In 2005, the small coastal town of Crosby on Merseyside was placed well and truly on the map due to a very particular group of residents, 100 of them to be exact.
When I first heard of the art project ‘Another Place’ that would see 100 life-size iron men positioned on the beach at Crosby so it looked like they were moving in and out of the sea, I thought: “OK…? Now this I have to see…!”
It just so happens that the iron men populate a beautiful stretch of coastline which is fabulous to head to on a bright (and hopefully sunny) day for an excellent coastal walk. A visit is a great way to combine the love of art with the great outdoors and blow those cobwebs away at the same time!
Situated just beyond the extensive Liverpool Docks, Crosby is the first area of beach north of the city and forms the start of the enormously picturesque Sefton coastline which stretches for 12 miles north, all the way to Southport. It is hugely popular with walkers (with or without dogs), as well as beach users and features some stunning scenery with rolling sand dunes, vast beaches and attractive woodlands.
You can read more about the Sefton Coast in my walk from Southport to Ainsdale Sands, another lovely stretch to explore.
There are endless options of walks to do in this area of Merseyside and I’m exploring more and more of them now I have my little dog Roger to occupy my time. I recommend getting an OS map and checking out different routes; however if you’re not a map-reader, the Sefton coastal path is well signposted and easy to follow with information boards at regular intervals.
I was delighted to learn recently that the iron men and their stretch of beach made it into the UK’s top 100 walks. This was a poll voted for by the public and revealed on the recent ITV program by Julia Bradbury.
Entitled ‘Another Place’, the 100 iron men (though there are a few less in situ these days) are the creation of artist Anthony Gormley who is well known for his iconic Angel of the North sculpture alongside the busy A1 at Gateshead.
The iron men figures are casts of the artists own body and are shown at different levels rising out of the sand, all looking out to sea.
They are spread out along a 2 mile stretch of the Merseyside coast at Crosby, just north of Liverpool where the mouth of the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea and have a superb view of the Wirral Peninsula and the distant Welsh hills.
The iron men are positioned at regular intervals along set lines reaching up to half a mile from the esplanade, which means that as the tide comes in the figures gradually become engulfed by the sea. Depending on what stage the tide is at when you visit the men will look like they’re wading out into the water, some at waist or shoulder depth, some just heads bobbing on the waves. At high tide many become completely submerged, while the nearest to the shoreline just paddle.
I still remember my reaction when I first saw them for real all those years ago! I thought they were so cool! And what surprised me then was how tiny they looked as you approached the beach from the sand dunes. They still do today. The vast open space of the beach and endless sky swallows up the 6ft 2 figures and as they’re so spread out, you can’t actually see the full head count.
I’ve been a couple of times since that first visit and again this last week taking my dog Roger, and each time the tide has been almost out, so I’ve not had the joy of seeing partially submerged bodies or heads bobbing along on the waves… I really must time it better next time!
As with all artworks made or placed in the landscape, the works enter a narrative with the environment in which they’re situated and in this case, by harnessing the movement of the tide, ‘Another Place’ explores our relationship with nature.
I always love to establish my own thoughts and feelings about artworks and what artists are trying to achieve; however at the same time, I always find it handy to learn more about the meaning behind the work while I’m there. Crosby satisfies this by providing boards at various points along the coast telling you more about the piece.
As Gormley himself says:
“the seaside is the perfect place to explore our relationship with nature. Time is tested by the tide, architecture by the elements and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance.”
He describes the iron men as:
“the industrially reproduced body of a middle aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured goods from around the planet.”
I’d be amazed if you didn’t see at least one ship making its way to or from Liverpool while you’re there.
One obvious way the sculptures respond to nature, which you’ll notice if you head out onto the beach and see some of them up close, is how the metal has reacted to the elements. The men (particularly those situated further out to sea) appear practically deformed and rather grotesque due to becoming fully encrusted with Barnacles which are Arthropods that lives in shallow tidal waters and fix themselves permanently onto hard (and often erosive) materials. The iron men are obviously a perfect home for them and they were already covered in them back in 2010 when I first visited.
