My First Time at a Northwestern Beach!

I’ve been spending over half of my time at Liverpool since autumn 2016 while I complete my studies at university here, and one thing I had never managed to do in that time was visit a beach up here. Well, no more! Last Monday, I and two housemates hopped on a train to Formby Beach.

We actually hopped on two of the same train, in the end – we didn’t realise that you have to go one stop further than Formby, to Freshfield, to get to the beach at first… the nice man at the station told us we were one stop short!

The beach was about a kilometre’s walk from the station, which was pretty much in one straight line down the road, and then we walked in through the National Trust entrance. We hadn’t really looked up what was at the beach before going, having heard by word of mouth that it was good, so it was a nice surprise to find out how much forestry there was around it.

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The photo above was from the side of the car park. It was a beautifully sunny day, which was a bit of a surprise – it was far warmer than the forecast had predicted! On the opposite side of the car park to these trees, however, there was an ice cream van situated by a sign pointing towards the beach. After a quick stop for my friends to grab an ice cream each while I took photos, we dutifully ambled past the sign and into the trees.

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It turned out we took quite the nature walk before arriving at the beach! There weren’t really any signs once you got into the forest, although after about ten minutes, we did find a fallen tree by the side of the path, on which was painted ‘BEACH’ with an arrow pointing to the left. With my friends busying themselves with their ice creams, they basically followed my lead as I assumed that as long as I followed the fence, we’d probably arrive at the beach at some point…

… and then I got Google maps out when they lost faith in my leadership. But we were going the right way! We just needed a little assistance at the end.

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We emerged from the trees into a series of sand dunes, which I won’t lie, got me a bit excited. As a former geography student whose field trips were largely situated on beaches with sand dunes, it had been a while! I got very picture-happy and sort of rushed off ahead, both in search of the actual sea and just because I felt like it. My friends did decide to call me Dora (the Explorer) for the rest of the day, though…

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In the distance, we could see the wind turbines from the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm. I know some people don’t like them, but I really do – both because of the clean energy they produce, and because I think they look quite serene. They could definitely have designed uglier turbines, that’s for sure.

We’re fairly certain the land mass we could see in the distance to the left, some distance behind the wind turbines, was Wales, and according to the GPS on my phone, we were actually directly across from Dublin. (Couldn’t see it, of course, but it was nice to know.)

We put our towels down on the flat sand at first to eat lunch, because we were all really hungry by then, but we were on the north west coast of England, so there was a fair amount of wind chill! So, once we’d eaten with the sea view in front of us, we retreated back into the dunes so we were protected from the wind a little more.

At this point, none of our phones had any signal, which was a bit of an odd sensation considering we weren’t that far from civilisation. But seeing as we’re all arts and humanities students, we’d all packed a book each to take with us, so we spent a good few hours switching between reading and chatting (and, in my case, wandering up and down the dunes).

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Around half four in the afternoon, we decided we probably ought to start heading back from the beach in order to find food. We weren’t exactly sure on which direction we had come from, so we proved just how youth-in-the-21st-century we were and had to rely on the GPS telling us which direction we were facing while I led us to the car park – at which point, we discovered a far easier route to/from the beach than the one we’d taken! But what’s life without a bit of adventure?

All in all, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected from my first time visiting a northwestern beach in England. I had harboured suspicion that there’d be more touristy shops like the ones you’ll find at many south coast beaches, where you can get buckets and spades etc., but I suppose that’s unlikely at a National Trust reserve! And I’d also expected rather worse weather and rougher tides, though I’m sure on a day with worse luck that’s probably what you would find… What actually happened was that I got very sunburned feet.

So that’s that! I leave you with this: it turns out northwestern beaches in England can actually be far more pleasant than you might expect, and never put your sun lotion on while wearing socks unless you’re 100% certain you won’t be taking the socks off.

A Day in Haworth!

On Friday 17th November, a friend and I rolled sleepily out of bed and walked down to university, where we got on a minibus which would take us to Haworth, Yorkshire. It was a trip with the English society, because the main tourist attraction in Haworth is, of course, the Brontë Parsonage.

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I’ll confess now that I’ve only actually read Jane Eyre, and the first time I didn’t even like it all that much (it improved on second reading, many years later). But the Brontë sisters are undoubtedly famous, so it was a good opportunity to take. The parsonage is a good couple of hours away from the Liverpool, so we didn’t get there until around midday. It was raining most of the way there, but by the time we eventually stopped, it was just a bit gloomy, weather-wise (the irony was not lost on us).

