Looking Back: To The Wetlands.

Friday, 5th April 2013

On the eve of this year's Grand National, I thought I might set down my own recollections of the
 race 'that never took place in'97.'

My friend D. and I booked to go on a club outing to the Aintree three day festival. Thus  on Thursday 3rd April 1997, at about ten in the morning, we boarded the coach for Liverpool. Arriving at Aintree in good time before commencement of racing, we spent an enjoyable day first inspecting the course and then watching the races.
We were then taken by the coach to our hotel in Southport, where we spent Thursday and Friday nights.
On The Saturday April 5th  Grand National Day, our third day of racing, we watched the first two races and waited eagerly for the 150th Grand National to start.

Then came the announcement. A suspect package had been found ( I thought sandwiches ) and due to intelligence received, we all had to leave the course immediately.

At first I thought this was a' scouse' prank; but when we realized it was for real and a possible IRA bomb; we joined the throng and walked out of the course. Many of the crowd walked onto the race-track and tried to climb fences seeking souvenirs of birch fir.

I saw Sir Peter O'Sullevan  in the crowd and asked him if the race would be re-run at a later date.
He replied he didn't know. He seemed visibly annoyed at this turn of events.

It turned out subsequently that the police had refused him permission to go back to his commentary point; where he intended to describe the scene of the public exodus; even though he had left his binoculars, phone and flat keys there. Apparently he bet Brough Scott £100 that the bomb was a hoax.
Always time for a gamble!

I must say, although bemused, I never felt in any danger, because I never believed the IRA would  do anything to cause injury to the horses.
But the threat was taken seriously and a full scale search of the entire racecourse complex was necessary. All vehicles were impounded. We all were ordered out, at once.

It then dawned on us, that we needed somewhere to stay for the night.
Eventually meeting the other members of our coach party; we decided to make contact with our Southport hotel.
This was not an easy task, because with so many people using their mobiles; service was either non-existent or very sketchy indeed.

All Out

After some time, after walking the streets, we made contact with Southport and explained our position.
They proved extremely helpful;( as did all the merseysiders) and although fully booked for Saturday, agreed to pick us up and find us some floor space for the night.

I remember sleeping near reception that night and waking up in the early hours, a little disorientated and gazing at an odd shape on the wall, which subsequently turned out to be a stag's head and antlers, which  I have to confess gave me some uneasy moments!

In the morning, because I had left my tablets upon the coach, I went with our driver back to the  Aintree course.
At moments like this, you regret the absence of a camera, to see all the cars and coaches still under police protection and having to be 'signed off' before the transport could be removed.

The rest of the journey home, after returning to our hotel to pick up our party, went without a hitch; but , even after all this time, it still feels that we did indeed,  have an adventure.

As a postscript to that National; the actual race was run early afternoon on the Monday 7th April.
Twenty thousand people turned up.. The race was won by Lord Gyllene, ridden by Tony Dobbin at 14/1. The winner won by no less than 25 lengths.

Quite by chance, later that afternoon I was at Tesco's Supermarket, where unusually, I noticed quite a crowd had gathered in the car park. When I saw a "Sky News " van there as well, I knew something was up.
You must remember,  the General Election was due to take place that May and so, of course the politicians were covering the country eager to " press the flesh ' and get the required sound-bite.

So after a little bit of 'digging '  I  found out that no less than John Major, our P.M. and wife Norma were coming here to visit the store and greet the party faithful.
Furthermore  JM  was flying back from Aintree, having watched the re-arranged National.

This was too good a chance to miss and after about  twenty minutes, flanked by police motor cycle riders, the PM and entourage arrived in their Jaguar.

I followed them into the store and managed to ask my question: " Prime Minister, did you back the winner of the Grand National? "

He smiled at me and said, " No I'm afraid I didn't."  So now you know.


Saturday 6th April

Today we paid a visit to our nearby Wetlands, which I'm pleased to  say had dried out really well after all our rain.
The vegetation had been cut back to allow growth and the canal  and meadows were looking  serene and peaceful.

 However when we reached the bridge to Grundon Hide, we saw this notice and subsequent damage.

It just goes to show, you can never underestimate the power of flood water.

Well fingers and toes crossed, it looks like next week will be warmer! I hope so.




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