The Blackpool Illuminations is an annual lights festival which was founded in 1879. It started life with garlands of 10,000 coloured light bulbs strung along the seafront and was such a huge success that it continued as an annual event extending the tourist season by an extra two months.
The Illuminations or ‘The Lights’ as they are often referred to run from late August to early November each year. The Lights extend for 6 miles (10 km) and contain more than one million light bulbs. Each year on the opening night ‘The Big Switch On’ takes place with a live concert and a celebrity is invited to perform the switch on. This year, for the first time, instead of a celebrity the illuminations were switched on by Star Trek with intergalactic help from a huge laser beam. The switch on takes places on the Tower headland and it is so popular that around 100,000 people apply for the 20,000 tickets available. The annual cost of staging the illuminations is £1.9m and although free to view, donation boxes are placed at each end of the promenade for voluntary contributions to help defray costs.
Most visitors drive slowly through the illuminations by car or coach but viewing the extravaganza on board a tram is also popular especially on one of the three illuminated trams which are shaped to resemble a train, a boat and a rocket. It takes 22 weeks to assemble the lights and to check that they are all working and then a further 9 weeks to dismantle them at the end of the festival.
We ate dinner early so that we had plenty of time to view the illuminations. Following our afternoon trip up the tower we noticed a poster offering ticket holders a return evening visit for an additional £3. This offer seemed irresistible and so we returned at 8.00 p.m. to view the twinkling lights from the top of the Tower.
It was very quiet and we were able to ascend the lift without any delays. I’m so pleased we were able to appreciate the views both day and night. We even climbed up to the outer viewing area once more but it was quite windy up there so we didn’t linger very long.
After leaving the Tower we strolled along the promenade as far south as Central Pier before boarding a northbound tram to Bispham which lies at one end of the illuminations.
Bispham tram station was built in 1932 and has a facade of columns and urns. It used to contain a ticket hall and provide shelter for waiting passengers but is now closed and is only in use as a tram stop. Recently Blackpool Civic Trust submitted plans to re-open the heritage station as a cafe so hopefully this will happen soon and bring the building back into use.
Along the cliff tops from Bispham to North Shore the displays comprise 40 large tableaux. A path runs alongside the tableaux which are set back from the promenade beyond the tram track making it easy to view them.
It was fun strolling past the various tableaux and watching the lighting effects. The Egyptian tableau was very impressive as the sarcophagus opens to reveal a mummified secret. In addition, to the side of the tableau a large mummy pops up to give onlookers a scare.
Moving along we observed a wide variety of tableaux ranging from nursery rhyme characters to television favourites. I particularly liked the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with Alice in Wonderland, featured above. On reaching the end of the tableaux displays we caught a tram back to the North Pier and returned to our hotel after a fun filled day at the seaside in Blackpool.