Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Morecambe

Our final fan-filled friendly of 2021 was a nice local one at Morecambe. This offered the opportunity to explore our own county town of Lancaster. This was somewhere I had visited pre-season in the past, but never beyond the city’s pubs. That was going to change today.

Already used to stupidly early starts, Lee woke me at 0715. I groggily pointed out that this morning’s alarm was set for 0800 and suggested that Lee use the bathroom before me so I could get more sleep we could get away on time today. When I did eventually rise, I stuck on my Forever FM playlist in a bid to boost my mood for the day. I’ve been struggling with my eyes again this week and knew I needed to wear my glasses today but I just don’t feel confident wearing them. I knew it was the right decision, though, as my eyes were very red and angry this morning. I always thought I was free from dysmorphophobia, but I guess not.

Alexa advised me it was going to be a little cooler today and it would probably rain. I therefore dressed in a my Lancashire rain tee and jeans, resolving to take my Fritidsklader tangerine cagoule, which would protect me from the rain and is also surprisingly warm. I grabbed the (still not empty) bag of Chewems for the journey.

We left at 0900, almost immediately making a late panicked pit stop for fuel (something we have hardly needed for the last 16 months). I then banged on The Lancashire Hotpots by way of revision for tonight’s gig.

The M6 north of Blackpool is a different animal to my usual stretch, down to the West Midlands. It is scenic and has more interesting animals than sheep.

First, we encountered the parrot rescue man, who always makes me smile. I wonder how much trade he gets from escaped parrots and what his success rate is.

First spotted last week en route to Carlisle, the M6 Giraffe is also a nice treat on this stretch of motorway.

Lancaster Services

I am beginning to see the appeal of motorway services. For the past 30 years they have simply been an annoyance, delaying me getting to (or home from) a match to facilitate other people wanting a wee or some food. But Shaun of SAFC Blog fame – who actually has awards for service stations – has encouraged a shift in my way of thinking. After all, I do endeavour to seek joy in the little things in life, so why not service stations?

You may recall from last week’s trip to Carlisle that I was excited to encounter a life-sized Percy Pig in M&S at Lancaster Services – and it was only after I had left that I realised he had a button to press to make him oink.

Today we made a special visit here just so I could press that button. I had been looking forward to it all week.

On arrival, I let the anticipation build further as I coolly circumnavigated Percy in favour of picking up a bottle of ginger beer. Hmm now could I wait until after I’d paid for it before pressing the button? Of course not! I strode over to Percy and took a deep breath before reaching forward to press the button on his trotter.

Nothing happened.

Well, I’m not always great with technology – even doors I can find particularly difficult – so I tried again, pressing a little harder and longer this time.

Nothing happened.

A supportive ‘oink’ might have been nice from Lee at this point, but instead he was doubled over with laughter. I skulked over to the self service checkout and scanned my ginger beer. There might have been a tear shed, if only my eyes had been working properly. Instead they simply stang – as they have been doing for days.

As we returned to the car, I remained determined not to be deterred, despite the world seemingly being against me this morning. We were going to have a Good Day. After all, it was an awayday – and all awaydays are good days (only some are better than others).

Lancaster Maritime Museum

Google Maps was behaving herself today and we were soon parked up behind Lancaster Maritime Museum.

Here we were immediately greeted by a friendly man on the door, who directed us round the fishing boat to make our presence known to the man in the gift shop. I ambled over while Lee stopped to film.

‘Good morning. Ooh you’re well-protected behind there.’

‘Yes – it’s to protect me from all my fans.’

I chuckled.

‘Two for the museum please.’

‘Oh there’s no charge for entry – it’s free. But let me tell you what you can see here today.’

It is delightful to encounter people who love their jobs. It makes for a way more enjoyable customer experience. Our host talked us through a brief history of Lancaster, including its part in the slave trade, which was featured in an art exhibition currently on display in the museum. Our interest piqued, we continued on into the museum.

