I restart my walk from the Waterloo end of Crosby. (Why the name ‘Waterloo’? This area seems to have an obsession with Wellington – from Anglesey to here, he has roads, pubs, monuments connected with him.) The path takes me along the southern edge of the Marine Lake. Ahead are the dunes of Crosby Beach… can’t wait to get there.
Although the path is crowded with the usual dog walkers, most people veer off to continue a circuit of the Marine Lake, but I continue over a ridge of dunes to the beach. To my left is a breakwater that marks the edge of the port area and the tower is, apparently, a radar station.
I’m alone… apart from a man standing on the sands. Hang on. He’s standing very still. That must mean… he’s a Gormley man!
I look to my right and further along the beach. Yes. There they all are, dotted across the sands as far as I can see, standing silently and stiffly, facing the waves.
This is, of course, the famous art installation by Antony Gormley, officially entitled Another Place but also known as ‘The Iron Men’ or even just ‘The Gormleys’.
There are 100 of the figures, stretching for 3 km along the beach and extending for 1 km out to sea. They are all identical and modelled on the artist’s own body. Hence the unofficial title ‘The Gormleys’ is perhaps very appropriate.
I hadn’t realised how widely spaced they would be. My initial impression: loneliness.
Some are half-submerged by the sand, like the man above, while others stand proud on pedestals because the sea has, presumably, washed away their surrounding beach. Each one is numbered with a wrist tag.
The warning sign at the top of the beach says do not stroll more than 50m away from the promenade. And now I have another impression: danger and sadness. These poor figures, unable to move, are drowned when the tide comes in. Over and over and over again.
I think the tide is coming in now. A large container ship glides by, and I can see a Gormley submerged in the waves, only head and shoulders remaining above the water.
The water has left its mark on their torsos. The parts regularly submerged are encrusted with growths – green and slimy. The parts remaining above the waves are rusty brown and weathered. Two tone men. Decaying. Like all of us, but possibly more slowly.
And then I realise something. The tide isn’t coming in. It’s going out. And the water is receding rapidly. Where I saw a Gormley almost totally submerged before, I now see him emerging from the waves, apparently growing taller with each passing minute.
This impression, of iron men emerging from the waves, creates a totally new impression. Now there is something sinister about the figures. No longer pitiable, they are threatening other-world beings. The walking dead. Zombies.
When the artwork was installed it was planned to be temporary. In fact, the figures have already stood on beaches in Germany, Norway, and Belgium. I’m glad the decision was made to keep them here as a permanent feature. They are enigmatic, thought-provoking, and utterly wonderful.
Of course I can’t possibly keep to within 50m of the promenade, as instructed by the safety signs. Knowing that the tide is going down (not coming in) means it is safe to venture down the sands and explore the figures. I spend a long time walking around and taking photographs.
Eventually I reach the far end of the figures. Here there is a car park on the sea front and this means the beach is almost crowded. People – real live people – begin to outnumber the iron men.
I pass the last of the Gormleys and then walk up the sands to rejoin the promenade, where there are more warning signs, a life ring, and a bunch of flowers tied to a post. There is nothing to indicate why the flowers are here, but I wonder if they are a memorial – because such flowers usually are. Maybe a real person drowned on the sands below, surrounded by metal men who couldn’t help.
Nearby is a lifeguard building, which looks fairly grand. But the lifeguards are actually situated in a metal hut – a container? I guess it makes sense to be as close to the beach as possible, but it’s certainly a scruffy looking post.
By now I’ve joined the Sefton Coastal Path, a 21 mile route that runs from Crosby, through Formby, to a place called Crossens. Much of it is also a cycle way.
Time to turn away from the beach and follow the path along the line of dunes.
Next highlight of the walk will be Formby, and my eldest daughter’s favourite beach.
[To be continued…]