262a Crosby Beach

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.

01 walking by Marine Lake, Waterloo, Crosby, Ruth Livingstone

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!

Crosby beach and Radar Station, Ruth's coastal walk

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.

03 Gormley iron men on Crosby Beach, Ruth Livingstone

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’.

04 Another Place, Gormley on Crosby Beach, Ruth Livingstone, Sefton

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.

05 Gormleys waiting for the tide, Ruth Livingstone, Crosby

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.

05a tagged Gormley iron men, Another Place, Ruth Livingstone

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.

06 Gormely iron men and container ship, Ruth's coastal walk, Sefton

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.

06b Gormely colours, Ruth's coastal walk, Iron Men

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.

07 heroic Gormleys, watching ships, Ruth hiking on Crosby Beach

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.

08 lonely Gormley, Ruth's coastal walk, Sefton, Crosby

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.

09 Crosby beach, Ruth Livingstone, Hiking the coast

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.

11 lifeguard hut, Crosby beach, Ruth's coastal walk

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.

12 Sefton Coastal Footpath, Ruth hiking the shore, Crosby

Next highlight of the walk will be Formby, and my eldest daughter’s favourite beach.

[To be continued…]

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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16 Responses to 262a Crosby Beach

  1. Very interesting and I love the Iron Men. They are quite stunning. Nic pics. (Suzanne)

  2. jcombe says:

    People had put clothes on some of the “Gormleys” when I walked here too which I only felt added to the effect. It is a great piece of work.

  3. patriz2012 says:

    That is such a wonderful experience and Cosby Beach to Southport is just sand, sand and more sand……..

  4. So important that they kept the statues permanently. Why else would you go to Crosby?

    • Yes, indeed. I’ve just been reading the local news reports from 2006-7, when their temporary planning permission expired and the local council cited Health and Safety issues as reasons to take them down. It seems extraordinary that they didn’t realise the value of keeping them. Glad they stayed.

  5. Chrissy Boyce says:

    Makes me want to go there and I am sure I will and think of you Ruth on your walk and your thoughts on the iron men. One strong woman walking.

    • Thank you Chris (although I’m not sure about the ‘strong woman’ tag – my walks seem to get shorter and shorter!). The Gormleys are certainly worth a visit. Very impressive piece of art.

  6. El D says:

    Fascinating piece, Ruth. I really enjoyed learning about the Gormleys and the photos were great. Well done for taking lots to show us the different perspectives. Thanks.

  7. Anabel Marsh says:

    There are some Gormleys in Edinburgh, starting at the Modern Art Gallery (buried waist deep in the pavement) and running down the Eater of Leith. I’d love to see the Crosby ones.

    • That’s interesting, Anabel. Hubby and I visited Edinburgh recently (our daughters bought us a w/e trip as a present) and now I remember seeing the torsos of men embedded in the pavement. But didn’t realise what they were! The Crosby one’s are even more impressive, being fully exposed.

  8. Marie Keates says:

    I love the Gormley men. There is one in the vaults of Winchester Cathedral. We saw him last year. The vaults flood in winter and spring so he is often up to his armpits in water too. It seems to be their fate.

  9. Karen White says:

    It must be amazing to actually walk amongst the Gormleys. I shall have to check whether the one in Winchester Cathedral is still there.

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