Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Preston AKA Blackpool East – Part One: The Good

I had been dreading our derby against Preston North Blackpool East End for months. I knew my anxiety would be full-blown and I even considered not going and watching the game on tv. But I went for you, dear reader, so I could provide you with a first hand account of what happened (donation button below because I earned it with this one…).

Now you know Lee and I like to make a day (or even two or three) out of away trips so we can make happy memories irrespective of what happens at the match. Today seemed a perfect day for that so we made preparations for A Football Tourist’s Guide To Preston Blackpool East.

I began the day with a strategic dippy egg butty.

What a way to start the day. Now I was ready to get cracking with the mission at hand.

During lockdown I bombed, rebuilt and rebranded Preston station as Blackpool East because I had to amuse myself somehow. But how would we tackle this Football Tourist’s Guide to Blackpool East? What was there other than the bus station? Who knows? Who cares? Surely there’s only one place for the Football Tourist to go when they’re in West Lancashire…?

Blackpool Tower

Of course we HAD to start at the iconic Blackpool Tower – now over 125 years old and still as striking as ever. As well as being able to ride the lift to the top of the Tower – which offers stunning views of the Fylde Coast and beyond – there is also a series of attractions in the Tower buildings. Even the foyer and landings have plenty to look at.

Comedy Carpet.

Blackpool Tower Circus

The famous Blackpool Tower Circus hosts a wonderful show from April to November and is well worth a visit on any trip to this special town. But, before you enter the circus arena itself, the walls of the corridors chart the history of this longstanding circus.

The notion of animals in a circus is shocking these days but this is nonetheless an important – and quite amazing – part of the history of this circus. Can you imagine those days with no television and no internet and never having seen any of these animals, then being so close to them here in Blackpool?

Blackpool Tower Ballroom

This is a must-visit when you come to Blackpool. I will never forget my first entrance into this stunning ballroom – it took my breath away and there aren’t many buildings that have had such an effect on me (Old Trafford was another).

The ballroom floor has recently been renovated for the first time in 40 years.

Happily, the famous Wurlitzer organ – which rises up through the stage floor – was being played at the time of our visit.

I have taken afternoon tea in the Tower Ballroom and can recommend this as a delightful way to spend an afternoon, tucking into tea and cake whilst watching the dancers whirling around in front of you.

Dino Mini Golf

Sadly we didn’t get to play this dinosaur-themed mini golf today because it was half term and we expected it would be full of children, but I’m flagging it here for your attention because it is pretty cool.

VR Roller Coaster

Lee and I had seen this on our last visit but decided to take the plunge and give it a go today. We strapped ourselves into the seats and I was already worried – why did we need seatbelts for a virtual reality ride? We placed on our VR headsets and we were off!

The ride took us up and up and then out on a rollercoaster ride with stunning panoramic views of Blackpool. There was Blackpool Tower and – woah we were travelling over the sea – and there’s a pier and – oh hang on, there’s a big drop coming up – AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHH – I see, that’s why we need the seatbelts – oh, here’s another one – AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHH – wow this ride is great – oh what’s this – oh a loop the loop – ohmigod – AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHH – urgh I feel sick – I’m just going to close my eyes now…

As I tried to ignore my queasiness, Lee and I marvelled at how amazing an experience this VR rollercoaster ride had been. How does anyone even begin to design a ride like that? Blimey there are some clever people out there. This is definitely worth a go when you’re in the Tower (I wasn’t sick, by the way, and didn’t feel quite as queasy as I did after riding Icon on The Pleasure Beach).

Blackpool Tower Dungeon

These dungeon attractions are brilliant. I have been to two (this one and Warwick Castle Dungeon) and, on each occasion, I have been convicted of witchcraft. There’s clearly something in that. Indeed my Lucky Orange Aero and Unlucky Hat are simply tools through which I channel my powers (when I remember to do so, which I haven’t been doing lately, hence Blackpool’s recent run of form).

Today we were greeted by this terrifying fellow, who indicated that, although he could guide us in, he could not guarantee our safe exit. I decided a hasty exit was for the best. The odds of me escaping the gallows (or the ducking stool?) on a third visit must be pretty slim.

Coral Island

Of course no visit to the seaside would be complete without a visit to an amusement arcade – and Coral Island is one of the iconic buildings on the Golden Mile.

