There’s more to the Fylde coast than Blackpool. Lytham St Annes, just round the corner, has genteel charms of its own all linked via the National Cycle Network.
Seagulls gather around the hole in the ice on the village pond like latter-day locals around the parish pump. It’s midwinter – the last day of the Christmas holiday, to be precise – and I’m bound for the seaside on a post-gorging purge. My route starts a little inland at picturesque Wrea Green. And what a vast green. It includes one football pitch and could take another at a pinch.
Loins ungirded on such a raw day, I set off down country lanes and pass a flock of migrating geese in v-formation and a group of club cyclists both heading in the opposite direction. I wonder if they know something that I don’t. The only break in the slate grey sky is a letterbox of streaked orange hovering above my destination, Lytham St Annes.
On the outskirts of the town I cycle along the traffic-free and wooded Green Drive – although its all brown today. I then pick up the signs for Route 62 of the National Cycle Network which take me through a modern housing estate along what is effectively the back lane of the town. Today must be National Car Cleaning Day. I’ve already past two golf courses before I come to the course they all look up to – home to the famous Royal Lytham St Annes Golf Club. The clubhouse is relatively small and unassuming with a separate ‘ladies entrance’. Some of the new neighbouring houses mimic the clubhouse but equally the clubhouse looks vaguely residential to start with. Buried in suburbia, it’s hard to imagine that Tiger Woods and co will be massing here in July next year for the Open, a tournament the course last staged 10 years ago.
Continuing north I pass the Ansdell Institute and Public Hall, a grand Edwardian edifice built from light and dark orange brick. The first sign of the coast is the sand – not on the beach but scattered around the streets and pavements, a residue from gritting which followed the snowfall before Christmas. Even when I reach the road along the seafront I am denied beach views by dunes but push the bike up one of two of them for a peek. The tide is out and the sand seems to go on forever. The first open view of the shore comes at the pier which reminds me of the golf clubhouse. I decide to pass on the ice cream and don’t go down the pier as the entrance is through an amusement arcade and even I can’t push my bike through one of them without feeling somewhat conspicuous.
A little further along the miniature golf course, complete with bunkers, looks great fun. You don’t have to be rich or famous to say you’ve played golf at Lytham St Annes. The carvery appeals as well but, with too few hours of daylight to endulge in a long feed, I press on to a cheap and cheerful beach café. “Would you like your coffee milky?” I’m asked while trying to make myself heard over the hubbub of conversation and clatter and hiss of operations behind the counter. Ah, this is my sort of place, I think to myself before tucking into a fry-up next to a giant Father Christmas.
I leave the road to follow a cycle path circuiting Fairhaven Lake. The clock on the mock Tudor boathouse is stuck at two minutes past four and the whole town is lodged firmly in the 1920s when the lake was created. If you like bowling or boating this is the place to be – on a warmer day. Some 250,000 migrating wildfowl also come here every winter – including those geese I spotted earlier, I suspect. They feed up on the organisms living in the mud before continuing their epic journeys. The visitor centre tells how Arctic tern clocks can clock up 25,000 miles per breeding season and the black-tailed godwit winters here before heading back to Iceland to breed. Suddenly the exertion I’d put in to reach this point and my wimpiness about the cold are put firmly into context.
Lytham St Annes is actually two towns: St Annes-on-Sea and, conjoined to the east, Lytham. Straddling both of them is Granny’s Bay which sounds suitably old fashioned. As you pass from one to the other so the shore changes from sand to mud and the mood goes upmarket. Lytham is where the Victorian mill owners used to holiday and its broad, long green reminiscent of the Strays in equally posh Harrogate, sets the tone for the district. The focal points of the green are the pristinely restored windmill and old lifeboat station.
As I continue the sun puts in a brief, shy appearance. Only just breaking through the mottled clouds and reflecting in the mudflats, the rays create a pattern like a light shining through a frosted pane of glass. It’s hard to see the joins between the sky, the Ribble Estuary and the Irish Sea.
After a short section of the main road I head back inland. After the bustle of the seafront it’s nice to be alone again and getting up some decent momentum on peaceful lanes back to Wrea Green. A sign on the pump declares that Wrea Green won the best kept village competition – in 1959 and three times in the 1960s. Clearly the locals consider this an achievement to be proud of. On a final nip around the green I pass a lady planting bulbs in old beer barrels outside a thatched building that was the old bank and for a moment kid myself that spring is just around the corner. Telling another story the lights on the Christmas tree outside the church opposite sparkle a little brighter in the gathering pre-dusk gloom.
Going to the coast out of season has been like calling briefly on a friend that you know you’ll see lots more of later. In the end, even in winter, I did like to be beside the seaside.
Distance: 18 miles.
Time: 2 hours.
Leave Wrea Green signed to ‘Lytham 4’ on the B5259. Pass over the level crossing at Moss Side. After 3½ miles, as you enter Lytham and just before a roundabout turn right down Green Drive. From this point start following the blue signs towards St Annes on National Cycle Network Route 62. At the end of the drive turn immediately left down Park View Rd. Just after a school and opposite the junction of Wykeham Rd turn right to follow a short cycle track past a playground and BMX track and over a footbridge to emerge on Balham Rd. Turn left then right down South Park and, at the end, left onto Forest Drive. At a t-junction with the Blackpool Rd turn right briefly (Route 62 unsigned here) then first left after the church. Keep following the signs (which reappear at this point) past the golf club and over two crossroads staying on St Patricks Rd. At the end turn left onto St Leonards Rd, go over the railway then turn first right down Caryl Rd. At the end turn left down Highbury Rd. At the junction with the A584 turn left then, just after the North Beach car park, turn right down Todmorden Rd. Keep following the promenade past the pier and miniature golf course. After the Lawrence House sports ground turn right into St Pauls car park. Proceed to the end towards a brazier then pick up a traffic-free cycle path around the lake. Stay on the path to pass the windmill. Eventually, you reach the A584 again. Turn right and proceed for about a mile then turn left down Lodge Lane initially following signs for Route 62 to Kirkham. At a t-junction in Kellamurgh turn left to follow the Lancashire cycle way sign back to Wrea Green.
Pubs and grub:
The Hole in One pub, Forest Drive, Lytham, FY8 4QF. Tel 01253 730598.
Beach Terrace Café, South Promenade, Lytham St Annes, FY8 1NW. Open every day of the year. Tel 01253 711167
Salters Wharf Toby carvery, South Promenade, Lytham St Annes, FY8 1LS. Tel 01253 713365.
Fairhaven Lakeside Café, Inner Promenade, Lytham St Annes, FY8 1BD. Tel 01253 734527.
The Birley Arms, Kellamurgh, PR4 1TN. Tel 01772 679 988. The Grapes (Chef & Brewer), Wrea Green, PR4 2PH. Tel 01772 682927.
Bike hire: Apple Bikes, St Annes. Tel 01253 725349.