A business trip to this north-western coastal resort was full of surprises
by MichaelJM on September 29, 2010
I have to confess that all the nights I spent in Blackpool I saw rain. This part of the country is renowned for its inclement weather condition and by the time summer was due I had finished my contract with the company, so didn’t see Blackpool in all its glory. If indeed it has any!!But I did see and check out the Blackpool Tower – one of the features that people the word over know about this coastal resort. The tower was built between 1891 and 1894 and it will be no surprise to read that it was inspired by Paris’ Eiffel Tower. The two Manchester architects (Maxwell and Tuke) responsible for the design of this 518 foot replica never saw the completion of the tower. It took over five million bricks to build the tower and the structure contains 2,493 tons of steel and 93 tons of cast iron. That’s a whole lot of building material for a construction that was only built to pamper the needs of a growing tourist industry.I guess no one reckoned that the tower would become an iconic symbol for the North-West although it did start well with over three thousand visitors on its opening day on 14th May 1894. Those visitors paid the equivalent of 2½ pence to visit this novelty building and a further 2½ pence to ride the lift to the top and then to appreciate the fantastic views of the lake District, the Isle of Man and North Wales. Assuming of course that the weather is good! Nowadays the tower has over 650,000 visitors a year and as a protected listed building it will doubtless be receiving many more over the years to come. The tower ballroom is an amazingly elaborate affair with its superb Victorian Theatrical design and of course the world famous Wurlitzer organ.Blackpool uniquely has three operational piers although their names - North, South and Central – are not that unique. I guess it’s clear where you are on the promenade when you see the pier name in front of you. The North Pier, a listed building, is only 400m away from Blackpool Tower and is therefore the pier that immediately springs to mind when thinking of Blackpool. The North Pier is most famous for its traditional pursuits and it juts out into the sea at over 500 metres. It’s the longest Blackpool pier & perfect for taking a stroll out over the Irish Sea enjoying the view that has remained unchanged since the pier was first built in 1863. The pier itself has changed from the original vision of its designer Eugenius Birch and was widened in order to accommodate more venues and shops. In the 1960s, an arcade was added, and twenty years later the jetty at the far end of the pier was converted to a helipad. Blackpool’s second pier – the Central Pier – was the second to be built and it’s the second longest, and, surprise, surprise it’s the middle of the three piers. It was built in 1868 and originally stretched 460 metres due to its proximity to Blackpool Central railway station. It stands 500m or so to the south of Blackpool Tower, and so is pretty much smack bang in the middle of the action. When it opened in 1868, it was 460m long but in 1975 the final 120m which was designed for use as a landing jetty in times of low tide was removed. The pier is now 339 metres long. This pier was always intended to be a centre for leisure and originally , this was in the form of dancing, but as the years progressed it saw roller-skating, arcades, amusement machines, fairground rides, theatre & bars. It now plays host to a 33 metre high Ferris wheel that was built in 1990 and this required that the mid-section of the pier was strengthened.Work began on Blackpool’s third pier in 1892 and it was originally known as the Victoria Pier but renamed South Pier in 1930. It’s only 149 metres long and included 36 shops, a bandstand, an ice-cream vendor and a photograph stall. In 1958 and 1964 it was severly damaged by fire and a more modern looking theatre was built. Today the South Pier has every kind of modern amusement from bars, electronic arcades, dodgems, and the latest ‘white knuckle’ ride that replaced the now demolished pier head theatre in 1998. From here you’ll get a sensational bview over the famous pleasure beach.Blackpool’s Pleasure beach is exclusively for lovers of rides Blackpool’s and is extremely popular. It’s "not my bag" but walking the promenade it gives a true sense of what makes Blackpool still a popular resort. Of course Blackpool is also known for its Christmas lights and that makes it a resort for all seasons. Along the prom are numerous modern sculptures which look doubly impressive when the sun has gone down. They do look a little less impressive when it’s pouring with rain so I have to have imagination about how truly impressive they might be.
