Travelogue: Lancashire 3
Bring Me Sunshine.
Morecambe Bay sounds pleasant. Given a high tide and a sunny day it might be quite perfect for a day at the seaside. Well, we are enjoying light and warmth, to varying degrees. Not yet the sizzling heights of a July heatwave; that will come next week, when we are far from the coast again. As for the beach, there is a trace of sand and half a mile of mudflats. This feels like home from home in the Weston-super-Mare of the North West.
We stroll along the seafront, towards the pleasure park. I never understand why people scare themselves half to death, hanging upside down, swaying from side to side, getting all churned up inside. I prefer to relax and stay in control. Now, the pier doesn’t reach the sea. Shame. But the true highlight of the afternoon is yet to come. Engagement with a comic genius of yesteryear. Gone but never forgotten. A celebration of life in statue form. The one and only John Eric Bartholomew.
Morecambe Bay: masquerading as the sea
I am in awe of his comic genius. His perfect timing and control of movement. Visual gags, knowing smiles, in-your-face, cheeky chappiness. Even as a statue he is performing. I join him, standing in as the stooge in the double act without a stooge. Studying his shape carefully, I don’t quite get the movement right. My left leg is slightly out of sync, my right thumb not sticking out at all. Still, who could truly emulate the inimitable Eric. Alas, poor Eric, we knew him well. The words, the dances. Getting Shakespeare wrong, deliberately. Playing all the notes, but not necessarily in the right order. The sun is shining even more brightly now. This dalliance through nostalgia fills my heart with joy. A chuckle, a gentle slap, a raising of the glasses. Bring me sunshine. And then a drink. “Tea, Ern?”
I was born to be on the stage!
We make our way back to Leck, via Kirkby Lonsdale and a trip to the Silver Moon. Mini vegetable springs rolls, sweet ‘n’ sour chicken, mixed vegetable curry, vegan Singapore noodles, steamed rice, and a bottle of Hardy’s Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot. The perfect blend. Followed by a rather fancy cake. Well, this is a special occasion. The number 19 is all important.
High up in the Fells
We’ve come all this way up the map. It’s time to climb again, as high as we can. To rise among the Fells. The sky is overcast. Perfect scenes do not always need blue skies, though there are plenty of blues in the distance, looking out towards the coast. All in muted tones. Calm and toned down, but not subdued. The vista is awe-inspiring. We traverse our way up a steadily steepening track and come in sight of the highest point in Lancashire. It's just a little lower on our side. Up and up we go. Ever expecting to reach a peak, always getting to the next target level and then seeing exactly the same gradient increase for yet another stage.
Where sheep may safely graze
Eventually we decide we’ve gone far enough. But not down yet. I have my eye on a pile of rocks on an adjacent plateau, and we stride across the fellside. A rotting sheep’s carcass, complete with skull and teeth, lies at our feet. We scramble up a bit more and across. A stunning landmark comes into view. Three mounds of rocks piled next to each other. Dry stone wall installations, known locally as the Three Men of Gragareth. Oh so timely. Marcus, Jaydon, and Bukayo. The three hapless lions. Even up here can we not escape Euro 2020? Of course we can. This is a far cry from all that brouhaha. This is truly remote. Except for the five of us, there’s not another human soul around for hours. Just the sheep standing and munching their way through life, and the stone sculptures, which don’t look like people anyway, let alone sportsmen. We are in a natural wonderland, gulping in the pure Lancashire air, loving every moment. This is bliss.
The Three Men. None of whom are Wise. But Morecambe is in the far distance.
Curiously, we are not just in Lancashire, but also in the Yorkshire Dales. The Fells belong to both territories. And there is no war of the roses here. No roses, even. Just heather, thistles, foxgloves, peat and plenty of grass.
Back at base, hunger comes to the fore, but none of us has any inclination to cook. We seek gourmet burgers but all the gastropubs are either fully booked or closed. So we choose M’s, a fine Indian restaurant in Ingleton. Here, you get three vegetable samosas per portion rather than the two you get in Ascot Spices. You really do get exceptionally good value up north.
The countryside is magical, but once more I must down to the sea. I have come to accept that we probably aren’t going to get golden sands, just estuary flats. But surprisingly, we do find extensive patches of sandy terrain at Silverdale beach. We stroll for a quarter of a mile down to the water, which looks sparkly, if not completely clear. Far along the coast we can see man-made structures. I want to think they are part of the Liverpool waterfront. Eyesores on a site that has just lost its UNESCO world heritage status. But I dare say that’s way much further away. Later, I will glance at a map and conclude this was actually Heysham nuclear power station. Now, across the water, is that the Isle of Man, or just Grange-over-Sands?
I’m happy here. Sunny. Hardly any breeze. Scintillating rather than bracing. If only the sand were a bit more grainy and we had something blue to swim in. Still, everything’s fine. Everything’s marvellous. Fresh air, natural isolation, the magic of the coast, even a mysterious cave high up in the rocks at the top end of the beach. There’s just one more thing that would make the experience complete: a taste of our premier national dish. Sadly, there are no local fish 'n' chip parlours open mid-afternoon.
A cave with a view. Looking down onto Silverdale mudflats
Having a gawk
We set off in search of yet another adventure. Would two in one day be greedy? Barely a few miles down the road, we find just the place. RSPB Leighton Moss, a bird reserve of some distinction. The BBC have filmed Springwatch there. I’m a lapsed RSPB member and I want to make amends. Instantly, once again, the natural world doesn’t have to try very hard to impress us. We’re barely into the woods and my heart leaps as I see a pheasant strutting by, then scurrying into the undergrowth. I want to say ‘peasant’. A favourite word of mine, if not my all-time favourite bird. That would probably be a jay, or a wren. Or maybe a bluetit or a blackbird. Garden delights every one of them.
We climb the Sky Tower and enjoy the views out onto the reedbeds. I want to see more birds but have to settle for a swan and some ducks. Plus a few non-descript feathery creatures in the air. Back on the ground, the greenery is calming. The tall, spiky reeds are swaying gently in the breeze. The flowers are simple but attractive. Meadow Sweet, a variation on cow parsley, is the star plant for me. There is so much to take in. So much nature! And finally, after quite a traipse around the reserve, we venture back to the farm.
Leighton Moss. Birds temporarily AWOL.
The sheep are happy to see us now. And yet, we will have to leave them behind before very long. The days are racing by. A few more trips. But we don’t have to stray too far to be inspired. If only there were a cockerel to rouse us ridiculously early in the morning and donkeys braying in the fields. But, no, the sheep are exciting enough. And finally, the temperature is rising, which is a bit frustrating at the end of our holiday, but we bask in the sun as much as we can. As much as we dare.
Finally, the M6 beckons us. We make our way back to normality, haltingly along the route. Another stop off at BK. Do I really want a Vegan Royale? Maybe I'll just stick with an extra large portion of fries. Well, they don't do supersize portions any more.
A complete meal for any occasion, just not today
Eventually we arrive home. But could we, would we, ever go back up north permanently? I’m wondering.
© Eddie Hewitt 2021
See part 2 of the Lancashire Travelogue: Sheep and the Forgotten Lion