Sunday, 25 June 2017

Summer Alpine Adventure 2: Top of the World!

Our train crossing the Landwasser Viaduct on the
Rhätische Bahn Albula Line en route for St Moritz
From Basel we continued the journey along the Rhine valley towards the south of Switzerland, on the top deck of a Swiss duplex train in great comfort. After more stunning scenery we changed trains again at Chur, boarding a Rhätische Bahn metre-gauge train for the ascent via the Albula line to St Moritz. We left the Rhine valley a little way out of Chur and began the climb along the Albula valley towards Thusis and Tiefencastel, across the famous Landwasser Viaduct, through countless tunnels and across even more bridges, then spiralling up the valley sides, looking down on the tracks we'd already travelled and passing some villages several times before plunging through the Albula tunnel to emerge in the High Engadine valley and into St Moritz which bills itself the "Top of the World". We had been here briefly between trains on our winter visit and knew it only in deep snow with the lake frozen, and now we were seeing it in warm weather, soon to become warmer, and with sun on the grass and woods, but still with snow on the high peaks all around.

View from our room at the Hotel Schweizerhof in
Sankt Moritz
Our tour manager, Ray, led us to the hotel via a route modified by recent and continuing building works, including improvements to the railway station. After checking in we found our room and were bowled over by the view of the lake and the mountains beyond (a lake view room was a paid-for optional extra on this tour and well worth paying-for). We had a little balcony which came into its own as the weather improved during our stay, but now was the time to go down for dinner. As usual with Great Rail Journeys holidays, all the breakfasts, most of the dinners and a few of the lunches were included in the cost of the holiday and we dined together with the whole group. We had a section of the hotel dining room set aside for the group and a menu with few choices and an excellent standard of food.

Nibbles and sparkling wine as the Bernina Express leaves
Alp Grum for the descent towards Italy.
Looking down on the Brusio Viaduct as our train approaches:
with much squealing from the wheels we would soon slowly
descend to the plain and pass under the same bridge!
The next day was an early start for a trip on the famous Bernina Express to Tirano, back in the European Union just across the border in Italy. We had done some of this line before, but not all of it. Now we would experience the dramatic helical viaduct at Brusio as well as seeing in summer the scenes we'd only before seen with deep snow. The Bernina Express trains had also recently been fitted with an "Infot(r)ainment" system 🙄 which allowed us to obtain commentary and follow the route on our smartphones as we travelled. We heard that the line was constructed to minimum curve radius and maximum gradient standards to allow trains to ascend and descend the Alpine gradients without the use of the cog and rack system used in many other parts of the Alpine rail network. This line took us back down from the Alps to the tiny city of Tirano and past much interesting scenery on the way. The train paused for a while to allow us to get off and enjoy better the scenery at Alp Grum, and there was sparkling wine awaiting our return to the train for the descent via Poschiavo into Italy.

Our tour manager gathering us together for the train back
to St Moritz
We had a lot of free time to explore Tirano. It was a very warm, even hot, day and we enjoyed a real Italian ice-cream in Italy at Italian prices - lower than in either England or Switzerland. Shopping was inexpensive because all the shops close for several hours at lunch time when we were there, but we did get some souvenirs at the shop at the railway station. Spending today was in Euros: all this border-crossing meant having three wallets with different currency, although the Sterling was put away until the day we went home so we were down to a choice of two. We also take a commission-free credit card from the Nationwide building society and pay in local currency for souvenirs, meals etc, just using cash for drinks, snacks etc.. We made a note of some of the offered Sterling prices and when we arrived home and examined the statement it was clear that we had saved quite a lot by opting to pay in local currency at Nationwide's exchange rate rather than in Sterling at some unknown foreign bank's rate with commission!

Our train back to Switzerland was an ordinary service train, still very comfortable but with no scenic stop at Alp Grum and no sparkling wine ... and soon we were back in St Moritz for shower, dinner and eventually an earlyish night after a busy day's exploration. I did pop out and get some postcards to send home to family and friends, in the hope we could post them to arrive at home before we did.

