Crosby Beach: art meets industry meets wildlife

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Mhairi Gordon-Preston enjoys a day out at Crosby Beach – the home of ‘Another Place’, the sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist, Antony Gormley

I have a regular ‘day at the beach’ appointment with two friends who also love wide-open spaces, birds, sea life and a bit of fresh air. Our latest outing was to Crosby beach, on the Lancashire/Merseyside border.I caught the train to Waterloo Mersey station, leaving just a quarter of a mile walk down South Drive to the Front. The town is a little rundown between the train station and the Front, but don’t let that fool you. This is still a pleasant, interesting, and public transport-accessible day at the beach.

Crosby Dunes, facing town

As you head for the Front, be sure to look down the tiny side streets – the little, colourfully painted cottages could be in Cornwall, or Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

The Front has a long, lovely row of 18th and 19th century villas and cottages, prettily painted in bright pastels from sky blue to daring lilac. Some have gorgeous ironwork balconies, while others have a taken a more pragmatic approach to the climate of north west England and opted for glassed-over porches.

Before you get to the actual beach you’ll reach the landscaped gardens, which contain the only benches we spotted for miles, so you may want to have your packed lunch here before you hit the beach! Walk between the gardens, to pass along the two marine lakes.

The day I was there, the lake on the left had intrepid kayakers on it and a lone diving cormorant. The one on the right housed swans, Mallard and tufted ducks and plenty of gulls. Looking to your left, you can’t avoid the impressive sight of the giant cranes and wind turbines at Seaforth Docks.

The dunes now rear ahead of you, luckily there’s a path cut through them and then you’re on the Promenade. If you’re a cyclist or don’t like hills, you’ll love the Prom – virtually flat for miles, all the way to Formby – 8 miles north – and beyond.


Beautifully weathered driftwood


Here you start to see the 100 cast-iron life-size figures that make up Another Place, Anthony Gormley’s intriguing sculptures. (Gormley is also the creator of the arguably more famous Angel of the North.) Now beautifully weathered, the figures stand gazing over the Irish Sea, from the Prom to almost 1km out to sea. But it’s only as you walk along the beach and are accompanied for quite a while by the iron men, that you get a full appreciation of the scale of the work.

If you’re a dog-lover, it’s good to know that dogs on leads are fine on the Prom and the beach, and many people walk their dogs along the Prom. If it’s a windy or cold day, bring a coat for your dog – otherwise your poor dog will soon envy all the local ones with their long, thick fur!

As you head along the beach, you may well see an RNLI vehicle. This is because Crosby Beach is riddled with soft silt and sand, so it’s too dangerous to be a bathing beach. Signs advise you to stay within 50m of the Prom, which is fine; as you within that you can still enjoy a paddle at the higher tides, or see lots of seashore life at low tides.

We spotted many whelk egg cases, and the famous Mermaid’s Purse: a ray egg case. There’s also lots of pretty driftwood, many shells, a few picturesque tangles of bladderwrack seaweed, and so on. All are best enjoyed in situ, as the sea recycles all her life forms. We saw a few wading birds including godwits.


A Mermaid’s Purse

What else can you do?
You can continue walking along the beach up to Hightown, Formby (where there’s a National Trust red squirrel reserve) or even Ainsdale (about 14 miles, with dunes that are chockfull of rarer wildlife).

Or if you’ve had have enough of being on the beach, return to South Drive. Then walk to the top-end past the train station and via the park (about a mile) to enjoy the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, where you can feed the ducks. This more easterly end of the town has a higher tone with ritzier shops and restaurants.

On the train back home, I enjoyed views of the derelict docks and warehouses in north Liverpool and beyond. If you’re only familiar with the wonderfully-converted Albert Docks, but like your Industrial Age architecture more rough’n’ready, you’ll enjoy these. I plan to take a trip there with a camera. Most convenient station is Sandhills, on the Merseyrail Northern Line.

Getting there and practicalities
I travelled by London Midland train on the Birmingham route that stops at Crewe, to Liverpool South Parkway. Then changed onto the Mersey Rail Northern line heading north. I got out at Waterloo, as that has the shortest walk to Crosby Beach. From central Liverpool, it takes about 22 minutes, Mondays-Saturdays the trains run every 14 minutes. On Sundays, they are every 30 minutes.

Turn left out of Waterloo train station; the Front is about quarter of a mile down one straight street – you can see it from the station. I opted to cycle to my local train station, but if you buy in advance, you can get what’s known as a PlusBus addition to your ticket, which gives you very cheap bus travel at your starting point, and also at your destination if you want it. Many train companies allow you to take your bike on the train for no cost, but most require you to book that in advance.


Three figures from Anthony Gormley’s Another Place gaze out to sea, © Bana Elzein


My two companions both travelled from further north in Lancashire. One lives on the border of Merseyside, and got a Saveaway ticket that enabled her to use all trains and buses within Merseyside, plus the ferry ‘cross the Mersey, for a very reasonable price. The second opted to drive, parking on Marine Crescent at the Front, there’s also parking in Hougomont Avenue (east of the train station).

Toilets are across the road from the train station, to the left of the bus stop, you’ll need 20p. For those with kids who don’t need to go, but then do need to go five minutes later, you’ll be relieved to learn there are more loos at the Crosby Lake Adventure Centre – turn left as you hit the Front and look for an attractive, contemporary building made of driftwood-coloured wood and glass (no dogs allowed.) There’s also a bistro here and overnight accommodation. Water sports can be arranged through the Centre.

There are plenty of cafés and pubs along South Drive, but none on the Front. So if you want to buy food or drink, do so there unless you plan a sit-in meal at the Adventure Centre. None of the cafés and pubs we tried allowed dogs.

If you do opt to go further along the beach to Formby or one of the other coastal towns, there are very regular Merseyrail Northern Lines train stations all the way to Southport, so you don’t have to walk back.


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