Coast Part 4a 2008
The next stage of our trip around the UK coastline is decidedly different to that so far. If you have read the previous blogs you will know that it is the mainland coast that we are travelling, generally we have missed islands (already we have passed by the Isle of Wight and Anglesey plus many smaller ones). We will probably be island hopping in Scotland just to visit parts of the coast that don't have mainland coast roads but no need for that yet a while ..... but there it is, sitting out there in the middle of the Irish sea - the Isle of Man. Neither of us had been there, and just a day or so up the road from the finish point of part 3 (Preston) is a ferry port to Douglas Isle of Man. Rude not to go, wouldn't you agree. So this trip is Preston to Glasgow with a week of the Isle of Man thrown in. One other thing, as we get further from Salisbury obviously the distance to our start and finish points gets greater so our intention is for the coast bits to be as long as possible but on this occasion there isn't a huge difference between the mainly motorway miles to the start and finish points and the coast mileage. It does mean that for the first time, on the first and last days all we are doing is going between home and our start and finish points.
As in the previous parts I haven't mentioned here every little seaside village we passed through and so have produced a list as a seperate blog:
Because the blog is so long I have broken it into two parts which are basically:
4a Preston to Morecombe Bay and the Isle of Man
4b Cumbria and South West Scotland
I shall repeat the warning of earlier parts, we have a reasonably slim panel van conversion and its only a little over five metres long. Some of the lanes we travelled down would be unsuitable in anything much larger.
Day 1 and 2 Getting to Preston, Blackpool and beyond
Amusements, Pies and Fries where else but Blackpool?
It started raining as we left home and the forecast for the rest of July was dire, if we hadn't had our ferries booked on and off the Isle of Man we probably wouldn't have gone. The forecast may have been right for some of you but as the photos will show generally our weather went from good to great. At Birmingham a cloudburst brought the motorway to standstill, but by the time we arrived at our campsite in Preston, last seen in May when we finished part 3, we had blue skies.
On the next day getting back to the coast we arrived at Lytham and we liked it, the weather was overcast and blowy but the shops were little and local even the Woolies was tiny. The couple running the RNLI shop were friendly although we had to listen twice to the explanation of the wreck of the Mexico in 1886, in which two lifeboat crews were lost, a story we which we were already familiar with from the BBC's Coast and which we had just read about again on a plaque outside.
We then went off towards Blackpool marveling about how much sand everyone had in their front gardens especially in St Anne's where it was drifting across the roads just like snow. Doreen has never been to Blackpool so wasn't quite prepared for how down market it was and how many things can be made into the shape of a willy or a pair of breasts. We parked at the southern tram depot and went by tram to the north shore and walked back to the south pier before hopping on a tram to return to the end of the line. A tip, the tram starts off expensive but the further you travel the cheaper it becomes per mile so a few stops in the centre will set you back a fiver and for a quid more you can travel several miles. Our trip back to the depot was only sixty pence cheaper than our outward journey. Blackpool Sea Front? - well we liked the trams and Doreen got called 'chuck' and that's not happened before. I did have a bit of fun with photographing the tower.
Trams and the Tower
We now drove along where we had ridden and walked until we spotted the hulk of the RoRo ferry Riverdance lying on its side with waves breaking all over her. In January it was in the national news when it went aground in a storm having failed to make it into Heysham. I thought it was to be salvaged but apparently after further storms in March the decision was made to cut it up where it lay and I don't think that made the national press. It is very sobering when you are just about to make a ferry crossing to see a ferry wreck, especially as by now it was really blowing.
