I’ve visited Blackpool several times but always either in the summer or during the autumn illuminations when the resort has been in full swing so I was curious to find out what it would be like to visit the resort out of season.
Plans made, we were up at the crack of dawn (well, earlier than that in fact, as it was still pitch black outdoors) as we made our way to our local rail station. Two trains and around three hours later we were pulling into Blackpool North station ready for a hearty breakfast and a much needed cup of coffee.
It takes no more than 10 minutes to walk down Talbot Road to the seafront and as work is underway to extend the tramway along to the railway station, soon it will be easier still. The tram line extension will enable passengers to connect seamlessly to all the seafront attractions and as far as Fleetwood to the north.
After setting ourselves up for a day’s sightseeing with traditional cooked breakfasts we were ready for action and crossed the promenade towards North Pier. During the winter months only the front section of the pier remains open so we couldn’t take a stroll along its length but were still able to admire it from the shore.
We then strolled along the promenade to Festival Place in front of the famous Blackpool Tower. Embedded into the pavement are jokes and catch phrases of comic greats and entertainers who have performed in the town so we had fun reading some of them. The Tower celebrated its 125th anniversary last year and is Blackpool’s iconic landmark. The lift to the Tower top doesn’t open until the end of March but it was almost as much fun craning our necks to admire its structure.
Strolling along the promenade there were quite a few people about enjoying the fresh air and the much needed sunshine. The tide was out exposing a wide expanse of golden sand which looked very different from our summer visits when it’s filled with sun worshippers equipped with their brightly coloured deckchairs, parasols and windbreaks.
Trams ran along Blackpool’s seafront in their cream and green livery from 1885 until 2011 when they were replaced with a modern fleet with accessible low floors. The new trams are functional and convenient but although they run along the seafront, they are no longer unique and no different from taking a tram ride in for example, Nottingham or Edinburgh.
Thankfully, all is not lost though, as on numerous weekends throughout the year, heritage trams are brought out of their tram sheds to evoke memories of times gone by delighting people like me. Fortunately our weekend visit had coincided with one of the golden tram heritage events and it was so lovely to see different generations of the Blackpool Transport fleet operating tours along the prom. There was even one tram parked up near North Pier acting as a shop with transport books and memorabilia displayed across the seats.
Continuing along the seafront we arrived at the SeaLife Centre which is located mid-way between North and Central piers. Visitors to the resort can either pay to visit individual attractions or purchase a BIG Ticket offering admission to The Blackpool Tower, Tower Ballroom, Tower Circus, SeaLife Centre, Madame Tussaud’s and the Blackpool Dungeon. This combined ticket is valid for a single visit to each attraction over a 90 day period from first use and offers much better value.
There were only a couple of people ahead of us at the ticket desk and soon we were mounting the stairs to view the tanks filled with large marine life from huge sharks to small, delicate seahorses. We walked through a concrete glass tunnel with fish swimming all around us and though no-one was using it at the time, we spotted the cage where intrepid visitors who are brave enough, can dare to snorkel with sharks and turtles.
Having learnt a little about marine life we continued a little further along the seafront in a southerly direction until we reached Madame Tussauds. I’ve visited London more times than I can remember but have never visited the waxworks there so I was intrigued to discover why it’s so popular and high on people’s wish lists.
After having our BIG tickets scanned, we began our self guided tour and do you know what, I absolutely loved the waxworks as there’s something for everyone. The tour starts with a scale model of the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom and the presenters Tess and Claudia looking almost as if they were real.
The second themed zone was ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ where we walked along a re-created rope bridge into the bush, came face to face with Ant & Dec and even took part in a pretend bush tucker trial!
Moving on, we had our photos taken with the Queen, walked through the sporting hall of fame and viewed pop stars old and new from The Beatles to Ed Sheeran. We then had fun finding our way through a mirror maze (quite easy really) which led us to the T.V. personalities section.
My favourite zone was of the long running ITV soap Coronation Street of which I’m a big fan. Here, we could pop into the Rovers Return for a drink and rub shoulders with Bet, Ken and Deidre. Outside their terraced house on the cobbles were Jack and Vera Duckworth, bringing back fond memories of their long association with the programme.
What a fun time we’d had in Madame Tussauds and the advantage of an out of season visit was that we could take each other’s photos with the life-like waxworks without having to wait our turn to stand alongside them. I can’t imagine why it had taken me so long to get around to visiting but after seeing the Blackpool collection I’m now eager to view the exhibits at some of their other locations around the world!
Leaving Tussauds we crossed the tram tracks to continue our stroll along the promenade passing both the Central and South Piers. Blackpool is pancake flat so getting around on foot is quick and easy and, although it was 1.7 miles, it hadn’t seemed far at all to reach the Boulevard Hotel located next to the famous Pleasure Beach on Ocean Boulevard where we were staying.
This swish new hotel has only been open a few months and is just what Blackpool needed. It’s entrance is to the rear of the building making the most of the beachfront views for guests to enjoy from the hotel’s lounge, bar and restaurant windows.
Our sea view room was so luxurious that I was pleased we had a couple of hours to enjoy relaxing there before heading back out into town once again. As we’d walked quite a distance already we decided to take the tram from the stop just across the road from the hotel. 24 hour tram/ bus tickets offered the best available for our needs (£6 from the driver or £5.60 mobile ticket) so we purchased a couple of these and caught a tram back up to North Pier taking no more than ten minutes.
We’d reserved a table at The Beach House Bar and Bistro located on the beach side of the promenade between North Pier and the Tower. As we were heading off to the theatre later we’d arrived at 5.00 p.m. expecting the restaurant to be fairly quiet but it was already buzzing with activity. We’d been blessed with blue skies all day and what better place to watch a glorious sunset than from our window table overlooking the Irish Sea.
The Beach House combines a relaxed atmosphere with friendly service. The menu is varied from delicious brunch options to sushi, tapas, seafood and a selection from the grill. I was thinking of a tuna steak for my main course but due to the restaurant’s popularity it was unavailable. It didn’t really matter as I was soon tempted into a Chicken Shish with saffron rice and a mushroom sauce. This tasted as good as it sounded and was served off the skewers. Coincidentally, across the table, chicken was also the preferred choice but in a creamy white wine sauce.
As is usually the case, we sampled a little of each other’s and liked them both. Our verdict, a lovely restaurant with a lively atmosphere. There’s live music at weekends which was actually just being set up as we were leaving. After lingering awhile over glasses of wine we braved the cold and crossed the promenade to walk the short distance to the Grand Theatre to see the Russian State Ballet perform The Nutcracker.
The Grand Theatre really is grand and is one of Britain’s premier heritage theatres. Last summer it celebrated its 125th anniversary and the elaborate four tier theatre holding over a thousand people appeared to be a sell out for the ballet which was wonderful to see.
As for the ballet, it was absolutely delightful. I’d not seen The Nutcracker before but was familiar with the music from the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Waltz of the Flowers. It was absolutely enchanting with the orchestral accompaniment also being superb. We were both so happy to have timed our visit perfectly and been able to attend the performance in this most wonderful of theatres.
After the curtain came down we caught a tram back to our hotel reflecting on what a lovely day we had spent in Blackpool.
To be continued …..
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