Despite having lived here for the last two years (I think – I lost track of time during lockdown, plus it was a staggered relocation) – plus the first 21 years of my life – I had still not been on the little train that runs around the arcade. That was going to change today!

Yay! There was even a little ghost train section (complete with pirate bones and all that) but sadly my photographs of this section were not the best…

Of course we couldn’t leave the arcade without having a Jane v Lee competition. From the ride I had spied the Camel Derby – a favourite of mine from a childhood spent on The Pleasure Beach – so I dragged Lee right over there.

Dear reader, not only did I win, but I was presented with this prize by Tim on the Camel Derby stall.

I felt like a proper tourist now I had a toy to carry round (looking around me, many others were carrying toys too). She was so soft too! I wondered what her name was but knew it would come to me soon enough. In my experience (with cats), names present themselves when the time is right. For example my first cats were playing at the in-laws on the day we were bringing them home for the first time. The mother-in-law remarked: ‘ooh she’s got a little bindi on her forehead’. Thus Spot was named. Obvs her sister had to have a related name, so she became Data. If you’re not a Trekkie (as I am) I will explain that Data (the best character in Star Trek: The Next Generation) had a cat called Spot. I felt confident that my new panda friend would reveal her name before too long (keep reading and you’ll find out).

Sea Life Centre

I didn’t recall having visited this place before. I’d referred to it lots, when directing people to the Pump & Truncheon (formerly the Blackpool Pub of Choice, now called No 13 Bonny Street), which is ‘at the back of the Sea Life Centre’. So in we went, me trailing my panda by the hand.

Now I’m not going to lie and tell you that this place is even a patch on The Deep in Hull because, quite frankly, I think you’d have to go overseas for anything that comes close to that place. Nor was I expecting anything on that level today. But what I was hoping for – which was delivered – was a creature that would take my breath away like that green sawfish at The Deep had done (you may recall I compared them to Josh Bowler). But meanwhile…

An enormous Green Moray Eel.
Can piranhas read?
Epaulette Shark.

But now it was time for the main exhibit.

Sadly I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of my breathtaking favourite creature but here’s a video on the stunning Zebra Shark.

Now satisfied that I had seen what I came for, we made our way along the prom to our next stop of the day.

Madame Tussauds

This waxworks and wax museum was somewhere I had definitely never visited to date. It had been next on my hitlist for a ‘tourist’s day out’ in Blackpool with Karen for probably four years but we always seem to get sidetracked by pubs (thanks to all the new micropubs popping up around The Fylde Coast) so we hadn’t got round to it.

Immediately on arrival here today, I was reminded of the grim background to Tussauds, as Marie Tussaud took wax casts of executed heads to make ‘death masks’ of those beheaded.

Was Voltaire a distant relative of Emma Thompson?

Why oh why had I waited so long to come here?! It was brilliant. You can get up close and personal with all the exhibits and they are all in their own special little settings. Here are some of the highlights.

Do you remember Hilda’s lawnmower from my first awayday of the (pre) season at Southport?

I was getting thirsty by now – after whizzing round all these attractions in one afternoon – so I was delighted to find myself in the Rovers Return halfway round Madame Tussauds.

Pint o’ Newton & Ridley please, Bet..

Sadly the Newton & Ridley wasn’t on, so I had to make do with a half of Goose Island Midway Session IPA. Frankly I was so thirsty by now I would have even had a lager. I took a seat close to Deirdre and enjoyed the footage of Corrie highlights being played on the screen visible above Betty in the above pic.

We then headed out to the music section, which was punctuated by a stall selling Blackpool Rock Gin, which I scurried straight past because gin makes me catastrophise and I didn’t even want to be in the same room as it. You might like it, though, hence me mentioning it here.

And it was in this fab museum where my new plush panda friend got her name.

Dear reader, meet Soo.

Elliott…

In the gift shop, I was particularly excited to see the posters for sale.

As a kid I would spend hours in Woolworths flicking through these displays, searching for posters for my bedroom walls. That was in the days before I got into football and my walls became covered with posters of footballers from Match and Shoot magazines.

But now we were getting peckish, so it was time to check out the new chippy on the block…

Papas Fish & Chips

I had been aware of Papas for a number of years from my adventures on the East Coast. Papas dominates the coastline at Cleethorpes, having taken over the entire building on Cleethorpes Pier. Of course I have never eaten in THAT Papas because Clee is home to my favourite chippy in the world: Steels Cornerhouse Restaurant. I seem to recall that Papas in Hull was closed at the time of our visit earlier this season. And we had favoured the Magpie in Whitby but we had no intention of ever returning to that unwelcoming town. So now, with Papas opening their first restaurant in our town – their first on the West Coast – it simply had to be visited on our Football Tourist’s Guide today.

