Saturday, 31 October 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
The lady behind the counter of the Lancaster City Museum lingers over the words. "We persecuted people, we locked them up, we killed them," she smiles with a macabre frisson of delight. "The aura of doom and gloom still hangs over the city".
I never had Lancaster down as a hotbed of ghoulish goings-on. But, as thoughts turn to things that go bump in the night this week, I find the spectre of Lancaster's grisly past looms ever large over the medieval Market Square.
Lancaster Castle, the ancestral seat of the Dutchy of Lancaster, is forever associated with the Pendle Witch Trails, one of the largest executions for witchcraft ever staged in Britain.
Seven women and two men from the nearby villages of Pendle Hill lost their lives to the noose in Lancaster on August 20, 1612. Today the castle remains a courthouse and a prison - as it has been since the Middle Ages.
Exploring the grounds on a chilly winter afternoon, I find the tower (pictured above) where they spent their final hours still stands with its raven-black weather vane, and the place of the public execution is now a weather-stained stone wall behind stout, forbidding railings.
The group of alleged witches was blamed for the death of 17 of their neighbours with the main evidence against them collected from their own confessions. Their preferred method of evil-doing was, apparently, to make a clay model of their victim.
Overall, an estimated half million men women and children were burnt at the steak across Western Europe at the 17th-century height of the witch trails.
King James I of England was obsessed with witchcraft and suspicious of the Catholic faith. Matthew Hopkins, the king's appointed Witchfinder General, had arrested over 120 people in the south of England for witchcraft by his death in 1646.
The 400th anniversary of the Trails in 2012 will ignite interest in the folklore of the Pendle Witches. Meanwhile, you can follow a brown-sign trail from Lancaster to Clitheroe and onto Barrowford, taking the old gallows road from Lancaster, moving through the Trough of Bowland and culminating with the climb up Pendle Hill, where wolves and wild boar once roamed free.
Early next year The Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board is to launch a series of heritage trails, which will highlight some of the region's lesser-known and macabre attractions.
But were the Pendle Witches possessed by supernatural powers, or the innocent victims of an age obsessed with the ways of the Wicca?
Only by exploring the ancient landscape of Lancashire can we try to uncover the grisly truth.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Friday, 2 October 2009
Eight minutes. That's the average time it now takes - apparently - to pass through security at Manchester Airport's Terminal One following its £50m refit.
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Bleary eyed this morning on the early train home from Blackpool. Last night was the England's Northwest Tourism Awards with the best of the region gathered together in regeneration-central Blackpool for a night of red wine, back slapping and tourism gongs.
Saturday, 19 September 2009
I've never been taken by the idea of cruising. All those rich Americans, confined spaces and forced-bonhomie deck games before dinner with the crashing bores at the captain's table. Ugh.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
A bad press this week for Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) thanks to this post by fellow travel blogger, Grumpy Traveller.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Fancy a stroll around the coastline of Britain this autumn? That's a mere 2,784 miles if you do. But, if you set out from the Northwest, then you might not get very far.
In a report published by Natural England, an advisory body to the government on the natural environment over the summer, the Northwest faired particularly badly.
Only 44% of the Northwest coastline is accessible - that's 184 miles. But 237 miles of British coastline is not accessible. This reflects industrial use on Merseyside and along the west coast of Cumbria.
No one in England lives more than 70 miles from the sea but, in the Northwest, you're unlikely to walk for more than a few miles before finding the path blocked off.
The Natural England audit forms part of an effort to make England's coastline accessible to walkers. Separate projects operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The idea of forming a complete ring around the coast dates back to the 18th century but has been revived in recent years by the ramblers seeking the right to roam.
The 53 councils involved in the mapping project have backed the idea of increased access, doubtless tempted by extra tourism revenues.
But landowners in some parts of the country have criticised the bill, while military installations and industry oppose the right to roam.
Even The Queen is involved. The Times reports that HRH is likely to be one the first landowners to open up private land on her North Norfolk Sandringham estate for ramblers.
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “The news that the public lack full access to nearly 1000 miles of coastline is a sobering reminder of how much is at stake in the Marine & Coastal Access Bill."
Do we want to reclaim our coastline in the Northwest? I'll be discussing this topic with Duncan Barkes on City Talk Breakfast this Tuesday from 7.45am. Post your comments below and I'll put them on air.
Saturday, 29 August 2009
Michael Notarianni almost whispers it at first. It's nine o'clock in the morning and we're sipping espresso in his seaside cafe. Another fortifying sip and he's ready to say it with pride. "I'm starting to fall in love with Blackpool all over again," he smiles.
