Trip number 30 was becoming our annual jaunt to Blackpool to cycle the world-famous Blackpool Illuminations. Last year we stayed at Eastham Hall, but this year while staying at The Old Oaks, Tara had given us a book, “Tranquil Touring Parks Guide“, which listed 30 top adults only touring parks. The newest member was Manor House Caravan Park (http://www.manorhousecaravanpark.co.uk/) just outside Blackpool at Marton Moss. For us it was conveniently located about three miles from Squires Gate – the start of the illuminations – so we could cycle straight from the site to Squires Gate, along the prom all the way to Bispham and back again. A total of about 20 miles.
Thursday 24th October
As the site was around 60 miles away it meant we didn’t need an early start. The Freelander was loaded and the bike rack fitted and we set off to the storage compound to pick up the caravan. By 11:20 we were leaving the compound and headed right into a traffic jam on the M60. Our TomTom informed us it was a delay of about 8 minutes… which wasn’t too bad. I just wish we had packed a flask of coffee as I hadn’t had the required caffeine delivery before leaving home. The run to Blackpool up the M61 and M6 was fairly free of traffic and clouds, a lovely clear blue autumn sky. I’d created a POI for the TomTom using Google Maps that would take us right to the front gate of the site and the route given on the TomTom matched the directions that Jeremy has put on their website. Having cycled and driven round the area, I would strongly recommend you follow Jeremy’s directions rather than any Sat-Nav instructions. It was just before 1:00pm as we turned down Kitty Lane only to find a Royal Mail transit van parked that would make getting past a bit of a tight squeeze. However, the postman appeared out of one of the drives still carrying some letters, waved and jumped in. He pulled forward and proceeded to reverse up someones drive to allow us to pass. We stopped at the gate and Sue opened both sections so I could drive in. Jeremy was already out near our pitch (I knew it was ‘our’ pitch as it had a sign with our name on it!) and waived me over.
Manor House Caravan Park is actually in a small walled garden. 30 or 40 years ago the area around the site was once covered in greenhouses and small holdings that supplied veg to the grocers of North West of England, but with the increase of supermarkets who found it more convenient to import produce than to buy from smaller local producers most if not all commercial veg growing has ceased. The garden is not massive, but spacious enough for 10 pitches. To keep it as a pristine garden Jeremy and Sharon have tried to keep the tarmac to a minimum and all the pitches are hard standing, but it does mean that the access to each pitch is narrow so reversing a van onto a pitch is not practical without ploughing massive grooves in the neat lawns. Jeremy will unhitch and manoeuvre your van onto the pitch…. it’s all part of the service!
Once we were set up Jeremy gave us a quick tour of the facilities and pointed out where everything was… and what to do if we needed anything. A couple of years ago the site was one of the 5 pitch sites with one of the main caravanning clubs. As these are effectively operated on a 12 month ‘licence’ if you want to invest in the site, there is little security, so Jeremy and Sharon opted to leave the umbrella of one of the big clubs and go it alone seeking planning permission in their own right. Well it has worked. Looking at a couple of old photos of the site you can see the effort that has gone in to making it what it is today.
Looking at the weather forecast, Thursday evening looked like it was going to be the best for cycling, so rather than sit back and have a lazy evening, we decided to cycle the lights instead. We left Manor House and followed Kitty Lane onto Sandy Lane and eventually onto School Rd. Turning right at the traffic lights onto Common Edge Rd we cycled past Stuart Longton Caravans (handy accessories shop) and eventually found our way onto Squires Gate Lane which took us past Blackpool Airport.
Cycling down the prom is great. It’s relatively flat and it didn’t take that long to cycle to Bispham, the other end of the lights. In fact it’s so easy it didn’t take as long as expected so we went to the same cafe we had visited last year and ordered a cheese and ham toastie each while we waited for the sun to set and the illuminations to be turned on.
The ride north up to Bispham was with the wind and there was a definate chill while we waited for the sun to go down.
Now one important thing to do…. check what time the lights are actually turned on! We had to wait another 40 minutes before we could set off back. The lights were up to their usual standard…. some the same as previous years, some classics that I could remember as a child and as you approached the Tower some of the more modern displays.
One word of caution though if you cycle the illuminations. Keep a good look out for small dogs on extendable leads. While the dog owner(s) are “Ooo’ing” and “Arr’ing” looking up at the lights, their small pooch is 30 feet away at the end of a trip wire…. even with the Illuminations producing megawatts of light and the bikes lit up in a similar fashion you can’t always see the zip line…. I nearly collected a small furry mascot fluttering on the end of a piece of string. Last year one small toddler running along didn’t see the trip wire and went with a loud thud flat on its face while the dog owner looked on in disgust at the parents who were trying to scrape junior off the prom.
