Blackpool is, indisputably, the best known seaside resort in the UK. For several months of the year it is teeming with holiday makers from all parts of the country. A magnet for stag and hen parties, outings for all occasions (and none), it has in recent years earned a dubious reputation as the ‘Las Vegas’ of the north west. Blackpool is bold. It’s brash. It’s cheap and cheerful, depending on the particular type of cheer required. It has become a haven for would-be and has-been celebrities, trying to break into or hang onto the bargain basement of the entertainment world. Its vast array of hotels and ‘B&B’s are hugely popular throughout the year.
I don’t like Blackpool. I never have, even as a child. To me, Blackpool is garish, vulgar and even sinister. Beneath its façade of raucous laughter, bright lights and fairground attractions lies an emptiness and a sadness and something quite disturbing. Blackpool is a bit like a clown. I try to avoid it, or at least the worst of it.
Blackpool is also like a portal which I pass through when journeying to other parts of the Fylde coast which offer an altogether different experience. Even a relatively short distance along the north coastal road in the direction of Fleetwood there are quiet and peaceful stretches of beach which offer solace and opportunities to sit quietly, enjoy the sea and relax.
Thornton Cleveleys, about 4 miles north of Blackpool, is really no more than a village, yet has a bustling shopping centre and a busy high street which includes several chain stores and a number of eateries. I was surprised to find that even in winter the crowds were out and the cafes were busy. It’s easy to forget that places like Cleveleys, whilst being popular with tourists, have their own communities for whom everyday life comes with a sea view. Cleveleys is one of a number of north west seaside resorts which has benefited from a ‘make-over’ which includes some striking seafront architecture.
From my seat at the top of a flight of concrete steps leading down to the water’s edge (these also serve as cleverly designed sea defences) I spend a happy hour admiring the awesome sight of the waves rolling and crashing against the groynes. Brown and murky with sand from the seabed, the powerful surges of aquatic energy rush in with force, then break and transform into white foam before being gathered on the next currant and taken back out to sea. The sea’s rhythms soothe and hypnotise, telling stories of primal life and the cosmic dance. Salt water is caught in the wind, creating that instantly recognisable aroma found only at the coast, prized throughout time, a cure for those seeking revival and recovery. Sea birds swoop and squawk, scanning the surface for the meal which lies beneath.
The sun starts to set and the wind picks up, causing me to draw my coat closer around me. Reluctantly, I end my reverie and return to the promenade, still busy with enthusiastic dogs chasing sticks, or happily pulling on their leads, basking in the admiring looks of passers by. Despite the declining day, the beach is still full of life.
The tram pulls in to rush hour Blackpool and I can’t help noticing that under the street lights and against the backdrop of the now black sea, it doesn’t look that bad after all.