Saturday, May 2nd 2009
When I woke up this morning, I found that my back was worse than yesterday. Just getting up from the bed was difficult. But we have made our plans and paid our money so off we go! I took two painkillers with my breakfast and hoped for the best.
Our journey comprises two stages. We start at Euston, taking the 9:05 to Leeds and change there to a train that takes us to our destination, Blackpool. We have reserved seats on the first train but not on the second.
The ticket clerk had not been able to find us seats together. We found we had window seats, one behind the other. All seats in the carriage were reserved but we were lucky: neither of the occupants of the seats beside us turned up, so we were able to sit together after all.
It is a beautiful day, sunny and warm, a good start to a holiday. If the weather stays like this we shall be fortunate indeed.
As the train hurries north, the view through the window of lush green countryside is relaxing and pleasant.
Our change at Leeds went smoothly and at 3 minutes to 2 we at last reached Blackpool. As our hotel wasn’t far from the station we went on foot rather than take a taxi.
The hotel is a Travelodge with an unusually discreet entrance. At reception we were informed that “early registration” requires a fee of £10. Eh? Apparently, “normal” registration is from 3 pm onwards and if you register before that, you have to pay. I regard that as exploitative to a degree.
Nonetheless we went along with it as otherwise we would have had to find somewhere to sit with our luggage until 3 pm. We made a cup of tea and then went out for a walk along the famous sea front. At present this is somewhat spoilt by ongoing works though I have no doubt that these are necessary and will improve the promenade.
As this is bank holiday weekend, the town is crowded. There are stag parties and hen parties and all sorts of parties. The entertainment is loud, the humour crude and the taste unsophisticated but, so what? As long as people are having fun and not inconveniencing others, where’s the harm?
We soon spotted the famous tower which, though smaller than the Eiffel Tower which it superficially resembles, tends to be visible wherever you go, just like its cousin in Paris.
I was quite impressed by the trams though we didn’t ride them today. The route runs along Blackpool’s seafront and all the way out to Fleetwood. The rolling stock is mixed, to say the least. No two trams are the same. There are single-deck and double-deck trams, plain ones and decorated ones; for example, there is one, sponsored by Fisherman’s Friend that has been converted to look like a trawler.
We took a bus out to Fleetwood. After the noise and crush of Blackpool, Fleetwood was refreshingly quiet and calm.
At 7:30, we took the bus back and reached Blackpool in time to watch the sun setting on the sea, a rather novel experience for someone brought up on the south coast.
Sunday, May 3rd 2009
When we went to bed last night, even with the double glazed window closed, we could hear – or feel – the heavy beat of the music at a nearby club. Tigger suggested it was no louder than the thrum of engines on our ferry crossing back from Jersey and indeed we managed to sleep through it.
Breakfast costs extra at Travelodge but we decided to take it here, not knowing whether there are any good cafes in the neighbourhood. Breakfast comes in the form of an eat-all-you-want buffet. The receptionist jokingly remarked that it would save us having to pay for lunch later. Good plan.
Our bedroom window looks out onto an interior light well so it’s difficult to know what the weather is like. We’ll have to wait until we can look out of the window in the breakfast room.
We found the sun waiting for us but also a vicious wind off the sea. It is one of those days when it is warm in a sunny sheltered corner but finger-numbingly cold elsewhere.
It was a toss-up between taking the train and using one of our four days of unlimited travel within the region, or taking the bus. As there was a bus about to depart for Preston, we climbed aboard.
The journey provided some interesting urban landscapes. We fell into conversation with another passenger, a lady on the way to Preston also. When she asked where we came from and we replied London, she said “Oh, southern softies” which though rude is probably better than “southern bastards”.
Preston, as far as we have been able to explore it, has some beautiful old buildings among the usual modern tat. One recent build proudly bore the date 1992 but I very much doubt that it will still be here in 2092, whereas many of the older structures claiming our admiration are well over a hundred years old.
There is also a huge covered market (see above) but it was not in operation today and all we could do was photograph the fabric.
We discovered Miller Arcade, a real gem, as impressively decorated within as without.
I do hope the future of this lovely building can be secured against corporate vandalism, civic inertia and developer greed. A local told us that plans had been mooted to convert it into apartments but that these seemed to have fallen through.
