The fortunes of a seaside resort can be fickle. We know this, growing up in the North East Premier Seaside Resort. The visions of upmarket Victorian society can be lost in the mists of time. A lot changed in the period between 1870 and 1970. Two World Wars. A beach, no longer flat enough to race motorbikes or attempt land speed records. Cheap holidays to Spain and beyond. In recent years, the not so desirable has once again become fashionable. There has been talk in certain circles of Saltburn becoming the 'new" Brighton, although the "new" Brighton could indeed be Ramsgate. All of which has in many ways nothing at all to do with Morecambe, but in other ways has everything to do with Morecambe. Just substitute the Zetland for the Midland. The question is where exactly is the "new" Morecambe or does Morecambe just need to reinvent itself a bit and concentrate on the existing strengths? We will come back to Morecambe later in the blog, but first to Lancaster.
It was a steady plod up the M6 on a sunny Sunday. Traffic was light and save for some roadworks, no delays. I turned off the M6 to approach
via the University side. The campus is just off the A6 south of the city and looks a bit stranded. I am those who attend thoroughly enjoy themselves, but I never really got the concept of applying to be somewhere more isolated than the small town you already live in. In the day a lot of the accommodation was taking up the slack in the old boarding houses of Morecambe, which is possibly why there still appears to be a direct regular bus link between the seaside and the University. We parked up by the River Lune on St George's Quay. Lune was always a familiar name to me .... not because of the river beside which we stood, but because of the street opposite our house named after the river. It still features in our house, but primarily in the form of a Life Membership card for the said Lune Street Social Club.
It is easy to think of Lancaster as an insignificant turn off from the M6 on the way to the Lake District. However, this would somewhat underplay the role of the city in English history. The House of Lancaster have been key players in the
English aristocracy and monarchy for centuries. The Red Rose is their emblem and the symbol of the County of Lancashire. The Romans were occupants of the modern day city, followed by the Normans and Richard 1 started to build the Castle. We climbed from the 18th century buildings on the quayside towards the Castle Hill, arriving initially at Lancaster Priory. Fine Georgian buildings flank the Priory. We walked round past the Shire Hall towards the Castle entrance. The view from the summit stretched out over Morecambe Bay. My eyes as usual were drawn to the football ground below. Lancaster City play at the splendidly named Giant Axe. The Castle still houses the local Crown Court and surprisingly until recently was an active Category C prison! We continued down the hill towards Dalton Square. A fine Georgian square in the day hasn't totally escaped some demolition of the original buildings. The Town Hall at the southern end looks like it has been there since the construction of the square, but dates from 1909. The centrepiece of the square is a monument to Queen Victoria. We retreated to the Borough Hotel in the corner of the square gor a coffee, which now
thrives as a real ale venue and boutique hotel. I spied a bar full of Bowland real ales and then remembered I was driving. Next time, perhaps. We cut back down to the River Lune past the Millennium Bridge. The old Customs House is now the Maritime Museum. The old warehouses no longer see ships, but were once key to the success of a port heavily involved with the slave trade.
It is a few short miles from Lancaster to Morecambe. Morecambe will be familiar to many, but only as a backdrop to the drama series The Bay. The general theme is that one or more of the locals end up dead, whilst the local forces of law and order eventually track down the culprit once they have sorted out their own chaotic lives. Compelling viewing, more often than not. The sun was still shining, as we skirted behind the promenade and the railway station. The arrival of the railways were the catalyst for the development of Morecambe, but today's terminus is very much a functional, modern hub. It is surrounded by a couple of supermarkets. The previous railway station lies stranded across the car park. What was required
in 1907 now earns its keep as a pub and restaurant - minus the platforms of course - and the rest of the site is part of the Indoor Market. The 1907 building had replaced the original, which dated from 1851 and was deemed not in keeping with the level of visitor numbers. The holidaymakers and daytrippers were never in the original plan when the rail line was being developed. The Victorians had the import of Irish cattle to feed the industrial masses to the port of Heysham more in mind, but if a seaside resort could be created on the shores of the bay so much the better. We arrived at our destination. The now refurbished Art Deco classic Midland Hotel, which dates from 1933.
The original 1848 hotel on the site was named the North Western Hotel. The line was taken over by Midland Railways and the name changed accordingly. This hotel was demolished and replaced by something more in the style of the day ..... the 1930s style of the day being art deco. The exterior has sweeps and curves and is decorated with 2 large seahorses above the main entrance. The seahorses are the work
of Eric Gill, who took inspiration from the shrimps in the bay. They wee carved in situ from Portland stone. The centrepiece of the hotel is the spiral staircase inside the front entrance, which is topped with a 10 foot diameter Gill fresco on the ceiling. The golden age of the hotel was shortlived. The start of World War 2 signalled the end of the good times and it was requisitioned by the military. The hotel finally closed in 2003, having let the standards go and was at one point was destined to be a Halls of Residence for nearby Lancaster University.
We have stayed at the Midland once before. It was after the refurbishment and reopening in 2008. Prices seem to have gone through the roof in the intervening years. We had originally booked this stay as a wedding anniversary night, but COVID got in the way .... twice! We are here now, but with Vera in tow and this would be her first night away in hotel surroundings. We were a bit nervous about how that would go to be honest, but it was a bonus that at least the hotel was "dog friendly". We paid the
£20 supplement for her company - the pet surcharge. I am sure there are guest houses in Morecambe, who charge £20 for humans and probably throw in a decent breakfast too! Vera tends to ge quite protective of her environment and announces her presence to anyone outside making a noise. She was straight on the case, when someone along the corridor took a room service delivery. We took a stroll around the lobby and through the Rotunda Bar, so she could familiarise herself with the new surroundings. The only place she was to be excluded from was the restaurant.
