|Cross Country Trains Turbostar on its way to Birmingham:|
Birmingham New Street offers change of train to many parts
of the UK, especially Wales and the West of England
As usual, Booking.com arranged the hotels in both places, and in Bristol we stayed in the same hotel, which had undergone many changes, not least of name, as we had visited in about 1986 with our two small sons. One thing that had not changed was the location of the dining room inside the base of a former glass kiln, although the furnishing of it had changed completely. The journey there was simple: we left Stamford on the 14:06 train to Birmingham New Street, taking the Sunday papers with us. As we arrived I noticed that the indicator on the next platform was advertising the 16:12 to Bristol Temple Meads. Because of the building work still taking place there, it took us a while to get to the platform and by then the train was already there and waiting, in plenty of time for its booked departure. It was a High Speed Train, older but far more comfortable than the Voyagers used on most of the services on that line. Because of the late booking (and therefore lack of cheap tickets) we were travelling Standard Class that afternoon, but it was comfortable enough and we were able to buy a cup of tea and a biscuit from the trolley service. Between New Street and Temple Meads the train stops only at Cheltenham Spa and Bristol Parkway and we soon arrived at Temple Meads. Like many other stations, this one is undergoing refurbishment work, but it is not as extensive as, say, New Street, Kings Cross or Edinburgh Waverley and it was not difficult to find our way round and we strolled out to find our hotel.
|Dining Room at the Doubletree Hotel in Bristol City Centre|
|SS Great Britain 1st class dining saloon|
|The postcard! Minerva pool bottom left, roof pool right,|
steam rooms bottom centre. Top left is the Cross Pool
in another building which we did not visit this time.
After our time in the Minerva Pool we went upstairs to the steam rooms: there are four cylindrical steam rooms around a central cold shower, each having a different scent. Each is very hot and cleans the skin from within, and the eucalyptus one would probably clean the sinuses pretty effectively, too. After a (warm) shower we visited the café for sparkling wine, and then the roof pool. This was really odd, on the top of a high building in February in swimwear and not cold: vapour was rising from the water and it was about the temperature of a hot bath. Lots of people were in the pool by now and the sun was shining strongly but very low in the winter sky. After final visit to the first pool we had coffee in the café and changed to go back out, feeling very invigorated. The toned-skin feeling lasted several days, as did the general feeling of well-being. I'd recommend it to anyone; although it isn't cheap you do get a lot for your money: two hours in the spa, plus a time-allowance for getting changed and an extra half-hour added for each visit to the café, which in our case took less than half an hour. We were there for about three hours altogether.
In the afternoon we strolled around the city and looked for ancestors' memorials in a closed churchyard (but drew a blank) and then changed for our dinner at The Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen. Unlike any other vegetarian restaurant we had visited it was the sort of place where dressing-up is appropriate.
The following morning was Ash Wednesday and I had to travel back for evening worship in Stamford, so after a quick excursion to Sally Lunn's for gifts to bring home, we were at Bath Spa station for a First Great Western train to Bristol Temple Meads and then our booked train to Birmingham New Street. Our train to Birmingham was a Cross Country Trains Voyager and this time we were travelling First Class. That part of the trip neatly encompassed lunch time and we were able to enjoy the hospitality of Cross Country. They do not include wine, but on Ash Wednesday that was probably just as well. There was a selection of hot meals to purchase, or cold snacks at no extra charge, but there were also some hot options still available from the breakfast menu which were quite acceptable, although not the standard we've grown used to on East Coast Trains. Paper plate and plastic cutlery, too. A bit of a contrast from the evening before, but then so is the price!
In Birmingham we had time for a short walk around the city centre and a visit to a shop or two: the tramway extension from Snow Hill to New Street is coming along nicely but it means that Corporation Street and Stephenson Street are a bit of a mess at present! Similarly, we look forward to the completion of the work to New Street station itself and will have to make a trip to see it, and the new Grand Central shopping centre, when it is done.
And so back to our little Turbostar train home. For some reason the seat reservation notices were not in place, but we found two satisfactory seats together anyway and the journey soon slipped by: home for tea as planned and then preparations for the evening.
We shall have to return to Bath. The spa visit was well worth doing and if you can save up the cost of the spa and the hotel and book cheap rail travel (our Two Together Railcard helped us), then it is well worth it. My photographs for the trip are available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/frmark/sets/72157650905272822/