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I went to Aintree Racecourse for the first time on 5th April 2013 which was Ladies Day (day before Grand National) with a friend. I've been to a few race meetings at other racecourses before but never anything on this scale. To be clear, I'm not a gambler and rarely place a bet, so don't have any knowledge on racing or horses. To me this ... was more a day out to have a dabble at betting but more to socialise, dress up and attend a big event.
I booked the tickets through the official Aintree Racecourse website (www.aintree.co.uk) which is an informative and easy to use website. We booked Tattersall's tickets which cost £35 per person, however were more like £40 each once the booking fee and postage cost had been added. Despite booking the tickets a few weeks prior to the event I was surprised to find that there was no option for printing the tickets at home, and the only options available were postage (£7 recorded delivery) or picking them up from box office on the day. I went for the postage option to be safe, yet on the day I noticed that the box office was relatively quiet with only a few people waiting to collect, so I wish I had opted for this and saved the postage fee. The tickets arrived quickly and came with an information pack which told me everything I needed to know.
We got a lift to the racecourse which I was glad about because I had read that parking is quite limited on the actual racecourse. When approaching the racecourse we noticed loads of random guys in hi-viz with signs saying "cheap parking for races" etc but they all looked a bit dodgy and I was quite glad we didn't need to worry about that. On race day the main road that the racecourse is on is attended by police and traffic is quite bad. It took us about 20 minutes to drive a couple of miles to get close enough to walk. The road is open though, but I heard it would close while the races are actually happening (I'm not sure why!)
After the races we decided to go into Liverpool city centre so opted to get the train there. Aintree Train Station is directly opposite the racecourse, you literally cross the road to it. Of course because we left just after the final race, the train station was packed and there was a massive queue to get near it. The queue moved quickly though as trains turned up every 10 minutes, and there were loads of staff on site to keep things moving properly and ensure the trains/platforms weren't over loaded.
We had originally wanted tickets for the County Stand, yet unfortunately tickets were sold out and we ended up opting for tickets for Tattersall's which was the cheapest admission. It cost £35 per person with a fee for postage of tickets. The racecourse itself is huge, bigger than any I had seen before. The biggest area is the Tattersall's which is open to anyone who goes into the racecourse, yet doesn't include access inside the racecourse. The Tattersall's is mainly an open area and there are no actual race stands. Instead there is what is known as the Aintree Mound which is a hill and slope where you can stand and get a good view of the closing stage of each race. Within the Tattersall's enclosure there is access to the Parade Ring and Winners Enclosure, as well as the Red Rum Lawn where there are various bars and cafes. There is also access to the Aintree Pavilion which is a huge indoor arena housing cafes, bars, live music on a stage and live coverage of each race on a big screen.
The day we were at Aintree the weather wasn't the best. It was dry yet there was a strong wind and temperatures were at around 8 degrees. Therefore we were extremely grateful of the Aintree Pavilion where we could keep warm yet still be part of the atmosphere and watch the races on the big screen. In fact it seemed there was more atmosphere in the Pavilion than outside! We even saw people with badges for the Queen Mother Stand which costs £100 entry in there, obviously they had just found it too cold out there. Inside the Aintree Pavilion there were a few bars and cafes around the outside walls, but the majority is a huge space in the middle where people gather and socialise. We were fairly near the front of the Pavilion where there was a great view of the main stage which featured live entertainment from various singers/bands as well as the big screen which came on during each race.
We did venture outside and walked over to the Aintree Mound which gave great viewing of the final part of the racecourse and walked through the general areas where there were benches, bars and tote betting cabins. The toilets were located just outside of the Pavilion and were a series of upscale portaloos but felt more like mini caravans. There were about 15 in total and each had 5 toilet cubicles and a few sink and vanity areas. They felt like real toilets and were much better than the usual portaloos. They were clean and just like using a toilet in a normal building.
Whilst we enjoyed being in the Tattersall's enclosure and it included everything we needed, I did wish we had access to one of the private stands (detailed below). It would have been nice to get a bit more involved in the racing itself and spent more time outside. I felt we missed out on a certain element of the day and always felt like we were in the area behind all of the action and it didn't feel like we were actually at live races, but more like we were in another big party nearby. Tattersall's are very lacking in seats and table areas. Within the Pavilion where there must have been thousands of people, there were probably about twenty small tables to put drinks down. This proved quite awkward at times, but luckily we managed to squeeze onto a table with some other racegoers meaning we could put our drinks down. I also felt the Tattersall's weren't as luxury as the rest of the racecourse may have been. I must admit the weather probably was too poor to spend time outside, but if it had been a nicer day I would have definitely preferred to have been in one of the stands and getting a bit more involved. Yet it can't be denied that the Tattersall's are full of atmosphere and very busy which made for a fun day.