The Memorial to Zong exhibition – featuring work by Turner prize-winning artist, Lubaina Himid CBE – remembers one particular slave ship.

The Zong was an overloaded slave ship which crossed the Atlantic in 1781. Due to a navigational error, the ship missed its destination in the Caribbean and had to spend an extra three weeks at sea. Drinking water was growing short and sickness had spread among the enslaved Africans and crew. Approximately 131 enslaved people were thrown mercilessly overboard to their deaths, so that the merchants could claim insurance money on the slaves as ‘lost cargo’.

Shocked, we resolved to learn more about the slave trade on our visit to Bristol next week.

Today we also learned about the history of knot-tying.

And of course – as we were heading to play The Shrimps this afternoon – we learned about shrimping.

I don’t think Garfield has anything to worry about.

Having visited a few museums in recent weeks where the interactive elements were curtailed owing to COVID, we were delighted to find an active ‘dressing up corner’ here. We took full advantage, dressing up for photos.

At the final display – a fisherman’s house – I squealed with delight as I saw there was a button to press to hear a fisherman’s story. I scampered off to find Lee.

‘There’s a button! Come and see!’

Whilst excited, I had a nagging doubt at the back of my mind. Could I face another disappointment today? If this button did nothing, would that tip me over the edge? I pressed it nonetheless. If this button worked, it would make everything ok.

Nothing happened.

I listened really hard. This exhibit was, after all, right by the open door – and there was a lot of traffic noise coming from outside. Nope. Still nothing.

Defiantly, I pressed the button again – more firmly, for longer and then repeatedly.

Eureka! A voice came through the traffic noise. I couldn’t really make out what was being said – the man on the door apologised – that door wasn’t usually in use – but that mattered not: the button worked!

I skipped out of the museum knowing that this was going to be another epic away mission.

Williamson Park

The rain seemed to be holding off, so we continued on to Williamson Park – and boy were we glad we did.

The word ‘park’ simply doesn’t do these landscaped gardens justice. It was simply stunning – and a delightful place to spend an hour or so simply ‘being’. As part of my ongoing mental health management, I know it is important to enjoy nature. Hence why I relocated back from the landlocked West Midlands to the seaside recently. I have always found mental peace by the sea, in the mountains, at lakesides, in forests – and at parks. Here at Williamson Park we were almost immediately greeted with a fountain and a lake. Every turn seemed to reveal a new delight: a waterfall, the remains of an observatory, an open air theatre in the forest.

This transported me back to a school trip to Paris and the Loire Valley, where we went to an open air play about Jeanne D’Arc.

The main focal point of the park – and the city – was the Ashton Memorial, something the man in the museum had mentioned, of which we weren’t previously aware.

You will note this imposing building has a good number of steps – and steps are up there with hills as one of my least favourite things to encounter when out exploring. Nonetheless, in the name of the blog and the video that Lee was filming, we made our way to the top to witness the best view in Lancaster.

That’s Morecambe Bay and the Lake District on the horizon.

The ascent hadn’t actually been too bad. Perhaps those minutes on the static bike were already having an impact.

Now onwards to the Butterfly House. I do like to seek out animals where possible – another source of joy sadly lacking at home since our neighbours fixed their fence and their bowtie-wearing cats no longer come to visit. It was £3.50 entry to the Butterfly House – our first expense of the day, aside from car parking. The butterflies were happily fluttering about – and one even landed on my hand.

The mini zoo also included an aviary and a Mini Beast Cave, which housed frogs, snakes, tarantulas and zebra mice.

Outside we found meerkats!

What a delightful park this was – and how relaxed we now were. I would have happily returned here this evening to enjoy the outdoor theatre in action but we had a prior commitment with The Lancashire Hotpots, so we would perhaps visit another time.

Merchants 1688

Driving through the centre of Lancaster requires some patience but at length we spotted the Pub of Choice, found a car park a short distance away and walked back to the pub.