by MichaelJM on September 28, 2010
I’d been recommended the Cottage fish and chip shop by the owner of the B&B that I stayed in. He suggested that it was the best in town and that seemed like such an impressive accolade that I decided to give it a go. Now it’s not in the centre of the town so you do need transport to get there and I thankfully had my Satnav. I say thankfully because it seemed somewhat difficult to find and even with the navigation system I had to ask a local for specific directions. It’s a little off the beaten track and is a fairly inconspicuous place.The Cottage was built way back in 1856 as a farm house by Christopher Johnson and originally had a far more glamorous name as "Flag Causeway Farm". Apparently Christopher made daily visits with his horse and cart to the to pick up cobble stones with which he built his home. These were covered over for generations but the current owners have uncovered the old cobblestone walls for all to see in the restaurant which was Christopher Johnson’s living room. It wasn’t until 1920 that the Cottage operated as a fish shop when Jane Ann Quinn was granted a covenant by the landlords to "conduct the business of fish and chip retailer". She also sold "wet fish" out of her kitchen window. The story goes that the job of peeling the potatoes for the business was "contracted out" to an old woman who lived in a gypsy caravan next to the cottage. She is purported to have selected the big ones to cut into giant chips which she battered sold to local children for an old penny. These large chips became known as penny fingers. Well that makes sense!It was a couple called Stansfield that really put the Cottage "on the map". Mr Stansfield was a fish merchant from Fleetwood who believed his fish was the best in town and his wife invited the stars from the "end of pier shows" for fish and chip suppers. The enterprising bit of this offer was that The Cottage stayed open until 2-3am to allow the celebrities sometime to enjoy their meal and relax after the shows.Throughout the restaurant (which also offers a take-away service) there are loads of signed photographs of the stars giving their appreciation for the meal that they enjoyed at The Cottage. I was told that these were only a small percentage of the famous who had eaten there and that many photographs have disappeared over time, perhaps taken by autograph hunters and the like.Jay Patel took over from the Stansfields and he owned the Cottage for twenty years, saying that his proudest moment was when he served fish & chips to the then Prime Minister, John Major. In 2007 the current owners took over and apparently they needed to do a fair bit of work to bring the building "into the 21st Century". The amazing thing about this restaurant is that from the outside it looks quite small and I wondered, when I entered if I should have booked. But there are rooms lined up and it seems to go on to infinity. I exaggerate a little!!So I sat in the place where many a famous celebrity had sat. The restaurant is basically furnished, but it’s comfortable and with cobbled walls, original beams,a slate floor and converted oil lamps it really looks the part. All the fish is brought in freshly from the nearby fishing harbour of Fleetwood. As well as the conventional fish and chip shop fish (Cod, Haddock and Plaice) you can enjoy Haddock, Hake, Halibut and daily specials which include Turbot, Brill, Seabass, Catfish, Skate, Lemon and Dover Sole and even fresh locally caught Calamari. I decided to go with a traditional Fish and Chips meal so opted for The Cottage Special which was a large Haddock served with chips, mushy peas, bread and butter with a pot of tea. There were alternatives to fish and this included sausage, chicken, a variety of pies.The service wasn’t rapid and I did seem to wait for a long time before the meal arrived but when it did it filled the plate. It was extremely tasty and although I requested tartar sauce it came disappointingly late. The waitress, undeterred left it on the table but I left it untouched. Perhaps she’ll realise it arrived too late.This was a traditional meal in a traditional looking fish and chip shop. The Cottage is not a particularly exciting venue but to experience good quality fish and chips in pleasant surroundings it has to be well worth a visit.
