Day 1.  A day at the seaside in Blackpool 

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.

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Themed funfair seats in the Layton Rakes pub, Blackpool

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.

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Our room at the Ibis Styles Hotel, Blackpool

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.

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North Pier, Blackpool

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.

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The Blackpool Tower building

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.

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Ascending the lift to the top of Blackpool Tower

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.

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View of the Blackpool coastline from the top of Blackpool Tower

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.

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The Walk of Faith, Blackpool Eye

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.

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Upper viewing area, The Blackpool Eye

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.

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Blackpool Pleasure Beach

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.

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The Golden Mile, Blackpool

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.

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Central Pier, Blackpool

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.

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Looking north from the South Pier, Blackpool

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.

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Cleveleys, Lancashire

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.

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Las Vegas style wedding chapel, Blackpool seafront

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 …..

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Day 1.  The Blackpool Illuminations 

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.

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Illuminated street leading to the seafront

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.

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Blackpool Tower and the promenade illuminations

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.

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Night view from the top of Blackpool Tower

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.

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Sunset view from the upper viewing deck

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.

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Blackpool illuminations

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.

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Bispham Tram Station

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.

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The ‘Western’ train illuminated tram
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The illuminated Blackpool tram depicting a train

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.

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Egyptian tableau at the Blackpool Illuminations

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.

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The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Blackpool Illuminations

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.

Day 2.  Around and about in Blackpool 

After a good night’s sleep we enjoyed the Ibis buffet breakfast which was included in our room rate.  The breakfast room features a seaside theme with imitation sticks of Blackpool rock adorning it’s walls.  The restaurant overlooks the sea so we were able to watch the trams pass along the promenade whilst we were sipping our morning cups of coffee.

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St. Anne’s Pier

After checking out of the hotel we made use of our second PlusBus ticket by catching a No.11 bus from nearby Corporation Street to St. Annes-on-Sea.  The bus took 30 minutes to reach St. Annes, only a short journey but a complete contrast to the bright lights of Blackpool.  Leaving the bus in the main square we started off by taking a stroll along the seafront.

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The end of St. Annes Pier

Overlooking the square lies the town’s Victorian pier which was constructed in 1885.  With its Tudor style entrance it reflects the town’s heritage and exudes a feeling of grandeur even if it’s clock is no longer working.  Stepping inside though we were saddened to notice that it’s now one big amusement arcade full of slot machines.  There’s a small cafe and one or two kiosks selling seaside paraphernalia but that’s about it.  The outside area at the end of the pier was closed to visitors as some maintenance work was taking place.  The pier used to boast both a Pavilion and a Floral Hall but both were destroyed by fire in separate incidents.  The length of the pier was reduced by 314 ft to 600 ft when the jetty at the seaward end was demolished and the remains of the jetty can be seen on the above photograph.

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Promenade gardens, St. Annes-on-Sea

On leaving the pier we strolled through the promenade gardens passing the Victorian bandstand and ornamental fountain, both of which had been carefully restored and surrounded by ponds and neat flower borders.

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Modern beach huts in St. Annes-on-Sea

Returning to the seafront we spotted these newly constructed beach huts which looked very stylish and are available to rent by the day or week, offering uninterrupted views over the Irish Sea.

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St. Annes Square

A short stroll inland took us to the town centre where we found some inviting small shops on either side of the broad square.  There’s little evidence of flashy Blackpool here, as St. Annes gives visitors an impression of affluence with its stylish cafes and boutiques on tree lined avenues.  After pausing for coffee in a cafe on Wood Street we returned by bus to Blackpool just as it had started to rain.

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The Winter Gardens, Blackpool

The rain was falling heavily when we arrived back into Blackpool but that didn’t matter too much as we wanted to look inside the Winter Gardens complex which comprises a collection of theatres, exhibition halls and a ballroom.  Constructed in 1878, visitors are welcome indoors without charge and we enjoyed viewing the Art Deco interior and marvelling at its elegant Empress Ballroom.

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The main hallway, Winter Gardens, Blackpool

The Winter Gardens has over the years hosted the conferences of all three main UK political parties and that of several Trades Unions.  Its Opera House is one of the country’s largest theatres seating 3,000 people and still attracts top performers to its stage.

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Statue of Morecambe and Wise, Winter Gardens, Blackpool

In the Opera House foyer we were interested to view a recent statue of the comedy legends Morecambe and Wise.  This bronze statue was unveiled in 2016 to commemorate more than 1,000 appearances of the comedy duo in Blackpool, their spiritual home.

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St Chad’s Church, Poulton-le-Fylde

Still raining heavily, we made good use of our day tickets by taking a No.2 bus to the small market town of Poulton-le-Fylde five miles away.  The town centre is in a conservation area and the historic market place is closed to traffic.  At one end of the square lies the parish church of St. Chad’s, it’s churchyard being noted for its springtime crocus displays.

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The market place, Poulton-Le-Fylde

At the head of the market place stands the town’s war memorial, market cross and stocks.  The stocks which can be seen in the foreground of the above photo were restraining devices formerly used for punishment by public humiliation.

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The market place, Poulton-le-Fylde

The town boasts 15 buildings listed by English Heritage, it was just a pity that we couldn’t see them at their best due to the poor weather.  To keep dry we glanced in the small, enclosed shopping mall and the new Booths supermarket which sells a range of high quality produce and has an attractive cafe on its upper floor.  Having seen most of what the town had to offer, we hopped on a waiting bus back into Blackpool to have a meal before returning home that evening.  And finally, our verdict on a short break in Blackpool – it’s big, it’s brash but for a traditional seaside break it’s definitely good fun!