Blackpool is a pleasure from dusk until dawn, say Matt Clark, Stacie Pardoe and little Liam.
Well known as a traditionally British seaside resort, Blackpool offers tack and tastelessness in equal measures. But don’t knock it. The town attracts more visitors than any other place in Britain outside London.
Crowds flock here because it offers old-fashioned entertainment, such as the tower and piers, along with 21st century white-knuckle rides that will thrill even the most jaded funfair goer.
Hampton Road Caravan Site has become one of the most popular …
Newton Hall is a family owned and operated holiday park, with …
Whalley Villa Caravan Park is located on the outskirts of the …
Stacie and her three-and-a-half-year- old son Liam joined me to sample the delights of a traditional British seaside holiday. We had thrills, spills and bags of fun.
Our base was close enough to the bright lights, but far enough away to enjoy peace and quiet, meaning that a great deal was in reach without exhausting little legs.
The day was sunny, so with buckets and spades loaded into the back of the car, we headed for the beach. Most of the seafront is cordoned off; extensive defences against erosion are being built and there is other restoration work. However, there is still good access to the beach near the North Pier, close to the tower. We found the South Beach car park always had spaces and then we got the tram to the North Pier and seafront.
With lovely yellow sand, it’s easy to see why this stretch of seafront is called the Golden Mile. A machine sweeps the sand every morning. When we got there it was still pristine. Liam and I got straight down to the man’s work of building sandcastles. The sand was the ideal texture – the little turrets on my bucket, er, I mean one of Liam’s buckets, came out perfectly.
I started to build a scale replica of Conwy castle in sand while Liam was enjoying splashing around in the water.
Later on Liam got friendly with Dolly. She had hairy legs and dark sad eyes, but then most of the donkeys on the beach did. Liam loved his ride on her and it goes to show that the old-fashioned entertainment is still the best.
After his ride Liam was in the mood for a round of golf. On the way to the beach he had spotted a crazy golf course at Starr Gate.
We took the tram back to South Beach car park. I really enjoyed travelling by tram. There are a great variety of old trams, some date back to before the Second World War.
We travelled the rest of the way by car to the car park at the Crazy Golf, or “itzy golf” as Liam called it. As far as crazy golf courses go, this was impressive. The place had a replica of Blackpool Tower, the usual windmill and various other obstacles to challenge your putting skills.
We were able to eat our packed lunch on the benches provided. I thought Liam would like a Slush Puppy from the ice-cream kiosk at the golf course. Liam turned his nose up. It seemed a shame to waste the blue slush, so I took a sip, just for old time’s sake. I was transported back more than 20 years. It was so sweet. I remembered sucking the precious flavouring out of the slush, leaving a white, tasteless mess at the bottom of the cup.
We returned to base exhausted; time for a quick meal and a long sleep. The next day started off cloudy. We feared rain, so it was time to make a contingency plan and organise some indoor entertainment.
In Blackpool there is always something to do come rain or shine. We thought we would try the circus. The thing that impressed me most when my parents took me to the circus was the elephants. Blackpool’s circus was in the bottom of the tower and I was intrigued how they would fit the elephants into such a small space.
As a multi-award winning visitor attraction, our expectations were high. We weren’t disappointed. There were top performers from all over the world. The high wire act was the most impressive. The Marinos, from Colombia, performed various stunts on the high wire, including walking it with one of them standing on the shoulders of the other. You could see the concentration on their faces and the sweat dripping off their foreheads as they made their way across the wire. One slip would have sent them both plummeting 40 feet to the concrete floor. Liam, however, was unimpressed by this. At his age you believe you are invincible and don’t understand danger.
Another hair-raising act was the Bukovina Troupe from Russia. They performed some amazing acrobatics using a springboard. One of them even did a somersault with stilts on.
Liam preferred Mooky the Clown. Mooky’s comedy was more sophisticated than the usual slapstick you associate with clowns. Sure enough he had a sidekick called Mr Maxi, who was the straight man of the double act, and they would knock each other about in the great tradition of clowning, but Mooky had some great one-liners as well. Liam’s favourite was: “It’s raining cats and dogs out there; I very nearly stepped in a poodle.” He was chuckling away at that and so were the rest of us.
When I saw the circus as a kid, a particularly memorable moment was when the elephants pooed on the floor of the circus ring. It far surpassed anything the clowns could do to make my mates and me laugh. And there were elephants at this circus, trained by Mooky. Of course they weren’t real, but were men in very convincing costumes. What made these jumbos seem more real was when one of them went to the loo on the floor. I am happy to say both Liam and Stacie found that funny. And I was pleased to find that I wasn’t the only one with an infantile sense of humour.
The circus provided us with two hours of fantastic entertainment. If anyone is inspired to try some of the acts themselves they can turn up to the tower on Monday morning and learn how to juggle, walk on stilts and do other tricks. This is all included in the entry price to the tower: the price of the circus entitles you to explore all the other entertainment the tower has to offer.
We went to the top of the tower, which is a dizzying 518 feet high if you measure up to the flagpole. It was built in 1894 taking its inspiration from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I imagine it was done in the spirit of ‘anything the French can do we can do better’, but at 984 feet high the Eiffel tower is taller. Nevertheless, for me, this was high enough. There is a glass floor on the viewing gallery known as the ‘Walk of Faith’ You look down 380ft to the ground below. If you look closely you can see an outline of a man drawn on a building roof as if it is a crime scene investigation. By the outline it says “Ouch!”. Obviously, someone has a sense of humour. The drop didn’t seem to impress Liam, but I was terrified.
