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The end to Sue’s two week break was a trip back to Eastham Hall so we could see Blackpool Illuminations on their 100th Anniversary. Sat in my office at home writing this, I can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather as the rain lashes down on the window and the wind is blowing the first soggy autumn leaves around the garden in big swirls. As Eastham Hall is only 60 miles from our storage site, there was no rush in loading up. As we had only come back from Winchcombe four days earlier, we knew the van was in stand-by mode and all we needed to do was replenish the food boxes and a wardrobe change.

Stopping at Rivington Services (M61 N) for a coffee. All 38 foot 6 inches of outfit fitted lengthwise…..

We set off from the compound just before 10:30. The bit of light rain we had first thing by now had dissipated and it was brightening up. We hadn’t been going that long really and my caffeine levels were severely depleted and that required a quick coffee shop stop.

It has been a few years since I’d been into Rivington Services (a loo stop on the way to work I think when I was at BAE Systems). Since the services had been made famous by Peter Kay a few years back for his “That Peter Kay Thing” TV series, they have gone through a bit of a transformation… well less a transformation and more a “that’s crap, knock it down and start again” upgrade. At least this time someone at the planning stage had said “what about caravans?

They had improved the signs directing caravans…. all the way to five caravan bays, which were easily long enough to fit our 38 foot 6 inches in…. but you needed to be a racing snake when it came to width. If there were five vans in, I don’t think you would be able to walk between them easily. The entry and exit to the bays was a bit tight as well, especially as cars could park opposite to the the front and back of the bays. However, top marks for considering caravanners and motor-homers, could do better on the width and access to and from the bays. (PS… Instead of using big kerbs to keep us in place… try using a bit of road paint… it’s cheaper for you and kinder on ‘van wheels and motor movers!)

So caffeine and calorie levels restored – did I mention the pannini? We set off again. We made good time and pulled into the site at about ten past twelve in a queue behind a caravan and motor home. By the time I’d put the hand-brake on another caravan had pulled in behind us. The chap got out and managed what could only be described as a geriatric sprint past us to get to the reception desk before us. I guess he thought he was on a Caravan Club site and had to be the first so they could get the best pitch. Ho Hum.

Our well honed routine kicked in as it started to drizzle with rain… I was thinking back to the last time we were here… “Wet and Windy in Lytham” It doesn’t seem to take long now to pitch, I guess practice does improve things! Even for a two night stop it is worth deploying the Fiamma canopy as at least it gives us some protection from the elements and somewhere to change shoes in the dry. The rain was easing to the point it was more drips off the trees than actual rain so we decided that we could do a quick trip into Lytham to obtain pies and sweeties. You may remember if you read about our last trip back in June – “Wet & Windy in Lytham” we called in to Kevin’s Bakers on Clifton Street at the junction of Bannister Street, opposite “Tavernors of Lytham – Est 1942” and had possibly one of the finest steak pies ever made…. unfortunately as it was just gone 2:00pm they were out of steak pies – so a couple of individual pork pies and a large meat & potato pie were purchased, for testing purposes of course. We continued to walk down the row of shops and called in The Sweetie Shoppe (twitter: @TheSweetieShopp) to stock up on the usual coltsfoot rock, cough candy and wine gums for Sue. Talking to the owner, they have registered a domain name for the shop but don’t have a web site yet, so I can’t post a link for you.

Saucy…. these might be the answer!

Our next shopping stop was again ‘C.E Atkinson’ – purveyors of every implement a cook could possibly dream off. We were looking for small plastic storage containers for liquids. We try where ever possible to buy local for all our fresh food, however to allow us to do this and cook it, we have to take things that you would normally find in your kitchen to cook with… so things like red and white wine vinegar, soy sauce, peri peri sauce, various olive oils…. basically all the things I need when I don my apron of disguise and become my alter ego “one hairy caravanner”. We found some chief’s sauce dispenser bottles that might just be the answer. While we were in there I got chatting to a gentleman there and it seems he originally hailed from Eccles and could remember some of the Manchester Air Shows that took place at Barton Airfield many years ago, now that did take me back. While I was gossiping, Sue picked up a leaflet and now cooks everywhere can rejoice, they have an on-line shop, so check out www.cookoo.co.uk and I’d like to wish them well with their internet shop.