If you want to have seating without paying too much more you can pay for West Tip Seats which are within the Tattersall's enclosure but offer a private area with sheltered seating and a private bar. These tickets cost around £67. Other stands available when booking are the Princess Royal Stand which offers a choice of either seating on the main grandstand or standing on the roof terrace. The majority of this section is sheltered and it also has a private bar inside. Tickets for this area are between £90-£120.
The County Stand is a high up area which overlooks the finishing line. There is a big screen within this area. Tickets cost around £90.
The Queen Mother Stand is similar to Princess Royal in the sense that you can either sit in the main grandstand or stand on the roof terrace. All seating in this area is sheltered and there is a big screen available for closure viewing. Tickets cost between £90-£110.
The Earl of Derby 7 Lord Sefton Stands are two separate stands which include two levels of seating, the upper level is the highest stand on the racecourse and then there are terraces on a lower level. Tickets range from £85-£110.
If you want to push the boat out there is the Platinum County Lounge which is a luxury lounge area including reserved seating in the county stand, a private champagne bar, free race card and a race day hostess. This ticket costs £120.
Early on in the day we decided to buy a race card from one of the betting stands. This cost about £6 but proved invaluable throughout the day and was actually borrowed by many around us who hadn't got one. It gives a full summary of the horses included in each race, plus background information on each horse, as well as odds. As I've already mentioned neither I, nor the friend I went with, have any knowledge on betting or the horses, yet the race card helped us to gain a better understanding and at the very least we knew which horses were actually in each race and could choose one before queuing up to bet.
Placing bets was easy, no matter where you are on the racecourse there are numerous betting stations around you and the people in them are understanding of any lack of experience as I think a lot of people at big events like Ladies Day don't really know what they are doing!! Placing a bet is quick and easy, you just say the horses name and the amount you want to bet and they give you a slip. If the horse wins you return to the betting station and claim your money using the slip. Due to having little knowledge on the subject we never placed more than a £5 bet on any horse, so it wasn't major money. But it was fun and we still got a buzz when our horses won (or were leading). I can't stress enough that even if you aren't a betting person who wants to put loads of money on, or someone who knows a lot about the race, it can still be fun betting and watching the races!!
**Food and Drinks**
When we first entered the racecourse (about 12) we decided to try and find somewhere to eat. There were several takeaway style food places with various food options, for example pizza, pies, Spanish food (paella) etc. We ended up opting for a burger from the 'gourmet burger' stand. It cost £8 for a burger and it was the most awful burger I have ever had. I understand the mobile food cabins aren't going to produce the best quality food, but this was ridiculous. It came on a small piece of dry bread, the burger was tiny and some soggy lettuce on it. I've had burgers from stands at various events and they are usually really nice but this was poor. And to pay £8 for it was an insult. That was the only food we had whilst at the racecourse.
The first drink we had was from one of the cocktail bars. It drew our attention because the barmen were performing all sorts of tricks whilst mixing the drinks and looked like they knew a thing or two about mixing drinks. We both went for a Mojito and watched while the barman made the drink. There was a fair amount of effort and show involved and typically it was served in a plastic cup which is understandable at an event like this, but it was such a small cup. The drink only lasted a few minutes as there was barely any liquid in it amongst the ice. He used real Bacardi which was good but the drink was tasteless as he didn't bother with any sugar. It cost £8 each for the cocktail which was a complete rip off for what we got. So at that point we decided to move onto wine as at least you know what you're getting there.
We got our first wine from the main bar in the middle of the Pavilion. They were serving mini bottles of white, rose and red. We both went for Rose which cost £5 for the bottle which was about a glass full. The wine was nice and it was good to have a decent drink, however it was served in ordinary plastic cups which felt a bit strange. This bar also offered beers and spirits. After that we decided to move on to the champagne bar which served only full size bottles of wine, sparkling wine and champagne. The wine was about £20 a bottle, sparkling wine was £35 and champagne was £80 (I think...) We decided to go for the sparkling wine which was lovely and lasted us for the rest of the day. Even better the champagne bar provided mini plastic wine glasses which made the drink more enjoyable and just felt better!
So in summary everything is expensive, but there is plenty of choice. I wouldn't recommend the cocktail bars which aren't worth the bother, stick to bottles or measured mixers then you know what you're getting. And be careful where you get food from, take a moment to have a look at the food on offer rather than rushing like we did!
