Morecambe’s glory days are back – and not too soon

Government grants Morecambe £50m upgrading money - Christopher Furlong/Getty

Government grants Morecambe £50m upgrading money – Christopher Furlong/Getty

Finally! Great news for Morecambe. Few towns have needed this more or for longer. The government has finally given £50m worth of upgrading money so the Lancashire facility can fulfill Cornwall’s dream of building the north branch of the Eden Project… right there on the Prom, next to Eric’s statue. The total, which represents half of the required total, is hailed as a game-changing element.

Local Tory MP David Morris sped up at the prospect. The realization of Project Eden will “change Morecambe literally forever,” he said.

crikey We must hope he is right. As a former pop guitarist with Rick Astley, it just might happen. The expectation is that the much-anticipated coastal-themed attraction – three large shell-shaped pavilions overlooking Morecambe Bay – welcomes thousands of visitors just as they did decades ago.

Definitely, Morecambe deserves a serious shot in the arm to get it back to its former greatness. In other words, overtourism has not recently threatened this large part of the Lancashire coast.

And “big” is the word. There is no doubt that Morecambe Bay is 120 square miles in size. The endless sea, where the light beams are, the gunmetal gray, shimmering silver rushes in and empties out. Across the bay, the Grange and southern Lakeland hills are not seen as much as suggested on some days. Space is on a heart-wrenching scale. The frantic cries of the seagulls—the madmen of the bird world—somehow emphasize this. Like walkers far away with winds and storms and dogs.

What the Eden Project outpost should look like - VU London/Grimshaw Architects 2017

What the Eden Project outpost should look like – VU London/Grimshaw Architects 2017

Recently the seafront has been renovated to make it befitting. There’s greenery, a decent promenade, and a bouncing statue of Eric Morecambe in full Bring Me Sunshine mode. There is no other statue anywhere that cheers so much.

However, go back from the front and look inside and things look miserable. Eric himself drew attention to this. “A cemetery with lights,” he said of his hometown. As much as I admire him among 20 peoplepearl– the greatest Britons of the century, now I think you’ve missed the point.

No sculpture can cheer you up like this - Ruth Hornby Photography/Moment Open

No sculpture can cheer you up like this – Ruth Hornby Photography/Moment Open

Let’s summarize again. Morecambe’s great days came from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. The railroad quickly brought Scottish vacationers. Also and especially working families from the wool towns of Yorkshire. When the mills closed for Wakes Weeks, the people of Lancashire trained it to Blackpool, West Riding residents to Morecambe, then Bradford-on-Sea. The place has evolved. Guesthouses abounded. Perhaps Britain’s most stunning Art Deco hotel, the very luxurious Midland has risen because the mill owners have also gone to Morecambe. VII. So do Edward and Miss Simpson, and apparently Coco Chanel, but probably not all together. Laurence Olivier was in Midland while filming The Entertainer. Prices were high, according to contemporary hotel PR materials, “to keep choosing the company (so that) there was no danger of unwanted people infiltrating.” This is a policy I now apply in my own home.

A scene from the great days of Morecambe - Paul Popper/Popperphoto

A scene from the great days of Morecambe – Paul Popper/Popperphoto

By the late 1960s, traditional visitors to Morecambe were on their way to Spain. The town began to fray around the edges. Revival projects arose and collapsed. As a reporter in Lancashire in the 1980s, I wrote more stories about Morecambe’s planned renaissance than I wrote about the rise of the Titanic elsewhere. Not one but two piers disappeared, just like a big amusement park, the Miss UK pageant, the lightings, and the Mr Blobby/Crinkley Bottom fun I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting at Happy Mount Park. The 1977 closure of the wonderfully ornate Winter Gardens, once home to (not together) Gracie Fields and the Rolling Stones, almost put it to its limit.

The town collapsed after the 1960s - Colin McPherson/Corbis Historically

The town collapsed after the 1960s – Colin McPherson/Corbis Historically

Despair filled the air. This is what Eric was talking about. Me too, with the word “tired”. After my last few visits, I’ve come to appreciate this unrebuilt Morecambe very much. I love it as it is. I’m sure the town is happy. Frankly, if you’re looking for coastal weirdness, go elsewhere – Cornwall or Pembrokeshire or any other place where they resent your presence. Morecambe is not interesting. power is is power – draws its strength from the great bay and muscular memories of working families that have been freed for generations. Of course, things are not what they used to be in Morecambe or Bradford. The resort has its fair share of people kicked by life and not averse to reciprocate. There are bars where you can dream of being kicked out. The front also boasts cash bingo, the ignorant beeping of arcades, and burger joints apparently nailed together early this morning. As if the splendor of the bay required a brazen contrast.