Merchants 1688 has long since been the Pub of Choice in Lancaster ahead of pre-season matches at Lancaster City, who now ply their trade in the Northern Premier League. With Lancaster being the county town of Lancashire, Lee and I wondered how it came to pass that Morecambe were now the league club – and how Lancaster City fans feel about that.

But I digress. We love Merchants because it has a large outdoor seating area, a good range of ales, excellent grub and…well it just looks cool.

It was the craft beer board that first caught my eye once inside.

But, no – I have resolved to try and eat and drink local on my travels this season. Plus I love – and now value more than ever – cask ale. So lets survey the pump clips for some local stuff.

I had a half of each of the OSB (Warton, Lancashire), Merchants WIPA (Long Marton, Cumbria) and Black Edge (Horwich). On my second visit to the bar – with my beer visa – I did enquire after the Brew By Numbers pina colada, but it was sadly out of stock.

Foodwise, I couldn’t not go for the Lancashire Hotpot, which was every bit as delicious as it looked.

I also acquired a packet of Lancashire Sauce flavoured Lancashire Crisps to take home and stash away in my Naughty Cupboard for consumption when I was having a Bad Diet Day.

We sat in the beer garden, which was hugely popular. Indeed this was the busiest pub I had been in for some time and things were certainly starting to feel ‘back to normal’. I usually do still wear my mask when approaching bars but this is more out of courtesy for others rather than making me feel safer. I didn’t observe many others doing the same here, although I did notice staff masked up.

Bizarrely there was very poor phone signal in the beer garden, so I was unable to conduct my usual pub admin at the time of my visit (token Tweet and beer check-in on Untappd). Karen called me to arrange a pre-match rendezvous (I had her ticket) but, although I could hear her clearly, apparently I sounded like I was in a washing machine. I resolved to call her from the car.

Morecambe v Blackpool

Karen was in JBs Bar at the ground, so we parked up close to the ground and headed there. The bar was pretty busy and as soon as I stepped through the door I found myself amidst a crowd of people larger than I was really comfortable with. I spotted Karen straight away, handed her tickets over and almost immediately retreated to the toilets. I did need to go (again failing to do so before leaving the previous pub – I really must get back into that habit). But I was also keen to remove myself from the big group of people.

As is the norm in a busy pub before a match (I seem to recall), I found myself with not enough time to catch up with everyone I wanted to catch up with. As I was filling Karen in on how I sustained my eye injury, I spotted Don out of the corner of my eye, waving manically at me from the bar. Did I want a drink, he was motioning. I indicated thanks but I was heading off shortly and sadly didn’t have time for a drink.

Within a minute, Don appeared and presented me with a short in a glass.

‘Get that down you. It’ll keep you warm during the match.’

A cursory sniff revealed it to be whisky. Now the last time I drank a whisky before a game, I was woken up by my friend Caroline remonstrating with a steward at Tranmere that I was ok, I’d just had a late night and a long journey. Nonetheless, I had a drink in my hand and there was only one thing for it. After all, Alexa had warned me it was going to be a bit nippy today. I thanked Don and pretty much downed it in one.

Lee began hovering and I realised it was time to leave the bar and head into the ground.

There was a lengthy queue for the terrace – but boy was it worth it. The turnstiles not only worked (unlike at Carlisle last week) – but they talked to you! I had noticed this when we had tried and failed to get in at the turnstile for the seating area. When trying to scan my ticket, it had said something like ‘you’re in the wrong area’. Here, at the correct turnstile, it said something like ‘go straight through’. Honestly, I was so taken aback and so excited that my brain didn’t absorb the actual words. I felt like I was in Star Trek. It was ace.

I wanted a bottle of water but was advised that the queue for the refreshment kiosk was really long. I therefore took my place on the terrace behind the goal. It was really busy and, although I was walking in the direction where I had seen Lee, I had lost sight of him in the crowd, so I found a space I was comfortable in and remained there.

