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In Praise of the Homeland

       Two households: one moving home, the other fancying a couple of shows in London. Therefore we had four granddaughters in the house. Why not go away? – the car has seven seats, after all. So we set off for Garstang (where else?). But first we went to Blackpool. The tide was out, lashing against the sea wall, the waves not fiddling nor small. The girls – Lily (8), Ava (7), Ellie (6) and Sylvie (5) – made friends with a boy called Riley from Manchester whose granddad was fishing, though without material product so far as we could see.

We bought a family tram ticket from a conductor who winked at Sylvie’s age and we went up and down the front, to the South Pier and beyond. The place was humming. We explored the Central Pier and splodged in the sea when the tide finally went out. I was surprised by how many foreign tourists and Asians there were, but I doubt the girls noticed as Ava and Sylvie are of “Asian heritage” themselves.

At the hotel in Garstang they gave us free gifts of (specifically) Lancashire milk and crisps. The former was not of use to us. To eat we made our way, through a dozen miles of quiet backwaters, seeing a hare and llamas and a lot of cows on the way, to the Knott End Chippy where we ate our fish and chips on a bench overlooking a swamp the size of London: Morecambe Bay with the tide out.

Day two: the Lake District. Specifically, Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top Farm. Busy destination surrounded by lovely, limpid green woods and meadows. I had been wanting to take Sylvie in particular, but I’m not sure she likes the idea that Peter Rabbit is made up. The others probably got more out of it. The walk to Jeremy Fisher’s pond was marred by a very sharp shower, but consoled by the sight of a very young calf.

Our trip to Coniston was fraught, buses that should never be there jamming the roads and a shortage of parking spaces which led to Ann defending one with her body. A picnic by the lake and then the peace of the National Trust’s “steam Gondola” touring the lake. The weather was good and getting better so we could watch the cloud lifting off the Old Man and its range. The girls were both bored and happy, a perfectly acceptable condition for grandchildren. And probably Ava wasn’t bored as she followed our progress studiously on the O/S map. We ate “in” that evening; they put us in the posh dining room where the artistically folded napkins were a great hit and it was good that the girls could go straight out onto the golf course to play as the sun was setting.

Day three: after breakfast we drove up to the beige and purple hills of the Forest of Bowland, the roads eerily empty even in this peak season in sharp contrast to those in the Lakes. We stopped at the Jubilee Tower, built in 1887 as a viewpoint. I had a hunch that this would be popular and I sold it as a “children’s castle”; they played Rapunzel and Queen of the Castle. A touch of the educational: it wasn’t the clearest of days, but you could still see reality as a kind of map: Blackpool Tower and the Fylde plain, Lancaster and Morecambe and the Lakes and the Bay, the vast emptiness of Bowland behind us.

Then Lancaster, where we played in the stocks of the grim old castle and ate pies. Finally, of course, back to Blackpool; the lobbying to return had been happening from the moment we left. Another family tram ticket and the expensive killing of time on the South Pier before the tide went out. A man, seeing me with the four girls, gave me six tickets to ride, saying “There you go, mate – you look as if you need them”. We used the tickets and I hadn’t the heart to explain that I’m probably not as poor as I look. By then the tide had gone out and the brave, squealing little lasses were able to immerse themselves in the Irish Sea. Sylvie, who nearly died last year, squeezed my hand and looked up nat me and said, “Grandpa, I really, really love Blackpool.” Before the dreaded motorway we had fish and chips and ice cream.

Apart from a stretch of road in Westmoreland everything was in the historic county of Lancashire, the homeland. There’s nowhere else I’d rather have taken them ‘cos it’s bloody amazing.

Lincoln Allison August 2017