Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Blackpool & Illuminasia

I'm glad you liked the blackberry fool I shared last time. Luckily I made plenty as one portion is never enough :) Today I'm taking you back to our adventures in July: me, Chickpea and her boyfriend are heading for the coast. However, our destination, Blackpool, couldn't be any more different to the wild beauty of our visit to Silverdale.

While I was growing up we holidayed in Blackpool almost every year. One of our favourite things was to see who could be first to spot the Tower as we raced along on the train or in the car. So exciting to finally see it and know that we were nearly there!

For several years we stayed in what was then called a boarding house, better known now as a guest house (half-board). However, we mostly stayed in caravans, first my auntie's and then our own. We always came to buy bbq chicken from this shop and I was thrilled to see it's still here, and the chicken looks just as delicious.

Further along the street is the Winter Gardens which opened in 1878. It's undergone lots of restoration recently and houses a theatre, restaurant and cafe, plus a new tourist attraction which we'll be back to see later. On the day we visited, it was being used for the graduation ceremony of Blackpool & the Fylde College so there were lots of students wandering around in their gowns with proud families in tow.

And look, we're right under the Tower now! There'll be a better view of it later but a couple of facts: it opened in 1894 and is 518 feet tall. A lesser known fact: in all the years we holidayed in Blackpool, none of us ever went to the top of it! When I was younger I don't think we could afford it, or at least there were better things to spend our limited money on. The same goes for now, though I'd like to go up there one day.

What we did do was visit the attractions in the building underneath, one of which was the Tower Circus. I don't remember much about it but, reading the Wikipedia entry, I do remember seeing the finale when the circus ring was lowered and filled with water and there were fountains lit up with lights - magical to see as a child.

The other thing Blackpool is famous for is its Illuminations, which stretch along the sea front for 6 miles and contain more than 1 million light bulbs. This year the grand switch on is 29 August until 9 November. I'm not sure whether these are part of the preparations for this year or are part of an all year round display. One of our favourite treats when I was little was to ride through 'The Lights' on one of the illuminated trams though there were always queues to get on the best ones like the rocket or the train.

Anyway, let's carry on. We were heading for the sea front to walk along the North Pier, the oldest (1863) and longest (1650 ft/500m) of Blackpool's 3 piers. Each of the piers has very different atmospheres and this always seemed the most sedate. You used to have to pay to walk along it too though it's free now.

All along the pier are these beautiful cast iron seats which, like the pier, are clearly in need of some TLC: we saw signs saying that profits from the attractions were going towards maintenance and restoration.

The four hexagonal kiosks were built around 1900.

There are great views of the sea front from the pier. This is looking north...

and this is south where you can now see the Tower in all its glory, with Central Pier in the distance.

Near the end of the pier was this unusual double-decker 'Venetian Carousel'. I thought it was historic but a search on the internet tells me it was built in 1991 and cost £500,000!

I don't think the whole of this stand would cost you half a million quid! I only took the photo because it reminded me that there used to be a joke shop in Blackpool which sold things like itching powder and whoopee cushions! It always fascinated me that someone could make a living out of selling nothing but joke toys!

After the pier, we carried on along the promenade heading towards Central Pier - this is looking back north. We liked the new lamp posts but the black 'Dune Grass' left us baffled. Apparently they are the world's largest kinetic sculpture and won an international award in 2013!

Much more interesting was The Comedy Carpet. It covers 2200m2 and contains jokes, songs and catchphrases from more than 1000 comedians. We spent ages wandering around reading parts of it. If you're interested, the web site has a map of the full carpet and index of the different sections: this is Catchphrases 1.

Carrying on along the promenade, you can see the big wheel and other attractions on Central Pier.

To our left is Coral Island, one of many amusement arcades. Chickpea was thrilled to see that her favourite parrot is still on the outside of the building.

And we were all delighted to see that there are still donkeys providing rides along the sand. I have several photos of me as a child on one of the Blackpool donkeys.

We're now walking along the Central Pier which was always our favourite as it includes fairground rides and amusement arcades.

We walked up the north side to the end and back down the south side, looking towards South Pier.

If I zoom in a bit you can see the fairground rides which are now on the Pier - it was more like the sedate North Pier when I was younger. The rollercoaster is The Big One on the Pleasure Beach amusement park, 'the most visited tourist attraction' in the UK.

There were a couple of things I wanted to do on our visit and this is one of them. Chips with plenty of salt and vinegar. They would have been even better eaten out of newspaper but 'ealth & safety means we had to settle for a polystyrene cone. Still delicious though.