So our first stop was getting our tickets to the parsonage! The student tickets cost around £6 (I think the standard adult ticket was £7-8), and apparently they stay valid for a whole year. I don’t know when I’d get the opportunity to go back within a year, but it’s still cool.

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We decided to go around the parsonage before finding something to eat. The house itself had quite a few rooms – it was modest, which I guess you would expect. This year the parsonage has been promoting the story of Branwell Brontë (the brother, if you’re not familiar… I wasn’t), but next year is the celebration of Emily Brontë’s 200th birthday, and the museum has something rather special in mind.

The above photo is one of what will be a unique, handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, in a tribute to her as the original manuscript is lost. Curated by Clare Towmey, visitors to the parsonage can take the opportunity to write one line each in the manuscript, and then it will be exhibited at the museum all of next year.

The session to write in the manuscript happened at 4pm on the Friday I went, and while our trip had split up into our various groups basically as soon as we got off the minibus, it was amusing to see all of us pool into the house at about ten to four, eager to take part. To tell the truth, it did feel very strange to sit in the Brontë house, writing in a Brontë manuscript. My line was “by my employer. Hareton would not open his fingers, so I”, but again, I haven’t actually read it so it doesn’t actually mean anything to me. Don’t worry, it’s on the to-read list…

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In between our two trips to the house, I spent some time wandering up and down the high street, mostly just to take photographs. My Instagram is soon to be filled with them. It’s a very pretty place, and clearly takes pride in its Brontë legacy with the amount of references to it and merchandise sold to do with it.

More of our time, however, was spent in the graveyard behind the church by the parsonage. Now, my mum has always liked graveyards, as morbid as it may be, and I’ve never really understood it – but we thought we’d see if we could find the Brontë graves. We were very much unsuccessful, for reasons to be explained, but while we were there, loitering, a man approached us and asked if we would like to help wind up the church clock.

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Figuring hey, why not – we had time to kill, after all – we agreed. Now, you know those doors on the sides of churches that look really small and old, and you walk past them and vaguely wonder if anyone ever actually uses them? It turns out, yes! The man opened the tiny door and led us up what has to have been the narrowest set of stone spiral stairs I have ever come across. They were so narrow that there was a rope hanging from top to bottom for the express purpose of semi-dragging yourself up so you didn’t tumble back down.

We emerged into a small room with a high ceiling, where the man lifted a long ladder and placed it against a balcony, where the clock mechanism is (as you can see below).

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It was a few minutes to three at this point, so we hurried (albeit unsteadily) up the ladder so we could watch as the clock turned three and set the bells off. I’ll admit, it was actually really interesting to see the mechanism go. The man was telling us about the history of the clock tower, and how the clock mechanism had been working since the late 1800s, when it was installed.

Winding the clock turned out to mean winding three separate parts of the clock, one at a time. When you wind it (using some form of crank that attaches to the mechanism), the ropes pull up these ginormous weights – and I mean ginormous. The first one must have been over a metre long, almost a foot thick, and completely solid metal. The other two got progressively smaller, but winding them up was honestly a bit of a workout. The whole process took around 40 minutes.

We signed a book afterwards, which it appears people have been doing for quite a long time, to say that we’d been there – we were also showed the time when a member of Japanese royalty signed the book in 1999, and then on the next page, a few Japanese tourists did it and, according to the man, were thrilled to realise that the royalty had been there only a short while before them.

 

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All in all, my day in Haworth was pretty great. I definitely didn’t expect to end up in a clock tower or writing in a Brontë manuscript! Plus, the trip would have been totally worth it for the photography opportunities anyway. And hey, maybe my mum’s right and good things do come from hanging out in graveyards.

Katy x

A Day in London: Lenin’s House, Greek Artefacts, Westminster Abbey!

One of the (admittedly very limited) perks of where I live is how fast you can access London while not actually living inside it. So when a friend texted me saying she had a ticket returning from London that she needed to use, and suggested a day together in London, I was all for it. To stick to our budgets, we planned the day in advance and had a list of things we wanted to see which went in a convenient line towards the Thames.

