Wednesday, January 2


I've always wanted to see Blackpool. As a child it epitomised everything that represented the quintessential English seaside experience; wooden piers filled with amusement arcades, a classic Victorian tour and hours of sand-filled fun. Reality proved somewhat different. We found ourselves in Blackpool for lunch while en route to Scotland on New Year's Day.

The previous night had been spent in Liverpool where we'd witnessed the antics of locals in an unusually ornate bar. Entrance to the venue had been via a bland door, down some equally bland stairs. However, upon entering the main floor, we encountered a room of carved wall panels, ceiling fixtures and elaborate paintings. The contrast between the street and the room couldn't have been more stark.

Colourful pillars animate Albert Dock

This juxtaposition was a consistent feature of Liverpool. It's streets and buildings were largely dour, almost depressing. The city's defining natural feature, the Mersey river, proved equally grey and drab. However, once inside, many establishments were colourful and inviting. For example, we had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant in a high-ceiling room filled with dramatic fluted pillars, arches and mirrored walls. It was easy to see way music was often an escape of local in the 60s spawning bands like the Beatles, the Hollies and Gerry & The Pacemakers.

We made our way north on New Year's Day via the local coast road, stopping to enjoy the wonderful sandy expanse of Southport Beach. From our vantage point the beach stretched for hundreds of metres towards the horizon before encountering a single ocean wave. it stretched equally far if we looked either left or right. I can't recall seeing such an enormous expanse of sand. As we stood in awe dog walkers and horse trainers were taking full advantage of its firm, flat surface

Futher on we encountered The Allen Clarke Memorial Windmill just outside Blackpool. Allen Clarke was a local author who's prose captured much of the local character in the early years of the 20th Century. The windmill itself was erected in 1937. This was certainly the oddest memorial we've encountered in the UK. It sits alone on a long, grassy promenade stretching for more than a mile along the coast.

Blackpool itself was a disappointment. The city's colourful Victorian heritage has been progressively overtaken by souless arcades filled with poker machines and toy-filled cabinets accessed by coin-operated grappling arms. The overall impression is rather tacky, tasteless and just a little depressing. I'd expected to find another rendition of Brighton. That is, a slighly worn Victorian facade with hopeful hints of its former glory on display. Sadly, none of this experience seems to have survived in Blackpool. After wandering for an hour we abandoned the drab sights, grabbed a brief lunch and departed for the North.

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