A Ferry to Nowhere
At Fleetwood, which is the Blackpool Tram northern terminus, we stopped a while watching the antics of a small boat going backwards and forwards very close to the shore in a shower of spray. We thought at first it was the small passenger ferry that goes across to Knott End-on-Sea but as she made one of her turns only yards away we noted her name 'Wyre Surveyor' which gave a bit of a clue to what she was doing this windy afternoon. We had to head inland to get around the Wyre ourselves but thanks to a small map reading error ended up first at Stanah country park on its banks. A very nice place and although it is gated its on a bus route so the gates are not closed at night. Might make a good wild camp. Some of it is protected with height barriers but the first car park on the left is not, neither is the disabled parking spaces next to the visitors centre cafe and toilets. No prohibition notices about camping etc either. Retracing our path a mile or so then taking the correct turnings brought us to Knott End on Sea which was close to our prebooked campsite at Preesall
The Wyre from Stanah and Knott End on Sea
2nd day - 51 coast miles
Day 3 Presall to the IOM
We had an early afternoon ferry to catch to the IOM which meant that we couldn't linger too long in our excellent campsite (note all the campsites we used are in the MHF database and referred to in the list of places blog mentioned and linked to at the beginning). It also meant that we had to drive through Lancaster without stopping, a pity as it looked a very interesting place I have ear-marked it for a visit when we are on the M6 sometime. One place we did stop was at Glasson on Tithe Barn Hill. One feature that had been on the skyline since Fleetwood and was to dominate the landscape in the onward trip was the ugly nuclear power station at Heysham.
View from Tithe Barn Hill, Glasson
There was one other place we noted just before getting to the ferry and this was at Potts Corner. A large development of a 'Prestigious Retirement Village', 'Retire in Luxury and Style, Actively and Independently' said the notices and banners. From the gatehouse and the iron railings it looked more like an army camp, they said 'Village' we thought 'Ghetto'.
Ghetto for the Well Off Retired
At 2.15 we sailed for the IOM and our holiday (from going around the coast) but as you will see on an island measuring 33 miles long by only 13 miles wide the coast was never far away. Our first conversation on the boat, with a man sitting outside with his dog, was however not about the size of the place but rather about the cost of getting there. It rapidly became apparent that our £99 each way with £5 fuel surcharge was a relative bargain. The guy we talked to had spent £260 for the same trip with a little car and later at a campsite a lady with a Romahome said that she had paid £260 with a travel agent and then when she decided to extend her holiday by a week it had cost a hundred pounds more as her ticket was not changeable. Our £208 ticket was for an 'any length motorhome' promotional deal and a change of vehicle or date or passenger names would have cost just £15 plus any fare difference. So it pays to shop around and cross mid-week.
3rd day - 37 coast miles
Days 3 to 11 The Isle of Man
Half way to the IOM it started raining.
Before going on we should record a vote of thanks to John (thieawin on MHF). When I asked about the Isle of Man campsites and things to do he sent me a huge message that amounted to a circular tour of the island mentioning campsites, wild camps restaurants, things to do and see etc. It was invaluable and even though we got other guides from the tourist office in Douglas it was his guide that always stayed at hand and in many ways added to our enjoyment; excellent and another example of community on MHF.
13 miles by 33 miles
I think a summary of our impressions after a week on the island might be useful. Its a place of contrast. Apart from Douglas its a bit like rural England was in the 50's but with motorbikes and powerful cars about the place. The little ports are largely unspoilt, Tesco doesn't rule, and you meet people in Peel or Ramsey who never travel to Douglas! The TT racing spreads its influence much wider than the practice and race weeks and there are other races on parts of the island away from the TT course. Oh and remember what the round white sign with a diagonal black stripe means; on the Isle of Man it doesn't mean 70 mph, it means 'derestricted'. So if you decide to bimble along in your motorhome on a nice mountain road of an evening, the car or bike bearing down on you might easily be going over 100mph, use your mirrors and think 'bike'. Just to add some flesh to that, the TT circuit is 37 miles long, a lap takes the fastest riders around 18 minutes, which gives the lap record an average of just over 130 mph . One of the long straights goes through the village of Sulby, they do it at around 180mph, its normally a 40 limit, at 40 the road surface will shake your fillings and rattle your crockery in a motorhome. I won't mention these sorts of speeds again but for the record we didn't do the circuit in one go but apart from Governor's Bridge where a detour took you around some road works we did do all of the course. Adding the bits together gave us a time of well over an hour but we did stop for traffic lights and obeyed speed limits.