The following day was the "day at leisure in St Moritz" during which we intended to go and explore some places we had seen under snow on our last visit to Switzerland. It would include "leisure" but also more exploration!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Summer Alpine Adventure 1: Via London to Cologne

Last year's proposed trip to the Swiss Alps had to be called off when Great Rail Journeys cancelled the one we'd planned because of too few bookings (that's how we ended up going to the French Riviera in 2016 instead, so no hard feelings!) but we booked again a slightly different tour in 2017 which promised an even better holiday. Great Rail Journeys offer one of their “Signature” tours to Sankt Moritz and Zermatt in the summer, with day trips out to Tirano and other places in Italy and southern Switzerland, travelling out via Cologne and back via Colmar, all First Class and with the services of a tour manager throughout. We booked the tour and asked Great Rail Journeys to book our tickets to and from London and a night in London before the holiday as well.


And so on a Tuesday morning we packed our cases and made our way to Stamford station for the 13:00 train to Peterborough. Our tickets were valid on any train so we just went when convenient and caught the next main line train to London and looked for free seats in the almost empty coach L. There was one other passenger in the half of the coach that we joined, and it was someone we knew, so we moved along and joined her. The catering team seemed understaffed once more but our First Class hostess coped very well. Although she had run out of sandwiches she fetched us copious quantities of crisps, bisuits and cake, and plenty of wine. An odd lunch, but OK for our purposes. Amazing how quickly a journey passes in good company and with two glasses of wine, and we seemed to be in London in no time at all.


We made our way to our hotel, the Ambassadors Bloomsbury, just a few minutes along the Euston Road, and after check-in we went to Sloane Square to have tea and cake on the top floor of Peter Jones department store – it is a John Lewis branch and we each had a voucher for free tea and cake during June. We returned to the hotel by bus to Oxford Circus and walking from there, dodging the occasional shower. It is always a joy to walk through Bloomsbury.

As it happened, our tour manager was staying in the same hotel, as were eight Australian guests who were booked on the same tour. Although we made brief acquaintance on the Tuesday evening we made our own arrangements for a light supper, salad at the nearby Prezzo Euston, and met the whole group for the Champagne reception at St Pancras International station on the Wednesday morning. The Champagne start is one of the features of the Signature tours: we checked in at the Great Rail Journeys office on the Grand Terrace at St Pancras and were taken across to the Searcy's Champagne Bar where Ray, our tour manager, was waiting with the first few guests. Soon all thirty-two were gathered and we were all given our Eurostar tickets and made our own way through check-in and to the waiting area for the train to Brussels.


Soon we were called to board the train and were on our way. Ours was a refurbished original Eurostar set, known as a E300, just like the one we went on to Marseille last year. As we passed through the Channel Tunnel we were enjoying the hot lunch provided in Standard Premier Class, with wine and coffee.






The atrium of the Maritim Hotel at Kiln
The dining room is separate from this huge banqueting area!
There was a change of train at Brussels and we had some time to browse around the shops at the station before we went on to our first hotel at Cologne. Our connection was a Thalys high-speed train which was indicated thirty minutes late. More browsing and back to the platform and we were on our way, but further difficulties meant that half an hour from Cologne we had to be diverted and after a short excursion into the Netherlands arrived two hours late at our hotel. Our tour manager had booked ahead and had dinner put back but it did mean that we had no time to stroll through the city before bed, which was a pity as there are some pleasant walks to be had. 

At dinner we met some of the thirty people with whom we'd be spending the ten days of this holiday, and we slept well in a very comfortable room overlooking the spacious atrium of this huge hotel. Back to the station in the morning and we were on a Swiss express train to Basel where our adventure in Switzerland began. The ride to Basel was an adventure in itself, much of it along the west bank of the Rhine with wonderful views of castles, vineyards and towns as we made our way south. We had seen it from the other direction on our return journey in winter three years before and it was great to see it in the sunshine now.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Another local adventure planned

Following the recent successful trip to the Grainstore Brewery in Oakham, I am arranging a trip to Spalding this summer for friends and neighbours in Stamford.
  • Train trip to Spalding and Return (standard class)
  • River Trip on Spalding Water Taxi
  • Free time exploring Spalding
  • Supper, probably at Prezzo
It will be on Tuesday 4th July, and travel arrangements are:

Depart Stamford platform 1 at 9.00am with change of train at Peterborough, departing platform 1 at 9.35am, arrive Spalding 9.55am.