Liam preferred Jungle Jim’s. This is a massive play area for kids. It includes a big ball pool and a jungle safari with tubes to crawl through, rope bridges and slides. Liam went wild.
There is also an amusement arcade in the tower. Liam and I bonded by playing a shoot ’em up game. Near the arcade are eating places and a bar. They are all child friendly and they serve a variety of food from chips and pies to jacket potatoes and sandwiches. The tower had provided a full day’s entertainment and apart from the arcade games all the entertainment was included in the entrance price.
Next day was to be a thrill seeker day. Blackpool’s famous Pleasure Beach was the first port of call. You can pay for rides in two different ways. If you want to go on every ride as many times as you like, you can get a wristband pass. Or you can just pay for the rides you want to go on. We went for the wristbands. Our first ride, the Flying Machines, was built in 1904. It was one of three designed by Hiram Maxim to raise money for his attempt to be the first man to fly a measured mile. The one at Blackpool is the only one still surviving. It consists of a pole with ten arms that have gondolas suspended from them. The arms revolve and the gondolas are flung outward by centrifugal force, creating the illusion of flight. As we got on, I was worried something this old would suffer metal fatigue. Getting up to speed, the ‘flying machines’ were flung outwards and I hung on for dear life. Liam and Stacie appeared to be enjoying it, though.
There is a special section of the Pleasure Beach for younger children. Beaver Creek is full of the gentle rides that little kids seem to love, such as motorboats dragged round a pool, or traditional carousel rides. We stopped for lunch at the Beaver Creek Catering Company. It was hotdogs all round and a vile-looking blue drink for me.
If you prefer more extreme rides, there are plenty. The Pepsi Max Big One looked like the most ‘fun’ judging by the screams of the riders and the most stomach-churning was the Irn Bru Revolution.
I don’t like roller coasters; they scare the life out of me. So Stacie was confused when I suggested trying the Master Blaster water roller coaster at Sandcastle Water World. It is the longest water slide in the UK. Next day I found myself waiting my turn to ride the Master Blaster. Liam was too little to go on it and Stacie was looking after him. I was to face this venture alone.
To ride the Master Blaster I had to sit in the middle of a giant rubber ring and hold on tight as I was pushed down a plastic tunnel. The water flows down the tunnel through some twists and bends. “This is easy,” I thought, but I began to pick up speed. A recorded voice in the tunnel told me to hold on tight and then I started to worry. I was thrown down some twists and turns that nearly turned me over. One minute I was facing the way I was going the next I was facing backwards. It was great. I found myself laughing uncontrollably. It was probably hysteria. The ride finished with a steep waterfall, which propelled me into some slower water where I slowed down.
I came off with a broad smile on my face and went to join Stacie and Liam. They were playing in the whirlpool. While I had been enjoying myself on the Master Blaster they had been exploring the rest of the pool. They took me to this plateau and told me to wait. Nothing happened. So I waited some more. By this time other people had joined me. Then suddenly a deluge of water hit me. It came from a large container on the roof and apparently empties itself at odd times throughout the day.
Sandcastle Water World was a big hit with Liam. We had spent most of the day there, but he didn’t want to leave. Stacie finally managed to cajole him out of there with the promise of an ice cream.
It was sunny on the last day of our trip, so we decided to sample the delights of the Central Pier. That’s the great thing about piers. There is a lot to keep you entertained, but you can also enjoy the sea and sunshine as well. The pier was heaving with people. There was the smell of candyfloss and hot dogs and the manic noises of rides and sideshows. It was all quite dizzying.
Liam and I decided it was time for another shooting game, but this time we had real guns, well, fairly real guns. We had to shoot targets with a machine gun type of air rifle. If you shot out the red star on the target you won a life-size teddy bear. I shot the target in half. Liam did better and won himself a small teddy.
I bought a bag of 20 tokens so Liam could go on some of the rides. If you buy in bulk you get a saving, otherwise the tokens are a pound each.
After all the noise and confusion of the central pier, we decided it was time for a bit of piece and quiet. Stanley Park, just a mile or so from the seafront seemed to fit the bill. It dates from the 1920s and has undergone a massive renovation, funded by lottery cash, to restore this splendid place back to its original glory.
The same family who used to operate it in the 1920s has recently renovated the privately owned art deco Lidstone’s café. We stopped for lunch here and Liam had an ice cream.
After lunch we walked down some stone steps flanked by lions that looked like they were playing football. Apparently, the footballing lions used to belong to Pope Leo X and are thought to date from around the year 1500.
Passing through the garden, which was vibrant with colourful plants, we got to the lake and hired a motorboat. We passed under two impressive bridges that span the lake and Stacie just managed to avoid running over some of the wildlife, which includes herons, moorhens and ducks. We also took Liam to the children’s play park, which was very impressive. It even has trampolines to help the kids burn off all that excess energy.
The park was a nice and relaxing way to end our holiday. We felt we had rediscovered a bygone age of holidaying where the fun was simple and affordable.
You may dismiss Blackpool because of its tacky image, but it offers good old-fashioned, unsophisticated fun, which is what family holidays are all about. With extensive renovation schemes throughout the town it looks as if a new generation will be introduced to the delights of a British seaside holiday.