This collaborative project, organised by WALK, (University of Sunderland’s Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge research group) began life as a series of walks (which developed into a ‘walking symposium’) along the Sefton Coastal Footpath in 2014.
These walks, or events … or performances … were called ‘Walking Through the Sands of Time: A Walk Along the Sefton Coastal Footpath’ and were supported with funds from The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership.
They were advertised locally and members of the public were invited to join us and share their own experiences.
The walks were led by natural historian John Dempsey from the Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership and structured to allow people without cars to participate.
‘Ghosts of the Restless Shore: Space, Place and Memory of the Sefton Coast’ grew from these walks and culminated in an exhibition, accompanied with a book highlighting the work of five contemporary artists (Mike Collier, Rob Strachan, Sam Wiehl, Jake Campbell and Tim Collier)
The Sefton Coastal Footpath is approximately 22.5 miles long and is a recognised ‘National Path’. The walk (or rather meander) was completed from start to finish over 4 days (2 weekends—12/13 & 20/21) in July 2014. The area has a fascinating history, containing a National Nature Reserve, many Sites of Special Scientific Interest and is a European Special Protection Area because of the importance of its natural heritage. The landscape comprises ‘endless’ beaches, coastal marshes, pine woods, heaths and tidal estuaries, which permeates the perception of all who visit.
It is a landscape alive with special wildlife and its coastal waters are ‘home’ to famous shipwrecks like the ‘Star of Hope’ – and the loss of life associated with these wrecks prompted the building of Britain’s first lifeboat station at Formby Point, in 1775.
This coast also has a long and rich history of leisure and tourism, dating back to the mid- 1800s and is ‘littered’ with the remnants of buildings and operational sites from World War One and Two.
The Sefton Coast’s special flora and fauna comprises nationally scarce examples and its big skies offer views across the Irish Sea, to North Wales’ distant promontories and mountain peaks and, to the north, Blackpool and the summits of the southern Lake District. It is a windblown land that is constantly in motion; its stories are fixed in history and the artists in Ghosts of the Restless Shore have explored not just the sands of time, but the sand beneath their feet; passing literally, and figuratively, on their way through Sefton’s history, ‘step by step’.
Mike Collier uses local, colloquial, dialect names integrated into a series of colourful images. As a child, he and his brother, Tim walked through these sand dunes and along the coast extensively with his family, and Mike has incorporated illustrations and texts from historical family guide books about flora as well as drawing on, using, and displaying, specimens from the botanical archive of the flora of the coast held by the Botany Department at the World Museum, Liverpool.
Jake Campbell’s poetry weaves together a range of social and natural history heritage themes, from shipwrecks along the coast and the launch, at Formby Point, of the first lifeboat in the UK in earlier centuries through to highlighting key events from our wartime history in the 20th century (internment camps and pill boxes along the coastal footpath). In addition he looks at the coast’s unique fauna (including the Natterjack Toad – or, as it is sometimes known – The Bootle Organ or Birkdale Nightingale)
Tim Collier’s work looks at the ornithological heritage of the Sefton Coast seen through the eyes of a keen birdwatcher. He explores the ways in which we perceive ornithology and natural history in many different ways, using historical quotes from ‘experts’ in the field such as Eric Hardy alongside images of waders and geese. The quotes reflect the wide diversity of approaches to understanding and appreciating the context in which birds are located; social, scientific, personal, poetical and historical, and will help the viewer to understand the social and historical context of birding along the Sefton Coast through time. He also explores the unique history of the area through a series of images and text.
Rob Strachan, sound artist, has with Sam Wiehl, created a new audio-visual work that draws upon a fusion of contemporary recorded sound from the coast (natural, industrial, maritime and social), highlighting the key role that memory plays in framing our sense of place … and of self.