The iron men have easily become one of Merseyside’s most popular visitor attractions and are world famous. It would be hard to imagine Crosby without them these days. However the works were not originally intended to be a permanent fixture. They came to Crosby after installations at other sites in Germany, Norway and Belgium and were originally due to be relocated to New York but after much consultation they were granted their permanent home at Crosby in March 2007.
They battled much controversy over the so-called offensive nature of the naked forms, fear of environmental damage due to increased tourism and safety concerns surrounding the public getting stuck in the sand or cut off by the tide. The positive impact of increased tourism clearly won out though and largely the sculptures are considered beautiful pieces of art. It’s not surprising the men and their stretch of beach made it into the Top 100 walks in the UK. It’s certainly one of mine!
I personally find the iron men rather whimsical and thought provoking. Due to being so spaced out, each figure seems rather solitary – a single alone figure gazing seaward while contemplating life and I find myself doing the same in their company. Visit as the sun is setting and this solitude is amplified and you’ll find the setting even more special.
On my latest visit though I took my dog Roger (who I’ve only had for 2 months), so there was no reflective moments of contemplation. Rather there was lots of ball-throwing, separating him from other dogs and giggling at his interaction with the sculptures. He’d have a good ole sniff at each one, jump up at them and occasionally wee on one. Ooops…
The best place to park for seeing ‘Another Place’ is at Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre, the access for which is signposted from the main road on brown tourist signs. There is a line of car parks alongside the Marine Lake with very reasonable parking charges – it’s just £1.00 for two hours which is more than enough time to walk out and explore the men (assuming you’re not setting off on a 6 mile hike up the coast). The nearest train station is Waterloo and its only a five minute walk to the Marine Lake from the station.
The Marine Lake itself is a lovely setting with plenty of benches to enjoy the view, fully accessible paths leading to the beach esplanade, a children’s play area, exercise equipment and plenty of grassy areas for your children (and in my case dogs) to run wild.
It is a perfect place to take your canine companions as they are fine off lead once you’ve cleared the car park. Just be wary of bicycles as you reach the esplanade to cross to the beach as there is a cycleway that runs alongside the footpath. I’ve noticed that cycles do seem to move at speed along here.
If you’re venturing out onto the sand, please take heed of the notices along the promenade and be careful when walking out to some of the sculptures. There are pockets of soft sand and the tide moves quickly to fill lower areas of beach nearer the shore line so keep an eye on the sand behind you as you may find your route back cut off if you’re not careful.
If you spy the slightly odd looking bunker style building when you look back to shore, don’t get too excited at what it might house. Thinking it could be a very cool Lifeboat station or maybe a Government agency building, I set off to find out and it turns out it’s actually the Crosby Leisure Centre, home to a couple of swimming pools. Hardly MI6 hey?!
When walking back to the Marine Lake, don’t take the path you started out on, but continue on the esplanade towards the dock walls and eventually the path will fork left to circumnavigate round the other side of the lake.
By returning this way you’ll get a great view of the painted mural on the side of one of the dock buildings – the Cocoa Sheds. This is the first mural of the Waterloo Murals Project series, painted in 2012 and tells the story of the 20th century from 1900 – 1930 through images related to the local area. The brief was to depict local history, wildlife and maritime themes and after asking residents what they would like to see on a local history mural, this was the result.
You’ll recognise the Titanic of course. Then there’s the overhead railway which you can learn all about at the Museum of Liverpool as well as the electric trams that ran locally. There are images of Crosby Mill, (the body of which still exists on Moor Street) and the original five lamps war memorial up on the main Crosby Road. Lastly the cormorant is featured which is widely recognised as the inspiration for the famous ‘Liver Bird’ which sits atop the Liver Building in Liverpool and has been adopted as the city’s symbol.
It’s a great piece of art which really livens up the Waterloo Cocoa Sheds which frankly I’ve always considered a bit of an eye-sore.
Once back at the Adventure Centre, you’ll find a cafe inside (though I have never eaten there so I cannot attest to how good it is) as well as public toilets, just perfect after a long walk along the coast. Make sure you check out the mosaic ‘Another Place’ sculpture inside.
Please note however, dogs are not allowed inside the centre. Despite this though, Roger still gives a paws-up to Crosby and ‘Another Place’ – it certainly won’t be long before we are back!
Have you been to Crosby Beach? What do you think to the Iron Men?
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