Walk the length of Antony Gormley’s Another Place … to the pub: the Hightown, Merseyside | Liverpool holidays | The Guardian

2022-10-01 23:58:20 By : Ms. Cindy Kong

The iron men dotted along Crosby beach form an ethereal backdrop to this coastal saunter

L ife goes on day after day for the statues standing sentinel on Crosby beach, all of them facing out to sea near the mouth of the River Mersey. Their view is the coming and going of container ships and ferries and the turning of wind turbines. If they could just move their heads a little they could see, as I do, across to north Wales, the Wirral peninsula and, closer, the imposing red cranes of Liverpool docks.

Gradually, time and tide change the statues, and a visitor’s view of them. Water comes in – and partially submerges the 100 cast-iron lifesize figures, modelled on the 6ft 2in frame of their artist, Antony Gormley – and then it recedes. The elements etch their caustic marks just as marine life finds a home on them.

Gormley’s installation, here since 2005, having been in Germany, Norway and Belgium, is called Another Place. It couldn’t be a more apt title for an easy-yet-transportive walk along a section of the 21-mile Sefton Coastal Path that, for me, starts with a short metro ride north of Liverpool city centre to Waterloo.

After a five-minute stroll from the metro, I get a coffee at Waterloo Sunset cafe by the side of Crosby Marine Lake (part of Crosby Coastal Park, which stretches to the estuary of the River Alt at Hightown) and savour the gateway to the walk – through sand dunes that lead me to the beach.

This weekday morning the tide is out, there is unbroken blue sky and the sun shines on to the statues dug in across nearly two miles of a beach that offers sand in powdery, damp and sodden varieties. Gormley’s figures are spaced far apart, some near the shore, others calling you to tramp out to visit them – though official advice is to not stray more than 50 metres from the concrete coastal pathway.

An RNLI 4x4 patrols the beach and, as I watch it pass, its trundle takes my gaze towards the near-constant backdrop to the walk: the dockyard cranes. Their presence meant the city became one of the most heavily bombed areas in the UK during the second world war. The docks’ industrial legacy includes the arrival of imported goods, and musical sounds, that opened Liverpool’s eyes and ears to the world beyond its own beautiful waterfront. But within that heritage lie strikes and the dockers’ dispute of 1995-98. Even today, the recent dismissal of staff by the ferry company P&O means another turbulent moment will be written into the area’s evolving story.

As I walk north along the shore, the cranes make a striking industrial contrast with the beguiling mix of nature: sea, beach, dunes and heathland.

The miles I cover and the time it takes feel irrelevant. The walk becomes about how long I choose to spend amid the statues, which ones draw my attention, how I decide to weave in and around them. The vast beach seems empty, though it’s anything but. I have a feeling of being apart yet connected; far away though part of something compelling.

Finally, the statues come to an end, but I carry on along the beach for another few minutes. Two labradors bound towards me and jump up excitedly.

“Sorry! They’re just happy to be out and on the beach,” their owner says as I cheerfully wipe sandy paw prints off my jacket. He couldn’t better describe my own mood.

A rocky barrier prevents me from walking further and I double back and head for the concrete steps that lead up to the Sefton Coastal Path, so I can continue to Hightown. I wait to walk on as an older couple place their golf balls on the damp sand and use a different kind of iron from that of Gormley. They thwack away and the white balls skid in the direction of the docks – though not as far as either would have liked by the sound of tuts that are louder than the gentle breeze. I’ve walked this route before and “gentle” is rarely on offer, so I feel luckier than the golfers.

At the pathway above the sands, there is a queue at the Honest Coffee van. Lifeguards take the short walk from the HM Coastguard building to a hut with a view across the beach and where a sign displays tide and temperature information. From here the path is a mix of tarmac and cinder and follows the shore, though there is short-but-sharp drop down onto a beach less navigable, as it is strewn with rubble-like rocks.

Heathland and sand dunes dot the view to my right as cyclists and walkers share the path that leads me to a stone sculpture known as The Pebble. A family is having a picnic here, while a few metres away a man sits on a bench; his gaze, like the statues’, is fixed out to the sea.

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I now have the decision all walkers will face here. Follow the waymarked path as it snakes through heath and low dunes and heads for a residential road leading to The Hightown pub? Or would it be better to walk undulating trails through higher dunes for the extra time to be found on a stretch of beach near Blundellsands Sailing Club? The latter delivers a moderately longer walk but, having done both, I find arriving at the welcoming pub after a few extra moments on the shoreline rather more satisfying.

Start Waterloo Sunset cafe Distance 6/6½ miles Time 2½ to 3 hours Total ascent 90 metres Difficulty Easy

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This large family-run, community-focused gastropub – with plenty of outdoor space – was a finalist in the best pub for families category in the 2021 Great British Pub Awards. There’s an elegant dining area, as well as indoor nooks to hole up in. The menu features classics (bangers and mash £9.95, fish and chips £15.95, Irish stew £14.95), pizzas from £10.95 and desserts for £5.95. It’s also dog-friendly.

There are plans for an onsite gin distillery and cabin accommodation later this year. It’s next to Hightown Merseyrail station for an easy return to Liverpool, or for trips north to Formby and Southport. thehightown.co.uk

Minutes from Waterloo Merseyrail station and the start of this walk, the Royal Hotel is a good option if you want to keep the trip local and like accommodation that has a touch of history. The Grade II-listed property dates to 1816 and was originally called the Royal Waterloo Hotel to commemorate the victory of British (and Prussian) forces at the battle a year earlier.

The hotel has 25 en suite bedrooms (singles, doubles, family rooms), some with views of the sea and the Mersey, and the Restaurant 1816 and Duke’s Lounge Bar. It also features the Hougomont Lodge, a ground-floor, wheelchair-accessible double with its own front door. Doubles from £110 B&B, liverpool-royalhotel.co.uk