Depart Spalding, platform 1, at 9.05pm,
arrive Stamford 9.44pm (last train: do not miss it!)




Return rail fare is £17.00 (£11.20 for railcard holders)


Please sign up by Sunday 4th June indicating whether you have railcard, or contact me via mark@warrick.photography .



If 8 or more people sign up the boat trip will be a special hour-long excursion at £5 to £7.50 per head depending on numbers. Fewer than 8 the trip would be the standard public 35-minute trip at £3.

UPDATE:

We have eight people signed up for this trip and will be taking the hour-long "cruise" on the Spalding Water Taxi. There is room for four more to join us. Please contact  mark@warrick.photography if you would like to come.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Holiday Planning ...

Eurostar trains for Paris and Brussels await departure at
London St Pancras International
Right now I am eagerly anticipating two summer holidays: one is our usual trip to the south coast of England - although we do not do the same things and this year we are visiting the Isle of Wight for a few days as part of this trip - and the other is a Great Rail Journeys escorted tour of Switzerland, similar to the winter one we did three years ago. The Swiss tour is fully organised by GRJ and I simply await my UK tickets to London and the voucher for the hotel they've arranged for us there for the night before the tour itself begins: the tour guide will supply all the other tickets we need.

I am booking the English holiday myself: hotels booked in Shanklin, Portsmouth and Chichester and train tickets booked so far as I can, but for some reason Advance tickets for Saturdays this summer are not (yet?) available between London Waterloo and Shanklin, so there is a bit of a gap in the travel arrangements! Yes, I can pay for an off-peak single but the Standard Class fare then costs a lot more than the Advance First Class tickets I was hoping to buy. It is something to do with the engineering work taking place at Waterloo in August and the timetable not having been settled yet, and the best SouthWest Trains can say is to keep looking every couple of days ...

Local Southern Trains service on the Coastway route
ONE DAY, just maybe, we shall have another holiday on the south coast when there is no messing about by any railway company. So far we have had one Underground strike making it hard to cross London, one Southern Railway strike making it hard to get back from Brighton to London in time to get our train home and impossible to visit the Isle of Wight that year, and now non-availability of SouthWest trains from London to the Isle of Wight this year - and I had carefully planned an itinerary that did not involve any Southern trains! We cannot blame a rail company for Hurricane Bertha that afflicted the weather four years ago, though ...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Pinned Pictures

Have you seen my "Travel" board on Pinterest, at uk.pinterest.com/mark6964/travel/? It is partly plans for the future and partly memories of the past!


My last trip to Switzerland. Next time I'm going in summer to see how different it is.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Barging Through London

Some years ago we were taken to dinner at a gastropub at Kings Cross called The Fellow. Why, I wondered, is it called that? I found out, or at least I think I did, when I visited a small museum around the corner when I had a couple of hours to spare in that part of London at the weekend. It all began with a party in Croydon ... perhaps I need to start at the beginning, if I can find it.

A little while ago we were invited to a surprise birthday celebration in Addiscombe, Croydon, south London. It was on Good Friday night, not ever so convenient but we managed it OK: I booked a night at a new Hampton by Hilton hotel close to East Croydon rail station, and booked Advance First tickets to London; we would use our Oyster cards to cross London to East Croydon, a trip we have done many a time to visit the friends whose party we were attending. After the Good Friday worship in Stamford we caught the 13:00 train to Peterborough and changed to the 13:28 to Kings Cross. The weekend menu was being served in First Class, presumably because of the public holiday, and although we would not expect lunch so late into the train's journey it had not been especially busy and our hostess found us some sandwiches to go with the coffee which was on offer. we have found that the Virgin Trains East Coast staff really do try to make our journey as good as they can.

