Tuesday 26 March 2024

Travel Plans for 2024, at last!

More Railway Adventures Await

Well, the King and the Princess of Wales have both told the world about their cancer diagnosis, and so perhaps it’s time I admitted to my own as an explanation of why it has been so quiet on this weblog recently. I am just coming to the end of four weeks of radical radiotherapy during which time I have not been able to travel and have not liked to make many plans in case the side effects prevented me from going. Now, as I am in the last couple of days with side effects not too bad, my head is full of possibilities for when the weather improves! Coinciding with the season of Lent has meant that the dietary deprivations have not affected me as much as they would have at Easter, and the rainy weather has reduced the annoyance at not being able to travel.

Meanwhile there are two exciting plans that I do already have for some train travel this year: a Great Rail Jouneys escorted tour to Switzerland, including the new Golden Pass Express, which was booked before I had the diagnosis and is well after the side effects should have disappeared, and an independent trip to Venice, returning as far as Paris on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, booked recently but with confidence that I should be fit by then. In anticipation of the Venice trip, I was given not one but two Lego Orient Express kits for my birthday! I shall be able to make up a train with four coaches instead of the standard two … And building it is something I can be doing on those afternoons when the post-radiotherapy fatigue sets in. I hope that on the Swiss trip I shall be able to visit Meiringen and the Reichenbach Falls, still on “the list” at present.

We have also been invited to visit our friends in Chichester for a theatre evening, so although the train tickets are not yet booked that is definitely another adventure to look forward to. And I can now begin planning a few more! There are so many possibilities that have been put off by one issue or another, and it’s also time I saw some of my family: where to start is going to be the difficult decision!

Thursday 15 February 2024

Don't Drink and Drive!

A Christmas Party by Bus

Each winter holiday some friends come and stay with us for a few of the twelve days of Christmas, arriving soon after Boxing Day and returning on or soon after New Year's Day. The last couple of years we have all travelled together to a relative's home in Helpston, a village between Peterborough and our home in Stamford. (The Helpston which was the home of the poet John Clare, very popular in these parts.)

We go for lunch which is a drawn out affair with plenty of fun ... and no-one wants to be "Des," the designated driver, but that is fine because there happens to be a bus service between Stamford and Peterborough which serves Helpston, and, indeed, stops very close to the end of the road where our relative lives (not so close to our house, but that is not a problem because we do need exercise with all the feasting that happens at that time of the year). Indeed, I have long maintained that one of the big advantages of using public transport is the incidental exercise you get compared with the "door-to-door" service expected of car travel: I do not need to spend time and money on gym membership!

This year our local bus company, Delaine Buses, has slightly improved its Saturday timetable by adding one more service at the end of the day to match the weekday service, which made a difference to us because on those days between Christmas and New Year the Saturday timetable was being used every day on our route and so we were able to return home an hour later than we have done in previous years. As I have often remarked concerning service changes: if a bus or train runs we shall use it; if it doesn't we can't! Our bus out to Helpston was pretty busy (well, five of us helped!), and the last bus back was fairly well loaded, too. This is a popular route linking several villages to Peterborough and to Stamford, and a pleasant ride, too, during daylight. (I am sure it could stand an even better service, with later buses and peak-time frequency enhancements, but this is something that Delaine do not seem to do.)

We had a great time and we returned home happy and content - with no-one concerned about their driving and without having to cram five of us into the confines of our car. Four of us travelled free of charge on passes of various kinds, too, which was a bonus.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Three New Homes to Visit - and a Couple of Great Exhibitions

Well, R2D2, fancy seeing you here!

Trains here, trains there ...

As I mentioned in This Could Be the  Last Time ..., my friends who lived for years in Croydon have moved to Chichester. My wife and I had an invitation to visit them and see their now home, and we arranged a mutually convenient date for the diary. Meanwhile, our son in west London had moved with his family to a house just a few streets away from where they used to live, and we had, of course, an invitation to come and see their new home, too. By bringing forward by one day our trip to Chichester we were able to call on them in London on our way home! Great. Time to look at some train times and book some tickets.

