Heysham Coastal Walk

After leaving Sunderland Point we headed back towards Overton, took a left and about 15 minutes later we were pulling into the main carpark in the neighbouring Lancashire coastal town of Heysham.

Needing a bit of a pick me up, we made our first port of call the popular Curiosity Corner Cafe  right on the main high street. It was ‘cash only’ on the day we visited, luckily it’s only a short jog back to the carpark, if like me you needed to go hunt for some spare change. I don’t think this was a permanent thing though, but bring some money just in case.  It’s dog friendly with bowls of water available for your furry friends and so we sat outside with a couple of nice coffees and planned our next move, picking up a free courgette as we left, from their veg box out front.

Once refreshed we followed the sign to St Peter’s Church, an incredibly old building, with parts of it dating as far back at the 8th century, with evidence that there may have been a previous church on the site even before then. The graveyard outside makes for an interesting wander, and the wild coastal views were spectacular.

Next to the church is Glebe Garden, a small neglected space of woodland, carefully tended and brought back to life by the locals. There are statues, memorial seats, tiny fairies and toadstools hidden all around giving the place a peaceful, magical feel, as well as beautiful flowers including the red rose of Lancashire of course.

Next it was back up the path and to the Saxon St Patrick’s chapel, now a ruin, it stands above St Peter’s Church, overlooking Morecambe Bay. Although the building dates back from around the 8th century, there has been activity at this site a lot longer than that, there are some incredibly cool graves cut into the rock which have been excavated and are estimated to be about 1300 year old!

From there, there’s a footpath that takes you along the coast line with parts of it leading down to little patches of beach. So we headed off with our excited furry companion for a windy but stunning coastal walk, with the ferry terminal in the distance preparing for the next trip over to the Isle of Man.

This whole coastal area is actually a free National Trust site, and absolutely deserves it, there is a lot of history around here for those interested, and the national trust website has a trail walk you can download if you really want to immerse yourself. Instead of walking back the way we came, we took a detour through Rectory Woods, a sort of walled garden with stone steps and plenty of distractions and smells for the dog.

It was then a short walk back to the centre of town, past the Heritage Centre, to Tracy’s Homemade Pies & Cakes, who do a good selection of dairy free treats and I picked up some cake to take back home, would be rude not too!

By then, the fresh air was taking its toll, feeling tired, we all bundled back into the car and slowly made our way back home, and although it was only an hour away, it really felt like we have travelled a lot further to this lesser known Lancashire beauty spot.

New Brighton – street art, coffee & a pirate ship

My friend had read about a new art gallery that had opened over in New Brighton, as well as a cool street art walk spread all around the Victoria Quarter, so one Saturday morning we headed through the tunnel and over to the ‘other side of the Mersey’.

There is a ton of free parking all around the area, and we easily found a space just off Victoria Parade, right in the heart of the action. There are guided art walks run by the Oakland Gallery, situated in the centre of the Victoria Quarter and they are currently running twice a month, check their instagram for more details. But we decided to do a self guided tour, so we could wander and window shop at our usual leisurely place.

The street art and the Oakland Gallery are part of the regeneration project of the area, and with both local and world wide street artists involved, this is just the beginning, more art and exhibits are being planned, it all sounded pretty exciting.

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The actual gallery didn’t open till 12.00, but outside the front door they had some maps of the street art to take for free, so we grabbed one and headed off on our own self guided tour.

Some of my favourites were a couple by Dotmaster an artist from the other Brighton.

Fanakapan, a London based graffiti artist has done an incredible 3D helium balloon, that really has to be seen in real life to be appreciated, the shadows, the reflections, the creases, the shine, a photograph really doesn’t do it justice, it’s just insane!

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As well as this, ‘Unsung Heroes’ a tribute to the local lifeguards by the Australian artist Smug One, we both just loved this one, and what a piece of art to have in your neighbourhood.

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We probably took just over an hour to explore all the art, and with still a little time to kill before the gallery opened at 12, we headed a couple of streets down to the beach for a sandy stroll and to find a place for lunch later.

There is a 3/4 mile stretch of beach at this part of the Wirral peninsula, along with the Perch Rock lighthouse, the Grade II listed Perch Rock Fort, and the entertainment centre Marine Point, which comes complete with cinema, shops, a theatre and restaurants. If you feel like you want to do more than just dip your toes in the water, then there are a whole bunch of various water-sports on offer, such as canoeing, jet skiing, snorkelling and a water park, complete with an inflatable assault course. So basically, what I am saying is, you could probably spend a full day here even without the art trail.