At Kings Cross I had a little job to do: my Senior Railcard had been renewed and I needed to get the new card connected to my Oyster card in order to resume enjoying the discounts on London travel - I had forgotten to do this when I renewed the Railcard in January and had been paying full Oyster fares  for a while - although fortunately I had not travelled in London all that much. This meant queuing at the ticket machines in the Underground station and then getting a member of staff to connect the cards for me: a quick little job but slightly annoying that I could not do it myself online before I went. Then from the Underground (where I only went to do that administrative task - I did not need a train), the short walk across to St Pancras for the Thameslink train to East Croydon, which was arriving at the platform just as we arrived: could not have been a quicker connection. The new trains in use on this route are far more pleasant than the ones they replace, with wide corridor connections which allow easy access down the length of the train, and comprehensive information displays showing the next stop as well as which coaches have most space and where the toilets are located. The seats, while still fairly high-density local-journey seats, are reasonably comfortable and well-spaced, with plenty of luggage space.

Thameslink trains are currently not going via London Bridge but trundle rather slowly through south London until eventually they arrive at East Croydon. Short walk to hotel, check in, telephone to see when to arrive at party venue. All good so far, half an hour to party, so just time to get ready, walk to tram stop and get to Addiscombe. Again, Oyster for the tram and we are there exactly on time.

(The friend whose party we were attending, having turned 60 and living in London, now has a free Oyster card for off-peak travel in the capital, whereas we only get a discount, and have to buy the Railcard - and remember to renew it - to get that. London is a great place!)

Breakfast room at the Hampton hotel: self-
service hot breakfast in a canteen-style space
After a good night's sleep and the slightly odd "hot breakfast" at the Hampton by Hilton hotel, we checked out and were on our way. I had allowed bags of time before the train home in order to allow for any possible problems in getting back to Kings Cross, but in fact all went very well indeed and we had a couple of hours to spare. A few moments on the internet with our iPhones tracked down the London Canal Museum, just a few moments walk from Kings Cross station: a visit of about one-and-a-half hours was recommended and this seemed to be exactly what we needed. No café on site, but we'd had a good breakfast and there would be tea on the train, and snack in the First Class lounge at the station if we arrived there in good time.







The London Canal Museum is worth a visit. The recommended time is about right. It gives the history of London's canals and indeed the nation's canal system, explains all the various types of boat and how locks work, how the canals and local river navigation fit together and the lives of those working and living on the boats: apparently the men operating the boats are called canal fellows ... according to a looping video show at the museum. Hence the gastropub of that name has a horse's face as its logo, presumably a canal tow horse? The museum is in a canalside former ice warehouse and the opportunity has been taken also to show the story of the ice trade, and an ice well is a feature in the floor: this has to be seen to be believed. Outside the glass doors at the back (or is it the front?) is Battlebridge Basin, with several private boats moored a couple of metres above street level.



















Back to Kings Cross and a drink and snack in the lounge, and on our mid-afternoon train back to Peterborough for our change for Stamford, with tea, sandwiches and cake which passed the journey nicely and kept us going into the evening, fresh and ready for Easter Day in the morning.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Can you smell burning?

2016 was the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, and to mark this the Museum of London held a special exhibition which we visited in November. There was a fascinating amount of material about the fire, backed up with social history of the era, and something for everyone from young child to serious adult enquirer - I expect real academics would already know everything that was here! It covered the fire itself, the tackling of it, and the way that London set about recovering: not just rebuilding but dealing with those who had lost their possessions, in an age when insurance was not available for most.

We were looking for an occasion to go to London because we had a gift voucher for afternoon tea at The Wolseley in Piccadilly and London is a long way to go just for tea, no matter how grand the tea! This fitted the bill nicely: morning at the Museum, afternoon tea, and it was also late enough in the year to see the Christmas lights in the West End, and then a quick visit to family before getting the usual train home.

Getting to the Museum of London is a cinch for us. The entrance to the museum is off a traffic island (yes, really, but there is a bridge to it!) at the southern end of the A1 Great North Road, on which we live, 90 miles further north; much quicker and far more comfortable, though, it is just along the street from Barbican Underground station, just two stops from Kings Cross where our Virgin Trains East Coast services drop us after a very fast ride from Peterborough.

