Stage 16



Stage 16

This stage was split into two parts:

Part A - Weston Super Mare to Severn Beach
Part B - Queensferry to Fleetwood


Part A - Weston Super Mare to Severn Beach


Map of stage 16 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
(Click on the map section to jump to the description of the day)


Getting There - Friday 16 July 2010

It's all a little odd this year. I am travelling to Weston-super-Mare for the start of the walk, and I am travelling alone. I know I always do the first leg down to Yorkshire on me own, but this time I'm going all the way on me own. It's very odd.

The cause of this is Brian's parents who in the year 2010 celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.

Brian has gone down to Swindon to attend a celebration of this wonderful landmark event in their lives. So I will meet Brian on the morrow at Worle station in the northern outskirts of Weston. In the mean time I have to get to Leeds station for the 13.12 Cross Country service to Bristol Temple Meads, where I will change and catch the local to Weston. I have decided to treat myself as well. I will travel first class! The current railway ticketing system is a mess with lots of train operating companies able to charge what they like for most fares. Like airlines if one books in advance one can get a bargain - which is what I did in the now distant days of March and April. I would be tapping away on the trusty PC waiting for the cheap tickets for my train to be released. On the day I duly got one of the first available cheap fares. [Two days later the fare had risen 50%].

So feeling rather smug I settled into my first class seat and waited for the train to head Sou'West. Several hours later as the train leaves Birmingham I venture back to see how the hoi-polloi are faring. Pretty grim to tell the truth with every seat taken and people standing in the aisles.

I arrive in Weston shortly after 5pm and find my digs; an evening meal and then settle down to watch some telly. A really exciting start.


Day 1 - Saturday 17th July

Weston Super Mare to Clevedon

Day 1 walk map graphic Photograph

I am not due to meet Brian until lunchtime. He will be getting the train from Swindon to Bristol where he and Vanessa will meet up with Vanessa's brother for coffee before meeting me. I decide to go to Bristol for the morning and get back just in time to settle down with a pint and a paper in the pub across the station car park. As soon as this is organised and I am sitting comfortably the mobile phone rings and Brian has arrived! There is a bit of confusion while we work out where we are in relation to each other. When we sort ourselves out and wave to the departing Vanessa and sibling we have a brief chat, I hurriedly down my beer and we set off to the nearby supermarket for sandwiches and other essentials.

Our exit from Worle is through a new housing estate and we get thoroughly confused in its twisty streets. We eventually get guidance from a local and find ourselves on the edge of town. Today is all about crossing several rivers and drainage ditches - and none may be crossed within several miles of the coast. So we are on a cross country trek and soon meet our first river - the Banwell - near St Georges. We should pick up a path across the fields but miss it and continue on the road to Bourton.

At Bourton the maps suggest that there is a path across the fields to the Oldbridge River where we can pass under the Motorway and cross the river. In the event we decide to stick to the road to cross the Motorway and then strike across the fields to our chosen bridge. In the event this turned out to be a shrewd move as the river passes under the motorway but the footpath doesn't. This is just the start of our problems The path across the bridge is blocked by a rusty gate that doesn't look as though it has been moved for years. Fortunately there are some folks on an adventure type holiday across the field and they tell us the path does go over our bridge; just climb over the gate. But, you then have to follow the river we've just crossed; re-cross it on another bridge just past the drainage ditch and go to Hewish to reach the crossing point for the River Yeo. A journey of about 2 miles. The river itself is little more than 20 yards in front of us with the crossing point about a mile away in a direct line from the first bridge!

On a warm breezy but sunny day we set off over the rusty gate; have a bit of an explore as to whether we can take a short cut along the Yeo and reach no firm conclusion. In truth I believe we could take the direct route, but Brian is wary, and our locals didn't mention it. Also the map is not clear about a drainage ditch. So off we go to Hewish, crossing the railway line at a small gated crossing having first stopped looked and listened as the message on the board requested.

After this the walk is uneventful; we take our lunch squatting on a piece of grass next to the main road; find our path through East Hewish and on to the Bridge on the River Yeo. The river here has high embankments on each side to contain the flood risk. We cross the Yeo and almost immediately cross the aptly named Little River. We march along its banks for a mile or so before reaching a derelict orchard at the back of some cottages. It is a shame that it has been left in this condition.

The cottages stand on a track and we turn left to re-cross the motorway. In this flat low lying landscape the steep ascent up to the bridge comes as a shock to the system! The track gradually improves and we are soon on a made up road leading to Kingston Seymour. We keep a weather eye out for a pub. But the best we can do is sit on a bench in the shade of some trees on the small village green. Kingston Seymour is a pretty little place and is very quiet. We are the only things moving - if you don't count the leaves in the breeze and the couple who confirm there is no pub.

After a brief sojourn we head off North along the lanes toward Clevedon. There is little breeze and it is becoming decidedly warm in the afternoon sun. There is a slight change in the land as we are gradually climbing away from the flood plains to the South. A consultation of the map suggests that there is a footpath across the fields from Riverside Farm to Dowlais Farm, but there is a small river to cross and several drainage ditches. We take a jaundiced view of all this after our earlier experiences and we stick to the lanes.

The heat has a soporific effect which results in a mild collective panic attack as we reach a road junction. We have no idea whether it is this one or that one on the map. To turn or not to turn, that is the question? While we try to work out exactly where we are a young man appears and points us in the right direction - we hope. Despite his confident manner neither Brian nor I are convinced he really knows. It is now about 4.30pm and I am yet to see the sea despite us being some 4 hours into this year's walk of the coast!

We continue along the lanes, sometimes getting reasonable views across the landscape and boxed in by hedges at others. We should have had more faith in our young guide as we soon pass Dowlais Farm and reach the out-skirts of Clevedon. At 5.23pm I get my first view of the sea [I made a special note at the time] as we skirt Church Hill and pass the Recreation Ground en-route to our first pub of the day for squash etc.

After a brief stay we head off along the prom, past the Recreation Ground and are presented with quite the steepest hill of the day as we climb out of Salthouse Bay. The road leads us past the pier and towards the northern edge of town where our hotel awaits us. We have gone rather up-market for this first night by staying in a Best Western hotel - taking full advantage of their half price offer. We will be paying less than some B & B's charge. Our room is large and comfortable. The only [slight] fly in the ointment is that we shall have to eat in the bar as a wedding party has commandeered the restaurant.


Day 2 - Sunday 18th July

Clevedon to Avonmouth

Day 2 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

After a good breakfast our stay in the posh[-ish] hotel is over. We have enjoyed it very much. The bar meal was good value and the price of beer was reasonable. Add to that some rather pleasant sea views from the bar and a good evening was had by all. So on a warm but overcast Sunday morning we turned left out the front door; walked a few yards down the road and swung left onto a broad grassy area that led to the cliff path below us. Just past some bushes we pass a slightly stirring recumbent figure in a sleeping bag who has been indulging in a spot of wild camping.

The coast path is a throw back to so many miles we have encountered thus far on our trek. It hugs the shoulder of the cliff and is flanked by bushes and tall ferns with sufficient breaks to afford us sea views and the dark smudge on the horizon that is Wales. On the path we are sheltered from what breeze there is and it becomes rather humid. Ahead of us the spectral shape of the distant Severn Bridge looms in the mist.

