These photographs were made between Marshside and Ainsdale on what is now promoted as 'The Sefton Coast' of which Jean Sprackland said in Strands;
“Of all the British coastline, this is hardly the prettiest or the most unspoilt: its sands are not the most golden, and there are no rock pools or hidden coves. Neither is it the most dramatic: no pounding surf, no rugged cliffs.”
Central to this unprepossessing stretch of shoreline is Southport, the seaside resort which sometimes feels like it is far from the sea, trying ever so hard to be either brash Blackpool or the more refined St. Annes, both tauntingly visible across the Ribble Estuary, and managing to be neither.
Southport's miles of golden sands are no more. They are shrinking as saltmarsh performs a pincer movement on the town's pier, nature gradually removing one of the resort's former attractions. Heading south the encroaching marsh begins to fade past Birkdale and the Ainsdale shore remains sandy and comparatively wild, the dunes being a nature reserve.
In a romantic mood Sprackland went on to say that this “is a place of big skies and lonely distances, a shifting palette of greys and blues; a wild, edge-of-the-world place.” At low tide on a cold, wet day in winter it can certainly be a lonely place, and the palette is, indeed, limited. Yet it continues to draw people: dog walkers, horse riders, kite-boarders, foragers for coal or shrimp - even lost gold.
Out to sea, on all but the foggiest of days, is the ever present gas rig. No matter where you are along this stretch of coast the rig can be seen, sometimes appearing much closer than others depending on where you are and the condition of the light. A similar effect plays on the wind farm in the Mersey estuary. Southport's pier is an equally unavoidable break in the horizon line when looking north. These are constant reminders of how small this island is and how natural and man-made environments co-exist.
Yet it can still feel as if the shore is the same as it was when people hunted and foraged here thousands of years ago. Except they wouldn't have found plastic balls on the strand line after a winter storm.
A pristine wilderness this is not, but it is untamed and untameable. Which is no doubt why many people continue to be drawn to it during the shortest days.
As a child in the 1960s I was told that the coal which washes up on the Southport beaches was lost overboard from steamships. I now know that it originates from coal seams along the North Wales coast. Regardless of its source local people continue to gather it to fuel their fires, some devising ingenious means to transport their harvest.
Southport's lifeboat service is unusual in that it is run by an independent trust rather than the RNLI, operating both sea and land based search and rescue operations.