(The exhibition is still on now for the last few days over the Easter holiday, too!)

 The great fire began in the middle of the night, so it spread quickly before anyone was awake to tackle it.




The exhibition contained many images (all paintings and drawings, of course!) of the fire alongside contemporary descriptions and current notes and interpretations to help understanding.

Many churches were destroyed, including St Paul's Cathedral (seen here) and the beautiful work of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke whose designs replaced them is an indirect benefit of the Great Fire!
I love the idea that the 22 judges who sorted out the disputes over who paid for what repairs gave their time free of charge and worked on a rota of three at a time, and that they were given their portraits as a thank-you present for all their work!

Three of the portraits were on display.




As always we travelled up to London by Virgin Trains East Coast, with Advance First Class tickets making this a special day for minimal extra outlay - always worth travelling First Class if you can commit to a specific time a few weeks in advance, especially midweek (as this was - since my wife's retirement we can travel on my midweek day off) when the refreshments on the train are excellent and include wine, spirits etc on the way home.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Can't get enough of London

I am just back from a morning at the Museum of London Docklands, which we visited for the "Tunnel" temporary exhibition about the archeology uncovered by the construction work for the Elizabeth Line, the Crossrail Project. Returning it occurred to me that I have not yet written about our visit last year to the exhibition marking the 350th anniversary of the 1666 Great Fire of London. As I write this I have just been amazed to be told by Trip Advisor that I am in the top 1% of reviewers of London - a sign, I suppose, that I visit so often! Both of these museum visits were hung onto visiting of family in London, as I wrote about a little while ago in my post, "The Usual Train," and we did return on the usual train, the 19:30 to Bradford, in our usual seats 31 & 33 in coach L.

Looking west towards the museum
from West India Quay DLR station
In order to fit in our time at the Museum of London Docklands before our luncheon engagement in Hammersmith, we left Stamford on the 08:00 train for Peterborough and after a brief wait there caught the 08:33 Virgin Trains East Coast service to London. It arrived just on time at Kings Cross, a journey of just under 90 minutes station-to-station from Stamford. The Northern Line Tube to Bank was an easy journey, using our Oyster cards, then Docklands Light Railway to the best station for the museum, West India Quay. A slight problem was that since the extensive remodelling of the junction there, trains from the City cannot stop at that station, so we had to go on to Canary Wharf (all of about 100 metres, but over water!) and get the next train back - frustrating if in a hurry, I suppose, but it "wasted" only about 4 minutes and we were on a leisure trip which did not really matter. It is not much more of a walk from Canery Wharf, actually, but not being local I was unsure of the way - I know it now and might do that on my next trip, and there will be another trip, for all we had time to do on this one was the Tunnel exhibition, and there is all the permanent display still to see!


It was a gorgeous, sunny day and a pleasant waterside stroll to the museum, which was just opening its doors as we arrived at 10:00, the first visitors of the day and just two hours after boarding our train in Stamford. We were greeted, introduced to the exhibits and let in. Admission is free of charge and donations are invited, there is a coffee shop, cafeteria and a children's soft play area on a dockland theme: given that admission is free, these are a fantastic resource for local families.

The Tunnel exhibition is on until September and is worth a visit if you have any interest at all in either the history of London or the construction of this huge transport project. The tunnels themselves, like all deep level tubes, are well below the level of archeological remains, but the portals and the stations and other access points were dug through many layers of London's history and revealed some very interesting facts - although the explanations are often shrouded in mystery!

There are lockers at just £1 for luggage, coats etc: we did not have coats but we did have bags of Easter and Birthday presents en route for Hammersmith and it was well worth £1 not to have to traipse them round the exhibition. Coffee and then DLR train to Bank, through the corridor to Monument station for the District Line to Hammersmith and our visit was completed with a family lunch and a stroll be the Thames before the usual train home ...

... and I still have write about the Great Fire. Give me a day or two ...

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Adventures need not take long!



