It’s been a number of years since we last visited Blackpool, one of England’s premier seaside resorts, so we thought we’d return and see if it had changed. Blackpool is located in the north west of England on Lancashire’s Fylde coast. We travelled by train, arriving into Blackpool North station shortly before lunch. When purchasing our rail tickets we took advantage of the Plusbus scheme available at certain destinations, paying an additional £3.60 each per day for unlimited use of local public transport. In Blackpool standard day tickets cost £5 making Plusbus good value.
A few minutes walk from the station we reached the promenade and our first glimpse of the iconic Blackpool Tower. It was a little early to check into our hotel and feeling hungry after our early start, we enjoyed hearty cooked breakfasts and coffee in the JD Wetherspoon Layton Rakes pub. The pub’s interior features a seaside funfair theme with some booth seats styled to resemble rollercoaster rides.
Our hotel, the Ibis Styles, was just around the corner in Talbot Square. The hotel, once the historic Clifton Hotel and more recently a Travelodge, overlooks the seafront facing the North Pier having arguably the best position in the town. The room, although adequate, was not to the usual standard of an Ibis Styles and I can only assume that the refurbishment programme is ongoing. Check in for our overnight stay was efficient and after dropping off our luggage we crossed the road for a stroll on the North Pier.
The oldest of Blackpool’s three piers, it first opened in 1863 as a 500m pleasure pier with a landing jetty. There is no fee to stroll along this English Heritage listed wooden pier jutting out over the town’s Blue Flag beach into the Irish Sea. The pier is still in regular use today with its bars, ice cream parlour, theatre and amusement arcade attracting visitors in search of traditional seaside fun.
A little further along the promenade lies the famous Blackpool Tower, rising to a height of 158m (518 feet). It was constructed in 1894 inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, however the base of this tower is hidden by a red brick, three storey building which houses a circus, aquarium and the famous Tower Ballroom.
Tickets can be purchased covering some or all of the Tower attractions and are 20% cheaper if pre-booked online. We just wished to take the lift to the top of the tower which costs £13.50 per person on the day but as we had travelled to Blackpool by train we were able to take advantage of the 2 for 1 National Rail days out offer which provides a 50% discount on certain attractions if a downloaded voucher is presented with rail tickets valid for that day.
Included in the ticket price is a short 4D film about the history of the tower and of the town. On entering the 4D theatre we were handed 3D glasses to wear and stood on one of the raised platforms ready for the performance to begin. I had thought it strange that there were no seats but this became apparent when the film started as the incredible filming included sensory effects with shaking floors, wind and sea spray.
After enjoying the 4D cinema experience we were guided to the lifts which take visitors to the top of the tower. We watched cars and buildings decrease in apparent size through the steel girders as we ascended to the indoor viewing platform now known as the Blackpool Eye. If you have a good head for heights you can take ‘The Walk of Faith’, which is a 5cm glass floor running along the western edge of the tower. Standing on the glass we were able to view the vertical drop onto the promenade directly below and watch a tram pass by. There are uninterrupted views of the north west coastline and over the town from the viewing area which is the highest observation platform in the north west of England. This enclosed viewing area also includes a cafe/bar with seating.
When weather permits it’s also possible to climb up a narrow spiral staircase to further viewing platforms. Although it’s worthwhile making the ascent, the outdoor levels are not very good for photography being covered in protective mesh. It was quiet on the afternoon of our visit but one way staircases operate as it would otherwise be impossible to pass on the narrow stairways.
Having enjoyed the bird’s eye views from the top of the tower we took the lift back down to ground level. It wasn’t possible for us to view the beautiful Tower Ballroom as a separate ticket is now needed to enter this elegant dance hall. Pausing at the door, we heard the melodic sounds coming from its famous Wurlitzer organ and caught a glimpse of couples enjoying an afternoon whirl on the dance floor. The ballroom features annually on the calendar of the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing programme and I remember being taken there by my parents many years ago.
Leaving the Tower we strolled along the promenade passing the famous Golden Mile with its myriad of slot machine arcades, fortune tellers, fish and chip shops and stalls selling Blackpool rock. Tacky yes, but it’s what Blackpool is famous for, gone are the ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats but otherwise it’s business as usual. In its heyday, thousands flocked to the resort for their annual holidays from the nearby Lancashire mill towns but since the advent of cheap overseas package holidays with guaranteed sunshine in the 1960’s the town has seen a steady decline in visitor numbers.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder from Bispham in the north to the Pleasure Beach in the south, are hundreds of hotels and guest houses. In fact, Blackpool has around 3,000 hotels and guest houses, its hard to believe but that’s more than the whole of Portugal! Our stroll in the bracing sea air continued past the Central Pier with its large Ferris wheel and took us all the way to the South Pier which is much further along.
Facing the South Pier is the Pleasure Beach, a theme park featuring a selection of rides from roller coasters to gentler rides suitable for young children. It used to be possible to wander around the Pleasure Beach but nowadays it’s necessary to purchase a wristband to enter.
After our lengthy walk we caught a northbound tram to Cleveleys. Trams have run along the Blackpool seafront since 1885 making it one of the oldest tramways in the world. The track is 11 miles long starting from Starr Gate in the south up to Fleetwood which lies to the north of Blackpool. Since 2012 the old trams in the Blackpool corporation green and cream livery have been replaced with modern, low floor trams but some heritage trams still operate in the autumn whilst the illuminations are taking place.
The Plusbus ticket allows travel as far as Cleveleys so we enjoyed a ride along the 30 minute seafront route. It’s many years since I was last in Cleveleys and it appeared much improved from how I remembered it. We wandered along its main shopping street as far as the promenade before returning to the tram stop. It was then back to our hotel for a short rest before our evening activities.
To be continued …..