WITHIN living memory Milnthorpe, not Majorca, was the first choice for Westmorland folk wanting a holiday splash beside the seaside.

Yes Milnthorpe — or, rather, Milnthorpe Sands — meaning the Kent Estuary as it meandered from Sandside down to Arnside and the wider reaches of Morecambe Bay.

Even before Blackpool and Brighton got going, local house agents and Heversham Grammar School’s brochure advertised ‘excellent and convenient sea bathing’.

Later, in 1853, The Westmorland Gazette reported that, at Sandside, ‘a spirited young man’ had emulated the bigger resorts by providing ‘a horse-drawn van to convey genteel bathers directly into the water’.

In a world without swimming baths or lessons, hardly anybody could swim. Hence, starting in 1773 when four members of the Dickinson family were ‘drowned bathing on the sands’, there were annual tragedies.

Yet almost everyone was heedless of the dangers; neither did they mind that ‘the sands’ were actually mud, nor that the sea only made a brief appearance when the tide was in.

During the ‘Lamas Tides’ in August 1852, it was reported that ‘the landlords along the shore have reaped a bountiful harvest .... there were no serious accidents but in the evening great disturbances and fighting took place’. Just like on the Costas today!

By 1900 Arnside, with 33 ‘apartment houses’, provided more sedate accommodation, but most visitors were day trippers. During the high days of summer in the 1920s and 1930s, the Gazette featured regular photos of ‘Westmorland’s Little Blackpool’.

Even in the petrol-starved 1940s, when private cars were off the road, and attractions were limited to scanty cafe fare, jugs of tea or, if you were very lucky, Joseph’s or Tognarelli’s ices, crowds still biked or bussed to our local Costa.

On Milnthorpe’s Dallam bus service, according to legend, permitted passenger capacity was often exceeded three times over.

Certainly, as an infant I can well remember hearing Jack Black, the Dallam conductor on the ‘Old Lion’, shouting down the bursting bus: “Mothers put your children on your laps — if you’ve got two children, put one on each knee”.