I went to Blackpool Yesterday
Things have been a bit rough for me recently. I needed to see the sea, breathe the sea-air, feel the ssand under my feet, and generally just recharge. So I headed to the beach. For the first time in 8 years. Went by train too. It was the first time I've been on a train since I was 17 years old. The trains are newer, but the whole train experience hasn't changed any.
It started off with a browse of the local train companies website and a failed attempt to order the tickets that way. Upon trying to buy them, it reported:
Error: Your selected dearture station does not have ticketing facilities. We suggest you choose a different point of departure, or choose to have your tickets delivered by post within 10 working days.
So, a train company that can't sell "on-the-day" tickets, not from my local station at any rate. I had an idea though. I knew the next stop along the same line had a full ticket office and waiting room. A quick check on national rail's website informed me it was open on saturdays, but only until 1pm. So I jumped on a bus, headed over, explained the situation to the guy running the ticket booth, and he was able to sell me a pair of tickets (outbound and return) departing from my local station. £15.90 though, a little bit more than I had hoped to pay, but still, I needed it.
My local station is really quite dire. Ever since the old Victorian station buildings burned down some years ago, all it has consisted of is a metal bench, and a loudspeaker bolted to a lamp post.
But still, it serves its purpose, and the old cast iron stairway going over the lines still exists. I sat, and waited, and watched 4 express trains pass. Eventually my train rolled up.
First thing that struck me, is that the conductor did not inspect my ticket. He just unlocked the storage unit in the last carriage, for me to secure my bike (borrowed) for the journey. The trains are newer than I remember from all those years ago. They no longer make the "clickety-click" sound, that I was actually looking forwards to. The only noise they made was that of an enormous diesel engine barking away somewhere, and of people chatting. The windows were sorely in need of a wash, there was no point in taking pictures through them.
My stop finally arrived, Deansgate. Which is a wholly modern station, being on the outskirts of the heart of the City of Manchester. What suprised me mostly, for such a modern and major station, is that it lacks several rather significant facilities. It had no toilets, and I badly needed to micturate. It had no covered waiting areas, and it was COLD. It had no drinks vendors (neither kiosk nor machine). The only way to get my bike from one platform (arrivals) to the other (departures), was to manhandle it down a flight of stairs, under a tunnel, and up another flight of stairs. No ramps, nor elevators. There are elevators, but they are too small for a cycle. Quite a disappointment, for what is afterall, a main station.
My onwards bound train soon arrived. However the cycle storage area was full (it doubles as a storage area for prams and push-chairs), but the conductor let me take it onto the carriage itself. "Just lean it against the doors opposite you, they never open on this journey". Thankfully, the carriage also had a restroom and drinks dispenser and I was able to relieve my discomfort. This was a long-distance train, and not a local one. Facilities were much upgraded, even power points for laptops, airline style pull down tables, etc. The conductor even let me into the first class cabin, so I could keep an eye on my bike, as it was the only place the bike was visible from. +1 for TransPennine Express services.
About half way into the journey, the conductor asked to see my ticket, the first time it had been inspected at all. I had a standard class ticket, and was in the first class cabin. I wasn't worried, the conductor was the same guy who had let me in there to begin with. He didn't even bat an eyelid either, just clipeed a little notch into the ticket to show it had been inspected, and moved on.
Soon, we rolled into a station bearing a very familiar name...
My very distant ancestors founded this city. The name derives from Old English prēost (“priest”) + tūn (“settlement”). Which is why we bear the same name as it. My father had a geanological research done, and proved the connection. This is in some ways, my "home city", even though I have never actually visited, only ever passed through.
It was interesting to observe, how the closer we got to the coast, the lower the land became. Fewer and fewer hills, the average hight of buildings droped. It was as if things were sloping down to the sea. Maybe they were.
Finally Blackpool North rolled up and after disembarking, I realised why nobody really inspected tickets. All the exits were blocked by a big security gate, that would only open if you inserted a valid ticket into a slot. Directly opposite the gates, was a police station (British Railways Transport Police). They really are police officers, with warrant cards, cuffs, all the paraphenalia, but who's authority only extends to stations, trains, and railway lines. They have no power outside of those areas.
The station is set right back, a good mile, maybe more, from the promenade, and I knew it was, which was the main reason for borrowing a bike. From this vantage point, just outside the station, I couldn't see anything other than city. Not even the legendary tower. I saddled up, and headed in what I thought was the direction of the promenade. I was wrong. I asked someone, turned around, and headed in the opposite direction.
Suddenly, in a gap between office buildings, I spied what I was looking for. The tower. Big, bold, brash, and the ultimate symbol that you actually were in Blackpool.
Using the tower as a landmark, I began to meander through the streets, getting closer and closer to the tower itself, until I turned a corner and realised, the building ahead was the tower building. Knowing that the promenade ran in front of the tower building, all I had to do was circle around the building, until I found which side the promenade was. Turns out, I was exactly behind it. There, in front of me, was what I had come for. The beach, the sea, and it was fucking freezing.
I headed down the promenade, to the southern most pier (Blackpool has 3, North, Central, and South). I wanted to go to the end of the pier, to get some photographs, looking out to sea, but the pier was closed for season. Instead you will have to content yourself with a picture of the pier itself.
I wandered slowly northwards along the promenade, breathing the sea air. Sometimes cycling, sometimes walking. Passed the lifeboat station, read the rather sad report posted in the information window. I can't remember it verbatim, but it was a tale of how both boats were scrambled to assist a woman in distress, but the woman was ultimatly lost at sea, with no body recovered. Passed central pier, with its trashy video arcade frontage, that you have to pass through to get onto the pier itself.
From a marketing perspective, thats actually quite a good idea. People will spend money in the arcade as they pass through, but I still feel its trashy, noisy and brash. Which is... To be quite fair, typical of Blackpool. I sat, watched the trams pass for a while. Just, thinking.
I called in at a MacDonalds, got a burger and cola for lunch, sat there for a while, raping their free wifi, until my cell battery went dead. I continued down the promenade. Everywhere was closed up, not suprised it was seriously off-season. I wasn't here for the amusements anyway. I was here for me.
North pier was also closed down. Which was a shame, as there is almost literally, an entire villiage at the end of it. Complete with a pub, the "Hungry Horse".
Sunset was now starting. I sat opposite the Blackpool High Tide Organ, listening to it hoot, watching the sky darken. Watching the reds and oranges appear in the sky above the sea. Then I turned, and cycled back to the station, and ultimately, home.
Did I reach any conclusions with all that thinking? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Did I find the peace I was looking for? For a while, yes. However, I think I picked the wrong seaside desination. I have a lot of powerful emotions associated with Blackpool. Most of my family (mothers side) are from there, they even owned an arcade there at one point. Most of them still live there even today. I was planning on visiting them, but when it came to the crunch, I couldn't. They abandoned me when mother died. I will not be the one that goes crawling back to them. I will not give them that power over me.
Was it worth the £15.90? Yes.