I owe you an apology. When I first started as the tourism writer for LancsLive in August 2021, it was on the understanding that Blackpool would be a key focus of my stories.
I will admit there was a teeny amount of trepidation. Blackpool was always a novelty to me and I just never really took it seriously. It was fun to visit, but I’d never actually live there, I’d think to myself.
And, in some kind of awkward, coincidental validation, the Fylde Coast town has just been ranked one of the worst seaside town’s in the country in a top study.
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My previous experience of the resort has been restricted to three different phases of my life – the annual family trips to drive through the illuminations when I was a kid, the odd visit to the Pleasure Beach with my mates at the weekend when I was a teen and then later, to frequent the cheap chain bars and arcades along the Promenade. However, before last year, I hadn’t stepped foot in the Fylde Coast town for easily 10 years.
I’ve always been of the belief that stereotypes and clichés exist for a reason, and to my knowledge, that is firmly the case with Blackpool. But a town’s identity should not – and doesn’t deserve to – stop there.
You will see crude lollies and toys and rows of multi-coloured rock on the front in a gift shop, streams of loud and boisterous stag and hen do groups piling into (and out of) bars and clubs well into the small hours. After dark, you may have to watch out for pools of vomit on the pavement or a drunk’s flailing arm. And you may well be lured into an arcade only to lose a fiver on a grab machine in attempt to win a Minion stuffed toy.
You will also come across a fortune teller who has welcomed many celebrities before you and countless fast food places promising you ‘the best [insert food type here] in Blackpool’. There’ll be drag queens, pantos, shows at the Winter Gardens and The Grand, happy hours, fancy dress and singing tones straight out of a ‘worst X Factor Auditions’ reel floating out of karaoke bars.
The sea will be cold, whatever time of year it is and you can ride a donkey called Dolly, Daisy or Bronco on the beach, if you wish. Take any of these things I’ve listed above away, and Blackpool’s tapestry is incomplete.
Blackpool is a thriving seaside resort for eight or so months of the year, and the rest of the time it is, for want of a better phrase, a bit bleak. It is bleak in terms of the moody clouds and icy cold wind and rain, but also for those who don’t have the luxury of packing up and moving to work a season in warmer climates over the winter – they still have mouths to feed at home and bills to pay.
Now, getting to know Blackpool properly over the winter months, with almost every large attraction shut, from the three piers to the Pleasure Beach my main focus was, naturally the illuminations and Christmas, which helped the family trip memories glow in the memory box in my head.
Does Blackpool deserve to be named one of the worst seaside towns? Let us know in the comments below
But it was the stuff I stumbled across, three, four, five streets back from the seafront, in the town centre, hidden between the shuttered up market stalls and down sides streets that showed me the real Blackpool. The people behind the place, the street art and the food.
When my friends or whoever ask me how the job’s going, the first thing I’ll usually tell them is “great, I’m in Blackpool a lot”. They expect a ‘but’ after ‘great’ and when it doesn’t come, they reply “isn’t it still as***h**e?” The conversation then turns into me waxing lyrical about the place and me telling them that that, is in fact, an unfair assessment. I’ll advise them to look past the endless fish and chip shops and reel off the list of independent restaurants I’ve eaten out at over the past few months.
There’s Michael Wan’s Wok Inn with its eccentric decor to the vibrant food and flavours. It is a magnificent Asian restaurant with a Budapest ruin bar twist on Blackpool’s seafront. Or my visit to Stefani’s Pizzeria of Cedar Square, to find out what all the fuss was about. I ate one of the best pizzas that will ever pass my lips. I enjoyed a wholesome brunch at HIVE where you can also pretty much do your weekly shop.
I was invited to have a sneak peek at Common, a South and Central American themed street food bar and felt like I was on holiday in the Med during my meal at Mi Casa Su Casa in Bispham. The owner was so warm and welcoming it was like we’d known each other for years, not strangers.
Millions of tourists flock like migrating birds to the bright lights of Blackpool every year, so it’s clearly got a certain je ne sais quoi charm, whether you can see it twinkling, or not.
However, I can’t ignore Blackpool’s unsavory reputation when it comes to certain accommodation offerings (I’m looking at you Norbreck Castle, mainly). Almost weekly we’ll cover a horror story ranging from blood on the walls to one candle lasting just 10 minutes before fleeing from the smell of cannabis and general grime.
There’s some beautiful boutique guest houses, long-running B&Bs and high-end hotels bang on the seafront, run for generations by dedicated families, including the 108-room Hotel Sheraton and The Elgin, by the Seddon family. These hotels have become an institution in the town, offering affordable holidays for tourists, and are a haven for anyone from young couples to best friends in their 90s who have always preferred a traditional seaside jolly over a trip to the Canaries or Crete.
Somehow, they have weathered being shut for months on end over the pandemic, with loyal custom a huge reason for that. Recently, I stayed in the modern Boulevard Hotel, which was literally fit for a Prime Minister and mistress from the red and blue tracks of The Big One rollercoaster.
Clean, well-equipped rooms, excellent service and hotels with more going for them than whether you decide to rate them a big fat zero or slightly kinder one star, do exist in Blackpool. If you’re a football fan, The Blackpool FC Hotel could be for you, and you can book a room overlooking the pitch.
Blackpool will probably always be burdened by its ‘bad rep’, with high crime, poverty and unemployment rates not helping, but the council has pumped millions into improving tourism, leisure and year-round employment opportunities, with the new £30m conference centre, Christmas by The Sea events and the whopping £300m Blackpool Central development.
Although I stand by a fair few of my original thoughts (the seafront was a especially grim on a particular rainy, windy day in November with not a single other sole about) that image is starkly juxtaposed with my first visit with everything back open on a balmy day at the start of the Easter holidays.
The Golden Mile was packed with beaming faces of youngsters, smothered in ice cream and sand, entranced by the bright, flashing lights as the cloppety clop of the traditional horse and carriages passed by. I took my first-ever trip up to the top of the Tower to sip on a cocktail as I admired the panoramic views out to the Irish Sea and beyond. Fabulous, darling.
It sounds so snobby when I think about it now, but for me, the best thing about the Tower was always the game of “who can spot it first” on the drive in, but it is a beacon for the town and pivotal piece of the skyline. The Tower may not be the scale and stature of that one in Paris, but it does have its own unrivalled character – and a world-famous ballroom dancefloor.
I’ll stop gushing about you now, Blackpool, but you have grown on me these past few months but I still say you are a bit rugged and wild around the proverbial edges. You’re that little sparkle glistening from a diamond in the rough and I hope you continue to show me what you have to offer, beyond the promenade.
Ps, I walked up The Big One and although my legs went to jelly half way up, I wouldn’t have been able to experience that without you, so thank you
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