A sunny day at Parkgate ended with an interesting, rather than spectacular, sunset over the marshes and reedbeds. Sand was in the air blowing up from the Sahara, so the cloud patterns were unusually striking.
Catching up with photos from our autumn visit to Southport, I was intrigued to relate them to the history of the place.
It all began in 1792 when an innkeeper named William Sutton built a bathing house on the beach, and then in 1798 he built a hotel, the South Port Hotel. This soon became popular and a settlement grew around it. The deal was sealed in 1848, when the railway arrived, followed by the crowds. In 1860 the pier was established (see earlier posts).
Lord Street was always the main shopping street for Southport, a ‘Victorian canopied boulevard edged in scenic gardens’. Here is a small part of it today. I remember a summer’s day trip there in the 1950s, when it seemed very posh to me with all those glass canopies, and it was extremely crowded. It’s not so busy these days and many shops have closed.
Originally Lord Street was just set back from the sea front. In 1887 local entrepreneurs had a wonderful vision to handle the mass of visitors. A huge new Marine Lake and King’s Park was established and the beach itself was effectively pushed out to sea by several hundred yards, away from Lord Street. Attractions now included the lake, walks, boat rides, funfairs, a bathing pool… And half the pier was now over land, rather than over sand and sea, which certainly surprised me when I first realised it. The Marine Way Bridge in the featured image links Lord Street with the modern sea front.
Here are just a few photos of the Marine Lake area.
I realise that Southport was still in its heyday on that visit in the 1950s. Today, it obviously struggles to sustain the magic without the mass tourism of those days. It’s still popular though, and well worth visiting.
As the sun was going down there was sure to be something spectacular going on after a sunny day in Southport, despite gathering cloud. I had never really noticed this particular feature before – the Clwydian Hills of North Wales, emphasised by back lighting from the setting sun, framed by the picturesque structures of the Victorian pier.
Just wait for the walker to reach the centre and shoot… Shame about the bin.
Southport pier is the second longest in England, after Southend-on-Sea.
Continuing the story of our exploration of the Fens.
Our second base was another Premier Park – Long Acres, near Boston. Unexpectedly, the satnav takes us there via Crowland, zig-zagging northwards – using the major east-west cross-fen highways between Peterborough, King’s Lynn and Boston. These seem to be the only decently surfaced roads in the area, and they are busy with lorries, tansporting the products of this fertile area to the rest of England.
We arrive at RSPB Frampton Marsh (featured image) and enjoy lunch overlooking freshwater marsh with a smattering of birds. The dog is more interested in the cows munching away at the grass, and the feeling seems to be mutual.
There are many more birds on the freshwater lakes we pass by to reach the raised barrier that constitutes the seawall. From this seawall we look out over huge salt marshes out into the Wash. This barrier is all that stops these Lincolnshire fens from being regularly inundated with seawater.
We are lucky that avocets are reasonably close to this side of the lake.
But we see rain approaching across the Fens, so make haste back to the van and on to our next base at Long Acres.
Out in the Fens, the sun slips slowly below the horizon.
Our exploration of the Fens continues from Fens 1.
Next day we drive south, circle around Ely, and across to Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve – the National Trust’s first nature reserve, established in 1899. With some of the largest unspoilt areas of Fenland, this seems a good place to begin our explorations. The site is well marked, with a good range of information boards on wildlife and Fen history.
We learn a lot about fen life – the great abundance of eels as a staple food, the techniques of mass murder used to capture much of the then-abundant birdlife; plover netting and a huge shotgun called a punt gun, both of which could kill or capture many birds in one go. They must have seemed wonderful wheezes, but of course this was never going to be sustainable.
The edge-of-fen area around Wicken is criss crossed by manmade watercourses called lodes, created during the Middle Ages primarily to prevent flooding, all draining into the River Cam.
Fen Cottage, a pretty, historic cottage and garden, suggest a glamour to the Fen life that I’m sure wasn’t always there. Information boards are more realistic about what life was really like in the Fens. After all, they were living in a large bog. But there was always lots of wildlife providing free food to those who could catch it.