We see very few people sharing the path - a couple of joggers and another walker as we make our way towards Hang Rock passing Pigeon House Bay and Walton Bay. Just short of Redcliffe Bay and Hang Rock we pass a munitions/explosive store. It is difficult to tell whether it is still active though.

We press on past Hang Rock and the Black Nore. Visibility has improved quite a bit and the Severn Bridge looks a much more solid structure to the North. Just past the Lifeboat station we pass a group of four out for their Sunday stroll complete with dogs. This causes us to stop and look around and we spot the rather magnificent building that our co-walkers pronounce is Feddon Village. It was at one time a Marine Orphanage [The National Nautical School] that was later sold to developers and converted into a series of des-res apartments and flats and what-not.

National Nautical School
National Nautical School

The school started out as a training ship "The Formidable" anchored on the Severn, the inspiration of a Mr Henry Fedden. The ship could accommodate up to 350 young and often homeless boys from the streets of Bristol. The school provided them with a home and trained them to be merchant sailors.

At the end of its service life, the old ship was scrapped and replaced by a new purpose built school known as The National Nautical School. This magnificent building opened in 1906. The school ceased operation in 1982, and Nautical School and adjacent lands were and given the name Fedden Village in memory of the schools founder. www.fedden-village.com/histvillage.php>www.fedden-village.com/histvillage.php

After our brief history lesson we carry on and stop for our first cuppa of the walk at the Lakeside cafe. We are now pretty much at Portishead. I say at rather than in because the town is still several hundreds of yards to our right, pretty much where it has been since Feddon Village. There are a few spots of rain that don't amount to anything. It is now getting toward lunchtime, so we seek out a supermarket or similar. We ask a mum out with her 7 - 8 year old daughter and ask for directions. Mum says go this way, and then that and turn here etc and you can't miss it. Daughter says go straight down this road and it's in front of you, whereupon mum says "Oh Yes! that is a better way to go!"

We duly arrive at the supermarket and grab some provisions. Sadly the coast element of our walk is over for the day. We now have to by-pass the industrial and port areas of Portbury and cross the River Avon. This last bit will be a first for us as we will use the footpath and cycle route someone thoughtfully stuck onto the eastern side of the M5 motorway bridge.

We trail out of Portishead alongside the main road before thankfully taking Sheepway Lane towards - well Sheepway. This causes us some confusion at the very first road junction after leaving the main road. The map shows the cycle route as going along the lane; the road sign says it goes into the housing estate to our left. In the end we agree to stay with the road. We take our lunch on a patch of grass alongside this road just about where the housing estate finishes and find the answer to our earlier conundrum. There are two cycle path signs heading the way we've just come from. One points more or less into the housing estate and has the little addition "traffic free route" - the other points back along the road. We are still puzzle though - why have two routes when the direct line is only a couple of hundred yards - very strange.

We continue down the lane to Sheepway. We are in the country now with fields either side. Just before Sheepway the lane suddenly rises to mount a hump back bridge over the dis-used railway to Portishead. It is here that Brian's left leg suddenly goes into spasm causing some pain. This is a real cause for concern as it has not happened before. [We have been fortunate with injuries over the years - Brian's blistered feet in Essex/Kent when his boots collapsed; my sprained ankle in the last mile of the walk on the last day that ended at Swanage have probably been the main problems - we don't count our upset stomachs from a couple of years ago]. We are "lucky" in that after a bit of rest Brian feels able to carry on, but he is definitely carrying his injury. The pace is much gentler and whenever greater exertion is required I sense he feels some pain.

Our rural journey does not last however as the route of the cycle path leaves the road shortly after Sheepway and skirts the industrial complex around the docks. After a hundred yards through some trees our path turns sharp right and there is a large wire fence some 12 - 15 feet high to our left. The warning signs every few yards proclaim dire consequences should any one dare to cross the fence. The fence surrounds quite the largest "car park" we have seen. It is full of new cars and vans waiting to be distributed around the country. There are thousands of them. We find out later that this is but one of five car parks - some of the others are bigger. One thing we do notice is that the vehicles are parked with uncanny precision. The parking bays are marked in the traditional manner, and all the cars along the fence are parked 6 - 8 inches from the white line on the cars' left, leaving a bigger gap on the right. This pattern repeats all long the fence. We get to discussing how many drivers are employed etc. There are two such depots on the Tyne near North Shields - one exporting Nissans and the other importing Volkswagens. We debate whether they have squads of drivers who in the case of the export Nissans drive a posse of cars onto the ship and then clamber into minibuses to collect more; or do they walk/run off the ship to get their next cars. All good fun and we come up with ever more exotic modes of transport. [Strangely we forgot the teleport system - no drivers just Scotty beaming the cars up onto the deck].

The cycle path soon picks up the line of a disused railway and there are considerable lengths of track to be seen in the undergrowth. It is still overcast and humid and rather dreary walking. The motorway starts to growl itself closer to our cycle path and it eventually soars over our heads as we pass through a small tunnel to reach the far side. Someone has parked some large lumps of metal here and called it art. Erected in 2001 and [if I can read my notes correctly] is called "Stronghold". It makes a very convenient bench for our rest stop although sadly some local graffiti artist has had a minor daub. Several groups of cyclists pass us including one large group that included 10 tandems!

Avon Bridge Sculpture Avon Bridge Sculpture plaque
Avon Bridge Sculpture by Pat Daw

We then tackle the ascent of the south face of the Avonmouth Bridge. It really is a steep climb that one doesn't realise when driving across. It is still humid but to celebrate our successful ascent there is a brief glimpse of watery sun and the appearance of some feeble shadows. The views from the top are interesting rather than spectacular and we can glimpse the sea beyond the docks to the west.

Within the next 10 minutes we have left the bridge behind us and found our digs - but there is nobody at home. We stroll further into Avonmouth Village and find a pub that does meals all day [evening meal - sorted] and a couple of small convenience stores [tomorrow's lunch - sorted].

After a couple of pints of squash we wander back the 100 yards or so to our digs and gain admittance. They are very comfortable and will do us a treat. The quality of the meal at the pub later that evening matched the price - low. All in all a steady sort of day rather than an inspiring one. Tomorrow could be the big one. Our original plans have us down to do about 14 miles on to Chepstow, from whence we will take the train to Swindon to bed down at Brian's parents. Then an early start to drive back to Guiseley and catch the train to Shotton on the North Wales border. A big day is in prospect. And to cap it all - I've managed to lose another hat!


Day 3 - Monday 19th July:

Avonmouth to Severn Beach

Day 3 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph

After a good breakfast in some very good digs we set off through Avonmouth village pausing only to purchase our lunch. This part of Avonmouth has surprised us. It is nothing like we expected. I think we both had an image of a busy town serving the large dock complex, but it is nothing of the sort. It will never win a beauty contest but there is compact homely peaceful feel to the place.

Our delight soon changes however as we reach the main road past the docks. All the heavy traffic has been taken away from the village's main street on a dual carriageway, and we now realise that Avonmouth is a Jekyll and Hyde of a place - the relatively calm village and the noisy, busy docks area. For the next hour we plod along the busy dock road on a blisteringly hot day. To our right a procession of factories and warehouses; to our left the thunder of lorries and vans on the road with the dock wall beyond them. It is very boring. Still we console ourselves with the thought that just under two miles away the Severn Way appears and will take us to the river and away from this wretched road.

