The Flower Bowl - Lancashire’s first curling rink opens
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
After travelling the world playing crazy golf, garden centre boss Guy Topping has a marvellous new complex complete with curling rink
Something very different has recently opened in Lancashire. Alongside the Lancaster Canal at Brock, just north of Preston, you’ll find The Flower Bowl, a unique leisure venue offering an exciting mix of activities which include bowling, crazy golf and, for the first time in northern England, curling.
It’s the latest venture of the Topping family who started the Barton Grange group of companies back in the 1950s. Not content with owning and operating one of the UK’s most successful garden retail businesses, Guy Topping wanted a new challenge and the seed of an idea began to germinate.
‘We always had plans for this part of the site,’ he says, as we sit in the Oasis Coffee Shop looking out over the curling rink. ‘When we built the garden centre and the marina, we had planning permission to build something here, but we wanted to get the garden centre established first.’
It didn’t take long for that to happen. Less than four years after it opened, Barton Grange won the Garden Centre of the Year award, a title it held for six consecutive years. So, with that side of the business ticking away nicely, Guy turned his thoughts back to the piece of land next to the canal.
The original planning permission was for a hotel and restaurant, but Guy had changed his mind and was starting to think about leisure activities. ‘This is a lovely place to live,’ he says of the local area. ‘But there isn’t much to do, without going into Preston or Lancaster. I wanted to change that.’
A frequent traveller, Guy began picking up ideas from all around the world. Wherever he went, he’d seek out a crazy golf course or the local bowling alley. He marvelled at the décor in some of the top hotels in Las Vegas, but he was a little closer to home when the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place.
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‘I was in Kent, staying with friends, and I asked what there was to do in the local area,’ says Guy. ‘They mentioned that there was a curling rink at Tunbridge Wells so along we went, and that was that!’
The Blue Brush Curling Rink now forms a stunning centre-piece inside the exquisitely designed Flower Bowl building. Olympic sized, it has four ice sheets, so up to four games can be played at the same time. A wall of windows means that people in the coffee shop can watch the, albeit slow-moving, action.
Preston Curling Club, which Guy discovered was one of oldest established clubs in the UK, now practise here regularly, instead of having to travel up to Lockerbie. Guy and his brother, Peter, have joined the club and are becoming true ambassadors for the sport. ‘It’s one of the most inclusive sports there is, suitable for all ages and abilities, and wheelchair friendly,’ says Guy. ‘People are trying it and really enjoying it. You never know, we might discover some future Olympians right here!’
While a group of friends are discovering the joys of curling, just around the corner another group are practising their golf swing on the two simulators, whose state-of-the-art technology enables you to experience playing some of the world’s most famous golf courses.
The simulators are in full view of the bar and games area, where people can enjoy a drink and a game of shuffleboard or pool on a flower-shaped table.
Just beyond the golf simulators is the eight-lane, luxury bowling alley, its décor all shimmering metallics and industrial glam. Two of the lanes can be screened off for private bowling and there’s also an exclusive lounge for private parties, with its own bar and complimentary karaoke.
The Flower Bowl’s three cinema screens can also be booked for private screenings. Small and intimate, with luxurious, sofa-style seating, the cinemas offer a whole new way to enjoy film-watching. Since the Flower Bowl opened in August, they’ve been showing mainly the latest releases, but hope in the future to offer some old classics and National Theatre Live events.
All those hours Guy spent playing crazy golf around the world certainly provided him with ideas for designing the 18-hole course at the Flower Bowl. The result is the Secret Garden, a crazy golf experience like no other, featuring living trees, real flower borders, a quirky potting shed and a Japanese garden.
Outdoors, but protected from the weather, the course also takes you through a dramatic fern gully with a waterfall. Clearly delighted with it, Guy smiles and says: ‘I’ve played lots of crazy golf around the world and, though I say it myself, this is one of the best, if not the best, course I have played.’
There are plenty of places to refuel here, too. As well as the Oasis Coffee Shop, there’s Blooms Restaurant, a bar and a separate fish and chip restaurant called The Ocean. Every element of the building is named after a flower. The Blue Brush Curling Rink for example is named after Agapanthus ‘Blue Brush’ and the bowling alley’s name comes from a daffodil, Narcissus ‘Copperbowl’.
Even the two seating areas in The Ocean were inspired by different flowers, Iris ‘Ocean Depths’ and Fuchsia ‘Ocean Beach’. In one side of the restaurant, you’re transported to the seaside, with the sand between your toes, and in the other you find yourself on the ocean bed, surrounded by sunken treasures, the sunlight glistening through the water above.
‘We wanted the building to have a theme which would appeal to a more mature market, not just youngsters,’ says Guy. ‘With our background in horticulture, flowers seemed as good an idea as any.’
Everything is eye-catchingly different. The main foyer area, with its fairy-lit trees and planted arrangements, was inspired by the luxurious Wynn Resort Hotel in Las Vegas and, outside, the curved roof of the building is covered in grass.
‘We’re in a beautiful part of the world here, and we didn’t want to spoil it, so we designed the roof to blend with the landscape, rather than clash with it,’ explains Guy. ‘Besides which, it’s good to be different. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd.’