Now I’ve been to ‘award-winning’ chippies before and have usually been disappointed. Indeed, a visit to most chippies usually leaves me disappointed, although I’ll confess Blackpool chippies are generally of a far higher standard than those in the West Midlands. I have been spoilt by Steels, which has the perfect holy trinity of fish, chips and gravy. You might be surprised at how many chippies get one or two of those three key ingredients so very wrong, be it watery fish, anaemic chips or runny gravy. In Blackpool to date, I have found Yorkshire Fisheries and Saddle Chippy (great battered haggis) to be the best (despite still falling short of Steels). How would Papas fare when faced with my very high standards?

We were warmly greeted – and Soo found a new friend – and were given our choice of table. I do like a booth, so we headed over there and were presented with menus.

I was excited to see cask ale on the menu, so trotted over the bar to see what was what.

Wot no cask?

Points already docked, I ordered a Worthingtons Creamflow, forgetting to check if they had Dandelion & Burdock.

No they weren’t.

I also enquired about the pin badges – I NEEDED one of these for my hat – but sadly these were unavailable too. I was advised that I could order online but that’s not the same, is it? If the food was good, I vowed to return (to this or another branch) and buy one then.

The building (as you’ll see above) is stunning and the restaurant is lovely and spacious, with a huge bar dominating the middle of the room.

Of course I have to give you a toilet review and today Papas get the loo review treatment. I’ll confess these could have been better. I disregarded the first cubicle, as I would have had to practically sit on the sanitary bin at the same time as the toilet. The second cubicle had no accessible toilet roll; the dispensers were those annoying ones with the hole in the middle where you pull the paper through, but there was none sticking out. The third cubicle was acceptable, but a previous occupant had clearly been a bit vicious with the toilet roll dispenser, part of which was now on the floor.

‘BUT HOW WAS THE FOOD, JANE?’

Ah yes sorry. Let’s get down to business. Now, in addition to the traditional fayre on which any chippy must be judged (fish, chips and gravy), I couldn’t resist ordering a Hull Pattie, which you may recall I had wanted to try in Hull but we never got to a chippy over there. I couldn’t remember what it was but seemed to remember something about battered sage. Anyway here’s my food.

Yeah gravy on fish – get over it.

Let’s start with the Hull Pattie. It was basically battered stuffing. If you like stuffing, you might like it. But it wasn’t for me. Maybe on my Christmas dinner next to the turkey and apple sauce, but there’s no place for this in a chippy tea. Sorry, Hull, but you can keep that.

As for the main dish? Well the fish was huge (this was a medium, the smallest of three sizes) and the fish was meaty and delicious. Top marks – bravo. The chips were decent without being spectacular – possibly my fault for not lashing on enough salt and vinegar. The gravy was lovely and thick but there wasn’t quite enough, it was served in a ramekin and not a gravy boat (am I being picky here?) and it just wasn’t as tasty as Steels’ gravy. Indeed I was beginning to wonder if I had COVID because there really wasn’t much flavour to this dish at all. Was that down to the Worthingtons? All I knew was that wasn’t a problem at Steels when I was washing down my scran with local real ale.

But I’ve already explained that I am notoriously picky when it comes to a chippy tea and I rarely find one that makes the grade. But still I would rate Papas as firmly in the top three chippies in Blackpool, up there with Yorkshire Fisheries and Saddle Chippy. Indeed I can’t say I’ve had a better fish anywhere in Blackpool than this one at Papas today. Good job, Papas – you are a welcome addition to the Blackpool chippy scene. I would recommend a visit to try this out for yourself.

Winter Gardens

I had to pop into the Winter Gardens to make an enquiry about The Lathums tickets for Saturday night, so I took the opportunity to take a few photos for you while I was here.

Token archway pic for Martin.

You may note that we stuck to indoor locations today because the weather was whipping up a bit of a frenzy. I was hoping that wasn’t a bad omen for tonight’s match but…

Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Preston AKA Blackpool East – Part Two: The Bad And The Ugly.

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Thank you to Ken for the half in the Rovers this afternoon.

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