When 18-year-old Helen Ashton meets Joe McCarthy on the moors of Northumberland she instantly falls in love, certain that her humdrum life had taken a new turning. And for several years it did.

On the eve of the First World War, Helen learns that she is pregnant with Joe’s child, but before she can tell him, he enlists in the army and is despatched to war. She never heard from Joe again, and believed him dead.

When their son, Ben, was born, Helen, in mounting desperation, agreed to marry a retired police inspector with whom she had two children.

In time, her husband of convenience, leaves Helen for another woman, and she finds herself on her own in the coastal resort of Blackpool with three young children with only a penurious future to look forward to. But fate intervenes, and with growing confidence Helen turns their home into a holiday hotel and begins welcoming guests. From one she learns that her beloved Joe had not died, but had been discharged into a sanatorium where he languished, a shadow of his former self, depressed, uncertain, confused … and lost, lacking the courage to reconnect with Helen.

By the time of Helen’s death, Joe is living a reclusive life, and his son, Ben, married with children of his own, takes over the Blackpool hotel. It is Ben’s wife, childhood friend Mary, who track down Ben’s father, finally persuading Ben to meet him … on the day Joe dies.