The few pictures I include below cannot do it justice. It needs to be seen in all its glory and beauty of detail.
At Waterstone’s, housed in another beautiful building, we found an impressive ceiling, well maintained and sensitively illuminated. How many customers, I wonder, raise their eyes from the shelves and tables charged with books to admire what is overhead?
Looking around for lunch, we found the pub called the Old Vic and had our meal there.
We decided now to take a bus back in the general direction of Blackpool and stop off somewhere en route. The place we chose was Lytham.
This is a charming town with many elegant souvenirs of its Edwardian past. We had a look around the town and had coffee and toasted tea cakes in a pleasant little cafe called the Coffee Bean. I also bought some Russian Caravan tea for the hotel and to take home to London.
By the time we took the bus to complete our journey back to Blackpool, my back was troubling me. I think the painkillers I had taken in the morning and which had dulled the pain a little, were beginning lose their effect. Sitting in cramped bus seats was painful so I spent much of the journey standing with my back to the cushion for wheelchairs. That would have been all right but for the fact that the driver seemed to think he was in a car rally, throwing the bus around and braking sharply in traffic or at the lights. It was a relief when the bus pulled into Corporation Street, the driver slammed on the brakes for the last time and we could disembark.
We have returned to our hotel where we have made tea and I have taken painkillers. While Tigger watches a DVD about St Anne’s, I am lying down, writing this blog entry and feeling relaxed as my back is pain free for now.
What will tomorrow bring? We will probably use our rail passes for the first time but where we go exactly will be decided nearer the time.
Monday, May 4th 2009
Yesterday was sunny and windy; today is wet and windy, a typical British bank holiday.
Yesterday was sunny and windy; today is wet and windy, a typical British bank holiday.
Nothing daunted, we set off for the station to use one of our 4 days of rail travel. As the weather is more conducive to urban exploration than open-air rambles, we are heading for Chester. To get there from Blackpool is slightly complicated. We start by taking the small diesel Manchester train and will change, probably more than once, en route.
I am leaving navigation to Tigger as she possesses advanced skills in this domain whereas I could get lost in a car park.
Our train terminated at Manchester Victoria so we looked for a connection. The best way to continue seemed to be to set off towards Liverpool and change. Unfortunately, routes to Liverpool were being served by replacement buses. So we had coffee in the unexpectedly elegant buffet and then boarded a coach.
The coach bounced, shook and jolted as if it had square wheels. We stopped at a number of stations and were eventually dumped at Earltown. I have no idea what Earltown is like but it felt like the end of the world. Standing beside the station, the dead cinema with broken windows and a pointlessly spinning ventilation fan symbolized my feelings well.
There was no one on hand to give us information or advice, no notices telling us what timetable, if any, was operating. Once more, a railway company shows complete contempt for its paying customers.
A notice said trains for Chester left from platform 5 which is a long walk from the entrance and over a bridge. Once there we had no idea whether trains were running on not. The “information point” of course did not respond.
Tigger phoned National Rail and they said there were no trains direct to Chester today, only replacement buses. Thanks, we’d already had a helping of that and were not keen on more. The alternative was to go by train via Liverpool.
We waited, unsure of train times, and eventually a train came. We decided at this point that we might as well call a halt at Liverpool rather than struggle on to Chester, only to have the same problems in reverse getting back to the hotel.
We reached Liverpool Lime Street at 14:11 and headed straight for The Crown for lunch. This is a lovely old pub with superb moulded ceilings, wood panelling and a tiled fireplace. As a bonus, the food was moderately priced and we had a three-course meal for both at a total cost of 15.77.
After lunch, we took a walk in the rain past St George’s Hall to the Walker Gallery of Modern Art. Several rooms are dedicated to Victorian art with paintings, sculptures and a few other artifacts. Queen Victoria was present, naturally (see above).
There are also a few rooms of Impressionism and modern art. I rather liked Ben Johnson’s paintings of architectural subjects particularly his breathtaking Liverpool Citiscape.
We had refreshments in the gallery’s cafe and then wended our way slowly back to Lime Street Station. There was a train for Blackpool in 45 minutes but rather than wait on the station, we have preferred to catch an earlier train to Preston and change there.