As ever, things don't quite work out. We duly arrive at the location where the Severn Way crosses our path and it is signed to the river. There is a pretty well defined path through some bushes and pretty tall undergrowth heading in the right direction - and then it swings to the south and not to the west and becomes more overgrown. Most perplexing. We have a quick scout around but can see no obvious way forward. We retrace our steps to the road and Brian spots a fingerpost in the undergrowth to the West. We find an overgrown path towards it and fight our way in the direction it is pointing. We discover a disused rail way track with a further sign bolted to a sleeper. We are going in the right direction - but no-one else has in recent times. We come to a railway siding serving the adjacent factory, cross it and scramble up the low bank on the other side. Then nothing but tall grass; thistles etc - no sign of a path or a sign for a path. We give it up and decide to go back to the road. This little episode has cost us a good twenty minutes.

The traffic has not abated during our wanderings in the Avonmouth jungle and feeling thoroughly fed up we continue on our way. Hopefully we shall be able to get to the riverside after this next swathe of factories. After about three-quarters of a mile we get a bit of good news. There is a cycle path that we can take that is going our way - the good thing is that it leaves the road and runs behind some factories. This is a welcome relief indeed. The cycle path has wide grassy verges and we take a break in the shade of some bushes. All is relatively peaceful - well if one ignores the JCB shuffling about in the scrap yard behind the bushes and the thwock-thwock-thwock of a police helicopter circling about a mile distant. Compared to the constant thunder of HGV's this is peace!

The cycle path is a fairly recent construction and the immediate surroundings have been landscaped. At one point there is even a wooden gazebo type structure adjacent to a factory entrance. After about half a mile or so we are back on the road, however the Severn Way makes a re-appearance and is announced by a sign and a new gate on the river side of the road. We walk between the road and the branch line to Severn Beach for a while before crossing the track and finally get close to the river. Wales and the two Severn Bridges are clearly visible and the sun continues to beat down. We make steady progress along the river bank and see quite a few birds on the tidal flats or skimming the surface. The river is still very wide here but is noticeably narrowing in front of us. For the first time that day we begin to really enjoy our walking.

All too soon we reach Severn Beach and it is not quite what we expected either. It is smaller than either of us thought, and although there is a promenade with its benches looking across the "beach" and river - the "beach" leaves much to be desired - it is a tidal mud flat. That said the local council have landscaped the land between the prom and the houses some 40 yards away. [On our return we found some photos from the 1950's which showed the place to be quite a bustling little resort]
http://www.francisfrith.com/severn-beach/photos/

We seek a pub for some desperately needed orange squash and are told the nearest is in the next village about 2 miles away. We do find a cafe that has gone continental with its metal tables and chairs out on the pavement. On such a glorious day it hits all the right buttons and we quickly grab a table; dump our packs on the ground and allow our minds to drift off to St Tropez and other exotic places. We are soon returned to the Bristol Channel coast by a rather large; non-topless lady asking in a delicious West Country accent if the third chair at our table was spare. Ah well the dream was good whilst it lasted.

We set about planning the afternoon's activities. It has taken us about 3 hours to cover no more than 6 miles; we are both very hot and a little tired. We have at least 8 more miles to do before 6pm to reach Chepstow. Ordinarily this would not be considered a problem, but this is no ordinary day. We really need to be there no later than 6pm; 5pm would be better. Any later and we will be very late back into Swindon. In the end we decide to abandon Chepstow. The risk of a late arrival is too great.

We debate Brian's work options following the recent merger of his College with another and what I will do when Twinings finally close the North Shields plant in about a year's time. I guess these are the types of debate that are best done with a copious supply of alcohol to hand - sadly we have none. We discuss our earlier misfortunes with the Severn Way which starts [we find out later] at the river's source on Plynlimon, Powys. It originally ended at Severn Beach but was then extended to Bristol via the outskirts of Avonmouth where it cuts inland to join the River Avon, neatly by-passing the messy and boring docks. We conclude that it was re-routed on the outskirts of Avonmouth at some time and no one bothered to remove the signs we first encountered. Without this earlier delay we may well have been encouraged to push on to Chepstow.

Severn Crossing from Severn Beach
Severn Crossing from Severn Beach

As it is the die is cast and we have an hour to explore Severn Beach. It is very quiet - mainly a collection of reasonably modern housing and a few shops. We find another cafe and the railway station which has definitely seen better days. Now it is a single track on one side of what would have been an island platform that is quite long - probably capable of taking 7 or 8 coaches. Alongside the platform there is a considerable area of derelict land that presumably was once occupied by a goods yard or sidings.

Our train to Bristol arrives and promptly turns round. We trundle back towards Avonmouth and pass through the extensive dock complex before turning sharp left and into Bristol. Our short journey has a bit of everything in its 13 miles or so. There are views across the Severn to Wales; docks and industry followed by rural views as we skirt the River Avon before reaching the inner suburbs and final arrival at Bristol Temple Meads.

The onward journey to Swindon goes smoothly, but the run into the station is tinged with sadness for one who can remember the railway in its former glory of 50 years ago and more when the Works had over 75 acres under roofs. Most of the workshops have been demolished and what remains has been converted for other uses.

Brian's Mum and Dad pick us up at the station and over a cup of tea at their house I get to hear all about the anniversary celebrations and other gossip before Brian and I go to the local for a meal . We are joined by Graham a mutual friend from schooldays. We have a couple of beers; a chinwag and a sound drubbing in the pub quiz. So ends Part I of this year's walk.


Travelling Day - Tuesday 20th July 2010

We move to the North West

We are on the road by seven heading for Guiseley. We are on a fairly tight schedule because we are aiming to get a train from Guiseley to Leeds at about 2pm. The weather forecast is not good, but as we are not doing any walking today we care little. Our first port of call will be the Morrison's supermarket adjacent to the Coventry by-pass. We will take breakfast here and get some sandwiches for lunch. We get in a right royal pickle somewhere between the loos and the sandwich counter that ends up with me having to phone Brian to find him.

We get to Guiseley by 12 and now have to unpack the dirty clothes and pack the clean. We grab a cup of tea and eat our sarnies and get a pleasant surprise when John, Brian's neighbour offers us a lift to the station. I also discover that I've left my insulin at Morrison's. Too late to do anything about it - good job I have a spare supply with me - still annoying though.

Our train journey goes well and the promised showers arrive. We have time for a coffee at Manchester Piccadilly and can't work out the monster departure and arrival board over the concourse. We ask some guy which platform our connection on to Shotton will leave from and he imparts that info and explains the intricacies of the big board above us - it only has the capacity to show the next 30 minutes or so arrivals and departures. It suddenly seems so simple.

The train to Shotton is on time and like the others was very comfortable. We just miss a heavy shower as we alight and start to work out how to get to Hawarden [pronounced Harden] where our digs are. We find a bus stiop a few hundred yards from the station and are soon deposited at the top of the hill in the centre of Hawarden. We find our B&B and get settled in. We dodge yet more heavy showers going to and from the pub for our meal and then settle down for a good night's kip before starting Part II in earnest.


