LancsLive visited Central Pier on a midweek day in late April, and this is what we got up to
Since the South Pier was completed in 1893, Blackpool is the only seaside town in the UK to have three piers.
The trio are synonymous to the skyline and landscape of the Fylde Coast resort, each one offering something different. The Grade II-listed North is home to an arcade but is most popular for its bar offering in recent years while the youngest of the three, the South Pier has the infamous Crazy Coaster ride which overlooks the sea.
But it is the Central Pier, in a prime spot opposite the Golden Mile, basking in the glory of the Tower, we spent our time exploring. From the Pirates Bay family restaurant which incudes live entertainment, the Kings and Queens tribute act bar, fortune tellers and a Terrace Bar to the fairground rides, arcade games , cafes and sweet stalls.
We had set out to visit all of the piers, with a budget of £10 to spend in each, starting at The North Pier but arriving just after the opening time of 10am, we were met with silence apart from the waves below and seagulls calling above, shuttered up stalls and static rides. We managed to find a member of staff, who told us nothing, apart from the arcade at the front which was flashing and chirping away, was likely to open until at least midday “or not at all if it didn’t get busy enough”. So please bear that in mind.
This is a frustrating strategy, especially for families planning a day out, with South Pier quite a walk from the centre of town and they face disappointment and uncertainty just like we did. However, it is understandable that the pier may need to close for safety reasons such as inclement weather or emergencies and it is stated on the VisitBlackpool website with a vague statement that “openings vary”.
Undeterred, we made our way to Central Pier, browsed the gifts shops on the prom to kill some time and by midday, even though still pretty quiet, it had started to come to life a bit.
So with £20 in hand, we stepped onto the wooden walkway and this is what we got up to, with LancsLive photographer James Maloney on hand to capture all of reporter Denise Evans’ antics…
There’s height restrictions for some of the rides and measuring sticks are available next to them for riders to check whether they are permitted or not. At 5ft 9in, I didn’t have an issue but took an obligatory picture next to the giant ruler all the same. From a traditional carousel and waltzers to the classic dodgems and mini version of a Ferris wheel, for a small fairground, the offering is decent for all ages and thrill-seeker levels.
Tickets are £1.10 each, £20 for 25 or £60 for 80, with ride entry ranging from one to three tickets. I bought 10 tickets for £11 and annoyingly had a single ticket left at the end, once we’d had enough so I donated it to a family.
I started with Extreme, where riders sit in a line as two arms swish you around in a circular motion, varying in direction and speed. It’s higher than it looks from the ground and although it has the words “let’s take it to the extreme” – apart from teasing you by stopping at the summit before suddenly dropping – it made me laugh more than anything.
I was left perplexed by the giant street art-style characters emblazoned all over it. I think one was suspend to be Baywatch ere Pamela Anderson, one appeared to resemble troubled 90s popstar Kavana and another a laughing Marilyn Monroe. Odd.
You can’t visit the fair without a go on the dodgems – but without anyone else around to persuade to join me, it was five minutes of driving around in circles, with the odd manoeuvre on an imaginary chicane. Predictably boring, really.
Finally I went on the Flying Bob ride that whisked your around so quickly we thought we would take off and end up in the sea and afterwards had slightly wobbly legs. Still, it was exhilarating and easily the best ride of the lot, just don’t go on it straight after eating.
Positives of a fairground in quiet periods: No queues, less screaming, a whole ride to yourself
Negatives of a fairground in quiet periods: Flat atmosphere, unnerving and eerie, no one to drive your dodgem car into or share in the fun
The arcade punched above its weight
We spent £2 on arcade games – the punch machine, with James getting involved this, showing off a punch power Tyson Fury would be proud of. We won’t even mention Denise’s pathetic punch, which barely even registered on the scale. There’s a couple of well equipped and wide-ranging arcades on this pier, from 2p and fruit machines, to toy grabbers and air hockey tables.
We competed against each other and two others on the Knight Derby, a twist on the regular horse racing version, where you roll three balls in the hope they land in one of the numbered holes, and in turn your horse will move along the straight course to victory. There’s a member of staff commentating and it’s ideal for just popping in from the promenade as it is located right at the front of there pier.
It’s one of my favourite arcade games and there was a family of three generations having a go before us, which is what it is all about, isn’t it? I finished second, by the way, while James came in dead last.
Food glorious food?
It’s easy to expect fast food, doughnuts, chocolate and sweets and not much else at places like this. But The Wheelhouse Cafe, smack bang in the middle of the pier has bit of everything- burgers, sandwiches, salads, ice cream, breakfast and snacks.
With £7 left of our budget, we had a portion of chips (£2.50), which were crunchy and piping hot and a ham and cheese panini with a side salad (£4.50). The cheese oozed out and the ham was thick cut, the token salad seasoned with salt and pepper – expected for the price. It was demolished in minutes. The cafe was relatively full and service was speedy and the staff happy and helpful.
Overall, the two of us spent around 90 minutes on the pier and felt like we had seen quite enough by the end, but it would be easy to spend a whole day there with the family, especially when everything is open. But with that comes the danger of spending quadruple or more of the amount we did. Those 2p machines can be addictive.
Total spend: £20.50 (plus £3 to have a go on prize every time darts thanks to a very persuasive stallholder, where we won a fidget spinner toy for James’ young son. Not worth £3, but we felt better for being that man’s first customer in two hours).