Blackpool Rocks!

Go to any seaside town in the UK and you won’t be able to turn around without coming across a shop that sells sticks of rock. On a trip to the beach, buying a stick of rock is as traditional as taking your bucket and spade.

Having threatened many a tooth filling on this stuff as a child, I’ve always had a fondness for it, but never really eaten it since then. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I live in Scotland and with our climate; there aren’t a lot of opportunities to get to the seaside.

Although there a number of European countries who make rock, there are few other places where it has become as synonymous with its home as the rock from Blackpool.

For anybody out there who has never tried it, it comes in cylindrical sticks, think the shape of a magic wand, and is made from a diet-destroying mixture of sugar and glucose syrup. Its main feature is the lettering which runs through it, usually the name of the town it’s being sold in.

You may think it’s quite a simple thing to make, but it is a specialized skill and is hand made by a “Sugar Boiler” as it cannot be made in single bars due to the method of production.

First of all, the sugar and syrup are boiled up to approximately 300 degrees and then poured onto cooling tables, where the mixture is divided up, some will form the coloured part of the rock and the lettering, and the rest will form the white centre of the stick of rock.

The lettering of the rock is made by layering strips of coloured and white toffee  is a delicate job and letters which are rounded have to be made last as the toffee is still quite soft at this point and could lose their shape when the rock is assembled. Once the letters have been made, they will be assembled in the correct order, each with a strip of white toffee between them, so the words are legible.

The core of the rock is then sandwiched between the layers of lettering and this is then encased in the coloured outer casing. The rock is then placed into a piece of machinery called a batch roller which helps it to keep its shape as it is pulled into long strips and then cut into the desired length and is ready to be wrapped.

It is probably an unwritten law somewhere that if you visit Blackpool you have to buy a stick of rock from the Pier. It’s probably also a certainty that you will visit Blackpool Tower when you’re there.

The tower opened in 1894 and took inspiration from the Eiffel Tower; it is also a Grade 1 listed building. In addition to being one of the UK’s most recognisable landmarks, in its time it has also been used as a radar station, an FM radio transmitter and for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the top of the tower was painted silver in commemoration.

The tower is open every day except Christmas Day, and for more information, visit the website so you can plan your visit.

Staying in Blackpool can present visitors with problems are there are hundreds of hotels and B&s in the area, so you can be spoiled for choice. One of the nicest hotels you could choose is the Village Urban Resort Blackpool (formerly the Blackpool Heron’s Reach). No matter what you’re visiting Blackpool for, the hotel will give you a luxurious base to stay while you enjoy all the sights and sounds that it has to offer. Each room is fitted with comfy beds, flat screen TVs and satellite and free Wi-Fi if you need it. So after you experienced the entertainment of the town you can head back to your hotel room and relax.


Visit Nottingham

Robin Hood & Maid MarianIf you were growing up in the 1980s, you may remember a certain TV advert for a brand of cough sweet, where a gentleman tried to buy a train ticket to Nottingham, but couldn’t make himself understood because of his rotten cold.

You may also be aware of Nottingham more through its association with the man in tights, Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Why go there?

The city of Nottingham has much more to offer visitors than mercenaries who wear tights and live in the forest though. The city has a rich heritage of industry, including lace-making and cycling (the Raleigh Chopper comes from Nottingham)

The city itself dates back to 600AD and was granted its city charter in 1897 as part of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations. Today, it is a rich and vibrant city and a fantastic destination for tourists, sports fans and those of us who like to have a little bit of retail therapy.

Getting there

By air – Nottingham is served by two airports, East Midlands Airport and Robin Hood Airport. East Midlands Airport serves Scotland, Ireland and most of the major European cities, and Robin Hood Airport also serves a number of European cities. Both airports have good transport links with the city centre.

By rail – East Midlands Trains is the main operator within the city, and also runs a number of services to other major cities in the UK, including London, Manchester and Liverpool. Journey time from London St Pancras is approximately 1 ¾ hours and prices for a single adult ticket start at £24 (correct as of 22.05.13). From the opposite end of the country, journey time is just over 5 hours and involves changing trains at Manchester. Prices start at £122.50 for an adult return (prices correct as of 22.05.13).

