Daily Archives: May 3, 2008

Blackpool – A Bike, A Tram, A Hotel And A Conference

I am quite envious of those bloggers who can make all their posts 100% up to date by capturing their adventures at the very moment, or at least on the same day. My own feeble effort seems to be constantly playing catch-up and this post is no exception.

The highlight of my week has been a trip to that famous seaside town called Blackpool, (that’s known for fresh air and fun). Some time ago I was invited to lead a workshop at a national conference for people involved in an innovative approach to tackling the threat of heart disease organised by the wonderfully named Improvement Foundation. From my own point of view, an all expenses paid couple of days in Blackpool with the responsibility only for a one-hour workshop was too good to pass up, especially as my input to the conference was to be about volunteering. Even though this was related to what I do for a living, I couldn’t justify to myself that this was work, so I took some annual leave.

With that core decision made, it was a short hop to deciding that I wanted to travel astride the Heritage. As the appointed day drew closer, the weather forecast seemed to get ever more ominous. By Tuesday evening, widespread heavy showers were forecast for Wednesday and Thursday. My wife, Sue, even suggested that I should take the car, but my mind was made up; I was going on the bike no matter what the weather.

Wednesday morning dawned and I loaded a few clothes (mostly Harley T-Shirts), my toothbrush and sandwiches onto the bike, dressed warmly in Harley-Davidson branded T-shirt, jumper and bike jacket. I put my waterproofs on top and set off northwards out of Nottingham under overcast skies. The trip up the M1 and along the A617 into Chesterfield was rather dull, if uneventful and dry. Beyond Chesterfield and into the Peak District, the road gets more involving and the scenery improves by leaps and bounds until, some 45 miles from home, the road drops down towards Stockport. I have crawled through here a few times in the past on two and four wheels, but this trip found lighter traffic than I had been used to and I was soon on the M60 (after a quick stop to check whether I was supposed to go East or West). The correct westbound lane turns into Eastbound after crossing the spectacular Barton Bridge, but that’s only because the M60 forms a ring road around Manchester.

From there on, it was feet up on the highway pegs for the drag up the M61, to the coffee break at Bolton West Services. This is a strange little motorway service area with a tiny Burger King and Coffee shop, apparently with only one staff member and I arrived too late for the bacon butty, which is not served after 11am (It was almost 11:30 by then). So I saved £2.99 by not buying any food, guzzled the coffee and after a quick “comfort break”, was back on the road in less than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the motorway route involves a short section of Truck Hell, also called the M6 before joining the almost deserted M55 for the final run towards the Fylde Coast.

After just over three hours on the road and slightly more than 123 miles, the Hilton Hotel on Blackpool seafront came into view and I had arrived. Maybe it was the fact that I wore my waterproofs that kept the rain off, but I arrived warm and dry and just in time for lunch. I was warmly welcomed by Julie Thorpe from the Improvement Foundation and soon met with Munisha Savania, the project manager from Nottingham’s Healthy Communities Collaborative, who co-presented our workshop on Thursday morning.

I also met with the rest of the staff and volunteers from Nottingham who were attending the conference and was made welcome into one of their teams. After the days’ work was over, there was a good break before dinner, so I decided to have a walk along Blackpool prom towards the famous tower. By then, the sun had come out and it had the makings of a great evening. I decided not to venture to the top of the 158 foot tower as I had another ride in mind; aboard one of Blackpool’s trams.

I had walked as far as Central Pier before I hopped aboard a single deck tram heading for Fleetwood. Although I had no idea about how for it was, or how long it would take, I asked the driver for a ticket to the end and back. After he told me that they only sold single tickets, I parted with me fare and settled down about half-way down the almost empty vehicle.  The journey took about half an hour and just as we arrived at the Fleetwood terminus, a ferry from Ireland was just passing so I stood and watched it for a few minutes before getting back on the tram and sitting at the front, chatting to the driver all the way back.

Nottingham’s trams are always very busy, so I was surprised that there were very few passengers on this tram in either direction. The driver told me that the trams and buses are operated by the same company, who price the tram tickets higher than the buses. This means that most local people use the buses so the trams have become little more than a tourist attraction. However, the tramway’s future is bright because there has been a lot of track work recently and new trams will be brought into Blackpool in the next few years. These improvements should modernise it as a form of transport and I only hope that the present heritage trams do not end up as museum exhibits or worse still, as scrap.

I arrived back at the hotel in plenty of time to get ready for dinner which was pretty good. However, the food was soon forgotten when an excellent Steel Band from London whose name I have already forgotten, struck up. Within moments, the tiny dance floor in front of the conference stage was packed. A limbo pole was brought out and was very popular. I must confess that stayed in my seat, but tapped my feet and thoroughly enjoyed their music.

Thursday morning dawned wet and the sea was grey with broken waves. However, during the morning, the ground dried out and the sun started to come out. By the time we had done our workshop and met with the Nottingham team, I decided to make a move before the threatened rain came. So I put my warm clothes and waterproofs on again and set off back towards Nottingham. I am delighted to report that for most of journey, the sun shone. Maybe my waterproofs were specially lucky on this trip.

The trip back was pretty well the reverse of the trip out except that my stop was at Calver Crossroads in Derbyshire to visit the cafe at the outdoor equipment store, Outside.  After a pint mug of tea and a plate of sausage and chips, I was ready for the final run home where I arrived just before Sue come home from work.

By this time I was ready for at least forty winks, so I stayed at home while Sue went, by car, to the Sherwood Chapter meeting at the Hogs Head, Awsworth. Maybe I’ll get along to the next one there and report back with a post on here.

Ride Safe