Although I’ve been to Morecambe many times over the years I’ve never actually walked the whole length of the promenade in one go, I’ve only been to various parts of it on different occasions. Walking the length of it was something I thought about doing a while ago but never got round to it, however the opportunity finally presented itself on a sunny day a week ago and I arrived in Morecambe just before 11am.
Of course wherever I parked meant that I would have to walk the promenade twice so rather than park at one end and walk straight to the other end and back I parked near the Festival Market, not far from the Midland Hotel and roughly in the centre of the main part of the promenade, then walked south to start my promenade walk by the Beach Cafe close to Sandylands promenade leading to Heysham village.
Close to the cafe was a play park then West End Gardens a bit farther along, and though I expected to see some colour in the flower beds bordering the road I was disappointed to see that they looked rather unloved and uncared for. Farther along still the retreating tide had left a long shallow lagoon across the beach, and while the promenade itself has been given a very attractive makeover in the last few years the same can’t be said for across the road.
Once past the guest houses and B & Bs several closed and shuttered up shops and the long-derelict land where the theme park once was gave the seafront a general air of shabbiness and neglect. Past the derelict land and a recently built Aldi supermarket was The Platform, once the promenade railway station building but now a music and arts venue, and on the promenade itself I was approaching the art deco Midland Hotel and the Stone Jetty which, to me at least, signified the start of the more interesting part of the seafront.
The Stone Jetty was built between 1853 and 1855 for the ‘Little’ North Western Railway Company as a wharf and rail terminal for both passenger and cargo transport to and from the Isle of Man and Ireland, though these services ended with the opening of Heysham Harbour in 1904. At what was once the end of the jetty is a long-disused lighthouse and the old railway station building, now a cafe; in 1994/95 the jetty was rebuilt and extended as part of Morecambe’s coastal defence works and was later resurfaced in patterned coloured concrete, with the addition of new seating, lamp standards and seabird sculptures. High on a stone plinth not far from the cafe was one of the ugliest sculptures I’ve ever seen, so ugly I almost didn’t take a photo of it but then decided it should still be included.
The art deco Midland Hotel occupies the site of a previous smaller building, the North Western Hotel, built by the ‘Little’ North Western Railway Company and opened in 1848; this was renamed the Midland in 1871 when the Midland Railway Company took over the North Western Railway and the hotel. By the late 1920s the old Midland had become inadequate for the changing times so the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, which was now responsible for the hotel, decided to replace it with a larger and more modern structure. Work started in 1932 with the new Midland being built on the lawns in front of the old Midland which was then demolished, with the new art deco hotel opening in July 1933.
Immediately after opening the new Midland rapidly became the place to stay but its heyday came to an end with the start of WW2 in 1939. With valuable items put into storage and the interior converted the hotel was used as a military hospital until almost the end of the war then in 1946 it was finally handed back to the LMS railway company, and after extensive repairs and renovations it was re-opened to the public in July 1948. In 1951 the Midland was sold to a private buyer and it prospered throughout the 50s and most of the 60s but by the early 70s it had lost its popularity, and after being bought and sold several times over the years it closed for good in 1998 and fell into a state of decline and disrepair. It was eventually bought by a Manchester-based development company and after an extensive renovation programme started in spring 2005 to restore the many art deco features the Midland finally re-opened its doors in June 2008.
Across the road from the Midland was Rita’s Cafe, a cheap and cheerful place which I’ve been to several times before, and as my early breakfast had long since worn off it was time to get something to eat. On such a nice day the place was quite busy but there was a small table for two vacant and forgoing my usual coffee and cake I opted for an equally unhealthy meal of steak pie, chips, peas and gravy with the coffee. At one point I heard someone at another table say “Aww, look at that little dog” and when I looked down Poppie was curled up in a little ball though as soon as I picked up the camera to take a photo she got up. Now I know human food is bad for dogs and normally I wouldn’t give it but she had been such a good little thing while I was having my meal that she deserved the last couple of chips as a treat.
