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.

Sunderland Point – tides, slavery and a muddy causeway.

Feeling tired, but still wanting a little adventure, I asked mum and her Borrow My Doggy Sam if they would like to visit an area of my home county Lancashire that I hadn’t really explored. Turns out they had both been before, Sam when he was a puppy & mum over 30 years ago, so they were both keen to re-visit. The area I fancied was along the coast, south of Morecambe, south west of Lancaster, starting at Sunderland Point, then driving up to Heysham.

Sunderland Point is a small hamlet overlooking the River Lune, and can be accessed by one single track road from the neighbouring village of Overton. But you can’t just turn up any time, when it’s high tide the road becomes flooded, so this little Lancashire peninsula becomes cut off from the mainland twice a day. We set off early, taking junction 34 off the M6 and using the A68 Bay Gateway which neither of us had used before, as its only been open since 2016, before turning off towards Overton. It must have been around 10.30am when we arrived, and although the single track road was clear, it was still muddy in patches and made for a fun drive over.

 

As soon as you get to the other side, there is a small parking area, with a helpful HIGH WATER LINE sign as well as a lifebuoy, in case I guess you are too late back and the tide has come in, good to know! A little higher up on the ground above the water line, are some public toilets, a map and a little history of this fascinating patch of Lancashire.

There are approximately 35 houses here, with just 3 main streets, and other than some farmland, there are no schools or businesses here, so whether you need to drive to the mainland for work, school or your groceries, its all entirely dependant on the tides, it wouldn’t do for me, but I can understand the appeal.

But other than the excitement of driving along the single track causeway and the beautiful windswept views on arrival,  there’s a lot more here to make it worth your while.

First of all there is a footpath to take you around the tip of the peninsula, it’s about 3 miles, so short enough that you can take your time, drink in those views and still get back  to your car with plenty of time before the tide returns. We took a right turn between the houses and headed west, following the sign post for Sambo’s Grave.

We walked down the footpath, between some farm land across to the other side, once you get there, take the well maintained path to your left, leading you to the grave site.

This is were the slave history comes in, this seemingly unspoilt, quiet, remote part of Lancashire, was actually an important and busy port that formed part of the Slavery Triangle and was used to import cotton, sugar as well as enslaved Africans. This was in the early 1700’s and the area thrived until the Port of Lancaster opened up, becoming the 4th biggest port in the country.  (For a more comprehensive timeline, the Open Learn website has a great article to read). But back to Sambo, he was a young African boy, taken from Africa to the West Indies as a slave, then travelled with his master in 1736 over to Sunderland Point, where he became ill and died on arrival. I was pleased to see such an important but often hidden part of our UK history remembered here, with the grave being well take care of by the local residents.

Next to the grave is a stone chamber, which I initially thought had something to do with Sambo, but its actually an art installation by Chris Drury and features a camera obscura to observe the skyline of Morecambe Bay. Or if you are a small dog, it features a little ledge to climb on and you observe the view that way instead.

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We then continued our walk along the shoreline around the tip of the peninsula, its a bit tricky in parts, as you negotiate large rocks, some still slippy from the recent high tide, as well as large pieces of driftwood and other things that usually spend half their day under the water. There is a tonne of wildlife too, I’m not too familiar on my birds, but mum was better informed and pointed out some curlews and a heron.

The path understandably becomes hard to follow in places, as it is often submerged, but you can walk right around the edge, before you find yourself coming back towards the houses again. We came across a few other walkers, and we all checked in with each other, ‘yes, you can walk all the way around’ as well as ‘yes, you should have plenty of time to get back to your car before the tide comes in’. That didn’t stop me checking the time every few minutes as well as keeping an eye on the direction of the water, mum and Sam seemed less bothered than me though, but then they had both been here before.

As we approached civilisation and our car again, I slowed down, wanting to take in the windswept views for one last time, as I wasn’t sure if or when I would ever return, the landscape was truly stunning and peaceful, the complete opposite I presume from when it was a busy slave port 300 years earlier.

We grabbed some wild blackberries to eat and curious about house prices, I took note of a house for sale (it was £235.000). Then I wandered out, as close to the water as possible without getting too muddy, to take a few last photos before I drove us back across the causeway and quite literally back to dry land.

Next stop . . .  Heysham . . .

 

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.