I thought I'd include this in the review as its one of the things which can concern a lot of people. There is no official dress code at Aintree so really you can wear what you want. (With exception to Grand National race day when sports clothes and fancy dress are not permitted). Every man I saw was wearing a suit, or shirt and trousers, and 90% also wore a tie. Every woman was dressed up, I'd say 80% were in dresses but there were also many women in trouser suits or trousers with a smart top. Therefore it is optional what you wear, yet the preference is to dress up and look smart, with most women wearing dresses. The majority of women also wore a hat or fascinator. Anyone who reads the newspaper reports on Ladies Day will see that there are quite a few who take the dressing up a bit too far and favour bright clashing colours, and this really is the case when you are there. But it is all good fun and its fun people watching at some 'interesting' outfits and flamboyant hats!
We actually got dropped off at the Racecourse at 10:30am (it opens at 10:00) but decided we didn't want to go straight in at that time. So we went into the Rocking Horse pub which is located directly outside the racecourse. This is a typical blokes pub and there's nothing fancy about it, which we expected to be honest. I'd say 90% of the people in there were blokes, as it was quite early on for women. I got the feeling people were getting a head start with drinks in there before facing the ridiculous drinks prices in the racecourse! We only had a soft drink in there but it was clear that drinks were reasonable priced in there. The pub got busier and busier the closer it got to lunchtime so we decided to get out around 12:00.
We had a good day at Aintree Racecourse and I would definitely return. The racecourse is very big and provides many options depending what day you are looking for and how much you want to spend. There are plenty of different areas available even in the Tattersall's, so there is always somewhere new to stand and it won't get boring. I would recommend splashing out on a stand ticket so you can get a bit closer to the action, particularly if the weather is going to be good. Aintree isn't just for hard-core betters, especially on a day like Ladies Day, there is so much more on offer. Ticket prices are reasonable but expect to spend quite a bit on food and drinks once you're in there.
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Dacre Lakeside Park (Yorkshire)
We missed out on our Easter break last year due to a change in the school holidays for my eldest (the golfs fault); and as we didn't really have a summer last year I had said I wasn't going to book anything ever again in this country. As time went on though I started to think about going away and last Novemeber started looking for a ... short break for Easter.
I thought long and hard about what kind of break to book and where. I knew we had a chance of either nice weather or rain so I decided the best break for us would be a lodge with our own hot tub as the girls have loved having a hot tub in the past. But I realised it might not be fun if it rained so I searched for hot tubs with canopies.
I came across Dacre Lakeside Holiday Park.
Once I had decided this was for us I booked a Monday to Friday break (Starting Easter Monday) through Hoseasons. The price for the Garden Lodge was £449 but I got it slightly cheaper through a website discount for work and paid £404.
To book was easy I booked online and was required to pay £50 deposit and the remainder would be due about 12 weeks before the holiday starts.
************* Directions ***************
The Park is in East Yorkshire a little village called East Driffield.
These directions were given in the confirmation email
From the A1 or M1: Take the M62, then the A63 to South Cave. Turn off after Junction 38 to Market Weighton and on to the A1079. From York on the A1079, through Beverley on the A1035 to bypass roundabout. Turn left at Brandesburton roundabout and the park is 1/2 mile on the left.Alternatively: Go left at Humber Bridge on West Hull A164 ring road, through to Beverley and the A1035. Alternatively: Take the A614 off the M62 at Junction 37 past Howden to the A1079 towards Market Weighton.
These directions didn't mean anything to me so I put postcode to postcode into a couple of route planners and for us the directions were very striahgt forward on the M62.
Book in with Hoseasons holidays mainly say 4 o'clock and this was no exception, sometimes we have been lucky and been able to book in early, no such luck here. We were hoping to be able to at least park the car at the lodge as we were going to watch the football at a nearby pub but we wasn't allowed. We were however able to leave it in the car park. I got the impression if you booked a lodge you would never get in much before 4.
Next to reception was a bar and the TV and the receptionist did offer to put the football on for us but they didn't serve food just crisp and a few cakes and biscuits, I was starving so we thanked her but explained we wanted a meal.
When 4 o'clock arrived we got oour keys and drove to the lodge which was quite a way from reception. We had booked a Garden Lodge.
We parked the car just in front of the lodge, and there was fencing around making it more private, we opened the gate and were met with a little garden - grass rockery and a small path and a small covered table. We then went up about three steps to the verandah which had some garden furniture - a table and 4 chairs and the hot tub. There was plenty of space to move the table and chairs away from the hot tub if you required. We didn't it was nice where it was placed.
Once inside it was pretty wow factor for a lodge.