I think my back is a little better even though the coach ride did nothing to help. In the Crown I accidentally dropped the menu on the floor and was able to bend down—very slowly—and pick it up.
Taking the train to Preston worked out quite well because a few minutes after we disembarked, a Blackpool train arrived at the same platform, so at the trivial cost of an easy change we were rewarded with a much quicker journey.
Blackpool was still as wet and windy as we left it this morning, so we put our heads down and made for the hotel. We have made tea and are relaxing, while Tigger prepares to watch a DVD about Liverpool that she bought in the shop at the Walker Gallery.
We do not feel hungry after our good lunch at the Crown Hotel but if we fell peckish later we have the choices of braving the wind and rain and looking for a curry house or walking along the corridor to the hotel cafe which stays open until 10 pm.
Today was rather frustrating. Not only did we fail in our plan to visit Chester but we also wasted a lot of time in the attempt, thanks to the railways being disrupted and little being done to help passengers reach their destination. Chester therefore remains on the list for another time.
In turn, our visit to Liverpool wasn’t as good as it might have been because it was unintentional and we had little time to spend there because it took us so long to get to it.
Nonetheless, there were some good moments too, such as our discovery of the beautiful station buffet at Manchester Victoria station and the similarly elaborate interior of the Crown Hotel in Liverpool, not to mention the vegetarian sausage and mash at the same venue!
Tomorrow is another day and now that the bank holiday weekend has ended it may be easier to move around.
Tuesday, May 5th 2009
It’s another wet and windy day today so we have decided to go to Bradford. The trains seem to be running more normally and we have taken the 9:29 York train which stops at Bradford Interchange.
As the train trundles east through a green landscape I have been hoping that we might emerge from the clouds but so far that hope has not materialized. I think we shall just have to put up with the rain.
The train passes through Preston as do many services. Perhaps Preston would be a good place to stay another time as every journey goes through it anyway. On all notices and destination boards, it is carefully noted as “Preston Lancashire” as though there is another Preston with which we must not confuse it.
Of course, many important destinations lie across the border in that other county. You know the one I mean, the county of the white rose, Yorkshire. Perhaps it is important to some people to be reminded where each town is lest they stray unknowingly into enemy territory.
Just as we arrived in Bradford the sun came out and then went away again…
For lunch we decided it was time we had the first curry of our trip. Bradford, after all, should be a good place for curry. We found the Tulsi vegetarian restaurant in Centenary Square offering an eat-as-much-as-you-like lunch buffet. Sorted!
I was pleased to see that Bradford, in common with other northern cities, has a free bus, called Bradford Freecitybus, serving the central area. I think this is a good idea and very practical.
We didn’t stop to ride the free bus this time because we were heading for Saltaire Village, mill and workers’ village built in the second half of the nineteenth century by the philanthropist mill-owner Titus Salt.
The larger buildings have now been put to alternative use, for example by private companies and the NHS, but the hospital and houses – built on a plan reminiscent of almshouses – still exist and are very stylish.
We took tea in the Victoria Tea Room then climbed back up the hill to the main road. As we had a day ticket for the bus we might as well make use of it so we took the bus onward to Keighley.
I don’t want to do Keighley less than justice so will say nothing about it as we were not there long enough to gain more than a brief impression. We did notice some interesting buildings along with the usual urban dross of modern times. Though the sun made an attempt to break through, it failed, and so there wasn’t much incentive in the wind and rain to explore and take photos. We made for the little railway station, which must have been quite pretty in its heyday, and took a train back to Bradford.
From Keighley, the train arrives at Bradford Warrior Square, thus providing us with an opportunity to ride on the free bus to the other station, Bradford Interchange, where we take the train back to Blackpool. The bus is small but well designed and comfortable. The bus became crowded at certain points, as it was now rush hour, but here it comes into its own as there is no ticket checking to slow things down.
I would like to see some free routes tried in London, for example, circular routes linking stations and important bus interchanges, as I think this speeds travel and enhance life in the capital. I doubt whether it will ever happen, though, obsessed as everyone is with “value for money” and making services “pay their way”.