Brutal Wigan

I love Brutalist architecture, there is something about the stark grey, heavy concrete, sharp lines and minimalist aesthetic, that just does it for me. Plus, I think of myself as a minimalist, I love simple, uncomplicated designs, made from natural materials, such as wood, metal and of course concrete (hint hint for anyone wanting to buy me a gift).

I have done a few art walks before, mainly around the well known Brutalist structures in London for example, such as around the Barbican and the Southbank Centre, but I really wanted to learn more about the architecture inspired by the movement closer to home, so a friend bought me the Brutal North coffee book for my birthday, and it felt like a great project to undertake, whilst foreign travel is still pretty much off limits still with Covid.

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I started with Wigan, because I moved to the area when I downsized from expensive Liverpool and wanted to become more central to the NW as I moved from a full time NHS employee to locum work. Of course the main reason for that was more flexibility to travel, but well. . . . my last trip was Dec 2019 so thats gone well.

There are just two buildings in Wigan that are featured in the book, but I found a couple of other interesting places to explore too, put on my walking boots, grabbed my camera and set off.

The first building is just outside the town centre and is the Roman Catholic Church, St Judes, located in the Worsley Mesnes area. Designed by the team who also built a couple of churches in Liverpool & built in 1964, this fan shaped church sits at a busy cross roads, with most people I guess just driving by and sitting blankly at the traffic lights, but I always passed it with a curious interest, always meaning to pull over and explore, so I was delighted to see it mentioned in the book.

Of course my art walk was a Sunday morning, and there was a service in full flow once I rocked up, so I had to make do with a quick peek inside, but as I only live a short drive away, I will have to make a return trip to explore some more of the inside at a later date.

The circular portion of the church is the baptistry, which makes sense, but my favourite part is the main body of the church fanning out behind, with a cool mosaic imprinted into the concrete.

Another place I pass weekly is the large Trencherfield Mill, across from Wigan Pier and the Leeds/Liverpool canal. So I decided to pop over and have a quick look on my way into the town centre, again, another place I’ve driven past in heavy traffic many times.

The building as its now stands was built in 1907, but there was one before that, built in 1822. The cotton mill was an important part of the industrial revolution, as cotton was brought in from the slave plantations in America as well as other parts of the world. Ships full of cotton docked at Liverpool, then it was transported along the canal into Lancashire to be transformed into textiles. Although the cotton industry never recovered after WW1, this Wigan mill managed to survive until 1950. It’s now a combination of college, commercial space and apartments.

I then headed off to the centre of town to locate the 2nd building featured in my book, the now empty and abandoned Wigan Civic Centre. Built in 1970, this four storey concrete structure was evacuated by staff in 2018 as they moved to a more modern building. Rumours have been around about its future use, such as a hotel, but as of now, its stands unused, looking across the road to its modern replacement, the Life Centre.

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Across from the Civic Centre, is a rather striking metal ‘Face of Wigan’, which despite living in the area for 3 1/2 years, I had never seen before. Chosen as a symbol to represent Wigan, not one person in particular but representative of all the people of the town, it reminded me of The Dream in a way, the large stone head that looks across an old colliery over in St Helens.

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The first book I read when I arrived in Wigan was George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and just down the road from the Life Centre is the library where George did his research. I thought there would maybe be a blue plaque or something marking the spot, but I couldn’t see one, also probably part due to Covid and also that it was a Sunday, the library and museum were closed, so maybe inside there is something paying tribute to the novel, which I really enjoyed by the way. Now every time I drive past the library on my way to the recycling centre or to a drum lesson, I pay attention to the red bricked building that played an important part in the history of one of Britains most famous novelists, sometimes it good to explore on your doorstep, you never know what little gems you will find.

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I had a good wander around the little side streets, paying attention to the little houses and shops that I usually rush past on my way to the train station or the shopping centre. The Wiend in particular definitely felt like a past era, a narrow paved alleyway, with a few bars, pubs, fairy lights & hanging baskets of flowers. Being a rugby town, it was no surprise to find a statue of a rugby player, ball in hand too, although I cant say I have converted into a sports fan since moving here.

Finally, I found a nice church, situated on a small hill in the centre of town, one that I had seen from a distance on my travels, but not close up before. A Grade II listed building, parts of the church were originally built in the 13th Century, with a war memorial, a black metal fence studded with red roses and a very ancient looking archway, it was a nice place to finish my art walk, before grabbing a coffee and heading back home.