There’s a slice of Victorian England on the sandy coastline of the Irish Sea between Blackpool and Liverpool. Southport’s cornucopia of attractions is an evocative step back in time to the seaside of yesteryear.
None more so than the pier, which stretches out across the endless sands for 1,112 m (1,216 yards). It is Britain’s second-longest, second-oldest such structure and was completed in 1860. You can board a tram to reach the eye-catching modern pavilion at the seaward end. While there, rediscover the innocent charms of a bygone era with more than 50 original penny slot and ‘what the butler saw’ mutoscope machines, hungry for pre-decimal coins (available on site) – for once, not an electronic gizmo in sight.
Where old meets new
On the rare occasion the tide is in, Southport is a restful place to promenade and watch fishermen cast for sole, bass or whiting; look out, too, for the energetic kite-surfers skimming the waves lapping the vast beach.
The landward end of the pier strides over the Marine Lake, a watery expanse where self-drive motorboats test the mettle of visitors – a paddle steamer is a more sedate way to take the sea air. The town’s funfair and model village emphasise the timelessness of the resort, which saw its first hotel in the 1790s, catering for rich tourists enjoying the nearby new-fangled Leeds and Liverpool Canal. It blossomed into a thriving destination when railways from Liverpool, Preston and Wigan appeared in the 1840s.
One distinguished guest who greatly raised the town’s profile was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew, who became Emperor Napoleon III of France in 1852. He spent two years of exile here, among the tree-lined boulevards, and it’s said he had Paris remodelled on this design. One such avenue is Lord Street, at the heart of the town, where tearooms and elegant shops fringe the wide canopied pavements, arcades and colourful flowerbeds.
Horticulture is also lauded at the town’s quirky British Lawnmower Museum and each August sees the internationally-renowned flower show at Victoria Park.
Southport’s fabulous sands saw Henry Seagrave set the world land speed record of 152.33mph in 1926. Nearby, a vast sandhill nature reserve at Freshfield leads to the red squirrel colony in Formby Point’s pinewoods, planted in the 1930s.
It all eventually comes back to the sands. Southport is a happy, family-friendly place of windbreaks and sandcastles, kites and donkey rides, candyfloss, crazy golf and glorious sunsets – the Victorians would surely approve.