Fun on the Fylde, Sefton Coast and Wirral

For the third of our 2024 monthly short breaks by train, it was our usual mix of quirky attractions, art and architecture, food and drink, and of course wildlife, this time in north-west England.

First stop, an hour in Preston gave us chance to take in the bus station, recently threatened with demolition but now listed. Described as Brutalist, the curves added by Ove Arup to the car park above lend it a more Modernist feel.

And the rest of Preston also impressed us… so much so we resolved to return after the Harris museum and art gallery reopens in 2025:

On then to Blackpool. No surprises there… an out-of-season beach resort, full of faded glory, tarting itself up for the summer, west-coast-wet, and always the iconic tower – giving us the best view we have ever has out of  Premier Inn room!

… a view which remained in ever-changing form right through the night.

Of course there is much more to Blackpool than the Tower …

… but the seafront was reliably traditional, with Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls everywhere …

… but even on the Central Pier, nature was trying to burst through, Danish Scurvy-grass managing to flower between the boards among the sea-spray-rusted seats and a small flock of Eiders offshore in the silvery track of a sinking sun.

Next morning, the the seafront tram took us away from the glitz of Blackpool to Fleetwood, more down-to-earth and down-at-heel, with stone lighthouses, views north and east over the Marram to two nuclear power stations, plus the Lake District and Forest of Bowland.

But also to the initial inspiration for this whole trip, another modern listed building we first saw featured in the Guardian, St Nicholas’ Church, designed around the form of an upturned boat.

Back on the train, via Liverpool, we arrived at Crosby to see another much-anticipated sight, Another Place by Anthony Gormley, a hundred life-sized sculptures of his body along 3km of beach, each looking out to sea. Who doesn’t feel that, staring towards the horizon, there must be a better place across the water, only to realise that better place might just be in your own mind, within your grasp if only you are prepared to see it?

A very impressive installation, helped by the sun tentatively peeping out for just about the only time on our middle day, bringing the beachscape to life even without the sculptures, the interplay of water and light, and an evident richness of life with Lugworm burrows and all manner of shells.

Heading back to the station, realization that the west coast is warmer than the east, with Ivy-leaved Toadflax already in full bloom, as well as wetter … this array of five ferns in just a metre of mortar was something we simply couldn’t see at home.

And the snail feeding-trails on a garden gate showed you don’t need to be an artist to produce art!

Back onto the train, it was down to our favourite hotel, The Ship at Parkgate (we were last there eight months ago) for a sliver of sunset across the Dee before a truly sumptuous meal.

And breakfast! With Great White Egret on the menu!!

Before a walk along the estuary front, finding Ash flowers bursting like purple pearls, before heading back up to Neston station (in the rain)…

Today’s destination: Birkenhead. A revelation…! First, Hamilton Square…

… The Priory …

… the views from the Wirral Path across to the unique Liverpool skyline.

And best of all, another Guardian tip, the edifices of the ventilation system of the Mersey Tunnel: built in the 1930s, their utilitarian bulk perhaps reflecting the contemporaneous, hulking Gilbert-Scott Anglican cathedral across the river, but decorated and enlivened with lovely art-deco design features.

The largest ventilation shaft of all, 65 metres in height (needed because of its space constraints right by the river) was simply magnificent. We were actually expecting Brutalist concrete, a modern megalith, but what we got was bricks and bulk, lavishly decorated with art deco detail, not dissimilar to Battersea Power Station which featured on our January tour.

But by now a very cold breeze had sprung up, so our trip was topped off perfectly with a welcome hot coffee and even warmer welcome at Amelie’s café! A simply amazing three days.