Fortified with our chips, we headed back to the Winter Gardens to see Blackpool's newest attraction, Illuminasia, which was billed as the 'world's largest indoor illuminations experience'. The tourist leaflet looked intriguing so we decided to give it a go.

All the models were created by Chinese artisans who covered metal frames with silk and lit them with LED lights. Let's take a look...

We weren't sure what to expect but, I have to say, we were really impressed. Land of the Giants (with the dog, snail and toadstools) was our favourite and it was quite an experience walking between the huge illuminated models. I'm not sure it would have been worth a full price ticket but we bought discounted ones from the tourist information office.

Just time for a coffee in the local market - another place we used to visit during childhood holidays, particularly the very good fruit and veg stall near the entrance.

Then a last walk along the sea front with a Mr Whippy ice cream (another of my targets for the day!).

No, it isn't really 12 o'clock: it showed the same time all day!

It's a few years since I'd been to Blackpool, partly because I spent so much time here as a child but also because it seemed to have been taken over by stag and hen parties. Some of the 'novelties' openly on sale in the kiosks and gift shops were totally unsuitable and crude for a family resort. Thankfully, these were much less visible on our visit and it does seem like they're trying to bring the family atmosphere back. As it is, I had a great day walking down memory lane and also seeing all the new things Blackpool has to offer.

This morning I woke to glorious sunshine which is lucky as we're off to a country park today. Tomorrow I have the less exciting task of shopping for a new washing machine :(


  1. I've never been to Blackpool, so thank you very much for sharing your fantastic pictures.
    I relly feel as if I visited with you.


  2. What beautiful photos! We used to go to Blackpool for family holidays, lots of lovely memories :)

  3. It looks as though you had a great time!!! The light sculptures are amazing and must have been interesting to see, I could personally live without the dune grass sculpture in my life, but I don't dislike it that much either! xx

  4. Wonderful photos, and great in the sunshine! Our family also used to attempt to be the first one to see the tower on the journey into Blackpool, the winner got 20p from Dad.
    I've been visiting Blackpool at least once a year since birth, and it was only last year when we finally went up the tower - tesco vouchers exchanged into tickets. There is a bit to do on the way up, and at the top the views are great on a clear day.
    We take the children now, and also have the same 'must do's' each time we're there - chips, do-nuts, walks on the pier and a quick go on the 2p machines!

  5. We used to go to see the lights with mum and dad, then when my oldest son was about seven we went for the day/ evening, it was cold and rained, we forgot were we parked the car and spent hours looking for it in the rain...found car..heater didn't work... Traffic realy bad getting out.. Took us three times longer to get home ( 2.30 in the morning) I vowed there and then I would never go to Blackpool ever again...
    Having said that your photos show it in a good light... Still never going back..
    Amanda xx

  6. Oh, I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this post! I have NEVER been to Blackpool but I feel like I have now!
    Like you, I like the lampposts, but I don't get that black thing on a large pole!!
    And that Comedy Carpet! I love it! I just looked at the link and believe it or not, I recognize almost all the comedians, I told you I have an English heart! xx

  7. Such en enjoyable post Julie! I went to Blackpool a couple of times as a child and myself and my brothers adored it! Illuminisia looks absolutely amazing, what a fantastic thing to see. I agree that chips and a Mr Whippy are absolute essentials when visiting the seaside. I'm glad you said that there were less of the hen and stag parties etc as that was what had put me off going with my own family....I would really love to visit Blackpool again.
    Marianne x

  8. What and outstandingly amazing area. I've never seen so much entertainment in one place except for Disneyland. You could probably spend a lifetime visiting and not see and experience everything. Loved the old piers and the lights - and the beaches - and the fun fun fun that could be had there. Amazing!

  9. I went to Blackpool when I was about 12 I think, we were there only because there was an exhibition nearby that my dad wanted to see. I know I went for the illuminations when I was 2 as well, but I remember very little of that! It doesn't really have a good reputation and I didn't like it when I was 12 so I've never felt inclined to go there. The joke shop brought back memories though - we bought a couple of things from it, including a fake dog poo! I have heard about Blackpool a lot in recent years and it's good to see it seems to be improving a bit. Illuminasia looks interesting and the comedy carpet was a great idea too!

  10. Wow, your photos are fantastic! The beach scenes and the lights, just beautiful. I went once and was underwhelmed, I think maybe I need to go again. x