Lancashire has beautiful beaches, amazing activities, stunning nature reserves, heritage, steam power and great entertainment – all perfect for a group getaway. Let Angela Youngman be your guide.
Exuberant and lively, Blackpool is undoubtedly the jewel in Lancashire’s crown with its iconic Tower silhouetted against the sky. This is the premier coastal resort in North West England, attracting millions of visitors each year. More than 3.5 million people come just to see the spectacular tableaux and light displays that make up the Blackpool Illuminations each autumn. This is a resort focused on fun. There are miles of golden sands plus numerous leisure attractions. It’s not just the white knuckle rides at the Pleasure Beach which appeal to thrill seekers, as the Sandcastle Waterpark possesses the world’s longest indoor rollercoaster waterslide, known as the Master Blaster. Taking a trip to the top of Blackpool Tower offers stunning views across the region, while those who dare to step on the glass floor can see down to the street hundreds of feet below! Other attractions on site include the world famous Tower Circus, and the Tower Dungeon which offers a look at ghostly activities in Blackpool’s history. For dancers, the Blackpool Tower Ballroom is an irresistible draw. This glamorous Victorian building appears regularly on Strictly Come Dancing. Tea dances take place daily, offering the opportunity to enjoy tangos, waltzes and foxtrots on the gleaming dancing floor. Viva Blackpool offers Las Vegas-inspired entertainment and stages both afternoon and evening shows. Viva’s Julie Holland explains: “Viva has an excellent reputation of delivering top quality shows and now the Groups and Tours market can benefit from new afternoon shows which may fit in better with outings and excursions. We have fantastic group and trade rates available and can offer added benefits including meet and greet at a drop-off point right outside the venue as well as coach driver and tour guide incentives. “ Animal lovers find much to see at Blackpool Zoo, home to over 1,000 animals and birds within 32 acres of natural enclosures, or at Sea Life Blackpool with its emphasis on marine life of all shapes and sizes. The Educational Academy at the Zoo offers opportunities to experience the work of a zookeeper and take part in a wildlife learning programme, which are suitable for team building events, as well as school visits. New this year is Wild Discovery, a hands-on animal experience at Ribby Hall Village near Blackpool. This is an immersive experience where children can visit the Hatchery to learn about reproduction and birth, the butterfly enclosure to discover some of the world’s most unusual butterfly species, a red squirrel sanctuary and a hedgehog rehabilitation centre. There’s also a petting zoo where children can interact with a variety of animals including Quessant sheep, pygmy goats and potbellied pigs. Paul Harrison, Chief Executive of Ribby Hall Village says, “Wild Discovery is an opportunity to create an educational and largely interactive experience with the animal world. It adds another dimension to the holiday experience”.
BEACHES AND BIRD WATCHING There are other seaside resorts well worth visiting in the county such as the elegant Southport with its beautiful beaches, pretty gardens, one of the oldest piers in the country (a walk to the end is essential, to take in views!), plus a championship golf course. Explore Morecambe Bay which stretches from the south-west coast of Cumbria to Fleetwood, and which has spectacular views across to the Lake District. This bay has the largest expanse of mudflats and sands in the UK-watch out for oystercatchers and seals. For the adventurous, a guided walk across the sands is quite an experience. The nearby RSPB Leighton Moss is home to BBC popular Autumn Watch and has the largest area of reed beds in North West England. With otters, red deer, bats and many varieties of birds attracted to this site, it’s a perfect location for wildlife activities, bird watching and outdoor photography.
