Lytham St Annes – a discreet cut above
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There's something quite regal about Lytham and St Annes on the Fylde Coast of Lancashire – and not just the golf club, which proudly carries the word 'Royal' in its title.
The famous links course, venue for the Walker Cup in 2015, is well known to professionals, club players and fans around the world and has hosted no fewer than ten Open Championships, two Ryder Cups and goodness knows how many more events.
The photogenic golfing mecca is a media star in its own right due to extensive sports coverage over the years and even more mainstream TV and showbiz stars live on this stretch of coastline, in mansions and more modest hideaways all the way along its glorious wide beaches and picturesque, precious dunes to the country's summer show capital of Blackpool, where many of them appear.
Lytham and St Annes is just below blousy Blackpool on the map, yet has always been that special cut above, with a certain restrained style and an exclusive 'feel'. And although it boasts more than a whiff of seaside glories of the past, it manages to escape being trapped in a tragic time warp.
The iconic white windmill is the first thing you see as you drive in from the south, towering over the huge expanse of Lytham Green on the wide tidal estuary of the River Ribble, with plenty of space for locals and visitors alike to play football or cricket, throw frizbees and fly kites, stroll or cycle along the wide pathway stretching way off into the distance or just crash out on the grass.
One of the biggest plus points is that the land hereabouts is as flat as a pancake, so you can pedal away to your heart's content and bike all the way to Blackpool and beyond on its magnificent new prom if the mood strikes you, without getting too out of puff.
Part way along the Green and you come to the enduring feature of Lowther Gardens, established back in the late 1800s and upgraded and lovingly cared for ever since, and where you can take a gentle and genteel stroll among the 1,000-plus roses and other blooms or take part in loads of activities, before booking a seat in the theatre to enjoy some top-line productions or guest stars.
Move round the corner from the Lytham heartland towards the St Annes part of the equation and you have the enduring delights of Fairhaven Lake and another raft of things to do, from hiring rowing or power boats to changing into your whites for tennis or bowls or my favourite, watching hand-crafted model boats on the water next to a full-size replica of the Spitfire fighter which was paid for by patriotic locals during the Second World War.
Further on again, past more green open spaces and dunes and you start touching St Annes proper, with its meticulous strip of gardens and pools twixt road and sea on the approach to the Victorian pier, with a waterfall grotto that kids of all ages love to walk under as the water cascades over their heads – I know I do!
The coast road here, both before and after the pier, is fringed with rather nice sunset-facing hotels (would there be any other sort here?) and up-market apartments, giving way to more luxury homes on the approach to Blackpool and its Squires Gate airport.
Pick the right day and you see more than holiday flights and light plane pleasure hops, because honoured guests like the Red Arrows have been known to drop in, along with veteran warbirds passing through for various air displays over the summer.
The high spot on my visit was seeing the only two airworthy Lancaster bombers left in the world taking off and thundering across the estuary for the Southport Air Show, along with a Hurricane and Spitfire and a state-of-the art Typhoon from the nearby Bae factory at Warton. Magical!
It was only right to raise a toast to the flyers with a glass of Thwaites' Lancaster Bomber beer, so it was time to check-in at the Best Western Glendower Hotel on the North Promenade, before popping down to the bar and then sitting outside in the sunshine, grin etched on my face and the sound of ten Merlin engines still echoing in my thoughts.
The hotel was an ideal base, just across the road from the huge expanse of pristine beach, yet only minutes from the town centre and, more importantly, my chum's house where he was lighting the barbecue. Succulent steak, excellent wine and a huge amount of nostalgia later and it was back to the Glendower for a nightcap in the pleasant bar, before bedtime – but careful if you take the lift to reach some rooms on the first floor, as might need a sat-nav if you haven't had the common sense to ask the staff where your room is. Ask and it's quite straightforward – doh!
Breakfast was a full-English seaside treat in the newly-refurbished and rather busy Coast restaurant, and we waited only a matter of moments before the attentive managing director, no less, spotted us walking in and directed us to a table. The bottomless coffee pot was called for, along with lots of vitamin c and corn flakes from the buffet, and then it was time to tuck in properly, with pretty well everything you could ask for on the menu and delivered smartly by smiling and efficient staff, all of them rather more awake than I was. Bacon, eggs, tomatoes and a shed-load of wholemeal toast went down very well to fuel a livening walk along the sands.
The hotel boasts more than a good breakfast, though, from ‘light bites’ in the bar and lounge and a traditional English afternoon tea, to a classic British menu in the Coast, which fittingly includes a daily fish special. Tremendous value, too, with two courses for £19 and three for £23, and a fair old wine list that won't break the bank, either – just take a look online.
On a balmy evening, you can round round off a meal with a stroll outside, sipping a glass of rose prosecco, pink to match the St Annes sunset. Nice.
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