We were considering looking around the Platform 9 3/4 shop as our first stop, seeing as we would both be arriving at King’s Cross within minutes of each other, but as it’s the summer holidays, there was quite the queue going on. How I miss the days when it first arrived, and even when the trolley sticking out of the wall first arrived, and you could look around with no problems… Alas, those days are long gone. (Unless you arrive at King’s Cross around midnight after seeing a show at the West End on a Thursday night, in which case it’s usually deserted and you can take photos no problem. I’ve done this many times.)

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So, our first stop was the British Library. Neither of us had visited it before, and while you can’t see much of it without being a member, the atrium was pretty cool, and the shop was really good. A lot of the books they had on display at the front of the shop were to do with the 1917 Russian Revolution and the years afterwards, as they are currently running an exhibition on it.

There were some really ornate copies of the books as well; one of my favourites was this copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Once we’d spent a good half an hour or so having a nosy around and buying postcards and the like, we headed for our second destination of the day: the British Museum. We had travelcards, so we could have just saved ourselves the time (and the rain) by hopping on the bus or the tube, but if you’re having a leisurely day in London, why miss out on the sights? Plus, I’d brought my new camera with me and was determined to get some good shots, like this one of the Bloomsbury Coffee House:

And this one of Ghandi in Tavistock Square (a place which I had never heard of but hey-ho, that’s what exploring is for):

Not to mention that we also found, rather by accident, the former residence of Vladimir Lenin, who had spent a brief time living in London a few years after the 1905 Revolution. We found this rather fitting, considering the exhibition we had just left. It looks surprisingly humble, sandwiched between a B&B and what is now Albany Hotel. I would definitely recommend blue-plaque-spotting in London, even just for the amusing ones – two doors down from Lenin’s was Jerome K Jerome, an English writer with just a great name.

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Some considerable time later, we arrived at the British Museum. I’ve been there a few times before over the years, though not recently. We mainly just wanted to see the Greek and Roman galleries while we were there – after all, you can take history students out of the classroom and all they’ll do is find the history in the real world. Who isn’t at least slightly curious about those two ancient civilisations anyway? I won’t bore you with all the photos of the galleries, just the highlights:

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(You may notice, as I have, that a lot of the artefacts in the British Museum are either headless, limbless, or torso-less. A lot of the Egyptian artefacts are missing noses. We actually saw a sign in one of the Greek galleries which informed us that the heads of the statues we were standing in front of were in a gallery in Greece. That’s the real definition of being all over the place!)

Our third destination of the day was a particular favourite of mine: Trafalgar Square. I don’t know why I like it so much, but it just always has such a good atmosphere whenever I’m there. It feels a bit like its own little world, to be honest. We didn’t make it inside the National Gallery, but we did find two Pikachus, two floating Yodas, a floating Grim Reaper, and a Mad Hatter (who jumped out at me and made me scream) wandering around, together with a guitar-playing busker. There was also a thumb statue which I’m fairly certain wasn’t there two years ago, when I last visited… Trafalgar Square can be the most bizarre place.

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Time was moving on by this point, so we had to skip the National Gallery in order to make it to somewhere my friend was particularly keen to visit: Westminster Abbey. By the time we left Trafalgar Square, we had actually missed the standard weekday last entry to the Abbey, but on Wednesdays they have half price late entry until 6pm – again, highly recommend. I only have limited photos of Westminster Abbey as photos inside the building are not allowed, but I’ll give you a brief rundown of what’s inside…

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When you get inside, it’s a sort of one-way system. The first object (is object the right word?) of note is the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I, which was about as stately and extravagant as you’d imagine. You can walk all the way around it; it’s in a small room off the main floor. Next is Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, which includes the RAF Chapel and Battle of Britain window. On the other side of the Lady Chapel is the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots, again as extravagant as you’d expect. Then there’s Poets’ Corner, where you can find burials and commemorations of the likes of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.

On the other side of the Abbey, you have Scientists’ Corner, where you’ll find Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. There’s the Grave of the Unknown Warrior and a Sir Winston Churchill memorial, and finally, the Coronation Chair.

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And that’s about all we got up to! When we left Westminster Abbey, we got the tube back to King’s Cross rather than walk all the way back up again. I love days exploring cities like this, I always find things I wasn’t looking for, especially in London. Here’s hoping for many more days like it in the future…

Katy x