My wife Lynn and I always like to pay a visit to Blackpool during the time of that excellently designed attraction which usefully extends the town’s summer season throughout the autumn until the beginning of November, the famous Illuminations which adorn the Promenade for the seven odd miles from Starr Gate-Bispham. The highlight of this is a ride on one of Blackpool Heritage Tramways Illumination Tours, which means planning for a relatively late return home, meaning that reaching the Resort by train isn’t really an option, therefore we drove up, parking on the car park next to the Pleasure Beach Tramway Loop (£8 for twelve hours!), from where the Illumination Tours start from, meaning we can leave straight after we’ve finished our Tour. The Heritage operation’s usual two car daytime tour also operates during the illumination period, although this doesn’t start until around 13.00, to enable the volunteer crews to be able to work an Illumination Tour duty as well.
So it wouldn’t have been necessary for us to get there particularly early except that all my jeans were wearing out! The only pair I have with functioning pockets (most essential for a transport enthusiast with various tickets and passes to keep in them!) also happen to have quite big tears in them, making it look as though I’m trying to be really trendy and “down with da kidz!” by wearing ripped jeans! My favourite place for buying jeans happens to be a store on Fleetwood Market, that traditional attraction for many Blackpool visitors over the years, providing a great deal of custom for the Blackpool Tramway, which has it’s Northern Terminus in that fishing town. Tuesday was traditionally the day everybody visited the market, that day once seeing one special (a tram operating to Inspector’s instructions rather than a scheduled time card) after another heading there full of bargain hunters. But the market is open everyday except Wednesday’s & Sunday’s, so a Saturday visit was no problem!
We caught Bombardier Flexity Car 006 from Pleasure Beach, managing to bag the front seats. These 78 seat modern articulated cars, with a large standing capacity, have been in charge of the Tramway since it’s 2012 modernisation. Sixteen were originally built (001-016), with another two (017 & 018) having been delivered late last year to enable the fleet to cover the upcoming extension to North Station along Talbot Road, which is currently under construction and is due to open in 2020. Although not having the charm of the traditional Blackpool Trams, they have the ability to move large numbers of people when needed (such as along the Golden Mile) but have nice big windows that enable one to enjoy the sea view and other sights on the eleven and three quarter mile journey between Starr Gate & Fleetwood.
We paid £11 each for a Heritage Day ticket, valid on both modern and Heritage trams (including the Illuminations Tour) as well as Blackpool Transport’s bus network. Readers of Part One of my Blackpool blog from last June will recall that I tried to buy one on a number 4 bus on that occasion but the driver said that they weren’t available from buses. I was subsequently told that he should have been able to sell me one but probably didn’t know how to (I’d suspected this to be the case.) The tram conductors probably get to issue such tickets more often, so I had no problem in getting our tickets today. It was an enjoyable run, trundling along the Golden Mile before heading onto the higher section of the line along the North Shore cliffs to Bispham, where the lights end and we head further along the coast, through Norbreck and Little Bispham, then turning inland to serve the town of Cleveleys, a popular shopping centre, where a lot of people got off. One of the advantages of the modernised tramway over what was there before, is the fact that all daytime scheduled trams go through to Fleetwood, meaning a regular ten minute service of high capacity vehicles, much superior to the twenty minute headway of the traditional tramway’s final years, often using trams with a mere 48 or 56 seating capacity! This means you can wait for a Fleetwood tram in confidence, no fear of a long wait for a full tram to pass you by!
We followed the reserved tracks across the Rossall Playing Fields, entering the town of Fleetwood at Broadwater, then heading towards the Town Centre, leaving the reserved tracks at Fishermans Walk (or Ash Street, if you’re an old timer like me!) for the trundle down the street tracks along Lord Street, towards the terminus at Fleetwood Ferry, although we got off at the stop before, Victoria Street, the nearest stop to the market…..where everyone else seemed to get off too! Obviously the market is still popular!
