An April 2006 trip
to England by shaunandtrish
Quote: Thanks to the rail companies' inability to come up with a fair, I volunteered as chauffeur to the premier event in the race calendar.
Aintree is not that bad to get to actually, it's just off the A58 on the northern approach into Liverpool and quite easy to find. Parking on the other hand is not such a cinch, so unless you plan on doing what I did and clearing off once you've unloaded, an organised bus trip (of which there are many on GN day) may be a good choice.
Accommodation on and around GN day goes quickly, so if you plan on making a weekend of it, and staying somewhere within 15 miles of the course, I'd make arrangements at least 6 months in advance. There are at least two Premier Travel Inns within a 15-minute walk of the course, at about £60 B&B per room per night, so bargains of sorts can be had. Or you could stay at the Beaufort ...
Prepare for all weathers... and I mean all weathers.
For the "go your own way" types, here is some useful information. The post code for the course is L9 5AS. If you bang that into this website, you'll get yourself a nice map of where exactly it is. If you also know the post code of the starting point of your journey, you'll be able to put the start and finish points in the route planning section of this website, and get a nice description of the best road route to get you there.
Hotel | "The Beaufort Hotel"
Anyway, this place was within the price range of my cheapskate employer and, from the description on the website at least, appeared to have leisure facilities. In fact judging from the web-site it looked a bit of a find at the price. My suspicions about the establishment were raised initially towards the end of the first day working with my client. "Where are you staying tonight?" they inquired politely, "Oh, at the Beaufort Hotel. It's near Ormskirk. Do you know it?" Those that did started chortling and nudging each other, and began making remarks about "lively evening entertainment" and "grannies" being "grabbed." I'm a man of the world (ahem) and I quickly worked out that this place had the reputation locally as a knocking shop. Anyway it was only one night and I could lock my door and turn the telly up.
Arriving at the hotel at about 6pm I noticed that it did in fact display all the tell-tale signs of being a "knocking shop." It was in an out of the way-ish location (convenient for people who don't want to be spotted for whatever reason) and the banner outside heralded a "room" price, not a "per person" price. Lots of hotels adopt this price structure, but when they make such a big thing of it, it makes you wonder. The icing on the cake was the "events" board in the lobby. There were at least three "Cliques Singles Nights" scheduled per week over the forthcoming month. Not tonight, thankfully. Suspicions nonetheless emphatically confirmed. The next most popular "event," incidentally, was the "Gypsy Jazz Night." I must confess I was not aware that "Gypsies" as an ethnic group were especially associated with the "Jazz" musical genre, but obviously there is an unusually high concentration of jazz-loving gypsies in that part of South Lancashire. Anyway, to all intents and purposes the hotel was pleasant, clean and well upholstered. I checked in and made my way to my room, hoping that the bed would be clean and that it did not betray too many obvious signs of "usage." It didn't. The room was nice, trouser press, bathroom was a decent size, and it was clean. I checked the promotional material for some info on the leisure facilities only to find out that they were attached to the sister hotel 10 miles away in Southport. Hmm, the website could have been clearer about that.
Cut a long story short, I left the morning with no visible scars.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on April 15, 2006
Best Western Beaufort Hotel
Ormskirk, Lancashire, England L40 7SN
Restaurant | "The Beaufort Hotel"
The breakfast I had in the morning was all wrapped up in the £50 B&B rate, and included a surprisingly wide range of choices. You got your usual self-service table with juices, cereals, and yogurts, but hot choices included the standard "full English" but also others like porridge, poached eggs on toast, and kippers. I had kippers and poached eggs, and they were great. Coffee was the only minus point. It was either instant or tasted like it was - which is just as bad.
Overall, pretty good.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 15, 2006
High Lane, Burscough
Ormskirk, United Kingdom L40 7SN
+44 (01704) 892655
After driving for about 20 minutes I encountered the small town of "Formby", stopped for petrol and inquired how a stranger might happen 'pon pleasant surroundings for dog walking. Even though it was tossing down. The young attendant pointed me off in the direction of the beach which was about a mile down the road. Beaches are good for dogs as the potential for mayhem, distress and damage are limited. So I headed off down this narrow road and ended up in a free-to-park car park in the middle of a sand dunes complex. The beach, no doubt, would be just over the top of them. I also noted loads of signs encouraging you not to leave stuff on show in your car ... Hmm. First things first I wandered over to an information board at the edge of the car park to see exactly where I was, only to find that this sand dune complex was in fact the "Formby Hills." Nice though they are, they are by some margin the least hilly hills I've ever come across.
After a short wait in the car while a blustery shower passed over, me and the boys trudged off over the dunes in the direction of the sea. There was hardly anybody else around, so the dunes, the blustery conditions, rapidly changing light and weather and the solitude made this something of a life affirming moment. Yes, it was freezing.
