Day 3, Blackpool!
Today’s ride theme was more urban than rural, more asphalt and flagstone, less gravel and grass. Our apogee was to be the North West’s seaside resort behemoth we call Blackpool.
I’ve only visited Blackpool once before on a similar autumn ride with Steve, and I wanted to go back as I felt there was more to be seen. As an encouraging bonus, the weather promised blue skies and warm sunshine rather than the overcast dampness two years ago. While you’re unlikely to find this brash seaside resort on either of our ‘places to stay’ shortlists it’s clearly enjoyed by many, and it’s a personal reminder of fading 1970s seaside memories visiting Whitley Bay with my grandparents.
Our route takes us west alongside the Wyre-Lune Wildlife Sanctuary an easy six miles to Knott End. Here the Wyre estuary halts our self-propelled progress, and as we wait for the passenger ferry (which runs to a tide-affected timetable) we grab an al fresco coffee from the cafe, making our break official with a KitKat.
Beside us a polished stainless steel statue of a matchstick man and dog celebrates LS Lowry’s painting ‘The Jetty at Knott End, near Fleetwood’. The artist was known to frequent Knott End, and Fleetwood on the opposite side, with this sculpture being sited on a spot he occupied when sketching during the 1940s and 1950s.
When it’s time to board, we cautiously roll down the ramp to the waiting ferry, the receding tide having left behind a veneer of estuary mud. One foot cautiously unclipped. Brakes delicately tickled. Radar eyes searching for peace of mind. The crossing is short, with only time for payment and a few photos before we’re alongside the Fleetwood pier. Grippy mesh decking here being a welcome alternative to sloping ramp.
Following the coast south, a mix of seawall, road and promenade connect Fleetwood, Cleveleys, and Blackpool. Following the sea wall by Fleetwood our way is blocked by works modernising the defences. Muttering that we’d missed a diversion sign (easily spotted now we know to look for it) we make a U-turn.
It intrigues me how sometimes riding is all, with obvious points of interest blithely dismissed for the greater cause. Progress. Destination. Yet a small hiccup can cure this resistance, as is the case for us as doubling back we stop at a previously ignored architectural leaning tower to find out more. A friendly volunteer’s welcome, bikes secured, and steps ascended. The four-storey Rossall Point Observation Tower’s top deck is frequented by bird watchers, and also provides elevated views along the coast and out across the bay to the distant Lakeland Fells. Today is a little hazy, but we can still make out their sawtooth shades of grey.
From here we briefly leave the coastline to bypass the construction site, but soon have the sea back at our sides as we cross the Illuminations’ threshold. Being early afternoon they are, of course, unlit. Unfinished business for me perhaps? With the omnipresent tower always in view and teasingly revealing more detail as we draw nearer it’s easy to judge distance to go, but even without it the increasing density of guesthouses, hotels and people could serve as a similar indicator. We spot numerous memory triggers from our previous visit and comment how a photo book documenting the entire frontage would make an interesting read.
Passing several decaying cast iron Victorian seafront shelters, we’re pleased to encounter one example being repainted by volunteers. It looked splendid with its fresh gloss green and cream coat.
Eyes and ears are soon taking-in the static Illuminations floats, gaudy candy floss and ice cream stalls, a Ferris wheel and old style fairground rides on one of the piers, fast food outlets, pubs, art installations, amusement arcades and cabaret posters. Yes, Elvis lives!
We stop opposite the Tower Ballroom which stands beneath the tower. The tower is tall enough to make a full height photo this close challenging for a pocket camera, but the brief sideshow of cyclist holding camera squatting behind a leaning bike while expressing frustration is missed by the masses. Fame and fortune postponed again?
Looking south into the sun’s bright rays the latticework silhouette of rollercoasters can be seen – modern landmarks belonging to the Pleasure Beach amusement park. We ride on to take a closer look. Leaving the hustle and bustle of resort centre behind us it’s surprising how soon this modernised section of promenade is quiet again, most visitors staying close to the tower.
We stop adjacent to a rollercoaster’s first drop, sharing the view with a strongman standing atop a horse, both of us surprised at its height and steepness (the rollercoaster, not the small strongman figurine!). Both qualities are soon confirmed by the screams of excitement, or fear, from those onboard. Recalling memories of my butterfly-stomached first ever rollercoaster ride on the Spanish City’s ‘Corkscrew’ in Whitley Bay more than three decades ago, I conclude if I had ever visited as a teenager this would have been my favourite attraction.
Retracing our tyre tracks back to base, we discuss what lies beyond Blackpool further to the south. Lytham St Annes seems a worthwhile apogee extension. I may be cycling through Blackpool with Steve for a third time in one day!
Words – Jason Liddell.
Pictures – Jason Liddell & Steve Makin.