We found the jeans stall and I bought two pairs, we then had a little wander around the other stalls. We then walked down to the Ferry terminus, so as we could guarantee getting a seat on the tram back to Blackpool. Car 008 turned up and I noticed a giant plastic poppy situated in the corner of the cab, a feature most of the Flexity fleet currently have fitted to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, so I took a photo of it, with MMC Enviro 400 City 438 alongside it on the 14 to Blackpool via Thornton;
We rode 008 back to North Pier, getting there bang on time for the first heritage departure of the day, operated by Boat Car 600 which, as currently the only operational member of the three members of this popular, once twelve strong class of open top tramcar, to remain in Blackpool, has had a very busy summer this year, thanks to the very hot weather we’ve had, and the fact that it’s still rather mild means it’s been busy into the autumn as well, including today! We caught 600 to the Pleasure Beach, where we found Balloon Car 717 parked up whilst on Private Hire duties, so I photographed 600 & 717 together;
We then put my new jeans into the boot of the car and then headed to the Woodhouse Café for lunch (this is Blackpool, so fish & chips are a prerequisite!) followed by a trip down to Waterloo Road for ice cream at Nottiarani’s. We walked there via Bond Street, where I managed to photograph ex Anglian Buses of Beccles Wright bodied Volvo B7 523 on the hourly 18 to Mereside via Marton & South Shore;
After eating what is frankly the best ice cream in Blackpool, we made our way back to Pleasure Beach to ride on what was the other Heritage car out today, Standard 147;
….which we took to North Pier;
We then sat and took in the sea air for a bit before catching 600 again back to the Pleasure Beach;
As the blind on the above photo says, 600’s next trip was to Cabin, high on the North Shore cliffs and this would be it’s last round trip of the day, so we decided to stay with the car for a blowy run onto my favourite section of the Tramway, high above the Cliffs from North Pier onwards and then back to Pleasure Beach, where we retreated into the funfairs new Costa Coffee (on the outside, so no Pleasure Beach admission tickets needed) to thaw out!
Warmed up, we went out into the rapidly cooling evening, with the Illuminations now shining and a big queue having already formed for the Illuminations Tours, the first of which was due off tonight at 18.30. Therefore, we bought a bag of doughnuts from the Pleasure Beach’s doughnut stall, to eat whilst we waited for a tram, and joined the back of the queue. First tram to arrive was Illumnated Frigate HMS Blackpool, aka Car 736;
Once loaded, 736 left and the Western Train arrived;
The third illuminated car, Fishermans Friend sponsored Trawler 737, was off the road requiring maintenance, this evening, so the remaining Tour cars were all Balloon Double Decker’s. Red & White liveried 701 arrived first, conducted by our friend Bradley Jones.
We were far enough down the queue to be able to get on 701, so we did so, deciding to have a change by sitting downstairs. Our fellow passengers were all families with young children and it was fascinating seeing the awe and wonder in the faces and voices of the younger passengers, as we made our way through the greatest free show on Earth! The Tour’s run through the lights to Bispham, then head up to the loop at Little Bispham to turn around, this being a busy point on a Saturday night as short working Flexities also terminate there (these run onto Cleveleys during the week).
This was the first Saturday of the school’s Half Term holiday, so the Town was busy, with both the Flexities and the Heritage Tours carrying plenty of passengers! Seven cars were allocated to Tours, the three already mentioned plus Balloons 715, 700, 718 & 711. In addition, 717 & 723 were also out on Private Hire’s and, once these were finished, both cars also found themselves working Tours! So a grand total of nine cars were in use on Illumination Tours tonight!
When we got back to the Pleasure Beach, several of those Balloons were loading, arriving and departing, reminding me of the days up until 1989, when Balloons were allocated to Illuminations Tours from both Pleasure Beach & Tower, offering cheaper tours than the Illuminated Cars, which then started from Talbot Square (that stop now having been renamed North Pier.) Here’s some photo’s of them!
And so it was time to head back to the car and begin the drive home, another happy visit to the Blackpool Illuminations having been completed!