AS a wee girl growing up in Muirhouse, north of Edinburgh, in the 1970s, Gillian Campbell used to wonder what her dad actually meant when he chided her with the words: “Put that light off… it’s like Blackpool Illuminations in here!”

“Until I moved here,” says Gillian, who is now Deputy Leader of Blackpool Council, “my only clue about Blackpool was dad telling me off for leaving lights on. I didn’t know what Blackpool Illuminations were. Now I am in charge of the Illumination as I am Blackpool Council’s lead on tourism, economic growth and jobs!”

The Illuminations, which have been an autumn fixture in the resort for almost 140 years, are traditionally switched on at the end of August in a bid to extend the holiday season into early November. Taking up the entire 10km of Blackpool’s famous promenade, today they use over one million bulbs and attract 3.5million visitors to the town.

As the holiday season kicks off in earnest, Blackpool – a town with a core population of 142,000 – is expecting the traditional invasion of Scots at the start of the Scottish school holidays.

With Britain baking in a heatwave this week, tourism chiefs in the town say there has seen more visitors this week than any other resort in the UK. A spokesman said: “Visitor numbers have soared and are the highest the resort has seen since the famous heatwave of the 1970s. A record number of Scottish people are set to visit Blackpool this summer, a destination already extremely popular with Scots.

“Around 30% of all visitors to Blackpool are Scottish and with rising inflation and the weak pound, more people are opting to stay in the UK rather than holiday abroad.”

In the Ayrshire village of Kilmaurs where I grew up, I fondly recall baking hot summers and a mass evacuation which saw most of my friends disappearing to Blackpool on high days and holidays. I often felt like the only girl in my village who had never been.

I could only look on in envy as they all decanted to Blackpool during the Kilmarnock Fair and the September Weekend. My only comfort was watching Ken Dodd and his Diddymen joined by the cast of Are You Being Served and Showaddywaddy on Seaside Special from the Big Top in Blackpool on telly.

They say that all good things come to those who wait, and it has taken me four decades to set foot in Blackpool. A new Blackpool Has It All campaign is aimed at changing perceptions of the famous old Lancashire seaside resort, which in the last decade has had millions of pounds spent on improving its attractions, including improvements to the promenade and its sea-defences.

The latest tourism numbers for Blackpool, logged in 2016, are staggering. Tourism is worth £1.44 billion to Blackpool’s economy, with more than 18 million people visiting the resort – an increase of one million compared to the previous year. This, in turn, brought in £80 million to the town. That means six million of the visitors to Blackpool are Scots and that boils down to a lot of repeat business from Blackpool fans living in Scotland based on the current population of Scotland (5.3 million).

One of the first things I became aware of as I stepped on to a tram and travelled along the famous seafront was the proliferation of public art; including Gordon Young’s Comedy Carpet (2011) at the foot of Blackpool Tower. This giant “carpet” is a celebration of Blackpool’s heritage as a Mecca for comics over the years and refers to the work of more than a thousand comedians and comedy writers through their jokes, songs and catchphrases dating from the early days of variety to the present.

The names include catchphrases from famous Scottish comedy acts such as Francie and Josie, Chic Murray, Billy Connolly and The Krankies.

“The Scots appreciate that we have a lot to offer,” says Gillian Campbell. “They know that there is more to Blackpool than the Tower and the Pleasure Beach. We are trying to claim our cultural offering back at the moment. I don’t think people think of Blackpool and culture in the same breath but it is all there. We have the Grundy Art Gallery, which has a new curator who is doing great things. There’s an exhibition running at the moment celebrating 250 years of the circus as part of the UK-wide Six Cities of Circus programme marking the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK.”

THE Scottish love affair with Blackpool goes back to the early days of the trades fair fortnight in the Victorian era, specifically the Glasgow Fair Fortnight, which saw workers in factories and shipyards hanging up their tools en masse for a short period and heading off for a well-earned break. While many took steamboats or the train to resorts like Gourock, Dunoon or Rothesay, others headed south to Blackpool, which was accessible – as it is today – thanks to good travel links. The bond between Glasgow and the west of Scotland was especially close thanks to this ease-of-access.

For my first visit to Blackpool, my friend Jill and I travelled to Blackpool from Glasgow to Preston and took a little local train on to Blackpool. The whole trip took less than three hours.

Our hotel, the stylish Big Blue Hotel beside the Pleasure Beach, was the antithesis of the tacky bed and breakfast of folklore. According to Councillor Campbell, a five-star hotel will be part of the tourist offering next year.

This famous old Blackpool Tower, which has dominated the skyline of the town since 1884, was our first port of call. Inspired by the architecture and tourist pulling-power of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it soars 380 feet into the air. On the day we visited, the sky was completely cloudless. If you have a head for heights, at the top of the Tower, there’s a five centimetre-thick glass viewing platform, from which you can gaze out across the clear waters of the Irish Sea. In 2016, Blackpool South beach was awarded a blue flag for excellent sea water quality. On the day we visit, it glitters in the sunshine.

From the top of the Tower, the famous Blackpool Promenade and its many attractions – Sea Life, the Pleasure Beach, Madame Tussauds, Nickelodeon Land, Sandcastle Waterpark, Blackpool Zoo, the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Model Village and Gardens – are spread out below like a toy town of treats.

On the opposite side from the sea, Blackpool is a jumble of buildings and streets, while the North West of England lies beyond with views over Bowland, up to the Lake District and on a clear day down to Liverpool and across to the Isle of Man.

Under my feet, I have a bird’s eye view of Gordon Young’s Comedy Carpet being examined by ant-like tourists. I can also make out the shiny gold roof of the Beach House Bistro and Bar on the seafront where we later have a fine seafood lunch. It actually feels like we are in Spain…

Before leaving the Tower, we step into its elegant old ballroom, which regularly makes a star appearance in Strictly Come Dancing. Dating back to 1894, The Blackpool Tower Ballroom is famous for its unique sprung dance floor and spectacular architecture and remains a destination for dance fans from across the globe. On the day we visit, Chinese ballroom dancers – visiting for an international dance festival – are shimmying expertly across the dance floor. We watch mesmerised as we take afternoon tea, listening to the sounds of the famous Wurlitzer organ.

In the course of our two-day trip, we visit several attractions. When we were there, Blackpool Pleasure Beach was gearing up for the arrival of ICON, a £16.25m rollercoaster to end all rollercoasters, which offers riders the same G-force an F1 driver experiences. Another friend partook of the joys the following week and she said it actually felt like she was flying…

I found myself wishing I’d taken my own kids here when they were wee. If you are visiting with young children, they’ll love the likes of Sea Life Blackpool. There are more than 2500 sea creatures in this attraction but new for 2018 is Turtle Rescue – an interactive journey in which visitors of all ages are encouraged to become a turtle care expert as they travel on a real-life journey to understand what is involved in successfully rehabilitating a turtle.

Blackpool really does have something for everyone; old, young, inbetweeners and middle-aged folk like me!

“We evolve every single year,” says Gillian Campbell, who moved to the town over a decade ago to work at the Pleasure Beach. “We are not denying that sometimes Blackpool can be a bit tacky but there is a place for everyone; stags and hens, couples and families. Basically it’s a place for people on holiday to have a good time.

“Every year, I get myself one of the resort passes, which gives you reductions on entry to all the key attractions, and take my daughters off on a mini-holiday. I become a tourist in my own town and I think that’s one of the most important parts of my job.

“I love to talk to tourists and get a feel for what they think about Blackpool. And do you know something…. ? Most of them turn out to be fellow Scots!”