As we were just filling time till the gallery opened, I tip toed out into the water, then whilst shaking the sand from my sandals, we explored the fort (from the outside, as its currently closed, a Covid thing I think). My friend spotted a van floating in the water, I thought she was joking at first, but no, there it was, after a chat with locals, it appears somebody couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra 10 steps from the street parking to the beach and parked up on the sand. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise it was almost time for high tide, and by the time they were heading back, the van was already floating away.

After spending time staring at and gossiping with the locals about the sinking van, it was pretty much 12PM and time to head back to Victoria Road and to the Oakland Gallery. Opened only last year (2020) its a real highlight of the regeneration of the neighbourhood and will no doubt bring in a whole different set of visitors to the area, to those maybe heading to the beach or the water-park. The gallery is championing both local and international artists and whilst we visited, the main artist in residence was London based Insa who’s collection called Body Work, included prints, paintings, a rug, a surfboard, motorcycle and the star of the show, a 1968 Lincoln Continental MK3 car.

The gallery itself is really welcoming and although I enjoy art, and galleries, I often feel out of my depth and a novice really. But the staff were really helpful and friendly, talking us through some of the designs and intentions behind the work, and really made an effort to make it feel inclusive.

Next door is Rockport Records sitting above its connected diner and bar, its a great little find, full of records and posters, I had to remind myself that I no longer own a record player and resisted the temptation to buy anything, but did see a poster of the Nirvana tour I had tickets too, back in 1994.

Finally, with our stomachs rumbling, we headed back towards the beach, down Victoria Parade, to the Driftwood Cafe where they had delicious coffee and a vegan sandwich option. We sat outside, for some great people watching, saw some lifeguards possibly heading to the pier to start the rescue mission for the white van and made our plans to return to New Brighton for further adventures, its most certainly a place with a bright future, and I’ve been recommending it to friends ever since.

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Skipton – castles, cafes & canals

The other week, as the year slid towards the middle of August, with no Sunday plans, and a dismal weather forecast, I still couldn’t face staying indoors and needed some adventure to temper my wanderlust.

A West Yorkshire town called Skipton had been a place I’d wanted to visit for a few years, always half arranged with someone or for some unspecified time and never quite making it happen. At around a 1hr 10 minute drive away, it was pretty much one decent podcast and maybe a couple of my favourite Parquet Courts songs, and before I knew it, I was pulling up to the long stay carpark round the back of the medieval castle, known as Bailey Carpark.

I arrived just as the clock was striking 10am, which conveniently enough is the time Skipton Castle opens it’s doors. There was a quite fumble of mobile phones, as the castle still requires an online booking prior to entry, and so myself and a group of women ahead of me, had to quickly log onto the castles website and book ourself in. It only took a few minutes and then with our barcodes ready, we were good to go. It’s paid entry only and there isn’t really a garden or grounds you can explore for free, so if you want to pass through the big stone gateway and imposing watch towers, you need to pay just under £10 to get in. The stone sign at the top reads ‘Desormais’ meaning Henceforth! A reminder of its French Norman history.

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Once I was in, with my free map, I avoided the main entrance of the castle where the other early arrivals seemed headed, and veered left to peer inside the 700 year old St Johns Chapel. This stone building with large arched windows was pretty atmospheric as the morning sun streamed through, casting shadows on the cold floor, I was glad I had it all to myself.

I then headed back towards the castle, via the toilets (I have a weak bladder, what can I say) and climbed the Lady Anne’s steps to enter. It took maybe around 45 minutes to fully explore each room of the castle that is spread over 2 floors, with the exception of the east wing that’s still a private residence.

The castle is said to be one of the best preserved and most complete mediaeval castles in England, and at over 900 years old, there’s lots to explore. All the rooms are clearly labelled, and with the free illustrated map you get on arrival, you could probably spend longer if you really wanted to absorb yourself in its history.

There is a dungeon, the pretty cobbled Conduit Courtyard and lots of small stone staircases leading into interesting rooms. Highlights included the Lord’s bedchamber, the north fighting chamber, the beer and wine cellar, the curing room with large kitchen & the mediaeval long drop toilets, which gave me flashback to many a festival nightmare.

The withdrawing room, where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for a while, was another highlight, this particular room has a large north facing window, out of which Mary could look towards her homeland of Scotland. And look out for the purpose built crossbow slit window located in one of the fighting chambers, I can only imagine the gory chaos that it must have caused.

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So for even someone like myself, who’s not that well versed in this particular period in history, its still super interesting and due to its well preserved state, you really get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a busy, noisy fully functioning castle.