Michael is not alone. The archetypal Great British seaside resort has spent years in the wilderness. But a wind of change may finally be blowing in off the Central Promenade these days.
The talk today around Blackpool is of regeneration with a £45m injection of hard currency over the next three years. Redeveloping the seafront is a key element to transform the resort’s tourism industry with improvements to the sea wall, remodeling the seafront and the opening of the Tower Festival Headland, including a 'comedy carpet' with quotes from comedians etched in granite, due for completion in 2010.
Old-school family businesses like Notarianni's, the only original, ice-cream parlour left in town, are keeping fingers crossed that the resort has finally turned the corner.
Michael's grandfather Luigi, opened the original shop on the seafront in 1928. Today the cafe retains the Art Deco counter and still serves the Notarianni Sundae (£3.60) in the colours of the Italian flag.
Next door at Brooks Collectables, manager Mark Yates has opened Brooks Museum of Memorabilia upstairs from the shop with vast collections of toys, Blackpool souvenirs and rare pictures of yesteryear Blackpool.
"Most people don't know about the Art Deco heritage of Blackpool away from all the, err, glitz. The secret, " he adds," is to look up at the tops of the buildings."
But can Blackpool really reinvent itself? A handful of local hoteliers have invested heavily in upscale properties, notably The Beach House and Langtrys. Plus there are a few smarter places to eat and drink around town away from the traditional cheap beer, soggy chips and alcopops-fuelled hen parties.
But for every boutique B&B, there's Freddie Starr at the Central Prom and for every example of Sir Peter Blake's public artwork on the New South Prom art trail, there's a boozed-up stag party downing shots in Yates's Wine Lodge.
BBC Radio 2 will be here next weekend to live broadcast the switch on of the illuminations and the Royal Variety Performance will coax the Royals north of Watford for a second time after their foray to Liverpool.
But will British holidaymakers start to fall in love with Blackpool all over again like Michael? Can Blackpool find a new market away from cheap booze and chips?
I'll discussing this with Duncan Barkes on City Talk Breakfast this Tuesday from 7.45am. Post your comments below and I'll put them on air.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Sunday, 16 August 2009
Who is the face of North West tourism? And who would make the best brand ambassador to encourage tourism to the region?
I ask the question because the North West Regional Development Agency is seeking to recruit two "high profile faces" as part of a new PR push to raise awareness of the region as a short-break destination this autumn.
Currently, Radio 2 presenter, author and professional Wiganite, Stuart Maconie is handling the task of fronting the campaign.
Maconie lives in Birmingham, although he spends much of his free time in Cumbria.
The micro site, Stuart's Stories has presented travel diary-style pieces that also ran as press advertorials, and a series of podcasts narrated by Maconie to download to your iPod.
It is reported that the campaign has to date produced up to £7.5m worth of coverage, reaching an estimated audience of 15m people.
And, to be fair, he does make an engaging case. I've downloaded a couple of the podcasts myself and have at home a copy of Short Stories for Short Breaks, the accompanying booklet.
But the quest is now on for "high profile brand advocates to create interest and credibility."
The new campaign is set to run from September to the end of the year, with an option to extend it through into 2010.
"... some more renowned North West luminaries such as Albert Finney, Ted Robbins, Victoria Wood or my personal vote - Glossop's favourite son and national porn baron, Paul Raymond."
Who do you think? Ken Barlow from Corrie? The drummer from ill-fated Chester indie band Mansun? Post-Big Brother Terry Christian.
Or should we just give Mark E Smith from The Fall the gig and stand by for an autumn of shambolic ramblings, fisticuffs with journalists and a bust up resulting in Smith sacking the whole band.
I'm making light of light, but there is a serious point here. Cynical as I am about any personality-driven pieces in the newspaper travel sections (not Chris Tarrant goes wild salmon fishing in Canada again, please!), I can see the value of a 'face' in this instance.
By giving the editorial a personal, first-person slant from somebody who commands respect due to profile, expertise, or the ability to express themselves in an informative and entertaining, or ideally all three, it does lend gravitas to the campaign.
After all, readers always relate better to editorial that feels like a mate telling them a story down the pub, rather than a big-money corporate behemoth ramming the message down their throat. At least I do.
So, suggestions then.
Post them below and I'll put them on air on City Talk Breakfast with Duncan Barkes this Tuesday at 7.45am.