The first few adventurers wait at Stamford station
As I reported recently, I have finally arranged a party in a brewery, that legendary event that is supposed to be as easy to organise as, well, a party in a brewery. It becomes difficult when you have to get the date and time to suit the brewery in questions (the Grainstore in Oakham in this case) and potential guests, and when I want/need to be available myself to go along and "make sure everything is OK".

There it goes - our train leaves us at Oakham
Every journey, they say, starts with a single step, but where to start? What step? I had ascertained that Tuesday evenings seemed to be best, so I consulted my own diary and rang the brewery. I made a provisional booking for their top package: a tour plus samples, followed by supper with unlimited (within two hours) ale. The train timetable decided the time: we'd need to get the last train home at 21:46 from Oakham, so we needed to get there on the 18:05 to ensure that we had sufficient time for all the activities - although that left only about 90 minutes for the unlimited ale, probably not a bad thing if we were to be allowed on the train home!

It worked well. A group of mixed ages, mostly men but with some women, set off from Stamford on a lovely February evening and had a very informative tour of this microbrewery, totally different from the huge Banks's Brewery I had visited in Wolverhampton a few years before. Usually the supper is a ploughman's supper and this was indeed on offer, but it happened that on Tuesday nights they have a build-a-burger evening at the brewery tap so we were allowed an alternative of a modest two-topping burger instead if we preferred, which some of us did.




Proof that I can indeed organise a party in a
brewery!
I can recommend a visit to the Grainstore, whether to do their tour or simply to drink and eat, and it is next to the railway station, so there is no problem getting home, so long as you either live near your local station or have a lift home from the station!

Cross Country Trains did a great job of getting us there on time (so not wasting part of our evening) and getting us home on time, too. All in all, a great evening.






Destination: Destinations

A great day to travel from Peter-
borough: everything running to
schedule!
With a recent Great Rail Journey brochure came a pair of free tickets to the Destinations travel show at Olympia. I thought this might be a good show to see as we could meet tour operators and agents face-to-face and also might have ideas for future travel that we may not have had simply from advertising. Indeed, the opportunity to speak to Amtrak was worth the effort because I have at the back of my mind a one-off tour of the United States one day and it is worth investing some effort in the planning of this since it will be too expensive to return and do anything I regret missing! That plan, however, is another story!

There was no booking to do for the exhibition itself, simply completing the form on the back of the free ticket (giving them my details was effectively the price of the ticket, but that was OK because the details included ticking boxes for what interests me, so the hope is that I'll receive relevant advertising that I'll actually want to see). So, to the web to book the travel! As it happens, we have family living not far from Olympia so we could plan to visit after we had seen the exhibition, and then travel home later in the evening, after the rush had died down.

We always have to change trains at Peterborough on our way to London, and the train we get from there to London will depend upon which one has the best-priced First Class tickets available. We were in no hurry to get there and Peterborough station is well-located for passing time in the Queensgate shopping centre, and so we spent a little while in John Lewis between train before boarding our Virgin East Coast service to London: basically on a trip this short it is a 125mph coffee break, with included coffee, cake, biscuits and fruit! We generally take the bottled water as well and often take it with us because we are bound to need it at some point in the day, even if not on the train.

Not being in a hurry on this occasion we caught a bus to Olympia: the number 10 from Kings Cross serves much of the West End on its way to Hammersmith and is a route we often use. Although buses are supposed to be every few minutes on this route, we had to wait a long time, with our Bus Mapper app showing "due" for several minutes. There seemed to be some severe congestion somewhere and suddenly a flurry of eastbound buses arrived at Kings Cross to go round the block ready to head back to Hammersmith. We boarded the first and rode towards the front of the upper deck. This bus was terminated early after further delays owing to a roadworks diversion so we had to change buses at Marble Arch, but got to Olympia in the end, having see a lot more of London than we would have done on the Underground. Not the way to go if your journey is time-critical, though!

We visited all the companies we wanted to visit at Destinations, but we struggled with lunch: there simply were not enough catering facilities to cope with the number of visitors and we ended up with a take-away salad (very nice salad) sitting on the floor of the hall. Fortunately I was surveyed after my visit and was able to give a low score for customer satisfaction at Olympia, but the exhibition itself was good. They just need a decent place for it.