Part B - Queensferry to Fleetwood (Lancashire)


Map of stage 16 Day4 Day5 Day6 Day7 Day8 Day9
(Click on the map section to jump to the description of the day)


Day 4 - Wednesday 21st July

Queensferry to West Kirby

Day 4 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

Breakfast is a DIY affair, the first we have ever encountered. The deal is that the landlady provides all that is necessary for a continental style breakfast, and you help yourself. The kitchen area is fully equipped and we could have made our own cooked breakfast [or evening meal] if we provided the ingredients.

We walk to the bus stop and learn a little about Hawarden from a local, who like us, is waiting for the bus. Hawarden's most famous residents are Emma, Lady Hamilton (1761- 1815), and the former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809- 1898), who lived in Hawarden Castle the home of his wife's family, the Glynnes. Gladstone built a fine residential library and his statue stands tall and proud in the village.

Our bus arrives and we alight at Queensferry. We nip into the local ASDA where I acquire yet another hat - a trilby type beast [it was the only thing that fitted] and our lunch. We leave Queensferry by crossing the Blue Bridge - a large girder structure over River Dee and quite a local landmark. We then follow the road for a couple of miles walking between an industrial estate and the busy A550 that is raised on an embankment to our right..

We then hit the countryside and promptly take the wrong path. We are faced with the choice of turning left or going straight on. Buoyed by the map showing us a left turn in several hundred yards we choose to go straight ahead. Of course the left turn is nowhere to be seen. We retrace our steps and take the left hand path and head towards Shotwick on a metalled lane cum farm track. For the first time we are in the country and away from the noise of the traffic. It is quite pleasant and we make steady progress. Shotwick is a small collection of houses; a church and the Hall. Despite its small size and the feeling that it always was and always will be siesta time here, Shotwick has a well documented history and at one time was an important crossing point into North Wales via a ford. www.shotwick.org.uk

Gladstones monument
Hawarden - Gladstones Monument in the grounds of Gladstone's library (St Deiniols)

We leave via the lane past the Hall and onto the slightly larger hamlet of Puddington. This is not quite so peaceful as Shotwick but again once senses that life is lived at a slower pace. Our road leads us onto the rather substantial village of Burton. We take a brief rest in a bus shelter that was built before the age of glass and steel pre-fabrication. The bus stop is not only quite comfortable with its wooden bench, but fits the local scene like a glove.

A mile or so out of Burton we cross the railway line and have a brief encounter with a rain flurry. It is enough to make us put on our waterproofs but doesn't really amount to anything. We get some good views across the marshes and River Dee with the mountains of North Wales in the distance. All in all the wide panorama is very pleasing on the eye. We stop for our lunch before moving off and a little further on where the road turns sharp right we continue straight ahead along a track that skirts the marshy land to our left. Little Neston and its pub is our next target.

The Harp Inn is a welcome haven and is just across the road from the marshes that lead down to the Dee. We catch glimpses of what appears to be fairly modern housing as we approach the pub, but the pub itself is much older. It needs little imagination to picture smugglers landing their booty on a foggy night! The walking since leaving Queensferry has been good so far, but the humidity has been high -we are both soaked with sweat.

After a couple of pints of squash and a few enquiries we have it confirmed we can cross the fields directly to Neston instead of a detour through the housing estates. There was some debate amongst the locals as to whether all the streams still had bridges. This was resolved by the barmaid who declared she had walked that way last week and there were indeed a couple of new bridges in-situ.

Thus armed we leave the pub and head for the fields and the paths across Neston Marsh. The bridges are as described by the barmaid and we are soon entering Neston. There are definite signs of a harbour wall here but the river is a mile or more away. The buildings are attractive and there are a fair number of people just strolling around enjoying the views or an ice-cream and soaking up the peaceful atmosphere

Parkgate (Neston)
Parkgate (Neston)

Neston has a long and rich history being, in an earlier life, one of the main ports for Spain; France and Ireland. Unfortunately the River Dee began silting up and its importance declined. The river is some three miles across the marshes nowadays!
http://nestontowncouncil.org.uk/community/

We enjoyed walking along the river frontage but all too soon we head inland to join the Wirral Way, another of the country's long distance paths. This one follows the route of the abandoned railway from Hooton to West Kikby. We shall join it at Parkgate after walking inland a few hundred yards.
http://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Wirral+Way

With the benefit of hindsight taking to the Wirral Way here was a bad move. For the first mile and a half or so the path runs through a cutting so we have magnificent views of the hedgerows along its banks. We could have stayed in the open along the river for this distance and continued to experience the Dee marshes and the North Wales' hills.

Too late now of course so we continue on our way. It is very humid on the path with no breeze reaching us. We are both eager to find a cafe and at Heswall the old railway line has been built over. We are optimistic of finding somewhere and enquiries of a local suggest there is a cafe about "15 minutes" walk away. Just go through the estate and then continue along the path to the cafe. Nothing could be simpler except that the cafe is at least a 45 minute walk away at the visitor centre at Thurstaston. Again the walking is pretty boring as we leave the cutting behind us its banks have been replaced by head high ferns and bushes for the most part. There are the occasional breaks though that reveal tantalising glimpses of wider horizons just to remind us of what we are missing.

We arrive at the visitor centre just before the cafe closed so at least that part of the plan has worked. We also start to think about where we will stay for the night. We have come further than anticipated and that is pleasing. I dig my too short a list of accommodation from my rucksack. Our earlier researches had left us with a very thin list - but it was sufficient as after several phone calls we are booked into some digs in Caldy on the southern fringes of West Kirby. On the next section we get more of a view but truth to tell the whole Wirral Way experience has been boring. We have to leave the Way and walk through a large house estate - yes that's right - a large house estate. The estate itself is quite large, but the houses are big and much wider spaced than your usual housing estate. We both agree that it is the largest group of big houses we have ever seen. We shudder to think how much they cost. Our digs are on the junction of the estate road and the main road and the house is as big as anything we've seen so far. There is a bit of a farce as from the outside there is no indication the place is a B & B. So I phone to find that we are standing by the gate post....

The place is very comfortable and our hosts are very welcoming. After we get showered and changed they even take us to a nearby pub in their Jag - very pleasant. The humidity of the day finally breaks in earnest as we have our meal and we sit and gaze at quite the heaviest rain for several days. This doesn't deter folks from coming out though as the pub rapidly fills up. It is still raining when we leave so the cavalry [in the form of the local cab] is called in. Today has been very much a curate's egg. We have come a long way; walked through towns and villages and peaceful countryside; seen some really interesting bits and pieces and been bored out of our minds for long periods - very strange.

Day 5 - Thursday 22nd July

West Kirby to New Brighton

Day 5 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

At breakfast we are joined around the dining room table by a guest who arrived some time after us the previous night. We enjoy some good conversation over the bangers and bacon before having to pack up our kit bags and set off once more. We are offered a lift into West Kirby so we pile into the Jag and enjoy a bit more luxury. Sonya and Gordon have made our stay so enjoyable. After a quick flit though Morrison's for our vittles we head down to the "sea shore". The mud flats and marsh at Neston have been replaced by sand banks but the river is as far away as ever. West Kirby contains a large man made coastal lake, the 'Marine Lake'. The structure is large enough to hold sailing events, windsurfing and many more water related activities including: canoeing; kayaking; and power-boating. We've not seen anything quite like it on our coastal ramblings so far. There is a promenade of sorts and then we leave town and head for Hoylake. We pass a golf course, but can't work out if it is part of the championship course. These are the second oldest golf links in England, predated only by the Royal North Devon Golf Club, in Westward Ho!, Devon.

