We dawdled getting out for our Boxing Day walk so that by the time we arrived at Leasowe for a stroll along the embankment, the predicted weather front was closing in perceptibly from the southwest. Behind us, Liverpool and the coast to the north still shimmered in the last of the morning’s sunshine, but ahead, dark, lowering clouds loomed over the Dee estuary and Wales.
We had begun the walk at Leasowe lighthouse, a striking structure that was actually erected in the early 19th century, though it bears a date stone that reads 1763, when the first lighthouse on this site was built. The older date stone was incorporated into the present building when it replaced the earlier one in 1824.
We decided to walk along the concrete embankment, rather than follow the path that runs just behind it, since the ground is so muddy and waterlogged after the persistent rain of recent weeks. The name ‘Leasowe’ is Anglo-Saxon in origin and means ‘meadow pastures’. Much of the ground on the landward side is below sea level, and is the reason why the embankment was constructed by the Corporation of Liverpool in 1829. Most of the low-lying land would be submerged by high spring tides, and there was always the threat that the sea would permanently break through the coastal belt of sandhills. The original embankment has been extended and strengthened several times since 1829.
In Birkenhead’s Williamson Art Gallery, there’s a painting by Harold Hopps of the embankment as it appeared in 1908 (above). Rebuilt three times since then, today’s concrete structure looks a lot less attractive than the one portrayed by Hopps, who has included Leasowe Lighthouse on the right, and New Brighton Tower in the distance.
But, if you raise your eyes from the concrete and look out to sea, this becomes a place of wild beauty. In the winter months these sand banks are renowned for the large flocks of sea birds and waders – migrants passing through, or residents – that flock along the tide line. The air echoed to the clamour of oystercatchers, while cormorants stood sentinel on the embankment marker posts. We stood and watched flocks of seabirds wheel and turn above the waves in constantly shifting patterns like filigree lace.
Approaching Meols, we felt the first drops, and before soon the rain enveloped us. We turned for the car, as the turbines continued to turn offshore. Ahead, across the water that gleamed in the fading light, stood the derricks and cranes of the North Docks and the massive hulk of the Anglican cathedral, and beyond that, the distant shadow of Parbold hill.
The rain set in for the rest of the day, soaking ground that is already saturated from weeks of drenching. In Sefton Park, every time it rains now, water pours off the fields and down the bridleways, or stands in pools and boggy marshes.
Home, then, to festive food and cheer, our spirits raised by DVDs of Bringing Up Baby (relishing ‘the speed and timing of Grant and Hepburn, as well as their goofy, lopsided humanity‘) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film that passed me by completely in 2011.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel manages to avoid most of the potential pitfalls of a comedy about a retirement destination in Jaipur to be both entertaining and well acted (the cast does, after all, include Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire, who plays Sonny, the exuberant and optimistic owner of the crumbling former luxury Marigold Hotel). At its heart is a generous humanity and optimism, summed up in Sonny’s words: ‘In India, we have a saying — everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.’
Outside, the rain has not yet ended.