After we had seen all we wanted to see we visited family and then took the Hammersmith and City Underground line back to Kings Cross for the train home. A weekday, so a later train and a slicker connection at Peterborough and we were swiftly and comfortably home, with a tot of whisky on the train (included in fare) to round off the day.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A party in a brewery!

It has been more difficult to organise than popular culture would suggest, but I have managed to arrange a "booze up" in a brewery. Well, it is really a tour of the Grainstore Brewery premises but the package does include unlimited ale with the light meal afterwards, limited only by our need to catch the last train home ... and be allowed to board it.

This is the first of what I hope will be a revival of the railtours I have arranged for the people of All Saints, Stamford and their families and friends and which readers of the blog may have seen in the past. It takes place this Tuesday evening, 21st February, and you will be able to follow our progress on the usual Twitter feed @mwtrips, perhaps with your own pint of a Grainstore Ale to hand! We shall gather at Stamford station in time for the 18:05 train towards Birmingham; the brewery is in Oakham, just one station away from home in Stamford, and is immediately adjacent to the rail station, so access by train could not be easier.

Previous outings have been to Ely, York and Lincoln, and I am hoping to arrange trips to Canterbury, Spalding and Wainfleet in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

In search of Neptune

We had reached a crisis with our domestic tables policy: not a crisis as the news media tend to use the word, but a proper crisis in the sense that a decision was required. One of our tables was in almost permanent use holding up my model railway, the other (a) did not really suit our current or immediate future homes, (b) was old and tatty and (c) was not long enough for big family occasions unless the other could be got out from under the model railway - which was increasingly difficult as the layout grew heavier and I grew older. A very good, very extendable (and very expensive) table which would answer all these points was available to order from John Lewis in Peterborough but they did not actually have one on display. The manufacturer, Neptune, however, had a showroom in Bury St Edmunds ...

So began the plan for a one-day adventure in Suffolk. Train times were sought, maps consulted and Trip Advisor consulted for restaurants. The allocated day dawned bright and sunny, which made for a perfect day out.

Our connecting train from Ely to Bury St Edmunds
Our local train service would take us to Ely where we could change for Bury, although the service to Bury is only currently every two hours, so we had to plan when to leave. There is another service between Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge, where our local train also call, so I planned a mini-tour entailing going via the shorter route from Ely to Bury and returning via Cambridge. Fares, especially with our Senior Railcards and off-peak, were very reasonable, all the trains ran to time and apart form having to stand between Cambridge and Ely on the way back were very comfortable. The station at Bury St Edmunds is on the edge of the town centre and quite convenient for our purposes.

Walking from the station through the streets I managed to purchase a pair of jeans before very long and then following the map on my iPhone found the Neptune furniture showroom, recently adapted from a disused factory. We greatly enjoyed looking at everything, our choice of table was confirmed and we planned to spend far more than we could ever afford on a refitted kitchen when we retire - a plan that would rely on us winning the pools.


A town square with cathedral beyond. This was once a main
highway
Lunch was a disappointment: we had found a top class restaurant on Trip Advisor, looked at its website and decided to treat ourselves to a special lunch only to find that it was closed for a week for redecoration - a detail their website did not mention. So we had a very nice, but rather more workaday lunch at the Cathedral which we wanted to visit anyway. We had visited St Edmundsbury Cathedral before, but it has only recently been completed and we had not seen it since its completion. We then spent a little while looking at the fascinating town centre and further shops, but there were no further bargains to match my jeans ...

And so back to the station for the train to Cambridge, thence home. We changed trains at Cambridge in the peak hour, so it was not surprising that I had to stand for a while, but the crowds soon thin out at Ely and it was not a significant problem.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Steam Heat

Not really a proper adventure because we started and ended by car, but last week we visited the Nene Valley Railway and travelled on a steam-heated train: with British Railways standard MkI coaches and a standard Class 2 locomotive built the year I was born, it was a real step back in time - and with real ale on board, too. Steam all over the place! My pictures are at https://www.flickr.com/photos/frmark/ for those who would like to see them.