I had been to Southport once before, so I was very much looking forward to visiting again! Like many other visitors to this part of the country I had over the years, mainly as a child, been driven a little further up the coast to its noisy neighbour, Blackpool on the Fylde coast, but until a couple of years ago I had never found my way across to this large seaside town south of the Ribble estuary.
Southport is a proud traditional English seaside resort and continues to attract thousands of visitors annually because it offers not only beautiful beaches, the oldest iron pier in the country, fine retail therapy in beautiful surroundings and superb restaurants but also quality holiday accommodation to suit all budgets. Historically it was part of Lancashire, but it is now contained within an amorphous county called Merseyside!
I was pleasantly surprised at what I found on my first visit and I was eager to explore the town much further. Lord Street is the real treasure, the jewel in the crown, a long boulevard of Victorian canopied shops and landscaped gardens plus water features! What a real delight it is to drive down, the wide elegant tree – lined boulevard and main shopping street of the town.
It is a wide road running north-south with a mix of shops, gardens, and several listed public buildings amongst them the Town Hall, the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library, Arts Centre and an impressive large War Memorial. I was reliably informed that the street is exactly 1 mile (1.6 km) long, with a small roundabout at each end.
One of the great shopping streets of Northern England in fact! Many of the shop fronts have stunning verandas in cast iron and glass and there are many examples of striking Victorian architecture.
Surprisingly, Lord Street is said to have been the inspiration for the tree-lined boulevards of Paris? I thought it unlikely too, but it is true! French Emperor Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte lived in exile on Lord Street for two years before returning to France to become President and later Emperor Napoléon III. From 1854-1870 the Emperor replaced the medieval centre of Paris with broad tree-lined boulevards, covered walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street! Was the Emperor inspired by what he had seen in Lord Street? We will never know.
Having admired Lord Street I set off in search of the beach and what I had been told was the second longest seaside pleasure pier in the British Isles. On my walk down to the sea I passed several fish & chip shops and Amusement Arcades, essential components to any English seaside resort. Southport is still on one of the most popular seaside resorts in the country and one of the reasons for this is the large area of sandy beach.
I did not see any donkey rides but for building sandcastles, dipping your feet in the safe bathing waters, or even flying kites the beach is a real treasure. The beach has all you would expect at a British seaside resort, plus the second oldest pier in the country, having been constructed in 1860! This year the pier celebrates 160 years since its completion, a real milestone.
I decided to walk to the very end of the recently restored pier but for those who prefer to ride, there is a road tram which will take you to the very end of the pier from where you can look out across the sand and mud towards Blackpool, whose Tower and the `Big One` can be seen in the distance.
I sat and had a coffee in the modern pavilion at the pier head looking out across the water, but it was the collection of vintage mechanical amusement machines and penny `slot machine` arcade which kept me amused for some time. The Edwardian and Victorian machines all operate on pre-decimalisation pennies which I was able to purchase on-site at £1 for 10 old pennies. Wonderful! The laughing clown was hilarious.
Beyond Southport’s seafront and pier are some of the largest undeveloped dune systems in the UK which includes Marshside, a RSPB reserve, with viewing screens, two hides and a viewing platform for observing the birds and local wildlife. I did not have time to explore the walking trails but there are several through the dunes close to the beach. The Queen’s Jubilee Trail, accessed from the Esplanade has trails, information boards and picnic areas. The Velvet Walk is a circular walk going past dunes, ponds and reed beds.
The foreshore and promenade have been extensively developed and modernised with a Marine Lake, hotels, pubs, fast food outlets, bowling, cinema and swimming baths.
I strolled for a while in the restored Kings Gardens amongst the landscape’s flowerbeds, Venetian Bridge and children’s play area before finding what I was really looking for! I had a wonderful time on the immaculate Mini Golf course, which I am pleased to say I won and `rang the bell! It was the first to be built in Britain and was originally known as the Arnold Palmer course. I loved the cast iron shelters along the Promenade, all of which are listed for their architectural and heritage qualities.
There was also some wonderful street art by Liverpudlian artist Paul Curtis of the great steeplechaser Red Rum, Grand National Winner of 1973, 1974 and 1977, he also finished second in the years of 1975 and 1976. His trainer Southport car dealer Ginger McCain famously used to run Red Rum along the beaches of Southport as part of his training programme. The work of art by Paul Curtis is a real worthy tribute to a Southport legend.
Some may say Southport’s peak was in the Victorian era, but this traditional seaside resort is still one of the most popular in the UK today. Much of this has been due to the array of annual events held here which pull in big crowds throughout the year, in normal times, including an annual air show, the largest independent flower show in the UK and the British Musical Fireworks Championship. The town is also the centre of England’s Golf Coast and has hosted the Open Championship at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club. Unfortunately, we did not have time to play golf, much to my wife’s disappointment!
Check out The Atkinson for some stimulating art and interesting exhibitions. I went in and viewed Brick Wonders a collection of models depicting such man-made, historical & natural wonders as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the majestic Matterhorn, the Trojan Horse, the Great Barrier Reef, a medieval Old London Bridge and even the Aurora Australis, all built using over half a million LEGO® bricks by Lego artist Warren Elsmore & his team.
There was also a small section of the museum devoted to Southport raised Frank Hampson, the man who drew & created the comic strip figure Dan Dare. When living in Churchtown, Hampson worked with local vicar Marcus Morris and started one of the most popular British comics of all time, The Eagle. I found it fascinating!
If you have time do not miss the British Lawnmower Museum, the only museum of its kind in the world, for a truly unique experience or call in on the beautiful historic village of Churchtown, where you can browse the specialist shops or stop for refreshments in one of the charming cafes. The Botanic Gardens are worth a stroll too!
I simply loved Southport and am already looking forward to my next visit to this glorious seaside town.