By tram – Nottingham has a great tram network around the city centre, the Nottingham Transit Express lets you get around the city centre quickly (less than 8 minutes).

City Landmarks

Sherwood Forest – we couldn’t really talk about a trip to Nottingham without a mention of Robin Hood, and where better to experience the legend than his legendary home of Sherwood Forest. Not only is the 450 acres of forest the home of Robin and his men, it also contains some of the oldest oak trees in the UK, including the Major Oak, which according to legend was the tree which was Robin’s hideout. The oak is aged between 800 and 1,000 years old and is weighs approximately 23 tonnes, its weight has been supported since the Victorian era by an elaborate scaffolding structure. Visit the forest’s official website for further information on events throughout the year.

The Lace Market – one of the most important industries which allowed Nottingham to become the thriving city it is today. The Lace Market area in the city occupies a quarter-mile area right in the city centre and is thought to be the oldest part of the city. The area contains a number of red-brick Victorian warehouses which were characteristic of the industry and you can visit many of the buildings which played a part in the lace-making history of Nottingham.

Somewhere to rest your head

If you’re enjoying a few days in Nottingham then you’ll need a base so you can explore everything the city has to offer. The Nottingham Belfry from QHotels is one of the best hotels in Nottingham and offers guests a warm welcome in this modern, luxurious setting.

Nottingham Belfry has 120 stylish and contemporary rooms with great features, including comfortable beds and 32” flat screen TVs with satellite channels and free internet access, which will help you research your trip around Nottingham.

Visit the Nottingham Belfry website for further information and to book your stay with them.

What to do

There is such a wealth of things to do within Nottingham you may have trouble narrowing it all down, but here are some of the highlights:

Galleries of Justice Museum – this museum is based within the city’s former courthouse and jail and brings alive some of the terrible history of England’s justice system. The museum uses a mix of guided tours and interactive exhibits to give visitors a great day out. The site of the building has been in the Lace Market district since the Saxon period and Sheriffs of Nottingham were recorded as far back as 1125. You can go on a number of tours at the museum, including the Crime and Punishment Tour and the Ghost Tour. Visit the website for tour times and prices.

DH Lawrence Heritage Centre – one of Nottingham’s most famous sons, the writer DH Lawrence is regarded as one of the finest authors in the English language. The DH Lawrence Heritage museum lets you find out more about the author who created Sons and Lovers and the highly controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which caused a national scandal when it was published. The Heritage Centre houses various exhibits and artefacts from Lawrence’s life. The Centre is open Tuesday to Sunday, and opening times vary according to season.

Nottingham Castle – situated on Castle Rock, Nottingham Castle has been a fixture of the city since the Middle Ages. One of the most historically important castles in England, it was built in 1067 on the orders of William the Conqueror. In its time Nottingham Castle has played host to Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and Prince John. Although it ceased to be a royal residence in the 1600s and left mostly derelict, a ducal mansion was built on the site in 1660 and remains to this day, where it houses the Nottingham Castle Museum. The castle is open 7 days a week and various opening times apply depending on the time of year. You can find out more about opening times and events on the castle’s website.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery - Entrance by Marian Craig

Glasgow Top 10

header image: Kelvingrove Art Gallery – Entrance by Marian Craig

Being born and bred in Glasgow, I though it was about time we gave it a recommendation on this blog. I figured the best way to do this was to just give you a rundown of some things you just have to do or experience when you’re here. So we put it to a vote and here are our suggestions, it’s a democratic list so in no particular order………

Visit Kelvingrove – start your day in Glasgow with a bit of culture and pay a visit to one of our most famous landmarks. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland and we all have fond memories of it for different reasons. As a kid I used to visit in the summer holidays and vividly remember three things: the natural history section, the massive stone staircases and of course, the Dali painting on the first floor. The museum is free entry and you’ll spend hours here without even realising it.

Ice Cream at the University Cafe – It’s been there   since 1918 and not for nothing. The University Cafe is an institution as much as a cafe and the decor has remained virtually the same since it opened, taking you back to the 50’s with its wood panelling and formica. The ice cream is as legendary as the cafe, keep it old school though and have a 99 or a double nougat. If you don’t know what a double nougat is, go here and find out!