SPOILT FOR CHOICE But there’s more to Lancashire than sea, sand and coastal activities-this is a county full of heritage, culture and stunning countryside. There are acres of moorland, forests and woods perfect for walking and outdoor activities. Go Ape operates tree top rope courses incorporating zip lines and obstacles among the tree lines at Rivington, near Bolton. Not far away at Rawtenstall, the North West’s biggest outdoor ski and snowboard centre can be found. Ski Rossendale provides lessons and group activities, as well as holding competitive events throughout the year. https://goape.co.uk/days-out/rivington www.skirossendale.co.uk Just off Junction 31 of the M6 near Preston, Brockholes Nature Reserve sets out to create a new kind of nature reserve. With free entry and parking for coach groups, there’s a floating visitor village to explore and a variety of walking trails ranging from half an hour to two hours in length around the lakes, woods and along the River Ribble. Pre-booked guides can be provided at an extra cost. www.brockholes.org
Further north-east in the Forest of Bowland is Bowland Wild Boar Park, offering the opportunity for picturesque walks along the river Hodder or exploring the surrounding forest. Visitors can see wild boar, Longhorn cows within the parkland, watch meerkats and raccoons being fed or hand feed animals such as goats, lambs, llamas and red deer. www.wildboarpark.co.uk Follow the witch trail from the Pendle Heritage Centre, in Barrowford near Nelson, through the Ribble Valley to Lancaster Castle where they stood trial. Dominating the Forest of Bowland is the massive expanse of Pendle Hill, a wonderful area for walking tours. It takes about two hours to reach the top of the hill, giving stunning views for many miles around. This is an area with a fascinating link to the Pendle Witches, a group of women who were found guilty and executed for the crime of witchcraft in 1612. The Pendle Heritage Centre contains displays about their story, life in the 1600s, as well as other prominent people such as John Fox and the Quakers. www.pendleheritage.co.uk Nearby is Boundary Mill, Colne providing an opportunity to enjoy discount shopping with up to 70 per cent branded fashion and homewares. Group and organiser incentives are provided. Boundary Mill can arrange a day’s shopping experience combined with a guided tour of key points of interest within the local area, or a visit to a venue such as Samlesbury Hall, Pendle Heritage Centre or a canal cruise. http://boundarymill.co.uk Owned by the National Trust, Rufford Old Hall near Ormskirk is an impressive, highly decorative Tudor manor house with Shakespearean connections. There are extensive displays of furniture, weaponry, armour and tapestries. It is also home to an ancient orchard stocked with many unusual northern apple varieties such as the Carlisle Codling and the Keswick Codling. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rufford-old-hall
STEAM POWER Lancashire’s mills dominated the textile industry for more than a century. At Burnley, the Queen Street Mills is the last surviving 19th century steam powered weaving mill. Here you can re-live the days when cotton was king, as weavers turn cotton into cloth on 300 looms powered by just one steam engine. Steam power can also be seen at work on Lancashire’s preserved railways. The East Lancashire Railway hauls trains between Heywood, Bury, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall, covering an area that was famed for its role in the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing everything from textiles to shoes. It includes large towns with museums, art galleries and busy markets, as well as pretty little villages such as Summerseat surrounded by pictureseque scenery and pubs serving real ale. The East Lancashire Railway provides a range of group activities, including fine dining, afternoon teas and a Confectioner’s Afternoon Tea special. There are Real Ale guided tours focusing on the history, heritage and culture of the local areas, as well as visiting some of the many pubs linked by the railway. www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk The West Lancashire Light Railway offers a different type of experience. This is a narrow gauge service based in the village of Hesketh Bank, between Southport and Preston. It runs numerous special events such as Teddy Bear Outings, Steam Galas and Santa Specials at weekends and bank holidays. www.westlancsrailway.org Much further north is another reminder of Lancashire’s transport history. Carnforth Station was once a major crossing point for thousands of servicemen en route to serving overseas. In 1945, David Lean filmed Brief Encounter here. Now it has become a major tourist attraction, attracting visitors from all over the world keen to see the iconic station. The Refreshment Room where many of the scenes starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard were filmed has now been restored to its 1940s splendour. The Visitor Centre tells the story of the filming, which had to take place at night in order not to interrupt the railway traffic. www.carnforthstation.co.uk
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT A very different type of artistry can be experienced at Haworth Art Gallery, Accrington where the largest European public collection of Tiffany glass can be seen. It consists of more than 140 items, including glass tiles, vases and mosaics such as the beautiful Peacock vase and millefiore paperweights. Many pieces are unique. The gallery also has a large collection of 19th century oil paintings. Groups can arrange introductory talks and guided tours of the collection. Specialised workshops delivered by renowned artists are often available. www.hyndburnbc.gov.uk/hag Culture is also the focus of attention at The Met in Bury where a £4.6m refurbishment is underway. This is one of Northern England’s most successful entertainment venues and the investment is designed to attract even more national talent to perform in the town. It regularly attracts audiences of more than 45,000, with performers such as Steve Coogan, Johnny Vegas, Elbow and Joy Division. David Agnew, artistic director of The Met says, “This project is more than just about the building. In the last five years, we have grown to offer a programme of festivals and Edwin Street Recording Studio alongside regular international touring artists and weekly workshops.” Among the festivals regularly held here are Rammy involving a mix of indie, folk, and reggae music, and the international folk festival, Home Grown. www.themet.biz