The boardwalk (featured image) around the large reedbed is not accessible to dogs, so we take turns. But there are miles of other walks for dogs on stone tracks. Immersed in nature, we see a dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and birds, and listen to invisible warblers.
In the 18C the Fens were for some years drained by windpumps, inspired by Dutch experience; one of the few remaining specimens is here at Wicken Fen.
Back at base, the greylag family has enlarged, and the dog enjoys trying to chase geese, goslings and ducks, prevented by a short leash.
I’ve written about the Fens on this blog previously in My Fens and about Tasmanian historian James Boyce’s story of the formation of the Fens in The Fight for the Fens. This was all a bit at a distance, so earlier this year we decided to spend some time there on a trip in our motorcaravan, really get the feel for the area. This is the first part of the story of our trip.
I was on a mission to understand the Fens better. I was brought up in Lincoln, less than a mile from the River Witham, one of the great Fen rivers. At the time I saw myself as a townie, not strongly associating with the Fens, which were ‘the sticks’ where my grandma and several cousins hailed from. In a sense, this trip was an exploration of my roots, inspired by Boyce’s book Imperial Mud, where he outlines the history of drainage and enclosure of the wild fenlands.
We drive in our ‘van with the dog from Cheshire, past Derby, over the rolling hills of the East Midlands. Picking up the Great North Road we skirt Peterborough and turn east. Suddenly, the land is flat as a pancake. We’re stopped by roadworks at Whittlesey, just by what is labelled the King’s Dyke, clearly a drainage channel. Welcome to the Fens!
Our first base is a campsite called Fields End Water, near the village of Doddington, which is right out in the sticks of the Cambridgeshire Fens. The drive there is like one long chaussée déformée, often with drainage waterways alongside. The land is flat, skies are huge, the wind is strong.
It turns out that all this is pretty typical of the Fens.
The campsite is very quiet, home to several families of greylag geese who wander fearlessly around the place – it’s evidently their home.
The flatness and big skies mean you can see the weather coming (featured image).
The sunset is quietly spectacular, and highlights a sprinkling of windmills.
These hot days it’s cooler near the sea. These pics were taken during a walk around the marina at West Kirby. The featured image shows a pastel view across the Dee estuary to Point of Ayr on the North Wales coast.
Meanwhile, the sun was gradually setting over to the west.
Those of us who reflect on the affairs of humanity can sometimes get the feeling that things are not going well at all, which can get a bit depressing. So here’s reminder from Steve Taylor (again) that here, in the present, the only place we can be, all is well.
All is well
You have to remember that all is well even if you feel overwhelmed by the chaos of the world and menacing dark thoughts swirl through your mind.
You have to remember that all is well even if you feel encircled by enemies and your life seems a futile struggle.
You have to remember that all is well beneath the turbulence and confusion like the deep stillness of the ocean beneath roaring, surging waves.
You have to remember that all is well. Then your faith will sustain you. Your confidence will strengthen you.
Then the radiant stillness of your soul will calm the turmoil of your mind and guide you through the darkness, like a compass.
And soon the chaos and stress will subside. You’ll return to natural harmony with the deep inner knowing that all is well.
The view from Barmouth beach to the north, towards the Lleyn peninsular, was not as spectacular as that towards Tywyn on this particular occasion, but not bad at all. The peninsula was slightly misty, giving a more dreamy look with the pastel colours of the sky. Quite a surprise, as I was not expecting much from this shot, handheld in fading light.
The hills you can see would be those behind Pwllheli and Criccieth (try pronouncing those names).
My lesson here is that it’s always worth trying shots to the side of that glorious sunset, as well as directly into it.
We were lucky with the sunset at Barmouth the other day. It was difficult to choose between exulting at the glory of the unfolding scene and working out where to frame and take the next photograph. Here’s a small selection.
Barmouth is on the west coast of Wales, between Aberystwyth and Caernarfon.