by MichaelJM on July 20, 2009
Number One South Beach gave me sunshine on a rainy Day!I’ve stayed at the sister establishment (No 1 St Lukes) and decided , on my return to Blackpool to try the "big brother", Number One South Beach. But life is never straightforward and my friendly SatNav took me, without any difficulty, to the door of St Lukes! Now I cursed a bit as I didn’t have the proper address of South Beach and having pointed out to myself the error of my ways I was escorted to South Beach by Mark’s father-in-law. I received a royal welcome from Mark and his partner, Graham, and subsequently have learnt that they pride themselves on ensuring that each guest is personally welcomed and made to feel at their ease. That being their intention I can confirm that they do the job to perfection and I felt that I was returning home after a hard day at the office. The ambiance is totally relaxing and it has to be said that the efforts of Mark and his team are underpinned by the delightful decor of South Beach. I understand that this is the work of Claire, Mark’s wife, and if that’s the case she must be credited for creating this boutique hotel’s perfect environment.South Beach is, believe it or not, situated at Blackpool’s South Beach and is well away from the hustle and bustle of Blackpool’s centre. Its 24 bedrooms are all individualised and I was pleased to be accommodated in the macho environment of the Black and White room, which is known as "Drama". I had a super view over the greenness of a small local park, which I was told would be populated by sand rabbits when the local’s had finished walking their dogs. I glanced out my window just before 9.00pm and sure enough the rabbits were frolicking in the grass. To my right I had a superb view of Blackpool’s sea front with the massive mirror globe reflecting the sun (well that’s my over active imagination at work because in truth it was raining fairly heavily), and the steady and graceful turning of two elegant wind-machines.But back to my bedroom. It was very well kitted out with a comfortable sofa, to aid my relaxation, and a modern flat-screened wall mounted TV (indeed it was the identical model to my one at home). There was plenty of tea and coffee to help me through the night and a small tin, which I later discovered held a decent supply of luxury biscuits. Too much of a temptation for me as once again my diet was put on hold. After dinner and a coffee or two I decided to relax in South Beach’s Jacuzzi Bath. There are two things I’d suggest you remember. Firstly when filling the bath be easy with the bath foaming gel. I failed to listen to my own reminder and emptied a full bottle into the bath and then left it whilst I studied the control on the TV remote control. When I re-entered the bathroom the foam was perilously high and extremely frothy. I quickly stopped filling the bath with water but as I’d set the Jacuzzi running the foam continued to rise and, despite my efforts to turn off the motor nothing I did seemed to stop the growth of the foam. After about 10 minutes it was looking like a badly pulled pint of ale but miraculously the froth just rose above the bath before settling back into the water. I carefully continued filling the bath before lowering myself into the luxurious foaming mass and enjoying the gentle stimulation of the jets of water pummelling my aching limbs. To add to my high life style I turned on the wall fitted TV but the noise of the Jacuzzi overpowered the TV volume. I turned it off and just enjoyed soaking in this beautifully designed bathroom.The second thing to remember is that these baths have a self-cleaning cycle after the water has drained and so you shouldn’t panic when the Jacuzzi seems to continue working. I forgot this and desperately tried to turn the damn thing off. I guess I just prolonged its cycle! South Beach satisfies another of the requirements of a good hotel and that is that it should be quiet during the night. I had a great night’s sleep on the real comfortable bed and heard not a sound from the inside, or more remarkably, the outside of the hotel. Full marks on passing the peaceful night’s sleep test!Having dragged myself from my peaceful slumber I checked on my emails via the free internet access and then enjoyed an invigorating shower using some more of the foaming shower gel (this time no rising foam!)Breakfast is another high-spot at South Beach. The expectation is that you place your order the night before and give an approximate time when you want to eat. I’d elected for 7.45 but arrived early with no problems. Starting off with a selection of cereal and fresh fruit and a served glass of freshly squeezed orange I was certainly going to start my day off well. My freshly made coffee arrived in a stainless steel plunger and although I enjoyed it I declined the offer of a further pot. There’s no limit to the drinks they’ll serve you but I had a long journey ahead and didn’t want to tempt fate!!After my cereal the pre-ordered cooked breakfast arrived and what an absolute delight. Just as required and perfectly cooked I tucked into my egg, bacon, sausage, beans, black pudding and potato cake before devouring some freshly toasted bread and marmalade. My appetite was fully sated and I was well set up for the rest of the day. What a superb meal!I was intrigued to read about the transformation of Number One South Beach from a drab but profitable hotel. The work started in 2007 when the owners of South Beach spoke with advisors from the Resource Efficiency Centre. They’d already "gutted the building" to create bigger bedrooms and wanted to ensure that their hotel was not only great to look at but also as "green" as they could make it. So they fitted solar powered water heating system, greatly improved the insulation, fitted passive infrared detectors for the low energy lighting and many other energy saving features. The double-glazing ensures high levels of soundproofing from the outside world and in total the refurbishment has resulted in a really comfortable environmentally friendly hotel.Will I return again? Certainly NOT – I’ll be back again and again and again. Here in Blackpool this haven will almost guarantee you sunshine on a rainy day! Enjoy – I certainly did.