It was just after 11am once I was ready to leave and head down the main high street, after a quick look in the gift shop of course. There are loads of little independant shops selling local crafts, chocolate and walking gear. A few places that stood out were Ellie Warburton Cakes, Steep and Filter (a coffee shop with a zero waste refill centre), and Lighthouse Lane on the main street, full of quirky, local, Yorkshire themed gifts, of which the main photo of this post was taken from.

But for coffee and cake, I had my eye on Kibble Bakery, a dog friendly bakery and coffee house, with both indoor and outdoor seating, selling both human and dog friendly bakes, as well as dog accessories and tote bags (yes, I bought one). Of course I travelled alone, so had to make do with talking to the many dogs who turned up with their families, whilst I ordered their delicious plant based chocolate cookie with an oat milk cappuccino complete with adorable chocolate pawprint on the top.

My final stop was a walk along the Springs Canal, which you can easily access if you head left past the Holy Trinity Church. There is definately a lot more to explore here, and you could probably carve out a day just for walks in the area, but my main visit this time was for the castle and town centre, and as the rain started to come down just as I was leaving the coffee shop, I didnt venture too long up the towpath.

Luckily I wasnt too drenched by the time I got back to my car, and so I headed back west, into Lancashire. With the weather improving, there were some gorgeous views of the countryside, so I popped on another podcast and gradually made my way home.

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Brutal Preston

Another August weekend of wet and windy weather and cancelled plans, so I returned to my Brutal North book, and decided to head to my home town one wild Sunday morning.

There are 3 buildings featured in the book, one to the North of the city, in Fulwood and then the other two close to each other in the city centre, so I decided to visit all 3, add a few other buildings along the way and treat myself to a solo lunch, not bad for a potentially washed out weekend.

I started out at the ‘Fulwood Bubble’, built in 1973 it’s a plastic flat roofed building with 35 white panels creating the walls of the classroom, built onto a concrete base. Unusual for sure and easily visible from the main road, so it absolutely sticks out as some otherworldly classroom. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes inside here, maybe it would have inspired me to work harder at maths . . . maybe not.

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My second stop was to return to a place I spent many an early morning and late afternoon as a teenager, and is probably one of my favourite buildings in the world – Preston Bus Station. Build in 1968, it is often named in Brutalist Best of Lists for the UK, but I remember many people hated the long, grey concrete building and it was going to be torn down.  I always had affection though for its long curved edges, black Pirelli rubber floor & the cool retro signs inside. Luckily it was given Grade II listed building status in 2013 and so it continues to stand.

It had been a long whilst since I visited the place, even though I still drive past it every once in a while. So it was nice to fully immerse myself by driving up the spiral ramp and parking up inside, wandering through the car park, then heading down the tiled stairway and along the platforms before heading outside.  I would never have appreciated it as a school child, it was just the place where I got the bus to school & I didn’t even enjoy school, but I have always loved the bus station.

Just round the corner is Preston Guild Hall, and it is actually connected to the bus station by a ramp. Unfortunately the ramp and entrance to the hall were closed, whilst the place finds new management, so I walked around the outside and up the stairs to the front. I saw a few comedy gigs here in my early twenties and I am pretty sure my grandad went to some snooker matches here too, and even earlier than that, it had visits from The Jackson 5 and David Bowie, so it’s a shame to see its closed up like this. But it meant I had the place to myself to explore and take in the unusual angular structure and its long concrete cantilevers. Fingers crossed I hope they are able to find some future investment and bring it back to life soon, as its been here since the early 1970’s, and with a bit of care and attention it could return to its former glory.

Opposite the Guild Hall you get a completely different, but no less impressive set of buildings, Preston County Court & Sessions building and the Harris Museum. The Harris museum, which I haven’t visited in years (makes mental note to return) is a Grade 1 Neo Classical building, built in 1882 and is now home to a museum, art gallery and library. Whilst its neighbour the County Court/Session structure is Grade II listed and dates from 1904, but lets hope I never need to visit that particular building inside at all!

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After I had successfully located all 3 Brutalist buildings in my book, it was time for wander down the high street, pick up a couple of presents for friends birthdays, and then I headed over to Preston Market. Its totally changed since I used to visit in the 80’s with my Grandma to buy fish paste and kippers for Grandad, I think it still needs some work, or maybe Sunday lunch isn’t the best time to visit. There were quite a few units that were closed, but I did find Brew + Bake who were happy to modify their avocado on sourdough to make it vegan, so thank you!

 

So with a full stomach and fully caffeinated, it was time to head back to the bus station for one last look, re-live those school day memories, collect my car and head home.