Hugging the apex at Windy Corner
We did 350 miles on our eight days on this little island and this was a lot to do with the weather and our choice of camp sites. Our intention was to base ourselves at Peel for the most part and throw in a few wild camps. On the ferry we looked again at the seven sites listed in the C&CC book and noticed that the one at Peel had the symbol for 'No dogs permitted'. (When I checked on the web site in Douglas tourist office the next day dogs weren't mentioned but all the others said dogs welcome or similar so we took it to be the case that Peel would not be suitable for us. A week later we went past the site saw dogs, dog bins and a notice requiring you to control your dogs, Doh!). We had a wild camp recommendation for our first night so after giving it the once over we went on an hunt for a campsite in the middle for the nights to follow. There was one on the TT start finish line in Douglas, it was Hymer central, perhaps a rally, and even with our ramps, the available pitches would have left us leaning and in the pouring rain it didn't look attractive. Glenlough looked OK, CronkDoo near Grebb was positively mountainous but after driving around and going back to our wild camp we had more or less decided to go to Glen Wyllin at Kirk Michael. In the end we camped in four places.
Marine Parade Douglas - 1 night
Glen Wyllin Kirk Micheal - 4 nights
Smale near Rue Point - 1 night
Laxey - 2 nights
A mountain railway goes from Laxey in the east up to the Bungalow station at 1300 feet then from there up to the summit station at around 2000 feet. We reasoned if we couldn't see the top of Snaefell then there was little point in going there for the view, so we kept an eye on both the forecast and what was actually happening. On Friday the top was in cloud. We nearly made it on the Saturday afternoon but missed the last train up from the Bungalow station but were there at Laxey Station at 10am on Sunday to make sure. We timed it just right to see the 'seven kingdoms' England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Mann, Heaven and Neptune's. With the naked eye we could see the mountains of Mourne (75 miles), the Antrim Hills (80 miles or so), the Mull of Galloway (30 miles), Anglesey (80 miles) and parts of the lake district although England was covered in cloud. With binos I could see Holy island (Anglesey), the tower at Blackpool (80 miles) and the wind farm off Walney Island. The Wicklow mountains to the south of Dublin could also be seen as a smudge on the far horizon and over the top of the Mull of Galloway there was also land which might have been the Mull of Kintyre at around 90 miles. We did well because by Monday the top was in and out of the clouds again.
Some views at the summit
When we were actually based at Laxey a few days later we had one more rendezvous with Snaefell we caught the train to Bungalow and with rain just holding off just walked back.
A little aside on driving and navigation. I don't have the GPS maps for the Isle of Man. Sign posts are to say the least eccentric. When approaching a junction especially if its a roundabout take note of any sign as you approach, there may be no confirmatory sign at the junction. Often we would be following sign posts only to find several junctions without any at all. We muddled through but it did take some getting used to. Oh and one other thing at roundabouts especially mini ones, some Isle of Man drivers give way to everyone, no matter who has the right of way
We are impatient nature watchers, how we expected to see basking sharks, whales or turtles given that after scanning the sea for five minutes we generally gave up. Still we saw lots of seals especially at Kitterland and the Calf of Man in the far south, and we added common terns, ringed plovers and their fledglings along with gannets in the far north (OK - 30 miles away) along with scatterings of geese oyster, catchers, herons and other waders. I'm much better at spotting sights like a kipper factory. Manx kippers are excellent, this next photo in lieu of a cute nature photo.
Moore's Kipper Factory Peel Harbour
On one of the duller days we tried to get an idea of Manx history. It started with Celts then the Vikings arrived but when you get into the 13th and 14th centuries it seems that everyone else invaded. It is complicated and we searched in vain for a book with a simple time line type of history but didn't find one but there are plenty of interpretation centres, we visited the house of Manannan in Peel it was a bit too arty and touchy-feely for my taste if we had had longer we would have gone to the Manx Museum in Douglas.
