Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The North West

The annual Ayres family holiday is in full swing and this year we are up in the North West - Hesketh Bank, near Preston, to be precise.

That might not sound like the most glamorous of holiday destinations but there is method in my madness. Whilst I may love Cornwall and Tenby and all those other tried and tested places, they don't expand my horizons and it's a desire of mine to see as much of these islands we call home as I can. This is quite a challenge. Britain looks pretty titchy on the world map, but there's so much of it!

I'd like to say I saw a lot of it when I was working for Nielsen and cruising round the country in the company car, which sounds glamorous, but really it isn't. I could tell you I've been to Thetford, Faversham, Blandford and hundreds of other places, but the truth is, in many cases I saw nothing much of these places at all. In most cases it amounted to driving to some nondescript office building on the local industrial estate, spending the afternoon in a conference room and then booking into the Holiday Inn on the ring road for a riveting evening of pure soullessness. This can hardly be classed as seeing the world.

Rejecting the rat race at the tender age of 35 has enabled me to open my eyes and enjoy the country properly, hence our ever changing holiday destinations. I like to pick an area and explore, with something for everyone. I want to give the kids a few cultural experiences, but you have to strike the right balance, so for every day in a museum or out exploring the countryside, it's only fair to have one on the beach or at a theme park too.

I picked Hesketh Bank as a good central location for exploring an area of Britain I haven't really spent much time in before. We are roughly halfway between Blackpool and Liverpool. two places I had varying reasons for wanting to visit, and close to Southport and the beaches on Merseyside too.

A bit of forward planning never goes amiss so after arriving at our cottage we headed out for dinner at the rather delightful Cock and Bottle pub in Tarleton, which I found on Tripadvisor. You know when you go out for a meal and everything it just absolutely perfect? Well this place ticked all the boxes. It's just the little things really - like the chips were homemade, as were Ollie's chicken goujons and Jamie's burger. My steak was sublime. When you compare somewhere like this to the generally dreadful Hungry Horse type places back home, well there's just isn't any comparison.

 On Sunday we went to Southport but the weather wasn't very good so it wasn't a beach day. Just as well really, as the sea was about five miles away which was reminscent of Weston-Super-Mare. We really must try to time our visits better around the tides. The rest of the resort was pretty decent - there is a lovely pier, devoid of all the usual tourist tat, with a wonderful arcade at the end full of fully working pre-decimalisation machines. You have to buy some old pennies to play them, and it's all great fun. And of course, there are all the usual things you associate with the seaside, like fairground rides and fish and chips, which is what we had for our tea.

Jamie's got Ollie in his sights on the dodgems at Southport.

On Monday I returned to Blackpool Pleasure Beach for the first time since 1981, so to all intents it was my first visit. I wasn't sure what to expect as to be honest, driving through Blackpool en route, I felt the area looked extremely run down. Thankfully that didn't apply to the park, which had more than enough to do. We were there eight hours and didn't manage to go on every ride.

It's funny, people go on about the big name rides, but by far the most stressful experience for me was on the relatively old Grand National ride. This is an old wooden rollercoaster, and unlike the more modern fast and smooth rides, this old coaster shakes the absolute bones of you as it goes over the jumps. It was the only time I felt uncomfortable on the day.

We probably did more at this park than at any other we have been to, largely because the children are now old enough (and more importantly, tall enough) to go on nearly all the rides.

On Tuesday we visited Liverpool. This is one of the very few cities in England I had yet to visit, and one I have always wanted to. I have to say, I am very impressed by all the regeneration that's been done by the riverside and we spent plenty of time there, including a long stint in the Museum of Liverpool. learning all about the docks that previously stood on the site.

Of course, a visit to the famous Cavern Club was in order, even if it is shamelessly touristy. There was a busker outside singing Oasis numbers which felt slightly out of place, but even so, there is a great atmosphere down the street.

This is actually outside the Cavern Pub,
opposite the Cavern Club, but who's quibbling?

One other thing I did, which is probably more off the usual tourist track was visit the site of the former soap, Brookside. This is now just a normal close with normal people living in the houses which is just as well as I had no desire to get shot, stabbed, blown up, kidnapped, be brainwashed by a religious cult, struck down by a mysterious virus, become a lesbian, or have a helicopter crash on me while I was there.

One thing I noticed was that the close is much smaller than it seemed on TV. If you get a chance to go, you will see what I mean. I guess that's the magic of TV. I have often heard it said that people from TV look smaller in real life too.

Where's Barry Grant when you need him?

All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to Liverpool. I've always felt an affinity with the place, despite never previously visiting, and it was all borne out by my visit. I also feel slightly less of a fraud now for making the lead character of my novel, Happy New Year, from the city. At least I have now visited the locations mentioned in that story - descriptions of which are admittedly brief for that reason.

On to Wednesday and a trip to Lytham St Annes which is a quite delightful little gem by the sea just this side of Blackpool. Here we were able to enjoy a game of pitch and putt (with a few tantrums along the way, not by me on this occasion). Unfortunately the weather has begun to turn on us, so we were unable to enjoy the beach. It is typical, is it not, that in this hottest summer we have had for decades, we have unfortunately picked the one poor week to come away.

Bit cold for ice creams but it didn't stop them!

A few days left, and then we shall be home to Evesham and school will be beginning before we know it. Already the year begins to grow old.

Jason Ayres is the author of eight time travel novels including his latest release, Happy New Year. You can find out more by clicking here