Day 159 & 160. Friday 27th & Saturday 28th October. Blackpool to Longton.
It was a good idea to book a cheap guest house in Blackpool, I wasn't entirely sure what time I'd get back there on the train. It was a bad idea to book it at 1am in the morning though, laying in my own bed after my Masonic meeting in Horncastle. I completey got the days and dates confused so I booked for the Thursday night rather than the Wednesday night, that might have been due to that last glass of Merlot !! The next day, Unsurprisingly, there was a train cancellation so I had to catch a later train from Lincoln which then threw out the connection times in Sheffield and Manchester so I arrived in Blackpool nearly three hours later than planned, I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned how crap our rail system is ?? I was really annoyed as there was a Lodge meeting in Blackpool that night but being messed around, again, by the morons playing with the train set, I missed the start time of the meeting... 🤬
I tried to change the date of my guesthouse booking but failed and they wouldn't give me a refund so I booked a different guesthouse for the Wednesday night and decided to stay in Blackpool for two night, this would give me a chance to have a shorter walk to break myself back in but I'd have the peace of mind knowing that I had a room for the second night. The guest house cost £22.83 for the night so you can probably guess how classy it was... it was clean enough and safer than trying to camp in the town so all good.
With this unplanned extra day I did get the chance to take in the sights of Blackpool and see the lights, I've got to say, the light displays were very impressive.
The following morning I was collected by Duncan, the Assistant Provincial Grand Master and driven to the Fleetwood Lodge to have a look around, I had walked past the building a few weeks ago but there was nobody available to show me around.
Duncan kindly drove me back to the Tower and I walked down to the Pleasure beach to check out the big fair ground. You may have heard, every Tuesday and Saturday I do a live interview with DJ Tricky Ricky on Coastal Sounds Radio and Ricky had challenged me to blag a free ride on 'The Big One' and film myself on the ride. When it was opened in 1994 it was the tallest roller coaster in the world at 65 meters high, reaching speeds of 85mph and apparently you can pull 3.5g while getting thrown around the sky. I did actually have a ride back in the 1990's, the last time I was in Blackpool but I'll be honest, I can't remember much about it. We had hired the PRI mini from RAF Coningsby, an old Leyland DAF Sherpa, with side facing rear seats, loaded our 3 kids in, our son Lewis was only a baby so his pram and the ton of baby kit require for a three night break, my mate Gary, his wife Karen and their three kids and my sister and her then husband. Oh, and a few crates of John Smiths Smooth, just incase they ran out in the bar, and off we went to Pontins Blackpool for a long weekend. I'll not mention Gazza winning a dancing competition on the Saturday night as it just goes to his head. He did win a big bottle of champagne but what we couldn't understand, the judges must have thought Gaz was disabled as all the other contestants had artificial limbs or walking frames or were being assisted while out of their wheelchairs !!! It must have been the way he was doing his drunken dad, dancing to the dance floor routine.. 😂 We are still surprised that Strickly has never called him !!!
Anyway, I can't remember how much it cost to ride the big one back in 1995 but today, it costs £50 to get through the gates, you can then ride on any of the rides but you can't pay for individual rides, and the 'elf & safety' police prevent you from using any filming devices on the rides, without written permission from the media team !!! There was no way I was spending £50 so I walked back into Blackpool and checked in to my second guest house. It was much better than the previous evening's place and at £23, including a continental breakfast, a real bargain, I'd walked for just over 8 miles with no real problems from my foot so I was ready to go.
I was up and away nice and early and walking down the beach to Lytham St Anne's the next morning. My left foot was still a bit sore but I had been warned it would be until my feet had got used to my new insoles.
I was met by John who showed me around the very impressive Lodge in St Anne's, a former cinema and ball room that had been beautifully converted. Big posh sofas to sit on during the meetings, it really was very posh.
John shared some very interesting stories about the history of the building and the proud history of some of the Lodges that hosted and carried out ceremonies for US airmen during the Second World War while they were stationed at the nearby air base at Warton.
I couldn't walk between the river and the air base at Warton so I was forced to walk through the village. There was a campsite shown on my map but it didn't allow tents so a bit further up the road I noticed a scout hut with a nice piece of well cut grass right opposite the pub. I nipped in for a pint while the last of the daylight faded so I could then pitch up and not be seen but chatting to 'Big Mark' at the bar, he suggested I walk up the side street to the Chequers Social Club where they might let me camp in their beer garden. There were quite a few ex-soldiers in the bar so I was made very welcome, I was ordered a chicken kebab and by just after 10pm I was tucked up in my tent around the back. The manager even knocked me up a bacon butty and a coffee in the morning, they were setting up for a Halloween party so I bid my farewells and headed off before all the kids started turning up.