The Blackpool fans were LOUD – and there in their numbers. It felt normal to be in the middle of a vocal crowd again. It had been a very long time since I had experienced this. I also enjoy the solitude of being alone (i.e. not with any particular friends) during a match. I spent many years travelling to matches alone – before the football family formed around me – and I still find it strangely serene. I guess for me it is much like being at the sea or in the mountains or in a park. It’s my happy place where I can simply be.

Morecambe took the lead and, whilst Blackpool were beginning to settle into the match and make a few chances, I opted to head to the refreshment kiosk around 1530. Once upon a time I would have hung on until half time for FOMO reasons – it would have been devastating to me had I missed a goal – but these days it matters far less. Even if I did miss a goal, I could always watch it online later.

The queue for the refreshment kiosk was already long, so I decided to join it before checking out the Ladies. I had been in the queue for ten minutes when I heard someone say it was cash only because the card machine was out of order. Shit! I didn’t have any cash on me. Did I? I rummaged around desperately in my handbag. It is fast becoming cluttered since I have been allowed out into the wild again – surely there would be enough cash for a bottle of water?

Business cards…those Swizzles from Southport that I still haven’t eaten…credit card…Non League Dogs stickers…migraine tablets…CAMRA card…COVID passport…aha!…a tenner! Boom!

At length I got to the front of the queue.

‘A bottle of water please. And a bag of Haribo.’ (Dammit – it just came out).

‘What sort of Haribo?’

‘Er…what are my options?’

‘Cola and Goldbears.’

‘Er…the one that isn’t cola please.’

The lady in the kiosk removed the lid from my bottle of water, which is always somewhat irksome.

I headed back to the terrace and was pleased to discover that the far end was much less populous. En route, I passed Ian, who enquired after which museum we had visited this morning. I then spotted Crossy and remained chatting with him on and off for the second half. I’d had my half of solitude amongst a busy crowd; now this was like the old days, just chatting with a familiar face with fewer people around.

The stewards here today were of the particularly aggressive breed. You could tell from the way they were eyeing the crowd – with those darting prison warder/goalkeeper eyes – that they were looking for trouble. I’d already seen them practically strip-searching fans on the way in (I exaggerate, of course, but it seemed over the top). They just looked like angry bouncers. As one of them doled out bottles of water – with lids on – to the other stewards, it almost felt as though they were taunting us.

‘Yeah – see us with lids on our bottle of water, right? That’s because we’re superior to you. You can’t be trusted with lids, you animals.’

As an away fan, stewards are often the sole face of the clubs we visit. How they treat us can have a big impact on our matchday experience. Compare and contrast our visits to Donny and Rotherham in 2019/20. The stewards have a huge impact on how you feel on arriving at a strange and unfamiliar ground. How are you greeted? Are you welcomed with a cheery ‘good afternoon, sir or madam (or whatever the gender-neutral equivalent is)’? Or are you herded through the turnstiles with a cattle-prod and a whip?

All I can say is, I look forward to the day when the stewards at Morecambe go the same way as the turnstile operatives and are replaced by robots. As a paying customer, I’d much rather be greeted by a polite robot than an angry person.

Dammit even the crash barriers here were not fan friendly. They were rounded so you couldn’t rest your (lidless) bottle of water on them.

Were we even in Lancashire?

Blackpool equalised courtesy of Keshi Anderson (if it was over the line, as it appeared) or CJ Hamilton (who followed it up just in case). Indeed we were a lot more creative during the second half – particularly after the substitutions. Josh Bowler looks like just my kind of player – a crazy, creative terror down the wing. It was he who set up the goal. And Shayne Lavery looks like he’s going to be a right handful up front, chasing everything down with the persistence of…well a hungry striker of whom we have not seen the like in many, many years.

The game ended 1-1. Pre-season is about fitness and not results, etc.