The Garden lodges were new in 2012 and were very nice.
As you walked in the door your view inside was a leather 'corner' setee (but it wasn't in a corner and didn't look out of place) it was in front of a 32" TV that was on the wall and a coffee table. Further in was a table and 4 chairs and to the right of that was a kitchen with fridge, freezer microwave, cooker and dishwasher. There was plenty of cupboard space and all crockery and untensils were available.
On the right as you walked in was a cupboard which housed the DVD player, ironing board and the boiler.
This lodge had two bedrooms, a double which had a double bed, bedside cabinets, dressing table and a fairly big wardrobe for these kind of places. The en-suite bathroom had a free standing bath with a shower head attached to the taps (so you could use either taps or shower head), toilet and sink.
In the twin room there was 2 beds, bedside cabinets and apple wardrobe space. We had to move one of the cabinets to the other side of the dressing table and put cushions on the floor as our youngest has been known to fall out of bed. In this room there was also a dressing table chair and overhead cupboards.
This room also had an en-suite which was nice. It had toilet 2 sinks side by side on a half wall - on the otherside of this was 2 showers. The wall was in the centre so when you took a shower the water did tend to leak out at the ends which was a pain. Other than this is was great.
The lodge was very comfortable and relaxing.
The hot tub outside was ready to use all we had to do was pull the cover up and it gave a choice of having the lights on and the bubbles on. This was what we came for and it could be used at anytime of the day or night. It got checked everyday inbetween 10am and 12 and only once were the girls in it whilst it was checked. We made good use of it our youngest would have lived in it.
Some lodges were at the lake side (there was a big lake) and these weere cheaper as they were older, it was difficult to get to the lake if you weren't in on of these lodges as you would have to walk too close to the lodges which would have been rude to the people staying in them.
All electricity, gas heating and bed linen were included in the price. There were also towels that were provided and 2 robes with slippers. It would have been nice if there had been an extra rob or even robes for children but I understand that might get complicated.
An information pack was provided in the lodge giving general advice and also a guest book where visitors could write their comments.
There were patio doors from the double bedroom that led onto the verandah. This lodge was just so well designed - it had wooden floors throughout, space and room in the kitchen to prepare and store things.
There is no shop on site but there is a bar which we didn't visit, there was some kind of entertainment on the Monday we got there (can't remember what) but no other. In an annex there is a pool table and upstairs was a games room for the children (we had a quick look whilst waiting to get our keys), from what I remember there was a table tennis table and some cushions and chairs. I can't remember what else was there.
There was an adventure playground for children which was near reception so quite away from the lodges but it was a good and well maintaned one.
A tennis court was available too.
***************** nearby ********************
You are pretty much out in the middle of nowhere staying here but there arte two pubs in the village, a shop, a newagents a chinese restaurant and a chippy.(from the lodges these are about three quarters of a mile away)
We visited the Dacre Arms when we first got there to watch the football, the food was ok; we don't eat meat so were a bit limited.
The shop stocked most things but the wine was expensive luckily we took our own.
We got chippy one night but wasn't overly impressed they had no cheese and onion pies but had a cheese pattie which was ok.
I can not comment on the chinese or the other pub as we didn't visit it.
The nearest supermarket is about 10 miles away, which I knew so took most of what we would need.
************* conclusion *************
This was one of the nicest lodges we have ever stayed in, it was modern and homely. The hot tub was what we went for so it didn't bother us being in the middle of no where, we took what we needed.
There is apparently water activities to do on the lake but we didn't see any whilst we were there.
It didn't rain during our stay but if it had we would still have spent time in the hot tub because of the overhead canopy.
We didn't want to come home and would go back but it is very ecpensive in the summer school holidays.
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Island Line Isle of Wight
I spent my 2012 summer holiday on the Isle of Wight, and although I normally used buses to travel around the island, I spent one day using the Island Line, the only electric railway line on the island, which runs from Ryde in the north to Shanklin in the east. Here are my thoughts. ***A Brief History*** The line from Ryde ... to Shanklin was opened in 1964, and was later extended south to Ventnor and north to Ryde Pier Head. The railways were nationalised in 1948 and the Shanklin-Ventnor section later closed. The line was electrified in 1967 and was later named the Island Line, a name it still retains even though it is now part of South West Trains.
Ordinary trains cannot be used on the line as the ceiling of Ryde Tunnel is too low. Instead, the trains are ex-London Underground carriages, originally built in 1938 and still refurbished. I found this rather exciting, as I am a bit of a geek when it comes to the Tube!