A hundred yards or so from the the cafe was the Winter Gardens, a theatre and events venue built in 1897. Originally the Victoria Pavilion Theatre it was part of a complex dating from 1878 which included sea water baths, bars and a ballroom though these have long since been demolished, leaving the theatre building as it is today. Over the years the stage played host to many famous personalities including George Formby, Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn and the Rolling Stones, though declining profits led to the theatre’s eventual closure in 1977. It became Grade ll* listed the same year then in the mid 1980s the Friends of the Winter Gardens were formed to campaign for its restoration and preservation.
In 2008 the building was featured on the ghost hunting tv show Most Haunted then in 2009 it was re-opened to the public for eight consecutive nights of Most Haunted Live! broadcasts. Although all shows and events for this year have so far been cancelled the theatre is open at weekends for limited pre-booked guided and self-guided tours.
Back across the road the Central Gardens were looking very attractive with their bright flower beds which more than made up for the unkempt appearance of the West End Gardens. Farther along I came to the iconic Eric Morecambe statue, and though I did like Morecambe and Wise back in the day I wasn’t really interested in taking a close-up shot of it as most people do so I kept it in the background and concentrated more on the colourful surroundings instead.
Past the statue and a small children’s play area I came to the clock tower. In 1902 Morecambe Council approached philanthropist Andrew Carnegie for a grant to finance the building of a technical school and Free Library but though the grant itself was refused an offer of £4000 was made towards the cost on condition that the council would produce £300 per year to keep the library stocked. Unfortunately the council couldn’t, or wouldn’t, agree to find the finances so the offer was withdrawn, then in 1905 it was announced that the mayor had expressed a desire to present a clock tower to the town in place of the Free Library. The foundation stone was laid in June that year and the tower was built by a John Edmonson, while Rhodes of Lancaster made the clock itself, which featured four dials, struck the hours and was illuminated at night.
Not far from the clock tower was the Lakeland Panorama, a long curving sculpture created in 2004 by sculptor Russ Coleman. Depicting the view of the Lake District fells across the bay and made from the same steel as the Angel of the North in Gateshead the panorama is constructed of four separate pieces which have rusted over time to a reddish-brown finish, with the largest piece being 8ft high at its highest point.
Round a slight bend in the promenade and quite a distance farther on I came to the Town Hall set back in its own attractive gardens across the road. Commissioned to replace an old 19th century town centre building which had originally been built for the local Board of Health, the foundation stone was laid in August 1931 and the neo-classical style building was officially opened in June 1932; it was registered as Grade ll listed in November 2001 after a campaign by local historians.
Back on the promenade was another play area and the race watch tower belonging to Morecambe Sailing Club, originally started in 1936 by local fishermen who liked to race their boats. Round another bend I walked quite a bit farther on but with just hotels and guest houses stretching into the distance there was nothing else of interest to see unless I went all the way up to Happy Mount Park, which I visited back in May, so I turned round and retraced my steps, snapping photos here and there as I headed back south.
Just after passing the back of the Eric Morecambe statue I heard music and a few yards farther on was a Michael Jackson lookalike dancing to the sounds of Billie Jean and Thriller coming from a stand-alone sound system. He was good and he’d attracted quite an audience so I watched him for quite a while, even filming him at one point, before I moved on.
Round the back of what was once Bubbles open air pool were modern railings adorned with several different types of seabirds and the land itself, where usually there’s a small fairground, was now a temporary home to the huge bright red marquee of the touring Big Kid Circus along with its many equally bright red vans and circus wagons. Not far away was the RNLI lifeboat station and slipway with the Midland Hotel close by, and finding a couple of pretty bright orange flowers tucked in a corner I took my last shot of the day.
Back across the road from the hotel I made a second visit to Rita’s Cafe for a coffee before returning to the van in the nearby car park and setting off for home. Weather-wise the day had been perfect, and even though grey clouds had appeared over the sea at various times the sun had kept shining. Checking my pedometer my promenade walk since leaving the van and getting back to it had covered six miles and almost 21,000 steps but it had been very interesting and enjoyable and was now one I could tick off my ‘walks to do’ list.