If little trains or trams are your thing then you are about to get a feast I think I will let the photos speak largely for themselves except to say the engines were on the Douglas to Port Erin narrow gauge railway, and the trams and mountain railway cars were at Laxey. If you like vegetarian food then there is a brilliant vegetarian restaurant at the railway station in Douglas
For your delight
What else did we do and what else did we see? Well there was plenty, but rather than make a list or write any more, I would say that everyone we have met since returning says "Oh yes the Isle of Man I would really like to go there", don't say it, do it, you won't be disappointed I promise. I will get around to putting up a seperate photo gallery on this web site to show some of the other aattractions.
We sailed away towards Heysham, about half way across it started raining
Day 12 Heysham to Milnthorpe
We woke up in the car park at the ferry terminal the next morning, if you ask, the staff will show you where you can park overnight. We had had a hectic night that started when we returned to the van on the car deck. Our dogs (probably just Lottie) had been spooked by something. She had wet on a pillow, ripped our dirty washing bag apart, and tried to eat her way out of the van through the floor. There is a tiny lounge on the ferry for those travelling with pets but its quite small and trying to keep our two calm with other dogs all around for three hours or so would have been wearing to say the least, they have managed 12 hours on a ferry before without incident. Still we cleared it all up and by eight o'clock the next morning we were on the way to Morecambe where we intended to spend half a day.
It rained off and on the whole time we were there but Morecambe was a place we really wanted to see so we stuck it out cheerfully. We worked our way along the front paying at every car park but it was still worth it. We breakfasted at a car park next to an ornamental fountain that an engineer was trying to get working, there was a height barrier but it was open, so we watched the fountain going up, in between the rain coming down
The Midland Hotel has just been reopened after a lengthy renovation where everything in this art deco hotel was stripped out and replaced with the exception of the art works. There was a car launch going on and we had the dogs with us but we still went in one at a time for a peek. In front of it is a stone pier, at the end, in a former railway building, is a cafe where your dogs are allowed in. So there we were in the dry, enjoying a coffee and the dogs enjoying a complimentary dog chew, on our own, not even any staff, they and the other customers were outside having their fags in the rain.
Dog friendly Cafe
Morecambe bears the scars of its former neglect, so for example right next to the Midland is a disused funfair area soon to be turned into shore side apartments we understand. The next photos show the view either side of the cormorant statue
Near the other end of town there was a restaurant, 'Lubin', that we had been told about; 'a real experience', 'run by two old ladies', 'a bit faded but very cheap'. The main course was potato and meat pie and peas at £2.95 and very nice it was when it eventually arrived. I thought we had put a spanner in their well oiled machinery by repeatedly refusing a pot of tea and by me ordering a starter of soup. As well as the harassed waitress, there was a couple sitting at a nearby table who every so often went to help, she to serve and he to direct the waitress as to who was having what and to dish out cutlery etc, we thought perhaps part of the management, but no they were regular customers who knew what everybody had ordered, which was more knowledge than the lady taking the orders, the waitress, or the unseen kitchen staff had.
No visit to Morecambe could be complete without homage to Eric and a photo by his statue, next to his catch phrases etched in stone and a huge list of celebrities who he and Ernie took the mickey out of in their inimitable way
Bring me sunshine
By now we were in the early afternoon and scarcely had time for a 'Brief Encounter' with Carnforth and didn't get out of the van at Jenny Brown's point as we started to go around Morecambe bay and what was this .... yes sunshine was arriving. By teatime we had arrived at Arnside, by the River Kent which is the top left corner of the Bay. There was still plenty of cloud around but it had gaps in and as we looked West it seemed much brighter unfortunately the photo shows the Kent Viaduct which was looking North East. The rain hadn't finished with us yet but by then we were tucked up in a pub car park and tomorrow was set to be glorious.
Kent Viaduct Morecombe Bay
12th day - 34 coast miles
Link to IOM guidebook https://www.iomguide.com
LInk to Part 4b Coast Part 4b 2008