Yesterday, 12th January 2008, was to be the start day. The first thing was to get to Southport Pier, from where the actual journey could be said to have started. Getting kitted out took ages, then a bus journey to Southport. But by late morning I was there.
I took this sign outside the Information Centre as a good omen: anything is possible…
Then I got a second breakfast. Eating omelette and chips in the Gallary Grill, reading the Southport Visiter, I pondered the town’s dogged insistence on using unusual spellings. It gives the place a frisson of estrangement, the accumulation of tiny differences that hint that you may be in a different universe. Perhaps that’s it: Southport some kind of mirror universe version of Hove or Eastbourne, and my destination will really be a version of the starting point.
Seeing no queue in Blades barbers, I got a quick #2 crop. This was wasting time, which was a bit vexing – the walk itself is meant to be rambling and leisurely, but I hadn’t started yet. But I figured the reduced weight and wind resistance would help me catch up.
And after that still I didn’t actually start. I bought a map, then decided to toast the start of the walk in the Baron’s Bar, a delightful real-ale fueled haunt in the Scarisbrick Hotel. (Somehow it has escaped the Southport ‘Spell it different’ rule, otherwise it would be called something like the Baran’s Bar or Baron’s Barr.) I like pubs best at odd early hours, as much as I hate them at busy times – I enjoy the unpredictable mix of people and laid-back atmosphere. The pre-noon crowd at the Barons was a nice mix: pensioners drinking whisky and water; bearded men on a real-ale mission; some raffish types who would fit in well on a racetrack – an impression enhanced when someone popped a champagne cork…
I had hoped to drink my toast in something from the Southport Brewery – unfortunately (and unusually) none of theirs were available. So a pint of Foxfield ‘Old Lancashire Pale Ale’ had to serve – appropriate enough for a starting point in Sefton I suppose. (And jolly nice it was too.)
And after that there was no possibility of further delay. I headed for the pier, past the shallow curves of the retail and entertainment zone (don’t want to sound sniffy about it; it’s a much-loved spot despite the ersatz architecture) towards the place and the moment when I would take the first step.