GREG LAMBERT spends one last emotional night at the Ranch House – the last link to Morecambe’s fairground past and a true community pub.
I first walked into the Ranch House aged 21, on my first day working at Frontierland.
The Wild West-themed pub on Morecambe seafront was full that March morning with a new intake of fairground staff for the 1993 season.
Among them was a feisty 16-year-old called Debbie Walsh who would end up playing a major role in Ranch House history in future years.
Summer days working on the fairground were, quite literally, a roller coaster.
It was the pre-minimum wage era, the shifts were a gruelling 12 hours long (at least) and every day brought a different coach trip of scallies giving us cheek.
But theme park life was a giggle, because when it came to socialising, us Frontierland staff could drink with the best of them.
Every night when the gates closed to punters at 10pm, we would pile through the saloon-style doors of the Ranch after a hard day’s graft.
The cavernous bar was always packed with happy park workers, laughing and joking with the gritty characters of the West End.
Summer nights in the Ranch in 1993 were a blur of booze, chatter, pool games, live TV screen football and loud music. People from all walks of life, and of all ages, mixing cheerfully with little hint of trouble.
The Ranch House was everything a pub should be. It was a community.
Twenty-three years later, I walked through the Ranch’s doors for the final time.
There was no immediate sense that the pub was closing. Last Saturday night, the Ranch was packed and the atmosphere buzzed as much as ever.
While standing at that long, long bar to order one last pint, memories rushed through my mind. Happy times. Thoughts of football games I’d watched, pool matches I’d played, music gigs, nights out, people I’ve known.
As John Lennon wrote in his song ‘In My Life’: “Some have gone, but some remain.”
And some of those who remained were still there, like blasts from the past, on the last Saturday night before the pub closed down for good.
My ex-Frontierland colleagues and those gritty West End characters of my youth, still laughing, joking, dancing, good-naturedly fooling about and putting the world to rights after all these years.
These same faces had called the Ranch their local for two decades or more, and were still regulars, 16 years after the theme park shut.
Even the live band Solid Silver were mainstays who first performed in the Ranch a quarter of a century ago.
As the clock ticked on towards closing time, the pub slowly emptied and the party mood turned sombre.
An emotional Debbie Ellershaw went around her pub, hugging staff, friends and customers, and customers who have become friends. The Ranch has been a massive part of her life for 23 years.
In March 1993 Debbie started work at Frontierland as a 16-year-old flipping burgers and dunking doughnuts.
Later, she and husband Rob became landlady and landlord of the Ranch House. Together, they kept the community feel of the theme park days alive and took the pub from strength to strength in the noughties and beyond.
One regular mused to me on Saturday night about the unfairness of the Ranch’s demise.
Why should such a thriving pub be forced to close to make way for a shopping park, he asked, particularly when it was still so busy and meant so much to people?
I nodded in agreement. It is sad the march of progress has to trample over a successful Morecambe business.
In a time when many pubs are struggling due to competition from supermarkets and the smoking ban, the Ranch House was a success story, crammed most weekends and busy even on weekday nights.
But on Sunday, it was last orders for the last remaining link to Morecambe’s fairground past. And yes, I discount the Polo Tower.
On Monday, the Ranch House was stripped out, ready to be demolished and replaced by a Brewers Fayre, where you can bet the atmosphere won’t be the same.
The Ranch is now empty. But the story doesn’t end here.
Its bustling community is about to move just a few short yards away.
The Ellershaws will remain in the pub game just around the corner at their new Regent Road bar, appropriately named The Exchange.
Most of their regulars, myself included, will follow them.
The wrecking ball won’t kill a bustling Morecambe business after all. As the saloon doors close, new doors will open this Friday.
The happy nights of laughter, live sport and music will continue.
The spirit of the Ranch House will live on.