The journey back was without incident but in Blackpool we found ourselves facing a stiff wind off the sea as we walked back to the hotel, It was good to get indoors and made a warming cup of tea.
Wednesday, May 6th 2009
With another wet and windy day in prospect, we set off once more for the Blackpool North station. We had thought to go to Carlisle but that would be quite a long journey and given the weather conditions, it seemed hardly worth it. Instead we chose Barrow-in-Furness.
The Manchester train took us to Preston where we picked up a connection for Barrow. Especially on the second leg, the view from the train was very attractive with sea, rivers and lakes. The countryside was green and there were cows, horses and sheep with lambs.
When we disembarked in Barrow, the grey skies, wind and drizzle were there to greet us. How nice it would be if the sun were to break through from time to time but this seems unlikely to happen on this trip.
As it was just after 11 when we arrived, and thus too early for lunch, we have stopped off for coffee on the way to the town centre. What wonders are awaiting us there? Will we stay a while and explore or catch the next train back?
After our coffee break, we went for an exploratory walk. Such was the weather that Tigger bought a hat and I bought gloves. We had not thought it necessary to bring cold-weather clothes with us on a trip in May.
We then discovered the Barrow Market Halls and went in for a look. Less lively than some of the markets we have seen, this one is nevertheless a good one with a broad range of goods. We found a haberdashery stall where I bought some beads for making bracelets.
We had to decide whether to lunch here in Barrow or in Lancaster where we intend to go next. While deliberating on this important matter we spotted the Che Vita Italian restaurant and enjoyed a good lunch there.
The rain had now stopped and this encouraged us to explore a little further. Unfortunately, we missed our train to Lancaster and as it would be some before the next, we instead took the Carlisle train. We could not go to Carlisle itself, however, because by the time we arrived, the last train back would have departed, leaving us stranded.
We planned to leave the train at Whitehaven. There were two trains back from there so we could spend a greater or lesser amount of time in the town as seemed appropriate once we had had a look at it.
Apart from any visits to towns, the journey itself was worthwhile for the varied and beautiful landscapes we saw along the way. This is one of the advantages of public transport: you are not distracted from the view by having to drive.
Whitehaven seems to be a quiet little town, with a harbour, as its name suggests. We had the choice of taking the next train out or of staying a while. In the event, while exploring we missed the first train and had over an hour to wait for the next. While I am sure Whitehaven is a pleasant enough place to live in, there doesn’t seem to be much to invite the visitor for a long stay. We thus repaired to the local Wetherspoon’s pub, The Bransty Arch, for coffee and dessert. This filled in the time agreeably until the 17:39 for Barrow-in-Furness.
The clouds have finally parted a little allowing a pale sunshine to filter through. As the train skirts the coast we can even see some people kite-surfing. At least they have plenty of wind to power them.
There are also houses along here on the beach, though some resemble shanties more than houses. I can’t help wondering whether their owners fear damage or flooding from storms.
It is pleasant to see sunlight on the sea at last though the air remains hazy and distant views fade into mist.
At Barrow, we found our next train, for Preston, and there, our final connection for Blackpool. By now night had fallen and the darkness outside was occasionally relieved by the lights of the stations through which we passed en route.
Leaving Blackpool North station, we walked into the by now familiar gale blowing from the sea. Most winds come in gusts but Blackpool’s wind is continuous and we walk right into it to reach our hotel. The sudden calm as the hotel door slides shut behind us is a relief.
Thursday, May 7th 2009
Today’s big surprise: the sun is shining! The wind is still blowing a gale off the sea but at least the rain has gone for now. We hurried over breakfast and made it to the station in time for the 8:29 York train which will take us to Preston, the inevitable nexus from which most of our routes depart.
Today we start by heading for Windermere. It was our intention to go there but we were waiting for good weather. Today’s sunshine provides our only chance this trip. The train was late departing but as there is an interval of over half an hour between trains at Preston, we should make the connection without difficulty.
For now, it’s a matter of sitting back and enjoying the novelty of sunlit landscape on the way to Preston.
On arriving at Windermere, we took refreshments then boarded an open-top bus which took us to Grasmere where we had lunch at Miller Howe Cafe. Needless to say, the views were spectacular, especially the ever-changing pattern of light and shade from the sun and the clouds moving majestically across the fells.
