St Annes - why the seaside town is still as popular as ever

The picture of donkeys on St Annes beach is by Lancashire Life artist Nick Oliver. See more of his w

The picture of donkeys on St Annes beach is by Lancashire Life artist Nick Oliver. See more of his work at or contact him at 01257 427465. - Credit: Archant

St Annes hasn’t lost its pulling power as a place to visit, as Emma Mayoh discovered

Lytham St Annes

Lytham St Annes - Credit: Archant

A recent survey claimed our nation is falling out of love with the British seaside. The National Trust project revealed that the proportion of adults who had made at least one day trip to the coast in the past year had dropped 20 per cent over the last ten years. But not in St Annes. The town is as popular as ever. Millions of people visit the thriving community and its surrounding areas – in fact, five per cent of tourism visits in Lancashire were to the Fylde.

Head there on a sunny day and you’ll find the streets and beach teeming with people. Events like the St Annes Kite Festival – an annual event that draws people in their droves - have no doubt had an impact. But it also those old seaside traditions like walks down the Victorian pier and fish and chips on the beach that have had generations of families returning to the town year after year. There is one tradition that has been much loved in St Annes.

Ian Clews has been helping bring smiles to children’s faces offering donkey rides on the beach for more than 20 years. He first started as a boy in Blackpool with his parents Sydney and Nancy – his grandparents Cyril and Hilda also did it - but when the contract came up in the seaside town, Ian decided to take a chance.

Today the 58-year-old, who has just been granted permission by Fylde Borough Council to run donkey rides on the beach for another seven years, has help from 20-year-old son, Oliver, who has worked with him since early childhood. Every March to October, the pair will be spotted out on the sands with their donkeys.

Coastal walks along the beach

Coastal walks along the beach - Credit: Archant

‘They are long days but we really enjoy it,’ said Ian. ‘People come back year after year to see the animals and I have seen families grow up and then come back with their own families. It is lovely to see that and it’s one of my favourite parts of the job.

‘Being down on the beach is a wonderful experience. For many people it is a family tradition and it’s great that we are a part of that. It is a lovely place to come and work.’

There are other people who also dedicate their time to the large expanse of beach at St Annes. Staff from Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Fylde Borough Council and a committed band of volunteers all work to protect the sand dunes on this beautiful stretch of coastline. They work as part of the Fylde Sand Dune Project.

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Over the past 150 years more than 80 per cent of the dunes have been lost, mainly due to the expansion of Blackpool and St Annes. The Fylde Sand Dune Project was set up to try and encourage visitors to experience them but in a way that doesn’t threaten their existence. Staff including practical conservation operative, Hilary Salkeld, and coast and countryside ranger, Andrew Hampson, and a small group of volunteers also work on the dunes to improve them as a natural sea defence by increasing natural dune growth to increase their width. Most recently work has been done planting old Christmas trees to make sand that is blown in collect in areas where the dunes need building up again.

The Square

The Square - Credit: Archant

Amy Bradshaw, Fylde sand dunes project officer, who works for Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said: ‘The project aims to make the dunes a better place for both wildlife and people. It is really important that we protect them; they are such an important feature of our coastline.

‘There are almost 300 vascular plant species, internationally rare plants, more than 150 different species of butterflies and moths and the dunes are also home to a large number of breeding birds like stonechats, skylarks and reed buntings. Because of this all of our restoration work has to be done in the winter months, which can be challenging. But it is really important.’

Away from the beach are another group of locals dedicated to preserving another of the town’s treasures. Ashton Gardens opened in July 1916. Previously named St Georges Gardens, it was originally envisaged as an early theme park. But then locals became angry when their rates were being spent on the upkeep of the park. It was then, 100 years ago, that linoleum manufacturing magnate Lord Ashton stepped in to save what is now Ashton Gardens. He had been spending more time in St Annes playing golf and wanted to help.

Plans are now in place to mark this important milestone with a special commemorative day on August 6th with a bowling competition with an £800 prize fund as well as lots of other family activities to enjoy and take part in. There are also plans in the pipeline for performances from a military band and games including a coconut shy. The day is being organised to make more people aware of this beautiful corner of St Annes.

Jon Harrison, chairman of Supporters of Ashton Gardens, a group first set up to protect the green space when it was threatened with development, said: ‘It is a very special place in St Annes. Where else has a lovely park right in the centre of town like Ashton Gardens? We are very fortunate to have it, which is why the group fought to save it from property developers.

‘But it is incredible that so many people who live here don’t actually know it is there. We want to change that. It is a place that should be enjoyed by so many more people. It has been established for 100 years and we want to help it reach another 100 years.’

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