid confusion on the timetables. And while the railway station closed in 1969, trains still rattle past on the West Coast main line.
But anyone who takes the slower route along the canal, or who pulls off the A6 and lingers a while will discover a delightful village surrounded by countryside which is a haven for those who enjoy walking, whether woodland, coastal or beside the canal. There’s some lovely picnic spots too, and if you need help filling your picnic basket.
The Fylde coast is famed for its beaches and while Blackpool may have the biggest, Cleveleys has arguably the best. While people freed from the lockdown are flocking to the more famous resort’s sands, make the short trip up the coast to find more space to lay down your blanket.
The beach here is just across the road from the town centre shops and is home to a series of artworks. Pieces line the newly revamped promenade and large intriguing sculptures spill out onto the sands. The beach also has fine views to the Lakeland fells and (on a clear day) the Welsh hills.
Cleveleys has simply plodded on for years, doing what it has done for generations. That’s not to say it’s old fashioned or outmoded, it just continues to offer traditional seaside fun without the bright lights, loud music and brash atmosphere you’ll find a mile or two down the coast.
Formby stands on a stunning piece of coastline and, despite being midway between Liverpool and Southport, it retains the feel of a village. The shops and businesses are starting to re-open but most visitors head for the coast where social distancing is easy on the wide open sands which are ideal for family walks and exercise.
A colony of red squirrels has found one of their last refuges in the pine woods which stand by the dunes - you might spot them if you take a woodland walk. And if you choose to walk on the sands, listen out for the ‘Bootle Organ’, the distinctive sound of male natterjack toads bellowing to attract a mate in one of the few sites in England where they breed.
The vast beach, with its big skies and incredible sunsets is a great place for walks and picnics, and keep your eyes peeled for the 5,000-year-old footprints of elk, and elk hunters, in the sand. As the tide washes in and out, the footprints are revealed then hidden once again.
Lytham is one of the most popular day-trip destinations in Lancashire – as the streams of traffic and crowded car parks on sunny lockdown weekends showed – but it’s still possible to find a quiet spot for a stroll, or even a picnic. Head for the famous mile-long green and promenade on a warm summer’s day and you’re sure to see the crowds, and beyond them you’ll also be able to pick out Southport, the Pennine Hills and even the rugged outline of Snowdonia.
But take yourself inland, past the streets of charming independent stores and cafes – many of which are re-opening with new social distancing rules in place – and you’ll find parks, woodland walks and a latticework of paths and bridleways through rural Fylde. The sea defences along this stretch of coast have been given a multi-million pound makeover and it’s not all open yet, but it is possible to walk from Lytham to Fairhaven Lake, or you could take the path through Witch Wood.
Although Lytham is often lumped together with St Annes, the two are separate towns, divided by Fairhaven, with its famous White Church, and Ansdell, the only place in the UK named after an artist; former resident Richard Ansdell RA.
Once one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, Morecambe saw trade dwindle away for years but there is a definite feeling that the town is on its way back. The unveiling of the Eric Morecambe statue in 1999 set the ball rolling and it was given another hefty kick by the revamp of the Midland Hotel a few years later. Changes to the prom have helped and the proposed Eden Project North which was due to open in 2023 before the Covid-19 outbreak will help put the town back in tourism Premier League.
But the biggest attraction in Morecambe is the spectacularly beautiful bay. It covers an area of 120sq miles, has a coastline of more than 60 miles and is the second largest bay, and the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand, in the UK. It is vitally important to birds and hosts hundreds of thousands of waders, gulls and wildfowl every year. About 10% of the UK’s salt marsh is here and five rivers drain into it.
It is one of the country’s natural wonders and the views from the promenade, or from the relatively new Bay Cycle Way are breathtaking and ever-changing. The vast skies, seemingly endless shimmering sands and sweeping seascapes make this a special place for visitors and those lucky enough to live nearby.
Southport’s most famous admirer was the Emperor Napoleon III who lived for a while just off Lord Street and then went home and ordered the boulevards of Paris be modelled on Southport’s wide, tree-lined main street. He may be the most famous, but he’s far from being the resort’s only fan. It has been a firm favourite with generations of holiday-makers and day-trippers throughout the many ups and downs our seaside towns have experienced.
Lord Street is still every bit as impressive and is lined with a range of shops, cafes and attractions – and those wide pavements could have been designed for a time of social distancing. The town of course is synonymous with its miles of sand which aren’t only ideal for flying kites and building castles, they are also popular with walkers and birdwatchers.
It was famously a training ground for three-time Grand National winner Red Rum and was also the site of a runway for pleasure flights. These days the pleasure happens at ground level and involves buckets and spades. And if you prefer your open spaces to be green, Southport has some beautiful parks, too. Victoria Park won’t be hosting the town’s famous Flower Show this year, but is still a great place for a walk. Hesketh Park is Southport’s largest, with a lake and acres of green space and the Botanic Gardens just up the road at Churchtown are spectacular.
Popular resorts were cursing their luck that the lockdown coincided with one of the sunniest Springs for years – all those beaches, promenades, shopping streets and restaurants that should have been filled with happy families were standing largely empty.
As restrictions have eased, people have flocked to the wide sands at St Annes to enjoy the fresh air and fun this stretch of coast is famous for. But it’s a haven for wildlife too – the Ribble estuary is one of the most important sites in the country for migratory birds – so among the kite fliers and sandcastle builders, you’re likely to see egrets, oystercatchers and other wading birds.
But there’s more to St Annes than the beach; head away from the pier past the shops and cafes which are starting to roll up the shutters once again and you’ll find a network of footpaths and cycle routes through flat farmland which might help you get that blast of fresh air, without encountering the crowds.