There were once lighthouses at Formby, Bootle and Crosby, although all have been demolished and no traces remain of any of them. I had a different motive for making a detour to Crosby, however.
Since driving past the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley’s contemporary sculpture near Gateshead, I have acquired a love of his work. The beach at Crosby is now the permanent home of Another Place, an installation of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures spread out along the foreshore, stretching about half a mile out to sea. All point in the same direction, looking out to sea, staring at the horizon in silent expectation.
I reached Crosby with the tide far enough out that some of the figures were partially submerged, while others stood firmly on the sand. They have been here since 2005, and I sat down next to one that had barnacles and limpets clinging to its legs up to its knees.
Speaking in 2005, Antony Gormley said the installation was the poetic response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration – sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in Another Place. I have no experience of emigration, but I found being able to walk and sit within the installation profoundly moving. In fact, I would probably conclude that this was the single happiest moment of my adventure.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) July 12, 2015
After an hour or so of quiet contemplation, I set off again, heading north towards Preston. I had arranged to meet up and stay with Simon, an ex-soldier and fellow MS sufferer, who had seen the article about my journey in the Telegraph, and had been in touch to offer me a place to stay. Lytham was 45 miles distant, involving a substantial detour inland to Preston to cross the River Ribble. I followed a route to Preston that took me along a network of narrow canal towpaths, and my sense of balance, already impaired by MS, made the slippery paths through the regular short tunnels a formidable challenge. Some of the towpaths had gravel or paved surfaces, encouraging me to stay off the main road. But for every mile of paved towpath, there were twice as many muddy, unpaved towpaths where progress was almost non-existent.
There have been a number of lighthouses marking the entry to the river Ribble at Lytham over the years, although none exist today. The remains of the most recent, 1906 pile light were washed away as recently as 1985. Apparently, there is a ‘Trinity House approved light’ placed on the tower of the Fairhaven United Reformed Church in the town, so I headed straight for it. It’s a vast, white stone building, almost Byzantine in design, and it’s known locally as the ‘The White Church’. I stared at it from every angle for twenty minutes at least, but I’d be lying if I said that I’d seen the light, either spiritually or from a navigation point of view. I decided that if I took enough photographs of the church, I must by definition have also photographed the ‘Trinity House approved light’. I guess it is perfectly possible that my guidebook was out of date, and that the light has long since been removed.
I met Simon at a beautifully restored windmill at Lytham Green, right on the waterfront. I watched him arrive and limp from his car towards me. It was evident that his MS was more severe, and had progressed further than my own. I suggested a pint at a pub of his choice, but he said that he preferred to drink at home. His army training came to the fore when he offered that he didn’t often go out drinking because, ‘he liked to know where a threat is coming from’.
Simon is a fighter, one of those people who has tried every career from frontline soldier to distributor of alternative health and vitamin pills. Yet despite being determined to give everything a try, he seems somehow a bit rudderless. We discussed various ideas he had for books he had thought about writing, and business ideas he planned to pursue. They each had merit, but I wasn’t sure how committed he was to any of them. He was clearly finding life a bit tough.
The whole family arrived for a pot of tea, and Simon’s mother had baked me a fabulous cake and homemade flapjacks for my journey. I got the impression that she hoped that by meeting me, Simon might spring into action and set off on a jaunt of his own. I liked Simon, and desperately wanted to help him, but I wasn’t certain he either needed or wanted it. MS affects people in a myriad of different ways, and it’s very hard to determine the impact it can have on a person’s physical and mental health. Personally, I am struck down from time to time with the darkest of thoughts and crippling low moods. They are capable of making me shrink away, withdraw from my family, or sit at my desk for hours at a time, completely unable to work. I’ve rarely been able to accept help from other people myself, so I genuinely didn’t know what help or support I could offer someone else. Besides, Simon seemed settled, and had the support of his partner Claire, who was lovely and evidently good for him. Simon was excellent company, and whether he needed help or not, I felt very glad that he had got in touch.