The Midland has survived as the Art Deco jewel in the crown. Another classic was not so lucky. The area immediately to the north of the hotel was the structure referred to as the Morecambe Swimming Stadium. Stadium note, not just a pool. The art deco open air pool welcomed the public in 1936, the initial plans for cover having being scrapped due to costs. The President of the Midland Railway announced that if the "stadium didn't fetch 'em from Bradford, I don't know what will". They initially came in their droves. Morecambe had the largest open air pool in
the UK. You could buy a season ticket to allow unlimited entry. They were more confident about the weather back then. As well as swimming, there was entertainment. The Stadium was the home to the Miss Great Britain contest from 1956 and big celebs came to judge. The bulldozers moved in around 1977 and the lido was no more. Art Deco survives across the road in the form of a B & M and the 1939 Bruccianis Coffee House. The interior is well worth an inspection, as indeed is the coffee. We would have frequented, but the No Dogs Allowed notice meant Vera wasn't welcome. We are now accustomed to spending only where the four legged one is welcome.
The Winter Gardens opposite looked splendid in the afternoon sun. The theatre - technically the Victorian Pavilion Theatre - dating back to 1897 is still intact and run by volunteers as an events venue. It closed in the 1970s. In the heyday, top acts of the eras played here - The Who, Rolling Stones, George Formby and Vera Lynn. The ballroom and the rest of the complex met the same fate as the Swimming Stadium. I got talking to a
couple from Wakefield, sunning himself on a bench opposite. The good folk of Yorkshire have always been the resort's best customers. The rail links across the Pennines brought them in their thousands from Bradford, Leeds and the other mill towns. The closer Lancashire towns favoured Blackpool.In 1932, the local Post Office did a study of the postcards being sent from the town and the top 2 destinations by a country mile were Leeds and Bradford. The town was not known as Bradford on Sea for nothing. The focus on this specific market didn't help, when the decline in the British seaside holiday set in.
We strolled further along towards the statue of Eric Morecambe. Eric was born in the town as Bartholomew, but he adopted his home town as his stage name. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s would surely have spent many Saturday nights chuckling at his double act with Ernie Wise on primetime TV. The statue was unveiled by the Queen in 1999. Eric stands in characteristic pose. Another tribute to him is found in the town centre - a Wetherspoons pub - the Eric Bartholomew. We settled into a local hostelry for a beverage -
The Palatine. Vera introduced herself to the rather large pub hound. I sneaked a couple of pints of the very acceptable Lancaster brewery Blonde. The stop typified the Morecambe experience - no airs and graces, a bit rough round the edges, but a whole hearted matter of fact welcome. Blackpool always made me feel uneasy, but there is no such undercurrent in Morecambe. We retreated back to the Midland, where the Rotunda Bar.had spilled out on to the terrace in the afternoon sun.
Dinner was included in the hotel rate, but it was No Dogs Allowed in the restaurant. Vera would therefore have to amuse herself. She was not amused. In all honesty, we were on edge too ... wondering how she was getting on in our absence in this strange new place. On a lovely evening, the star of the menu is the view out across the bay. The food was nice enough without being spectacular, the service was polite, friendly and efficient. However if the weather plays ball, just gazing out across the glistening sand is a feast. We settled up the extras and went to reunite ourselves with the dog in our life. We took a
walk out down the adjacent stone jetty. There was no activity at the RNLI station, no emergencies this evening. An old fishing boat lay marooned in the absence of an incoming tide. The stone breakwater isn't very long. Moreover once had 2 piers. The West End Pier clocked in at 550 metres when it opened in 1898. It featured electric lighting. Storm damage proved its undoing and it was demolished in 1977. The Central Pier was a mere 278 metres opened in the 1860s, but was a much more elaborate structure. It was known as "the Taj Mahal of the North", many years before anyone had ever heard of a local Indian restaurant. The "Taj Mahal" was a victim of fire in 1933 and the pier a victim of a other storm in the late 1980s. It was demolished - the repair costs were just too great for a now declining resort.
Monday morning arrived, after a largely trouble free night. Vera had one minor woof, when somebody passed the room at 2 am. Quickly calmed, she returned to sleep. We had requested a special dog friendly table for breakfast. A table was set just outside the main restaurant,
Statue of Eric Morecambe
but the all essential view was largely maintained. Another couple were seated adjacent. They had their Collie dog with them. The Afghan hound also in residence seemingly wasn't invited to brekkie by the owners, as only 2 tables were prepared. Breakfast was first class. Top notch black pudding and Heinz beans. Vera was even offered a spare sausage. Details are important.
20 years ago, I recall sitting atop of Indian Head on Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia. It was a Monday morning. Sharks favour the location and from our lofty perch, the silhouettes could easily be picked out against the crystal clear blue waters. The subject of the conversation turned to what else you would rather be doing and you could be at work instead. There we were in 2002, traveling the world. 2022 and here we are gazing out over the waters of Morecambe Bay. Retired or as I like to say ... withdrawn from the labour market due to a lack of interest. Decent food in front of us and a contented Norfolk Terrier asleep at our feet. Where else would we rather be?
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