***My Experience of the Line***
I bought my ticket from a friendly and helpful assistant at Ryde Esplanade ticket office, and caught the train from the platform. Like all the platforms and stations on the Isle of Wight, the platform wasn't particularly modern or anything like that, but it was perfectly acceptable. Just like a small country station at home, really.
I made several journeys on the line, stopping off at various points to look around and explore. I really liked being on the train: it was like being on the Underground in the 1930s with wooden panelling and windows which could be opened! The trains were comfortable and clean, except where people had left litter, which wasn't very often - and this happens on all public transport!
The line doesn't stop at many stations, so I'll go through them one by one, so you can see what kind of places you can get to.
*Ryde Pier Head*
This station is right at the end of the pier, and is handy for those people wanting to catch the ferry to the mainland. On my journey back to Ryde I rode to the end of the pier: it was very strange to be travelling right over the sea! The track looked a little flimsy to me, supported by a wooden framework like the rest of the pier, but it's obviously perfectly safe.
This is an ideal starting point from which to catch the Island Line, as it is at the shore end of the pier, right on the seafront. The ticket office is here, too. If you are coming to Ryde for the day, it is an ideal stop at which to get off. Ryde is a pleasant Victorian seaside town with a nice beach and some shops, a nice place to spend some time.
*Ryde St John's Road*
This was where the original line started, but nowadays I suspect it is mainly used by Ryde residents, as it is further inland than the Esplanade.
This is the station at which to get off if you want to catch the steam train. I did just that, and had a lovely time. The Island Line part of the station is just a platform, but the steam train side has toilet and waiting room facilities.
Brading is a small historic town on the Isle of Wight. The station hosts a shop, café and small museum, but I didn't get off here so I can't comment on it.
Sandown is one of the island's seaside towns. I paid a visit to the town but I thought it seemed rather shabby and run-down. There were some seafront bars and apartments that I can imagine would be a lot of fun, except that there was hardly anyone in them. The beach looked reasonably nice, but again it was almost empty, although in fairness it wasn't the warmest of days.
Sandown is home to the Isle of Wight Zoo, which houses one of Britain's largest collections of tigers, as well as other animals including lemurs and monkeys. It also houses Dinosaur Isle, a purpose-built attraction which recreates the landscape of the dinosaurs, with life-size models of the creatures whose fossils have been found on the island. I didn't visit either of these attractions as I didn't have time, but I thought they both looked rather fun and I think children would love them.
Lake is a village; I didn't get off here, so I can't say any more than that. I couldn't find evidence of anything here that would be of interest to the tourist, so I didn't bother to visit (though I may have been wrong!).
Shanklin is where the Island Line terminates and as far as I'm concerned they saved the best 'til last. Shanklin was by far my favourite place on the Isle of Wight: a beautiful seaside town with a lovely Old Village full of stone cottages and tea rooms. I enjoyed looking around the charity shops and bric-a-brac shops where I picked up some clothing bargains, including a gorgeous black lace vintage dress for £6. I found an amazing ice cream parlour and had the most delicious sundae of my life, and afterwards I walked through Shanklin Chine, a gorge carved by a waterfall over hundreds of years, with a footpath allowing you to reach the beach from the top of the cliff.
***Limitations of the Island Line***
Sadly, the Island Line only covers the east coast of the Isle of Wight. This does cover important seaside towns such as Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin, and provides an easy way to access the steam railway, but it does not provide access to other interesting places on the island such as Cowes, Yarmouth, Ventnor, Freshwater and the central town of Newport. To reach these places via public transport, you'll need to take a bus.
You can access the most recent timetable via this link:
The trains aren't incredibly frequent, but I don't think you can expect the same frequency of service from a rural train service as you do from, say, the London Underground. I occasionally had to wait fifteen or twenty minutes, once half an hour, for a train but the trains did run to time. According to the timetable, they seem to run from early in the morning to late evening, but I only used it between the hours of ten and seven, so I can't comment on this in detail.
Fares for the Island Line are as follows: max. £4 for a single ticket, max. £5.40 for a return, and max. £17.80 for a weekly season ticket. These are maximum prices and you would probably pay less depending on where you are travelling from and to.
There is also a deal whereby you can buy a joint day ticket for both the Island Line and the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. I chose this option: an adult ticket costs £14.
The Island Line is a handy and comparatively quick way of getting around on the east coast of the Isle of Wight, particularly if you are coming to the island via the ferry to Ryde. It's also good value for money if you want a ride on the steam railway. However, don't rely on the line if you want to explore the island, as there are many important and worthwhile places to visit that it doesn't reach.
To find out more, visit http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/island-line.aspx.
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