We wandered back to the car and again I commented on how busy Lytham was. There seemed to be a good selection of shoppers, most with full shopping bags. It looks like Lytham is managing to stave off the general decline of its high street, much like we saw Cheltenham was last week. It was time to head back to the ‘van and plan our illumination extravaganza. Our original intention on coming to Eastham Hall was to allow us to “cycle the lights” – ride the full length of Blackpool’s Illuminations. However, as the weather was still trying to make up its mind, we opted to drive tonight and cycle tomorrow (Saturday). So, not much to do but sit, check email’s, test pies and put the world to right’s. The test results on the pies….. the individual pork pie, well what can I say, best not to talk with my mouth full. Need I say more. The meat & potato was still warm and was in my top ten in both Sue and My “pies we have eaten” table, it was also nice cold straight from the fridge the following day and the day after that as well! Sadly the pork pies did not last to see another day. I don’t think they lasted long enough to see the inside of the fridge actually.

We drove along Clifton Drive and arrived at Starr Gate just about 8:00pm and there were only a few cars in front of us as we rounded the new tram depot at the start of the illuminations. However, that was it. for the next six miles we never moved at a speed where the needle on the speedo would actually indicate anything, so from Starr Gate to Bispham where we turned off up Red Ban Rd took just over two hours. The illuminations are billed as the biggest free light show in the world and for generations northern folk have brought their children to see them and in turn, these children have brought their children. So if you go to see the illuminations this year, when you get to the collection point….. chuck a couple of quid in the box so your children can take your grandchildren to see them in the future.

Lights over Lytham

It was around 10:15 when we were leaving the lights and heading down Red Bank Rd, I’d put the caravan site in the GPS just in case, but had an idea of where I was going. I wanted to avoid any chance of hitting the illumination traffic going in the other direction. My sense of direction was working well until we got round the back of the airport (pilots can always find an airport!) and I must have missed a turning, so a quick check on the GPS got us on a short cut almost in a straight line to the caravan park…. I’d noticed a bright light in the sky but assumed it was the landing light of an aircraft inbound to Blackpool (which with hindsight would have been shut at this time) or Warton, which I do know from working there sometimes could have the odd late arrival or departure. As we turned onto a single track unlit road the light was still there, only brighter and moving in a trajectory that was strange, this time it looked like a firework. I stopped the car and turned the lights off…. we got out and watched this white glowing ball pass us followed by a dozen or so small coloured balls of light with tails of sparks. “I think that’s a meteor” I said to Sue, “I’ve never seen anything like that before” she replied. It must have taken around 15 or 20 seconds to pass us in total. It only took us another 5 minutes to get back to the caravan and I fired up my Macbook and had a quick Google… nothing about it, I even checked for plane crashes in the news feeds, nothing. I posted something on Facebook about what we had seen and left it at that.

Sadly I don’t have a picture. I know, for a photographer, that is a pretty poor showing. I’d decided to leave my big pro stuff at home and go retro with a small lightweight camera, hay ho, but I think I was too busy being amazed to think of taking a photo.

The following day it was all over the news…. the “Lights over Lytham” was in fact a meteor that had been seen from Northern Ireland and Scotland down as far south as Norfolk. Woo Hoo, we had both seen our first meteor.

Saturday 22nd September

Southport on the horizon. Taken from Fairhaven Lake.

Well the weatherman was right yesterday, it was a glorious sunny morning, clear blue sky and hardly any wind. Time for a bit of cycling. After completing the domestic chores  necessary in caravan living we drove down to Lytham Jetty and parked opposite the buildings at the end of the jetty. We got the bikes off the carrier and kitted up. We set off first towards the old Land Registry office at the far eastern end of Lytham prom, then turned back and followed the prom all the way to Fairhaven Lake and following the coastal path round the lake we continued round the lake cutting inland to join the Inner Promenade and following it all the way to St Anne’s Pier – about 4.6 miles total.

At St Annes Pier there is a small cafe with some tables outside and it was time for caffeine and calories. Sue got a couple of coffees and two mahoosive home-made sammiches, a “Famous Lancashire Cheese and Tomato” for herself and a “Chicken” for me. I think one would have done between us. We had thought of driving down here in the evening and then cycling in to see the lights from here. However there were gates on the entrance and exit to the car park so it looked like it might be locked at night, so that idea was shelved. Now comprehensively stocked up on caffeine and calories, we set off to cycle back.

Pity the weather wasn’t like this when we were here in June

Sue looking across towards Southport and Marshside VRP, a reporting point we had used hundreds of time flying in and out of Blackpool Airport

If you learned to fly at Barton, Blackpool or Woodvale this hill and its mast is one reason why you should never get lost. Winterhill TV Transmitter

We cycled back towards the car park where we had left the Freelander. 9.4 miles cycled in total, so a warmup for the cycling later in the day. We loaded up the bikes on the cycle rack while two cars were jostling for position, each trying to get the best angle of attack for our car parking space when we had finally finished securing the bikes.