by MichaelJM on January 14, 2009
"Number One" had been voted as England’s top B&B and had been recommended to me by a work colleague who could only claim "that they nearly once stayed here". I’d correctly assumed that it wouldn’t be busy during the Winter months and having checked out their impressive web site I rang to secure my room for the following week. The phone was promptly answered and within minutes I’d been efficiently booked into this small boutique style Bed and Breakfast. I now had to hope that it would be half decent. As fellow travellers are aware you can never be absolutely sure what your hotel’s going to be like until you arrive at the reception desk. I’ve stayed in some fantastic places but on the other hand it’s always the crummier ones that I think of as I approach a new hotel. This was, either way going to be an experience and I was just hoping that it would not be a "typical tired" seaside B&B. It’s in the south of Blackpool town and I hailed a cab outside the station and then just sat back convincing myself that "it would be alright". The taxi driver explained that "Number One" was known to be a different type of B&B – different he explained in a good way. The one thing that hit me was that Number one was set in a residential area and part of its uniqueness is that it is not surrounded by other B&B’s and it feels as if it’s off the beaten track and away from the hustle and bustle of Blackpool central.I was warmly met by the owner and his wife (the roles are reversed in their sister hotel, which I’ll probably give a try next time I visit Blackpool) and she was soon apologising for the room that they’d allocated to me. I was, she explained, the last to book in and so I’d been placed in the pink room. She was swift to elaborate that all the rooms were to the same standard but this one was... She paused to get the right word. "Girly" I suggested to her. Well "no" she replied "but it is pink" Her husband made a jovial comment about "digging holes" and then the time came to check out the room in this small and cosy boutique B&B. Well it was pink with a four poster bed taking pride of place. Now I guess that you need to be comfortable with pink to rest easy in this room, as the large print curtains were complimented by matching cushions on the two easy chairs and furry cushions of the bed.Fashion prints adorned the wall alongside "period style furniture" and I guess the decor is more appealing for the "fairer sex" but there were plenty of in-house gadgets to make the blokiest of blokes to feel comfortable. There was a CD player, DVD, Playstation, large plasma TV with a free view box and a good supply of CD’s and DVD’s available for use by guests. These were sited in a "library" at the top of the stairs and I was invited to help myself for any that I fancied.You don’t need to be a technophobe to stay here as there are remote controls for everything including the lights. Indeed I was turning the sound down on the TV when the lights dimmed and confusion ruled for a while until I found the remote for the lighting. I soon sorted out that I was best using the FreeBox remote to handle by TV viewing as this remote did not assume control over the lights in the room.Technology didn’t finish in the bedroom as I was soon to find out. There was a Jacuzzi bath, with a TV set into the wall at the end of the bath, and a separate "rain shower" unit in the corner. This was a bathroom to pamper yourself in and after a decent meal out I was enjoying the gentle massage of the Jacuzzi bath whilst tuning into some local TV channel. A duo of nicely presented bath robes were available for use and I quietly sat down, after my relaxing bath, to enjoy a selection of music on the CD player and enjoy one of the complimentary drinks out of the extensive selection (I had drinking Chocolate and would enjoy one of the teas in the morning). As a mark of the attention to detail there was an opportunity to take a small bottle of fresh milk out of the fridge (on the landing) rather than user the UHT milk in the small cartons. It "makes a far nicer cup of tea" the owner had explained as she invited me to make use of this facility. If you feel the cold then they’ve though of everything as a small heater stood unobtrusively in the corner to supplement the efficient central heating. Needless to say I was warm enough and didn’t need to try it out.This really feels like home and this 1930 Art Nouveau house, with its original stained glass windows, has been charmingly decked out by the owners who can quite rightly be proud of their B&B. The decor is striking, some may say challenging, and the ornaments and wall hangings will keep you "entertained" for the duration of your stayBreakfast was a veritable feast and you have to pre-order your main course the night before (although that really isn’t a hardship). There’s a decent selection of cereal, fruit juices and my freshly prepared "full English" would certainly keep me going for the rest of the day. I can never resist the offer of black pudding and the sausage and bacon had a "perfect degree of crispness" that I normally only expect to guarantee at home. The egg yolk was in my opinion "spot on" and I polished off the whole meal with no difficulty. And if that wasn’t enough it was followed by toast and marmalade. A perfect start to my day. I seldom wax lyrical about the overall standard of a hotel, but on this occasion I believe "Number One" is faultless. Well done and I WILL BE BACK