This section has been quietly unspectacular so far. To our left the sand flats stretch out into the Dee estuary, but there are no ships to be seen. The distant Welsh hills are clearly visible although the tops have a mantle of cloud. To our right there is the golf course, but more distant views are blocked by the houses on the far side.

Just as we arrive there is a brief shower of rain. At Hoylake the coast makes a sharp right turn and we lose sight of the sea for a time as we make our way toward the centre of the town. We speculate whether there is a "cliff top" path behind the houses on our left but decide to stick to the road. Within a few hundred yards we take a left turn and are on the promenade

There have been few people out and about so far today, no doubt the majority of folks preferring to stay indoors on such a grey day - but at least there has been no heavy rain. We are making steady progress towards the Mersey and Liverpool and we can just about make out the docks. We begin to see more people but it is strangely quiet. Again the walking is a little dull. Our inland vista is limited by the housing that is never more than a mile distant, out to sea nothing mush is happening and the clouds are quite low and grey.

In the Moreton area we espy a small snack bar with a few tables scattered around it. This is the first real chance we have had for a cuppa and we grab it with both hands. Considering we have seen few people out and about on this grey day the snack bar is quite a social centre. It is definitely the "place to be seen". We took the last empty table when we arrived yet there is a steady stream of people joining friends at the adjoining tables. Turnover is quite steady too with tables not remaining empty for long. During our stay one customer threw his unwanted chips on the ground. Within 30 seconds a horde of sparrows[?] had descended and hoovered them up with alarming rapidity and efficiency!

We set off again along the sea wall. The docks at Bootle are becoming more distinct with every step and the Welsh hills are only just visible for those with a bit of imagination. When we reach New Brighton we find there is a fair amount of restoration going on along the sea front. And when we turn right to head up the Mersey we start to walk along a fine restored "promenade".

Liverpool from Wallasey Magazine Promenade
Liverpool from Wallasey Magazine Promenade

We do not know what was here before but the current situation is grand. The road has been re-surfaced and is a no-car zone. The railings are freshly painted and the light standards appear to be new to an old design. The brickwork of the retaining walls has been refurbished and the grassy areas are well loved. Across the river Liverpool is an imposing presence with the docks directly opposite and the towers of the modern city as a backdrop to the Liver Building and the more historic waterfront buildings 2 miles or so in front of us.

Liverpool is one of those cities that has a special place in many peoples' hearts and minds. Whether it be the Beatles or Gerry or - well any one of bands that came out of the Pool in the 60's; the football team[s?]; the conveyor belt of comedians or its folk songs and history Liverpool is a bit special. One cannot fail to be moved by the view across the river. It is not too difficult to imagine the old slaver ships leaving for Africa, and the same ships returning months later with their loads of cotton and sugar etc. Add to this all the folk lore from the 60's and there is a heady brew in the air.

But back to the Wallasey shore and the reality of our walk. The day is wearing on and we finally get caught by a heavy shower - fortunately we are close to a shelter on the promenade so we just sit it out. The enforced stop gets us to thinking about where we will finish. Walking this riverside promenade has been interesting - one of the plaques we've passed commemorated the Guide Dogs for the blind that was formed in Wallasey in 1931. www.guidedogs.org.uk/aboutus/history/

But we still need accommodation and the town itself is high above us with only the backs of the buildings facing us. The promenade has several names as it heads upriver - we have been on Magazine Promenade and we are now on Egremont Promenade. About half a mile in front of us we think that a riverside building may well be a pub. As we draw closer we discover it is indeed a hostelry. We gratefully enter its somewhat shabby entrance and are soon ensconced in seats by the window that affords us a rather magnificent view of the river. The pub on the inside is so much better than its exterior on a grey July afternoon. The pub is the Egremont Ferry and takes its name from the ferry that used to ply from a long gone pier just outside. www.geograph.org.uk/photo/76950 www.wirral-mbc.gov.uk/history/Hw1_56k/egremontferry.htm

The pub has a very interesting sign on the wall titled "the Season Starts Here :

As well as giving us the necessary orange squash and a warm welcome the staff soon take over our search for accommodation. Eventually Jeff comes into the bar after making phone calls and scouring the web to tell us we have a room booked in a hotel in New Brighton, and should we require a cab one would be booked. After a 5 minute ride in a cab we are deposited outside a medium sized hotel in a late Victorian building set back three quarters of the way up the hill in the heart of New Brighton. Our room is comfortable and clean and represents good value for money. All in all a pretty good end to the day.

The Hollins Hey Hotel
Wallasey (New Brighton) - The Hollins Hey Hotel

Day 6 - Friday 23rd July

New Brighton to Ainsdale On Sea

Day 6 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

In the morning we tuck in to a pretty respectable breakfast before organising a cab back to the Egremont Ferry. The previous evening had passed uneventfully except it took us an age to select were to have our evening meal. We didn't fancy the hotel and the various pubs didn't appeal. It was too chilly to search out fish and chips so we ended up in a Moroccan style restaurant. The food was pretty good.

At the Egremont Ferry we hitched up our packs and set off for the ferry landing in Birkenhead. We are to take the legendary Mersey ferry to the equally famous Pier Head and Liver Building. We have just missed a ferry so amuse ourselves watching the odd ship move in and out of the river and examining the placards that proclaim the history of the ferry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mersey_Ferry

On aarival at the Pier Head we have to put Part 2 of our plan into effect - finding public transport to get us past the docks. After Avonmouth the thought of trailing along busy roads as we pass Liverpool Docks is a thought not to be considered. Eventually we go into a rather posh hotel and ask the concierge the best way out. He suggests the train to Waterloo. Armed with this info we head for Moorfields and the Southport train. We get on the first train to arrive and due to a total misreading of the departure board we find ourselves on the Ormskirk train. So we have to alight at the first station Sandhills to change trains. In some ways this has some benefit in that we can wait for our train on the breezy, exposed platforms at Sandhills rather than the claustrophobic underground ones at Moorfields.

Liverpool The Fallen Angel
Liverpool The Fallen Angel statue in the hotel foyer

We leave the station at Waterloo and make our way to the Marine Lake snug inside its park and promenade to head North. The sign at the entrance to the park reminds us what the park is really for

Waterloo - a sign at park entrance
Waterloo - a sign at park entrance

Today is very pleasant - warm with a gentle breeze and the occasional sun. There are a lot of people out walking; jogging or cycling along the promenade.

When we reach the sea front we are confronted by probably the largest art work we have ever seen. It is Anthony Gormley's "Another Place" - 100 life size cast iron figures that are standing in the sand. We later find out that they stretch for about 3km along the beach and 1km out to sea! www.sefton.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=6216

Crosby Beach statues by Antony Gormley
Crosby Beach statues by Antony Gormley

For the next couple of hours we make steady progress along the prom. There are extensive sand and mud flats reaching out to the river on our left. We see the Catamaran for the Isle of Man leave the river; and there is a large off shore wind farm standing idle. We can just about make out a dark line on the horizon that must be the Welsh coast. We go down onto the beach at one stage to take a close look at these life size figures. To my eye they are not quite as impressive close up. As we leave the houses of Blundellsands behind we take to a track across the well grassed dunes. It is getting a bit warmer now and there is no shade to be had. As we approach Hightown we meet up with a group of walkers who are going our way.