Travelling on the upper deck of an open-top bus was a good way to see the landscape but not such a good way to take photos as the bus bounced and jolted along the roads.
After lunch we took a bus back to Windermere and joined the train. Despite the sun, the weather was distinctly cold, especially in the wind, and it was pleasant to sit in the train and warm up!
We thus visited the picturesque town of Kendal. There was much to see here and I think we shall have to pay it another visit and spend more time there. Here are just a few of the photos I took while exploring.
It would have been easy to stay a lot longer but we moved on again, this time to Lancaster, where we arrived after changing at Oxenholme. Lancaster also deserves a longer visit and much more attention than we have time to pay it.
On returning to Lancaster station we spied a train for Morecambe sitting there with its doors invitingly open. As we had wanted to pay a visit to that town, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so we went aboard and sat down.
However, Tigger, studying the timetable realized that the last train for Blackpool would leave Morecambe minutes after we arrived so there was little point in going there. We made a hasty exit from the train and settled down to wait for the Manchester Airport train that would deliver us to Preston where we could change for Blackpool.
The Manchester train was crowded but we were lucky enough to find two reserved seats without occupants.
When we reached Blackpool, there was still a gale blowing off the sea as we walked down towards the seafront and our hotel.
“Do you fancy going on the North Pier before going back to the hotel?” asked Tigger.
Well, why not? Blackpool has three piers and we haven’t been on any of them. However, I have to admit that it was almost a relief to find the pier closed. We were free to go back to the hotel and make tea.
Apart from the evening we arrived, Blackpool has not fitted the archetypal image of the sun drenched holiday resort packed with crowds of visitors bent on having a good time. It has been wind-swept, rain-swept and cold.
Our time here is ended and tomorrow we return to London. Will we come back to Blackpool? Probably, but next time we will perhaps base ourselves in Preston or Lancaster and travel out from there. We may then even spend the day in Blackpool but if so, let it be a day of sun and gentle breezes, not of rain and gales.
Friday, May 8th 2009
When we went for breakfast this morning, we saw that the sun was shining at last. On the other hand, the staff told us that the winds had even increased in force and that it was difficult just walking in the street. When we went out and tried it for ourselves we found they were not exaggerating.
We had the choice of spending the morning in Blackpool or going to Preston to wait for the London train on which we had reserved seats. I said I would like to ride on a tram as this was my last chance this time around but when we turned towards the sea, I was hit in the face by such a cold gust of gale force wind that I thereupon gave up on the idea.
Instead we went to “Wilko’s” where I spent a tenner on a wheelie bag for my luggage. The one I have been using all this time has too short a handle and keeps hitting my feet as we walk. I finally became exasperated with it turning over and hooking my shoe off that I finally decided to replace it.
I choose a wheelie bag at Wilko’s with a suitably long handle, transferred my stuff to it and left the old bag, which was still in very good condition despite having clocked up quite a few miles, in a charity shop on the way to the station.
We reached Preston just before 11 am and had to decide whether to wait until this afternoon for the train with our reserved seats or try to find seats on the 11:01. We went for this option but all seats were either occupied or reserved from the next stop Wigan. Our good idea had turned out not so good after all.
We stood until the next stop, Warrington, and disembarked there. The question is whether we try the next and subsequent Euston trains or wait for “ours” in the hope of being able to reclaim our seats. If the trains are as crowded as the one we took, any solution is going to be difficult.
When the 12:22 arrived, we boarded at the very end of the train. That carriage was full but in the next carriage, two fold-down seats were available. This is the area reserved for wheelchairs but as there were no further stops before Euston, we were safe to use them.
The ticket inspector informed us that there were “loads of room” further down the train but we declined, being satisfied with what we had. We could put our bags under our seats (no small consideration aboard a Virgin train as these trains are known for the inadequacy of the baggage storage capacity) and had plenty of leg room.
Things had worked out well after all and we would be home 2 hours earlier than planned.
As we pull into Euston station, my familiar world envelopes me. We pass through the crowds to the bus stop and clamber aboard the 73 and soon we are home.
I enjoy our trips but I also enjoy returning home and plunging back into my habitual environment. I have the best of both worlds.