Blackpool was one about the only "coastal resort" that I’d positively identified as a place that I would NOT visit. From what I could make out it’s a place that you either love or hate and in my mind it epitomised everything that I disliked (loathed and despised would be too strong an expression). There were crowds, tacky shops, "kiss me quick hats", roller coaster, candy floss, more crowds and variety shows by the dozen. Indeed having studiously avoided the place for almost 60 years it was with mixed feelings that I gave the green light to my company’s request that I offer some consultancy to Blackpool Council. As an aside I’ve only been working for "Corelogic", a company providing software for Social Care Providers, since I retired from my work as a Social Work Manager with a large Local Authority, and their logic (flawless I had to admit) was that I could spend some time in this west coast resort whilst visiting "my long term commitment" in Manchester.Blackpool is only a short train journey from Manchester so at the end of my working day with the City Council, I headed for Picadilly Station to catch one of the frequent trains to Blackpool. With mixed feeling I boarded the train and counted down the minutes when my long term ambition "NOT to do something" would vanish into thin air. I’ve only now have one "NOT to do" left and I’m sure that I will manage NOT to watch the "Sound of Music"! The train journey is probably slower than a car journey, but I wasn’t in a hurry so I sat back to enjoy the view from the comfort of the carriage. Well when I say the view I am perhaps overstating the pleasure of this – it was after all the middle of winter and it was totally black outside of the carriage. I enjoyed the trip by settling back and enjoying the recently uploaded Beethoven symphony on my i-pod.When I reached Blackpool I can cheerfully report that everyone I met was genuinely polite, cheerful and engaging. The station porters gave a cheery wave and the taxi driver got out of his cab to help me get my case into the cab. He was responsive to my questions about Blackpool and nothing was too big an effort for him. A short ride down the front (I’m guessing the tower was at the back of me because I saw no evidence of its presence) and we were soon heading away from the "tourist zone" to the residential serenity that would be my home for the night.The owner of the B&B gave me some tips on local dining and after the briefest of check-ins I was strolling towards the small shopping area in this "conurbation" of Blackpool. I could choose Chinese, Indian, Italian, British or could have eaten Fish and Chips, Pizza or kebabs if I’d have chosen. In the end I enjoyed a quiet meal in a local Bistro (see separate journal entry).On my second morning the taxi company was ordered for me by the hotel and once again I was driven to my destination by a charmingly helpful driver. The town might be going through hard times and the recession biting into their income but you can’t beat the Lancashire hospitality that was evident wherever I went.On my way back to the station later that day I actually saw Blackpool notorious tower. A mini Eifel Tower that has been an attraction for generations. Of course there were signs of "better days" but Blackpool has embarked upon a twenty year programme to tidy up the town and bring it into the 21st Century. They’re half-way through this project and I couldn‘t help but feel that this is one resort that must survive as a pleasure town. It was the summer home for thousands of workers who used to make their "annual pilgrimage" as part of the "works holiday" and millions of children will have clambered on the rides at the pleasure beach.Indeed I did finish up feeling that I’d been a bit hard on the town and perhaps it did deserve the opportunity to display its wares to me. I guess I’ll never be 100% enthusiastic about Blackpool but I am looking forward to my next visit when I might make sure that I can at least explore a little more of the town. Watch this space!!
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