Morecambe Seafront

As this is, after all, a feature on what Morecambe is like as an awayday, after the match we headed to the seafront in search of the Eric Morecambe statue. As we followed Google Maps correct and, on this occasion, direct directions, we passed a funfair and a live music stage on the front. What was going on here, then?

We drove on by and parked up close to Eric before venturing out on foot on a brief exploratory mission. We only had 20 minutes before we needed to be back at the car. Plus we had the Hotpots gig to get home for.

Our first stop was the Eric Morecambe statue. He looked fine and was in a great position, with the Lakes in shot behind him. On the steps leading up to him were emblazoned the lyrics to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. And there was a Comedy Carpet-esque bit at the bottom of the steps with various quotes and facts.

I was already singing along to ‘Turn It Into Love’ by Kylie and we felt compelled to follow the music and find out what all the fuss was about further down the prom.

As we stood outside a wire fence peering through at the stage, I was approached by a steward.

‘Excuse me, madam?’

Shit! What had I done now? Were we going to be run out of Morecambe?

‘You can watch from inside – it’s free.’

‘Oh…thank you so much!’

So this was where the nice stewards had got to…

We stepped inside the perimeter fencing and strode – nay boogied – towards the stage. This was ace! I was so glad we had decided to check out Morecambe before we left.

Lee’s feet were taking him in the direction of the bright lights of the fair. You can take the man out of Blackpool… We spotted a Ghost Train but resolved that would probably be rubbish (basing this judgement entirely on the one at Skeggy Pleasure Beach being incredibly disappointing). But then one ride caught Lee’s eye.

‘I remember that ride from years ago! Every time I hear the song that was playing at the time I remember this ride.’

‘Do you want to go on it?’

‘Yes!’

The ride was exhilarating and happily I didn’t feel sick afterwards.

We really needed to get back to the car now.

‘Ooh a hot doughnut van!’

‘Do you want some?’

‘Yes!’

We stopped and chatted with the friendly ladies in the doughnut van.

‘I’ll let her make the doughnuts – I’ve been on the vodka for a couple of hours.’

My eyes remained drawn to the stage, where I now spotted a couple of rainbow flags just as the singer introduced her next number as a Eurovision classic. A lightbulb switched on in my brain.

‘What is all this?’

‘It’s Morecambe Pride & Ride.’

And it was fabulous! It has been years since I’ve been to Pride and I really mustn’t leave it so long until the next time.

We scoffed our delicious doughnuts on the walk back to the car (taking care to let them cool a little so I didn’t blister my mouth like the last time I had them) and it was now time to be heading home. I was thrilled we had collected some happy memories of Morecambe to take away with us.

Mmm doughnuts…

We called in at Lancaster Services for a comfort break – and to see if there was a Percy Pig on the other side (there wasn’t).

Here’s our video memory of the day:

The Lancashire Hotpots

Back home the day’s entertainment was far from over. At 8pm we were treated to a Lancashire Hotpots gig streamed live into our living room.

We’d had a crisis the night before when we had been unable to locate the Apple TV remote. We only really use Apple TV for watching Ted Lasso (on Friday nights) and for screen mirroring gigs onto the big screen. We’d got round it last night by watching Ted Lasso on the iMac – but we needed big screen action for a gig. We ordered a replacement remote with next day delivery – and mercifully it had arrived today while we were out on our adventures.

And so it came to pass that we spent the night singing Lancashire classics and dancing round the living room in our flat caps. ‘It were a brilliant night’ like always – but, when I found myself doing the actions to ‘Lean Forwards Lean Backwards’ by pressing the buttons on the reclining sofa, I realised it really was time I got back out there to some real life gigs. So I can escape to the bar/toilet as I always used to during the particularly energetic dance tracks. Lazy, moi? Heck I have always been more academic than athletic. There’s no shame in that.

And that, dear reader, was Morecambe away. Next stop Bristol…

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