We and they make a bit of a detour off the path to go down onto the beach hereabouts. The River Alt empties into the Mersey here. The river is quite small and cuts a tortuous channel through the sand and mud. The local sailing club put out from here and there is a collection of small boats beached on the sand. At some stage there has been an attempt to make a breakwater or harbour wall as we pick our way past a number of broken concrete structures. We leave the beach here and take to the dunes. There are a number of paths through what appear to be mountains after all the flat walking of the last week. It appears our newly met friends think we know where we are going as they decide to follow us! Little do they know we are doing our usual trick of making it up as we go by following the most likely path - the blind leading the blind! I am rather disappointed in this as they have been talking about heading for the pub for a drink - and we don't know where this is either. Eventually we leave the dunes and enter one of Hightown's suburban streets that is recognised by our colleagues - the pub isn't far away now - quite near the station.

We make better progress and soon leave them behind - a mistake as we end up missing the turning to the station and make a detour that costs us a few hundred yards. We eventually get to the pub and are grateful to sit in the shade from the now hot sun. After a bit of a rest we hit the road again. Again we have choices - we could return to the coast or take a slightly more direct inland route. Although there are paths and tracks through the coastal area it is marked as "range" and "danger area" on the map, this decides matters and we take the inland route.

We leave on a path that follows the railway for about a mile and are passed by several of the trains as they shuttle back and forth between Southport and Liverpool. We swing toward the coast and cross the Alt on a small bridge before having another decision to take. Passing through Hightown we could not fail to notice the lack of B & B's. Will Formby and Ainsdale be the same? Although it is early to finish in Formby if we know there is accommodation we can always get the train back later in the day. So through the town it is. In the event we walk through Formby to Freshfield and see nowhere to stay. We do see an inn however which is packed by folks drawn out by the summer sun. Enquiries in the pub suggest there is no where local to stay

Leaving Freshfield gives rise to a not unusual experience - we take a wrong turn; and end up at the gates of the golf club with a rather large "Private Property" sign. All this despite the map suggesting there is a public footpath through the golf course. In the event we turn back to take an alternative path on the other side of the railway line. After 20 minutes or so we come to a level crossing [pedestrians only] and have to cross the golf course to reach a wooded area that will be our companion for the next mile and three-quarters. Our path skirts the fringes of the wood so we are able to benefit from its shade without any oppressive feelings. The railway is not far away ay any stage and the whirr of the electric trains is supplemented by the buzz of light aircraft from Woodvale Airfield just on the other side of the railway.

We are both getting quite tired now, the heat has built steadily all afternoon and it has been quite draining. Our target for the day will be Ainsdale, always assuming we can find some digs. Failing that we will catch the train to Southport - always our fallback position. We meet a lady on the outskirts of town who reports no B & B's or hotels in town. We ask again at the station with the same negative response.

The train duly arrives and we settle back for the short ride into Southport. Lord Street looks it's elegant best in the late afternoon sun. We call in at the Hotel Kath and I stayed at a year ago but they are a bit more expensive than I'd hoped. They do put us onto a good place to search out B & B's a few hundred yards away. We quickly establish ourselves in a B & B and are able to relax. The day has been quite good really, though the lack of accommodation at Ainsdale was disappointing. Having to catch the train back to Ainsdale in the morning will result in a later start to the walk than we would have liked.

We find the local Weatherspoons is just around the corner, so that is our dinner sorted and we continue to reflect on the day. Actually being in Liverpool was a disappointment chiefly because we were not stopping. So much work has been done over the years to turn the city into a place for tourists it was a shame we could not go down to Albert Dock or the other sites. The art in the sand came as a complete surprise and added to the interest, as did the large flock of birds that had swooped across the water just beyond the figures, flying so low one felt they must surely crash into the sea.


Day 7 - Saturday 24th July

Ainsdale on Sea to Crossens

Day 7 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

The day dawns dry and with some sun. We make our way to the station to catch the train back to Ainsdale. We are quite eager for the off and I can tell Brian has been thinking - he is planning something. When we get to Ainsdale we still don't get an immediate start - we have to wait for the level crossing to clear a train for Southport. When all is clear we head off for the coast. Some of the houses we pass are quite grand, definitely not B & B territory at all!

We reach the sea front to find a memorial to the Coronation Mail transatlantic flight. The pilots Merrill and Richman began the flight by taking off from the beach at Ainsdale. There is a large replica of the aircraft used by the American Hearst Publishing Corporation to get the first pictures of King George VI's coronation. In addition some mail was carried some with special commemorative covers. All this happened less than 80years ago - we've come along way in terms of world travel..

Commemorative cover
Commemorative cover carried on the flight

We decide not to walk on the beach fearing the sand will be too soft. This proves to be a mistake as for the hour or so we walk on the cycle path that is next to the road. We are hemmed in by giant sand dunes to our left and only slightly smaller ones to our right. This area is marked as the Birkdale Hills on the map. After half a mile or so the dunes on the right fall away giving us some view across the flat Lancashire landscape.

In all some 30 or so cyclists pass us on this stretch ranging from serious cycle club types to families exploring on their hired bikes. We are also passed by a local runner raising money for kidney research. The dunes to our left gradually get lower until they disappear completely on the outskirts of Southport. The dunes are not the only thing to have lowered in the last 30 minutes - it is now much cooler and the sun has hidden itself away behind the clouds. We take a short break here and Brian is poring over the map - nothing strange in that but he is definitely planning something.

It is here that I manage to lose all the time we saved by not buying our lunch before boarding the train earlier this morning. Armed with the knowledge that there was a Morrisons supermarket just off the sea front at the south end of the town we decided to buy lunch as we passed by later on. Despite being supremely confident of finding the place following a visit to the town a couple of years earlier I proceeded to get us lost!. I try to tell Brian that this is a rare skill and quite difficult to do as the place can be no more than 100 yards off the promenade. I don't think I convinced him.

Having acquired lunch we give up the sea front for the elegance of Lord Street as we make our way towards the Tourist Information office. We are seeking information about accommodations between Southport and Preston, the next major point on our odyssey. We are disappointed to hear that their remit doesn't stretch far in that direction - but Brian seems less concerned than me. As a routine we pick up a bus timetable and leave for an appointment with a sea front bench and lunch.

In the event we take our lunch overlooking the Marine Lake [we seem to have passed a few of these this year] rather than the ocean, but either way it is a bit grey and chilly. Brian explains what he has been thinking about all day- we should get the bus from the North end of Southport - well Crossens really - and resume walking from a point more or less opposite on the Fylde shore.

Brian has been looking at maps and realised that we should treat the Ribble in a way similar to the way we treated the Humber and the Thames. In other words let the bus take the strain. Crossens is pretty much at the mouth of the river albeit inland, so it would not be unreasonable to do as he suggests. At this stage I am not fully convinced but find that I am not arguing too strongly against it.

After a chilly lunch we hit the road once more and head for Marine Drive. We can see Lytham and Blackpool Tower across the sands and sea. The traffic along this stretch of road is very heavy and the walking soon becomes very tedious. The view to our left changes slightly as the sand gives way to salt marshes criss-crossed with small streams and ditches. To our right is a broad flat landscape with the suburbs of Southport as a backdrop a mile or so away. We pass the RSPB Reserve at Marshside - a very appropriate name. The car park for the reserve is busy. We take a short break here and I find my thoughts about walking around the Ribble are becoming more ludicrous as time goes by.