We headed back to the caravan so we could put our feet up and enjoy some of the September sunshine and catch up on a bit of reading. I’d got a Landrover Owner mag that needed some studying and Sue had ordered the Daily Fail from the reception so had that to digest for a couple of hours. Still stuffed from the Desperate Dan sized sandwiches at lunchtime, we thought that we could drive down to North Promenade, St Annes and park up, then ride from there  to Starr Gate and ride north up the prom to Bispham, get something to eat while the sun went down then ride back south along the prom to see the illuminations, so we would need to leave the caravan about 5:30.

It didn’t take that long to drive to St Annes and find somewhere to park. We stopped almost at the end of North Promenade and parked under a street light that would provide some light when we were loading the bikes back up in the dark. It was only about 1.4 miles from there, past the old Pontins holiday camp at the end of Blackpool Airport’s main runway to Starr Gate where we could join the promenade and the start of the illuminations. The ride to Bispham was 5.3 miles and from leaving the car to arriving in Bispham only took us about an hour and that included negotiating the urban assault course that is small children and dogs on retractable leads. We were way ahead of schedule, and to pass some time until it went dark and the illuminations were turned on, we looked for a cafe that we could sit outside. The first one we came across was “The Cafe Royal” on Red Bank Road. I wedged the bikes between a table and the barrier and sat down while Sue disappeared inside. We shared a cheese and ham tostie and a bottle of water. Sue was holding out for her traditional “Pleasure Beach Hot Dog” later on in the evening. (Don’t ask….. it’s a long story!)

Sunset at Bispham

Sue before the news we would have over an hour to wait. The last time we had stood and watched the sun go down was several thousand miles away in Key West… it was much warmer then.

Now, this is where we messed up a bit. We had not actually checked to see what time they turn the illuminations on. While we were stood watching the sun descend ever closer to the horizon, a local radio station had set up their van on the pavement opposite and were broadcasting live…. we knew that as the presenters kept mentioning it… they were also trying to whip the three people and two dogs – the dogs were attached to their owners by the way, I don’t think they were there to view the show specifically…. I digress, anyway the two presenters were trying to whip the now five people and two dogs in to a frenzy of excitement as they announced it was just over an hour to the light being turned on at eight o’clock…. We looked at each other “Eight O’Clock….” we though they would be turned on when the sun set in about five minutes…. that meant we had to wait nearly another hour! We looked as impressed as the two dogs across the road did.

Err….. who ate all the pies then?

So, we could wait another hour or so then set off or we could start back now and miss most of the lights. We decided on a leisurely ride back and maybe we would get to see some of them.

We cycled back past the dioramas and got as far a Glynn Square when all the lights came on. We later found out they come on at 7:30 not 8:00 as the radio station was broadcasting on that date. The urban assault corse continued and as we approached the north pier we dismounted to get through the crowds, getting back on again as the prom widened out. The ride back was great, cycling the illuminations has to be one of the best ways of seeing them. If you ever get the chance, it’s well worth it.

At Blackpool Tower

We continued to ride past the Tower and on towards the Pleasure Beach where we had to stop. Sue could not contemplate calling a visit to Blackpool complete unless it included her her traditional “Pleasure Beach Hot Dog” So we found a wall to sit on and while Sue looked after the bikes, I ran across the road to obtain two of the finest most mustered covered hot dogs the pleasure beach offered. We sat opposite the Pleasure Beach munching our hot dogs watching the slow crawl of cars and coaches file past us. All the way back traffic was crawling, it had taken us two hours the previous night to drive one way and excluding the break at Bispham, only two hours to cycle both ways. By the time we got back to Starr Gate the traffic was backed up all over. Cycling back along Clifton Drive we felt sorry for some of the cars with small children in as it was going to be at least an hour before they got to the start of the illuminations.

By the time we had loaded the bikes onto the rack and driven back to the caravan, it was coffee and drinks time…. so we both settled our tender bits down for the evening, Sue with a large Brandy and me with a large Baileys and watched a bit of TV. Every time one of us moved we let out a little “ouch”. We had cycled a total of 22.8 miles today, not bad considering we haven’t cycled in quite a while.

Sunday 23rd September

Another Sunday…. another breaking camp day. It was a little harder than last time to pack up, I had bits of me aching that I didn’t know could ache. Ah well, at least it was only an hour or so back home and we could then put our feet up again and watch the Singapore Grand Prix…. If we didn’t fall asleep.



PS… Next stop Canterbury then on to French France!

Copyright © 2011 – 2012 Simon P Barlow