After traversing the tallest of the dunes we came upon the vast expanse of Formby Beach which, like many beaches from Morcambe down to the Mersey is prone to alarmingly rapid tidal changes that have been the downfall of many ignorant, unwary and unfortunate over the years who have not retreated quickly enough to save themselves from a watery end. The sea at that time, I reckoned, was about half a mile away across the beautifully flat and windswept beach. I nonetheless decided to keep my eye on it and not venture too far from the land-side of the beach.
The dogs and I walked for hours, taking photos (me) chasing sticks (them) and enjoying the effects of the rapidly changing light on proceedings as weather blew in off the Irish Sea (both. probably. it's difficult to tell sometimes with dogs).
On our return I did a bit of research about the Formby Hills and found that they are "the fourth largest sand dune system in Britain" (so close to the coveted bronze!), and "although they are impressive, they do not reach any great heights." This I had noted. It is, apparently, "a National Trust property that includes inter-tidal sand flats and dunes, backed by Scots pine plantations, planted at the turn of the last century in an attempt to stabilise them. It was also the site of the first lifeboat station in the country, opened in 1804." The many walks through the dunes are also the home of the rare natterjack toad (which I didn't see, good thing too as the dogs may have rendered them rarer still), creeping willow and dewberry (which I wouldn't recognise unless formally introduced).
I also found that if one is really lucky at low tide, one might just catch a glimpse of "signs left by the first visitors to this beautiful spot, over 5,000 years ago. Fossilised human footprints and animal hoofmarks dated to the Neolithic period have been found in the inter-tidal sediments". I was not that lucky.
Nonetheless a quite beautiful spot. I returned some hours later, ruddy faced and invigorated to Aintree to pick up my equally ruddy faced (for different reasons) cargo. A good time was had by all.
1. My birthday;2. Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race;3. Easter;4. Sunderland relegated or promoted alternately (relegated this year);5. The Grand National.
Number 2 is over-rated, number 4 is a simple fact of life and all the others are inarguably good things to look forward to. This year "we" decided to make a bit more of the Grand National day by achieving "our" life-time ambition of cheering some anonymous animal past the winning post in person. Hopefully to find out later that it was one of those we'd bet on.
For those that don't know, the Grand National is the premier steeplechase (over fences) event in the UK racing calendar and for reasons that I'm not too clear about, has managed to infiltrate the psyche of the UK population to the extent that it is something of a national treasure. In practical terms that means the pay-TV companies are banned by Act of Parliament from sole rights to broadcast live - seriously. Same with the FA Cup and Wimbledon, but NOT Test Match Cricket. Where's the justice? It's fair to say that this may be the only race each year that many people will bet on, however picking the winner is a notorious lottery due to the large field, the fences, collisions and what not. The down-side of all this is that it is quite common for a horse to come fatally a cropper over one or other fence. It's not that popular with animal rights groups for that reason, and there are some quarters that campaign to get it banned. This year it was Tyneandtyneagain that ran its last race, so these people do have a point.
The Grand National is held on a Saturday in April each year at Aintree Race Course, on the outskirts of Liverpool, as part of a high profile racing weekend. "Ladies Day" a day when females are egged-on to wear the most impractical headgear invented, is generally the day before (Friday). This year our group decided to extend "Ladies Day" into Grand National Day, wearing posh frocks and elaborate hats on a day when polar gear and balaclavas would have made far more sense.
As a high profile sporting event it is subject these days to the tightest security. Police are all over the place directing traffic from within a one-mile radius of the course, bags searched on entry etc. Once inside you'll be directed to a part of the course commensurate with the price of the ticket you're carrying. Trish and friends had forked out about £50 each and so were able to take seats in the Grand Stand next to the winning post. The big race-day screens will occasionally give you close-ups of any A to D list celebrities occupying posher seats than you. It's fun trying to spot the point at which they suddenly realise they're on screen (i.e. the "pout").
The showpiece race itself tends to take place at about 4pm, and is preceded by three or four lesser races to allow you to get used to losing money and to wander round taking in the atmosphere of the place. One mandatory point of pilgrimage for all is the life size bronze statue that stands above the resting place of three times winner Red Rum. This is the only horse to have achieved this feat, meaning that he is revered by the nation somewhere in between Princess Diana and Frankie Howerd.
Once the Grand National is over, there are two or three lesser races to complete the card, before it's all over for another year. If you're into that kind of thing I suppose it's one of those things you have to do at least once, and, from what I'm told, it generally surpasses expectations.
For the record we bet on last year's winner Hedgehunter because its name sounds like the type of thing our dogs do. It's as good a way as any of picking a winner, but it was beaten to a second successive victory by Valverde. People with an "Auntie Val" must have been quids in, especially if she had a greenish look about her.
Durham, United Kingdom