We continue on our way to Crossens and the Lytham shore comes ever closer across the mudflats that seem to fill the estuary. The traffic has not abated though and by the time we reach Crossens I am reaching for the bus timetable.

The bus journey to Preston passes quite quickly and the bus is pretty full for most of the journey. As we enter the city I try to locate the places I came to love[?] so much when I spent three years there as a student in the early 70's. Many of the roads have been changed - particularly in the centre and I found it very difficult to recognise anything on the drive into town. We got off at the Bus Station and try to establish what the bus service from Preston to Warton and Lytham is like on a Sunday morning. I am more than surprised to find it is hourly from about 9.00am - a real bonus as we can look for digs in Preston. Armed with this knowledge we seek out the Tourist Information office and book some digs. This is another bonus as we find some on Blackpool Road not too far from the bus stop we need on Sunday morning. Next thing is to go back to the bus station and get the bus out to Blackpool Road. On this journey I finally recognise some streets and landmarks. On the way in the only building I had recognised was the old Corn Exchange - now a pub. During my stay it was a venue for concerts and I recall seeing the Jacques Loussier Trio there with a double-decker vibrato accompaniment every time a bus drove past. Our digs are very comfortable and excellent value for money. We have to dodge some showers when going out for our evening meal and whilst out we decide to buy the morrow's lunch. All in all our stay proves to be quite inexpensive as the digs were keenly priced and the meal was very cheap.

Preston - St Andrew's House Hotel
Preston - St Andrew's House Hotel - Our shelter for the night

Day 8 - Sunday 25th July

Walton to Blackpool

Day 8 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

The showers we had to dodge the previous evening have cleared by the time we headed out for our bus stop to the Fylde coast. Our plan is to get off the bus in Warton and pick up a path just to the West of the airfield and head off toward Lytham. The only problem is we do not know just where to get off the bus and we are not very good at describing to the driver where we want to get off.

By the time we reached Warton and got off the bus we either got off in the right place and missed our turning to take us to Warton Bank or we got off too late and missed the turn that way. The end result was that we walked further along the road than intended and so had less "country" walking.

We reach a bridge over a small stream and follow a path toward the Ribble. After a hundred yards or so we reach some sea defences crossing our path from left to right. We walk along them for a few more hundred yards with only a few cows for company on the low lying ground on either side of us before turning back to the road to cross a much larger stream barring our path. One of the local yachting clubs has its moorings in this Ribble tributary and quite a lot of boats are berthed here. We cross the stream and head down its other bank before being forced back to the road by another branch of this waterway.

Lytham St Annes sand drift sign
Sand drift sign in Lytham St Annes

We follow the road past some buildings and very quickly are presented with a broad grass strip that fills the space between the road and the sea. We make our way to the promenade and head west. Not for the first time since arriving in the North West we walk under grey uninviting skies.

The next hour or so is a lot more interesting than the whole of yesterday. The houses away to our right provide a constantly changing view and the sea is a lot closer. In fact we hear a stranger - the sound of weaves lapping on the shore. We pass by the windmill that has become something of a landmark hereabouts; the lifeboat station and jetty. Next up is the Heritage Centre as we make our way towards Fairhaven Lake and Pleasure Island - Lytham St Anne's answer to Blackpool's more famous and considerably larger contribution to the well being of the human race. At one point we take a break in one of the sea-front shelters and across the grass a row of houses has come between us and the road. The houses are all large and in a variety of styles. There is a large wall with very ornate gateways to the large rear gardens. The fascinating thing is that despite the houses being built in a variety of styles the gateways are all to the same design.

We take another break for a cuppa near Pleasure Island and by now the sea is closer than it has been since the Wirral. It is like meeting an old friend. As we leave St Annes though it is back to the road. We find it amusing to see a road sign warning us of sand drifts ahead. We also have to say a [temporary] goodbye to the sea as the large dunes of the Starr Hills block our view. We pass the remains of a derelict holiday camp and Squires Gate - Blackpool's airport - before finally reaching the South end of Blackpool and meeting the sea once more.

The sea front at Blackpool is undergoing a major re-building exercise. The South Shore section had been finished and it is very attractive. We pass Pleasureland and are dwarfed by the group of big dippers [to use a rather archaic and inadequate description], One of them makes me cringe and want to run away even though I have both feet firmly on the ground. The victims - sorry customers - are hauled to the top of the spidery structure and then the car seems to go down almost vertically and twist a few times on the way down before soaring up to start a similar process a bit further on. No wonder some of them scream.

Blackpool
Blackpool

I'm afraid to say that the next three hours confirm our prejudices about Blackpool. The only things missing to complete our minds' image of Blackpool are a slightly stronger wind and driving rain. It is not all tat though. The Prom improvement works stretch from just south of the Central Pier right up to the North Pier. When finished there will be a beautiful stretch to walk all the way from the South Shore to beyond the North Pier.

However most of the buildings will still have their late 60's and 70's additions masking what would have been rather elegant facades; the daughters and grand-daughters of Gypsy Rose Lee will ply their trade from a plethora of small booths and the slot arcades will continue to flash their gaudy lights at the passing public. Despite our prejudices though, Blackpool works. Millions come each year and have a good time.

The day has not really improved though. It is still grey overhead and the breeze has been on our faces nearly all day taking the edge of the temperature. It hasn't rained though and although the sun has tried to make an appearance on several occasions the clouds have rapidly asserted their dominance by forcibly closing the curtains each time.

At the North Pier we head for the Tourist information office and book some digs. Brian knows Blackpool better than I and insists we stay at the North Shore end. We duly do this ad are rewarded by being booked into a rather good B & B with a bar. We even get a room each! Our hosts are very friendly too. We will stay two nights here. The plan is to go to Fleetwood tomorrow and celebrate the last night in Blackpool. Our hosts are not that encouraging when asked for venues that may suit our needs. This is perhaps not surprising as the multitude of hotels and B & B's cater for the evening meals of those that stay and the rest is geared up for day trippers.

As we go out for our meal this night we keep an eye open for possible venues near the digs and they are pretty scarce. We find an Italian restaurant [where we dine] and a pub that does meals. Neither seem to have the atmosphere we seek although the food in the Italian was good and belied its appearance..


Day 9 - Monday 26th July

Blackpool to Fleetwood

Day 9 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

The day dawns grey - again - but at least it isn't raining. We reach the sea front and head north. We have been told to look out for Red Bank Road. This leads off the sea front and has several restaurants frequented and recommended by, our hosts. The advantage is that it is not too far away.

We soon realise that different people have different ideas as to what "not too far away" means. The road is at Bispham some 40 minutes walk away. We explore the street and find several good looking places but none are any better than the Italian near the digs. We retrace our steps to the prom and have a cuppa before setting out again.

The walking is uneventful The sea is a close neighbour on our left; the road and the trams to our right. There is a solid line of buildings on the far side of the road with the odd break for a road coming up to the sea. There are one or two fancies such as Norbreck Castle Hotel to add a touch of whimsy and variety and away to the North we can just about make out the Furness coast 15 miles or so away across the water.