The fastest way to Chichester remains Cross Country to Peterborough, LNER to London Kings Cross, Underground to Victoria then fast Southern train to Chichester, but much the easier way, and the way we chose because we were not in a hurry, was to take Cross Country to Peterborough and then Thameslink straight through to East Croydon from where a Southern train would take us to Chichester. It was a smooth, easy journey and we travelled Standard Class on through Super Off-Peak Single tickets, but we had a “cunning plan” for an even better journey! On the other hand, because these included Southern, electronic tickets were not available and we had to pick them up at the station: I did not risk buying them at the station because so often our local ticket office is closed

We left Stamford on the train to Peterborough just before noon, taking a packed lunch with us. Connecting with Thameslink at Peterborough is simple, and because trains are half-hourly there is not a problem even if there are delays, unless they are very substantial, because there will always be one soon. As it happened we caught a train earlier than we anticipated because a late one was standing there about to depart when we got to its platform, so on the "bird in the hand" principle we boarded it. When we take these trains we always travel in the rear coach from Peterborough, because there is a First Class section there which is always (well, whenever I've been there, anyway) declassified for Standard Class ticket holders, and our cunning plan was to move to that section as soon as the notice went up on the information display to show that it was so. And there we sat in First Class comfort on our dead cheap tickets and enjoyed our packed lunch, there being no catering at all on these trains in spite of the long distance they cover (all the way to Horsham!). a corollary of this dodge is that if you have paint for a First Class ticket on Thameslink, go to the front of the train southbound because if you travel in the rear you'll have to mix with hoi polloi like me on super off-peak standard dead cheap tickets!

So we rushed down to London. Even these stopping trains have fast top speeds and do miss the suburban stations in London. Then the train takes the new tunnel across to the "basement" platforms at St Pancras International and crawls through central London stopping everywhere until London Bridge, affording some great views along the River Thames from Blackfriars, where the station now stretches right across the bridge. After London Bridge the next stop is East Croydon where we were to change trains. The friends we were visiting in Chichester used to live in Croydon and here is where we used to transfer to the tram for the last couple of miles to their former home. Now we did not even have to change platforms because the train to Chichester followed ours into the same platform. At least, it would have done but for the signal failures that had caused our train to be late and were leading to congestion at such a busy junction. In the event a few other late trains had to squeeze through before our connection could get in, but it was only three minutes late in the end and hardly a big deal. The wait for it gave us time for coffee in a platform coffee bar, which had been a factor in the plans, but what I hadn't bargained-fr was the 50p surcharge for decaffeinated coffee, on top of the expensive London price. In many cafés there is no surcharge at all, and where there is it is usually only 10p. Still, it was good coffee, freshly made and we sat and enjoyed it until our train came in. The trip down to the south coast is always a pleasure, very different scenery from our home area, and as we pass Arundel and see the castle and cathedral on the hill we know we are somewhere very different: indeed, Arundel Cathedral looks more like those across the English Channel in France than any other English cathedral, Anglican or Roman Catholic. Then along the flat coastal plain to Chichester where our friends met us at the station and took us to their new home, much the size of our own, into which we moved five years ago when I retired.

At Chichester Cathedral there was an interesting art installation, Peace Doves by Peter Walker, made up of fifteen thousand individually handmade paper doves which are suspended above the Cathedral’s historic Nave. Each dove contains a message of peace, love and hope, written by local community groups, schools and members of the public. All white, they are uplit by violet lamps and are quite captivating as they hover over the nave.

We enjoyed our friends' new home, meals out and drinks by the sea at Felpham (a bit breezy even in the south in October, so the visit to the beach was short!), and we also visited their daughter's new home at Havant. Everyone seems to be on the move. 

On our last day in Chichester I visited an exhibition at the Novium Museum which displayed the toys, books and posters which were associated with the Star Wars films. This made an interesting addition to the Star Wars costume and merchandise exhibition I had seen at Peterborough Cathedral just a few months before.

Soon the time had come to wend our way home from Chichester, but first, the too-long delayed visit to our son's new family home in west London!

We were driven back to Chichester station on our last morning and caught a train to London Victoria, beginning much the way we had come - this is probably the service we had used between East Croydon and Chichester on our way down - but there was no need to change trains to get north of London this time. It was Saturday morning and you can never be sure what Underground lines are working at weekends, but all was well in the direction we were going, and by changing stations at Hammersmith we were soon in the familiar streets of Shepherd's Bush for they had not moved far and their nearest Underground station was still the same one, the children at the same school, but a lot of work to be done to get the house into the great condition that they'd left the previous one. To get a house with a garden in London, though, some compromise is necessary.

After lunch with the family we left by our familiar route (albeit with a longer walk to the Underground) of Hammersmith and City Line to Kings Cross, LNER First Class to London and the Cross Country Trains connection home to Stamford. Not the most exciting trip to write about, but exciting for us to see our friends' new home and our son's new home, with Chichester Cathedral's Peace Doves and the Novium's Star Wars thrown in for good measure, together with some very pleasant train rides.