People’s Palace – yes, I know it’s another museum, but for all of Kelvingrove’s lofty  Dutch masters, the People’s Palace is a museum of the people, for the people. Located in Glasgow Green (which is Glasgow’s oldest park), the People’s Palace tells the story of Glasgow and its people from 1750 to the end of the 20th century. There are few places which evoke old Glasgow like this place, and like Kelvingrove, I have memories of rainy school holiday trips here and remember vividly seeing Billy Connolly’s Banana boots. They’re still there and worth a visit.

Walk with the Dead – ok, so 37 acres of gravestones might sound like a hard sell, but you really need to see the Necropolis if you get the chance. Built in a similar fashion to Paris’ more famous Pere Lachaise cemetery, the Necropolis is a stunning memorial to those who rest there, and testament to the ingenuity of the Victorian age. You may not be among the living, but you won’t find many places more peaceful amidst the bustle of the city centre, and you discover it for yourself by taking one of the guided tours. I can’t sum it up any better than John Strang, who was Chamberlain of the Merchants’ House in the 1830’s and described it as “respectful to the dead, safe and sanitary to the living, and dedicated to the Genius of Memory”.

Champagne in the afternoon – after the Victorian drama of the Necropolis, you’ll need some time to reflect and gather your thoughts. What better way to do this than with a little glass of bubbly in some luxurious surroundings, and there is nowhere more luxurious than the Hotel Du Vin Glasgow. Located in a Victorian terrace, this stunning boutique hotel in Glasgow has played host to some famous names over the years, as it’s a favourite haunt of celebrities. With an unbeatable reputation for style and impeccable service, spend an afternoon here and come back to the land of the living.

Barras are Better! – if you really want to experience a slice of Glasgow life then head to the Barras market. Started by Margaret Russell and her husband, James McIver who started a business renting out static barrows to market traders, who would then trade to the public at weekends. The market is open every weekend from 10am-5pm and sells everything from shoes to antiques to records. The Ballroom on the site has become a famous live music venue and is a great night out (be warned though, you will get sweaty!)

Take in a movie – avoid the queues and oversized buckets of popcorn which is standard fare when you go to a movie these days and head to the Glasgow Film Theatre. Opened as The Cosmo in 1939, it was the first arts cinema in Scotland, and ran until 1973, when it was sold to the Scottish Film Council, who reopened it as the GFT in 1974. The GFT is still famed for showing a wide variety of films that just wouldn’t get a showing in commercial cinemas. It’s refreshing to take a little step back in time in this Art Deco theatre, its full of atmosphere, and never mind a bucket of popcorn, you can take drinks in with you while you watch the movie – plastic cups though.

Indulge in some retail therapy – Glasgow is the top shopping destination outside of London and with the number of designer and vintage shops in the city centre, you’re bound to find something to tempt you into parting with your cash. Take a walk down the “Style Mile, which is the area around Buchanan Street, Argyle Street and the Merchant City and take advantage of the designer boutiques in the area, or head to the West End of the city if you prefer vintage, as there are some great hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered.

Go round in circles – Glasgow is home to the 3rd oldest metro system in the world behind London and Budapest, and since the twin circular lines were built in the late 1800’s they have never been expanded. The outer and inner circles run clockwise and anti-clockwise respectively and travel north and south of the River Clyde. It’s colloquially known as the “Clockwork Orange”, although the source of this nickname has never been made

clear, it’s generally thought that it is simply because the trains run in a circle and the carriages are a very 70’s shade of orange! If you think that riding round a circular subway route isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon, then indulge in the “subcrawl”, which involves buying an all-day ticket, travelling to each station on the route, getting off the train, going to the nearest pub and having a drink (or two!) and then repeating this process until you’ve completed the circuit.

Get out of town! – after experiencing the hustle of the city, take a 20 minute drive north and you’ll be surrounded by some of the most peace inducing scenery you’ll ever have the pleasure to witness on the banks of Loch Lomond. Whether you decide to just take in the scenery or go out on the Loch via one of the many boat hire companies there, it’s worth every second and you’ll definitely return.