However, there is a jolly and redemptive seam of absurd seafaring, however.

The point is, between the extremes of natural splendor and the human desire for buckets full of 2p pieces, there’s room for everyone: strollers, fishermen, drinkers, birdwatchers, me, Bradfordians, cyclists and bookworms: Pier Bookshop on the Old Front, UK. perhaps the most well-stocked and cheerfully disorganized second-hand bookstore. I went in when I saw a Carl Hiaasen for £1. After climbing around the shelves and over mountains of skin, I was out an hour later with an armful of under £15. I left about 60,000 behind me. If given half a chance, I would have spent my entire stay there. They are also wine lovers. I went to a bar with a friend in 2020. We had beers, so we ordered two glasses of red Corbières. “You better get the bottle, honey,” the woman behind the bar said. “Special offer. Just £1 more.” So we did. Corbières wine is on special sale in Morecambe, huh? Want more out of life?

Attendees at a vintage festival in town - Christopher Furlong/Getty

Attendees at a vintage festival in town – Christopher Furlong/Getty

Happiness was indeed general, and may become more complete as Morecambe tries to break out of its foundation once again, maybe this time forever (or not: I hear the echo of the 1980s). We saw Tyson Fury and his family in another bar – we really couldn’t miss him; built like a cooling tower – which was a good sign. And it’s not all Tyson. It seems Busta Rhymes spent some of her youth living with her aunt in Morecambe.

And now we have Project Eden – it will take shape on the site of the old Bubbles water park in 2024. “This will secure prosperity for generations to come in Morecambe,” said MP David Morris, who is clearly very pleased indeed.

Meanwhile, several Morecambe hotels have upped their game. If I’m feeling tired, I’ll stay at the Midland, whose view over the bay is eerie and modernization is a triumph.

Renovated Midland - Christopher Furlong/Getty

Renovated Midland – Christopher Furlong/Getty

From there, I’ll devote days to Kirkby Lonsdale at the outset, for a counter-burst of undiluted beauty. I think it’s unlikely that England has such a fair town anywhere else. Or, as John Ruskin said in 1875: “I know of no more naturally divine place in my whole country, not least in France or Italy.” What particularly enticed the art critic was what is now known as ‘Ruskin’s View’, painted by Turner 50 years ago. No wonder. Beyond the church, the landscape of meandering river, grassland, woodlands and semi-distant hills is laid out with Tuscan perfection.

Downstairs, the 14th-century Devil’s Bridge oversees the Lune and the pools where we used to swim and bounce stones as kids. Before the war, my mother was a boarder at Queen Elizabeth’s school in the small town. We used to come back often – for lunch at the Royal Hotel, followed by roast beef, oxtail soup, soda sheets and head waiters James and Ronald. Then we’d wander along the railroad tracks, cobbled courtyards, and market square and stumble upon Jonty Wilson, the legendary rider, blacksmith, and man who taught my mother how to ride.

Little has changed. After 800 years, Sunday is still Thursday. The dressed stone center is full of independent shops and cafes. There are eight pubs for less than 2,000 inhabitants. Fast forward to the 18th century, a squire could still find his way along Salt Pie Lane and Jingling Lane and into the Pig Market, but the shortage of hunters had deceived him. And bars. It used to be close to 30.

Morecambe Bay - William Lowis

Morecambe Bay – William Lowis

I will return via Arnside, perched below the Arnside Knott, a limestone hill of forest, grassland, and abundant butterflies, where the Kent River meets Morecambe Bay. It’s almost sunset, so I’ll grab a beer on the terrace of the Albion pub and watch the day close in a sky-wide color chart over the bay. Here, onshore rocks, rounded hills, cliffs, woodlands and winding country roads are so thin that drivers have to breathe. Also, there’s no one around (except for the farmer kids in aircraft carrier-sized tractors; give way, for God’s sake). Everyone else is heading north towards the Lakes. This beach is a conspiracy for connoisseurs, basic splendor balanced with ices and a nice cup of tea.

On other days I will head south to the sands, salt marshes and sheep of uncharted villages like Cockerham and Pilling. Meanwhile, Heysham’s nose provides a good walk, wind that will blow your ears, and spiritual mystery. Who built the now-destroyed St Patrick’s chapel, who opened the rock-cut tombs, and why are they on the cover of Black Sabbath’s Best Of album? In the village below, another hotel, the Royal hotel, sees the man outside in plain fashion. Then I will return to Morecambe, after this I will be happy to revisit a wonderful place to step once again.

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