WE British have always had a fascination and a love affair with classic sea side resorts like Southport.
Ever since the Victorians ‘took the air’ and promenaded in their finery along the pier, holidaymakers have flocked to Southport to enjoy its charms and bracing sea air.
As a child I was a regular visitor, staying then at a three-storey guest house in the town’s Seabank Road, just a short walk from the elegant shopping centre of Lord Street and the childhood pull of the colourful fairground rides near the beach.
On a recent three-day visit, my friend and I upped the accommodation stakes somewhat and enjoyed a fabulous stay at the recently opened four-star Ramada Plaza Hotel, overlooking the town’s Marine Lake. Celebrity couple Wayne and Colleen Rooney have been among its guests. They celebrated Valentine’s Day at the hotel.
Opened last October the hotel is ideally situated for a visit to Southport, just two minutes from Lord Street and within easy distance of everything else Southport and the surrounding area has to offer.
The opening of the hotel is just one part of a multi-million pound improvement plan for Southport, and with more revival and refurbishment on the way, things are definitely on the up for this popular resort.
Although I recognised parts of the town from years ago, it is obvious that the local council has great plans to keep Southport at the forefront of the tourism industry. I was delighted however to see my old fairground favourite, the colourful cocks and horses carousel, had survived and now had pride of place under cover on the seafront.
Our three-day stay saw us enjoy many of the attractions which make Southport and the surrounding area such a popular destination.
If you intend to visit Southport in the future, make sure you set aside a morning or an afternoon to visit the nearby village of Churchtown, regarded by many as the ‘original Southport’. This pretty village which its chocolate box shops and thatched cottages is home to numerous small boutiques and specialist shops, and is designated as a conservation area.
Close by is Southport Botanic Gardens, the classic Victorian gardens which are rich in history and renowned for beautiful floral displays. Ideal for a family visit, the gardens also include an aviary, a Victorian fernery, local history museum, a cafe and play area, all guaranteed to provide an interesting afternoon out.
Back in Southport itself, the traditional seaside pier is always worth a visit, especially if you want a walk out over the beach to feel the benefit of some bracing sea air. Alternatively you can catch the tram which transports visitors to the end of the pier and the unique amusement arcade and cafe.
The amusement arcade operates with the use of old pennies which can be used in an assortment of machines dating back many years. Traditional old one-arm bandits sit along fortune telling and other novelty machines, including puppets, Sooty and Sweep and much more.
Popping the old pennies in the old machines is fascinating, particularly when the fortune teller predicts your future. It’s amazing to think these old machines have been providing fun and games for thousands of visitors to Southport over the years.
Although much of the seafront has already been upgraded, there is still work to do and plans are on-going to create further development around the Marine Lake with proposals including state-of-the-art botanical gardens, more attractions, an artificial beach and a new multi-million pound cultural centre.
One of the main attractions of Southport is the Lord Street shopping area, often referred to as the ‘Paris of the North’.
This is a great place to stop a while, browse the shops or watch the world go by from the comfort of one of the many coffee shops. During our stay we enjoyed lunch at the V-Cafe and Sushi Bar, part of the new Vincent hotel complex on Lord Street. Apparently this is a place for celebrity spotting with both Manchester United and Liverpool footballers being regular visitors.
We enjoyed a fabulous lunch and saw that many diners were opting for one of the restaurant’s top selling dishes, Japanese sushi.
In the evening we also enjoyed a glass of wine at Vincent’s adjoining bar area after being rather disappointed to find another wine bar, The Wine Cellar, closed, which had recently been created underground in the town’s former public toilets!
After looking forward to seeing how this rather unusual transformation had taken place, we made a mental note to visit next time we stop over in Southport.
Our celebrity spotting continued the morning after however when we resumed our retail therapy along Lord Street and surrounding streets and arcades. Stopping off for a quick latte, we glanced around the coffee shop to see former Coronation Street star Jean Alexander (aka Hilda Ogden) enjoying coffee with some other ladies.
Southport is a great town with much to offer the holiday maker. With a slightly unconventional layout compared to other seaside resorts, Southport has three distinct areas: the Lord Street shopping area, the Marine Lake and promenade area, and the beach, dunes and coastal woodland area which stretches for miles to include Ainsdale and Formby, and is home to some endangered species including the natterjack toad, red squirrel and sand lizards.