By the time we were passing south pier, the vehicle traffic was already stop start heading through the illuminations and as we reached Squires Gate Tram depot, the road junction was chaos. Cycling back into the headwind was chilly and we were both feeling the chill. We still had three miles to ride back to the site. We walked over the railway bridge on Squires Gate Lane and at the top got back on the bikes and set of with a bit of a dash to keep warm. The traffic on the road was I think feeling the frustration of the illumination chaos and discretion being the better part of a traffic accident, we road along the pavement – naughty I know, but I didn’t want either Sue or Myself to become another cycling statistic.
No photos of the illuminations.. if you want to see them – get on yer bike!. There is still time as they are on until 10th November 2013. For times see http://www.blackpool-illuminations.net/
Friday 25th October
The previous days cycling efforts surprisingly didn’t leave us with any aches or stiffness, but not wanting to over-do it and the fact rain was forecast for later in the day we decided to head into Lytham for a spot of retail therapy…. well calling at The Sweetie Shoppe (Twitter: @TheSweetieShopp) for our usual supplies of Coltsfoot Rock, Cough Candy and Wine Gums (for Sue) and to see if we could obtain probably one of the best steak pies on the Fylde coast from Kevin Barry Baker’s. Fortunately we got sweeties… unfortunately they had sold out of steak pies. We wandered back up towards Market Square and as it was now Lunch O’clock decided to give Zest (21 Market Sq) a try. As the sun was still shining, we sat outside and ordered from the menu – fresh-baked bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to share followed by chicken goujons with salad & fries and aioli & sweet chilli dip for me, while Sue opted for the seared salmon with grilled asparagus, hollandaise, salad & fries accompanied by the house white. Considering it was October it was great to sit out in the sunshine and feel quite warm.
We headed back to the car for the short 5 minute drive back to Manor House Caravan Park. That afternoon we sat and caught up on some reading, but the forecast rain never really arrived. It arrived in the middle of the night with a bit of vengeance accompanied by some strong winds.
Saturday 26th October
Saturday morning we managed to catch up on the qualifying for the Indian F1 and realising we had forgotten to set the Sky+ box a quick bit of Googling led me to the discovery of Sky+ iPhone App… which allowed me to remotely set our Sky Box to record the Grand Prix. There is no WiFi service at the Manor House, but reception for mobile phones is excellent and I got a 3G signal on my Phone and MacBook MiFi so if you need to access email while staying there, it’s not a problem.
Our friends Pete and Sue (not forgetting Baggins) were due to arrive at a site a few miles away in St Michael’s on Wyre. A few of you may know Pete as “Pete of the BO (Bailey Oklahoma)” from some of the caravan forums, although he really is now “Pete of the CP” as they have a wonderfully restored and upgraded 2003 Coachman Pastiche!. We had arranged to meet… but being men Pete and I had just loosely arranged to ‘meet’ up’ – this however did not carry enough detail for either of the two Sues, so after some texting it was decided that as they had driven up from darkest deepest Shropshire we would drive the twenty or so minutes over to see them. Plus as I’d seen some of the “before, during and after” photos of their van refurbishment I wanted to see the results in full panoramic 3D! What a fantastic job they have made on the van too!
We arrived in daylight with reasonable weather…. we left in darkness in the middle of a deluge but had a wonderful time catching up. The last time we saw them was back in 2011 when we were staying at Stanmore Hall so there was much to catch up with… and much cake to consume!
Sunday 27th October
As the clocks went back on Saturday coupled with the fact it was blowing a hooley and raining on and off during the night we were up early. Mindful of the impending ‘end of the world’ storm forecast that had been given for the next 24 hours we were up and packed ready to break camp by 9:15. Jeremy gave me a hand pulling the van off the pitch and we were soon hooked up. We pulled off site at dead on 9:30 and made our way back up Kitty Lane for the 60 mile trip back to Manchester. The wind was acceptable on the motorway and taking it at a steady 50 didn’t cause any problems. Jeremy had said as we were leaving if we thought it was too windy to travel we would be welcome to stay over or leave the van there and pick it up when the forecast storm had blown through. We drove through some torrential rain but by the time we were on the M61 southbound, the weather was clearing and the wind had died down. Having my sensible head on, I said to Sue we would go the long way round the M60 avoiding Barton Hi-level Bridge… it can get windy up there even on a calm day. It would only add a couple of miles and a few minutes to our journey. By 11:00 we had returned the van to storage and were heading the couple of miles back home.
All in all it was a good three days away. We definitely chose the right night to cycle the illuminations, it was great to catch up with Pete and Sue (and Baggins of course) and we also chose an excellent site to stay at. Would we go back to Manor House Caravan Park again?. Well, lets just say we are checking the diary for our next free dates!. If you want to stay at a well run and appointed quiet adults only site, check out their website and give Sharon a ring… but do it quickly as we might have beaten you to it!
Right.. whats next?….. Ah yes Cheltenham and the Christmas Markets