Although I'd never been to Warton I was aware of the place as I knew the RAF Typhoon jet had been built there, what I didn't know, until I walked past a Spitfire monument just outside of the village is just how strategic the base was during and since the Second World War. USAAF personnel starting arriving in 1942 and their numbers eventually peaked at over 10,000. It was called BAD2, (Base Air Depot No. 2) and its role was to carry out the overhaul, modification and maintenance of aircraft, over 4000 Mustangs, 3000 Liberators and 700 Invaders but they also looked after many other models as well as equipment and armaments. By the time the US handed the base back to The RAF in 1946, over 10,000 aircraft had been processed and The BAD2 Assiciation was still active until 2010 with regular visits to the UK. Sadly, many of these visits were to commemorate the Freckleton disaster, in August 1944 a Liberator Bomber crashed onto the village school during a severe thunder storm killing 61 people, 38 of these were children.
After the war, the aerodrome was acquired by English Electric which became the British Aircraft Corporation, then British Aerospace and now, BAE Systems. The site has had a proud history associated with the design, development and production of a wide range of military aircraft such as the Canberra, Lightning, Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon. All a little bit 'Brill Cream' for me, I needed to move on before the air turned my walk into a 'mince' !!! A crab even !!!
I arrived on the outskirts of Preston in the early afternoon. Wandering along the road listening to the radio through my earphones, I was approached by a guy that had just walked out of a shop who asked me what I was doing. A quick introduction and I was invited just up the road to his house for a brew where this very quiet, unassuming and very humble man, briefly spoke about some of things he'd done since leaving the British Army after 34 years of service. It was only the following day when I was lying in my tent looking at his website that I realised what an absolutely incredible man I'd had the honour to sit and chat with. I would need to write an entire blog to catalogue the list of mind blowing achievements Sip has bagged, often while raising tens of thousands of pounds for Combat Stress. I can't even begin to imagine the achievements during his 34 years of service. To be honest and blunt, the accolades 'Hero' and 'Legend' are bestowed on many people these days, have a look at Sip's website, this man is both and more and I'm truly honoured to have met him.
Check out sipextremeoutdoors.com
What a man, thank you Sip for inviting me into your home for a chat and a brew, truly honoured mate.
I wandered into Preston, had a breif look at the Lodge building and headed out of town towards Longton. My walking challenge, feeling somewhat lame in my mind after hearing about Sips latest achievement, completing all 214 Wainwrights in 24 days !!! Yes, that's what I said !!! A breeze really, only 709km, 43,528m of ascent, that's four times the height of Mt Everest, unsupported, carrying his own gear... Seriuosly, a walk in the park !!! 😰
Well it was in comparison to my immediate challenge anyway, right there and then... it's ok having a long walk in the hills, through the desert, along the beach, when nature calls you can nip behind a bush, into the dunes... walking through a built up residential area when you're 'touching cloth' is a very different predicament... 🥵 jumping over someone's garden wall to empty ones handbag is very likely to cause civil unrest and if it wasn't for the pub I was counting every step of the final 600 meters to reach, I would have been scooping it out of the back of my boots !!! That was a close call !!! Note to self, consider reducing coffee intake while walking through built up areas !!! 😬
Suitably relieved, I had a quick pint while having a chat with a guy about where would be best to watch the rugby, it was the Rugby World Cup Final and I wanted to watch it. He steered me towards his mates pub, the newly opened Hoptons Bar in Longton which he knew would be showing the game. I checked out the grass behind the library which would be perfect to pitch the tent on after the game and headed for the bar.
Never far from a Freemason, one of them was also a former Sapper, I watched the game and had a great evening. Unfortunately, it absolutely hammered it down with rain for much of the time I was in the bar so when I returned to my hidden camping pitch behind the library, it was now a swamp. I had a look through the nearby graveyard but there was no available grass so I had no choice but to walk out of the village to find somewhere more suitable. Three miles later, nearly 1am in the morning, I found a nice raised piece of grass behind an ambulance station so threw my tent up and hit the sack... it had been a long day.