At the south end of Cleveleys we say farewell to the trams as they head off for Fleetwood. The prom at Cleveleys is also being rebuilt, and like the new sections at Blackpool is very attractive. One part of our plan though is not working out. We are travelling light and decided that it would be very easy to pick up some lunch just about anywhere between Blackpool and Fleetwood. This is proving to be deceptively naive. Whilst all through Blackpool and out to Bispham there were shops selling food every few hundred yards or so they now appear to have dried up. All we have between us are my emergency biscuits - and they needed topping up as well. Moral - take your food with you unless you are very, very sure. We do find a cafe on the sea front at Cleveleys and are rather glad to get indoors. The dull grey weather has persisted all morning so far and we need a bit of cheering up. A cuppa and a chunk of tasty flapjack soon get that sorted.

After Cleveleys things take a turn for the worse. The clouds get lower and we are soon walking into a heavy drizzle. Also the scenery changes. So far we have had the ever changing [but dull] panorama of houses and shops to our right; the sea to our left and the prom in front of us - which has had a variety of surfaces - slabs; concrete of various colours and tarmac. Hardly inspiring stuff but it gets worse. This is replaced by a dull grey monotone. The clouds are grey; the prom is an un-remitting grey concrete which has been used to build a 5 - 6 foot high wall to our right; the sea is grey and a thin mist has come down so we can't see the horizon. Add to this that my specs need windscreen wipers to remove the drizzle blowing into our faces. The prom is on two levels in places and we try both, but although we can get occasional views across the school playing fields behind the wall it still does nothing to lift our spirits. I think we would prefer full on rain to this horrible mizzly drizzly stuff.

Things improve slightly soon after passing the school. We still have the wall to our right, but it is lower; we are soon passing some houses and then a golf course. By the time we swing to head East towards Fleetwood the drizzle is still with us, but the wall has gone and the visibility seems to be improving. About 10 minutes before we finish at the ferry terminal linking Fleetwood to Knott End the drizzle finally stops, but we still can't see the Furness coastline. The bit of Fleetwood we have seen so far leaves a favourable impression. The beach is wide and sandy and a short pier sticks a tentative foot in the sea. The Marine Hall and bowling greens to our right are overlooked by the Mount and its pavilion leading to a rather good vista after the grey of earlier.

Fleetwood Lower Lightouse
Fleetwood Lower Lightouse

We arrive at the ferry terminal and it is 13.48. The Walk is over for this year. We are both pretty tired and hungry; and although we've dried off a bit we are still rather damp. We dither about trying to decide where to eat. There is a large sit-in chippy just beside us but it is a bit utilitarian - we can't decide whether to use it or seek somewhere a little more up market. My blood sugars are getting low and it's affecting my behaviour. Brian is very aware of this and does a good job in keeping his patience with me. It also forces us into the chippy. Should have bought the sarnies in Blackpool!

Fleetwood river ferry terminal
Fleetwood river ferry terminal

After some food and a rest we are both feeling much better. We have a mooch around the area. There are a lot of road works as they relay the tram tracks [this is the northern terminus]. We watch a small roll-on roll-off container ship from Northern Ireland sail up the river; and get some details of the ferry which has a long history.
www.simplonpc.co.uk/FleetwoodFerries.html
www.wyrebc.gov.uk/Page.aspx?PvnID=79677&PgeID=71765&BrdCb=1-24-1194-1195

Fleetwood Isle of Man ferry
Fleetwood - Isle of Man ferry traffic entering river mouth

The day has brightened up considerably by the time we head off for town and the temporary terminus for the trams to Blackpool. There are extensive road works as the track refurbishing goes right into town centre.

I get my first ride on a Blackpool tram and it is slower than I imagined and not just because of the road junctions. We discuss where to have our celebration meal and decide to go to the Italian restaurant we used last night.

In the early evening light we walked the quarter mile or so to the pub opposite the restaurant, had a pre-prandial drink before crossing over to the restaurant. The meal was once again very good but the atmosphere lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.

After the meal we repaired to the pub and had a bottle of wine on the little sea view terrace, but the place was pretty dead and it too lacked any sort of atmosphere. Having watched the sun set at about 9.00pm we decided to go back to the B & B and have a drink in the bar there. This was a good move as they had a cheeky little red wine at £7 a bottle, and mine host was a football supporter who followed Heart of Midlothian with a passion. The bar's walls were festooned with memorabilia. We passed the night away talking football; lamenting the fact we were not staying for one of his whiskey tasting weekends and the thousand and one things that blokes talk about at the bar.

Eventually we managed to get to bed, but don't ask when. We had more wine and tasted a malt whiskey that was pronounced something like Ocantoshan but spelt in a radically different way. A good end to the day and the walk.


Epilogue.

We managed to get up for breakfast and eventually made our way to the station for the train to Manchester; Leeds and eventually Guiseley.

There is a set of doors at Blackpool station that block off the platforms from the booking hall. When we were there they were kept locked except for a few minutes to enable us to board the train. Presumably their role is to help control large numbers of passengers during the season. This locking and unlocking coupled to a queue at the ticket office meant that we only just got through the doors before they were closed for the departure of out train.

We made steady progress toward Preston where we have to change. Before we arrive we are told there has been an incident on the line near Leyland south of Preston and all the trains are severely disrupted. Preston station was in chaos when we arrived with hundreds of passengers seeking information and trains. Just about every platform had a train in it - none of them looking as though they were going to move for some time.

We are fortunate, a train to Manchester will be leaving very shortly so we head straight for it and manage to grab some seats. We also learn more about the incident. There has been a fatality on the line near Leyland station.

We depart and maintain a steady pace towards Leyland before slowing to a crawl. We see railway staff on the adjacent tracks and several large pieces of plastic sheeting on the ground. No one believes they have just been left there, and everyone suspects they know what is beneath them - a very sad and poignant image.

The rest of the journey passes uneventfully with no delays to our onward connections at Manchester and Leeds. We had toyed with the idea of a pint in the Weatherspoons at Leeds station but in the event we decided to go straight back to Guiseley.

I have found this walk to be strangely unsatisfying. Was it because of the disjointed nature? We never had more than 3 consecutive days walking without resorting to public transport. The weather was pretty dismal too. There were far too many grey days with total cloud cover and too few days where we could feel the sun on our backs. Also we never seemed to get off-road so to speak. Every year we spend fair chunks of time on promenades or pavements or roads and lanes but this year feels as though the proportion has been much higher. A quick play with Google Earth suggests that we were off road for only 20 - 25% of the route. We certainly didn't have many feelings of being far from the madding crowd; of being away from it all. One of the simpler joys of our walk is occasionally being able to lie down on the grass and stretch out and let ourselves go. What with the weather and the terrain that just didn't happen.

One disappointment was not being able to get to Chepstow. For good reasons we gave it up at Severn Beach, but we both felt in our hearts we would have preferred to go to Chepstow. In the end our heads ruled with wiser counsel. Still after we get back to Saltburn in a few years time Offa's Dyke Way looms as a bit of unfinished business. The 8 or so miles from Severn Beach to Chepstow might be a nice hors d'ouevre.

But it was not all bad though - there were some interesting bits along the way including Shotwick to Neston and Parkgate; Fleetwoood; Clevedon to Portishead; New Brighton to Hightown. Each were interesting in their different ways..

Next year Morecambe Bay and the Furness coast will present their challenges. We better be ready for them!