Sunday 20 January 2013

Fish and Chips at the Seaside

I have long hankered after doing a railtour of Norfolk over a few days, and maybe we shall one day do this, but we managed a quick one-day trip to Norfolk and back in 2011 when a Saturday with nice weather but without a wedding cropped up and we rushed off to the station with our carefully-researched ticket requests to enjoy a day trip. The tickets deserve some explanation, for it is a quirk of the privatized railway that it is sometimes cheaper to buy several tickets than the obvious through ticket! The seaside places still reachable by train are Sheringham, Cromer and Great Yarmouth, others being reachable by means of an additional bus trip. Great Yarmouth is the great unknown, the others having been visited by car many times over the past few years, so we decided to head east. The National Rail website gives changes at Peterborough and Norwich and a return fare I thought a little too high. I decided to change at Ely instead of Peterborough: it involves just the same length of wait for the same connection but Ely is a much more pleasant place to wait than Peterborough. To get the fare down to a decent level we booked returns to Ely and returns from there to Yarmouth - a lot cheaper than booking right through; don't ask me why, but it is! I did look into splitting it further at, say, Peterborough and/or Norwich, but no further reductions were available.

Anyway, ticket politics out of the way we set off on a CrossCountry train from Stamford. I'll not describe the trip between Stamford and Ely as this will come up in a later article: for now it is sufficient to say that arrival there was perfectly timed for a coffee break sitting in the sun overlooking the fens. Palmer's café does a very nice cup of coffee right on the platform where the change is made, and there are ample seats inside and out to cope with the weather. If we had been on more than a day trip we would probably have spent some time in Ely and gone on to Yarmouth in the evening, but a pleasant few minutes here at the station sufficed for this trip.

Our next train was the East Midlands Trains service from Liverpool to Norwich. This route is quite amazing, wandering its way across England through some of our major cities and finishing up in the fens and marshes of East Anglia. It almost seems a bit of a cheek to use it for the relatively short hop from Ely to Norwich!  It took us through Thetford Chase (one day we must stop at Thetford) and some really wonderful gentle landscape to bring us into the rather characterful and slightly charming terminus at Norwich for the final leg of the trip to Yarmouth. This was to be the first time either of us had travelled this part of the system and as it happened we were to see the smallest station in the UK, Berney Arms, on our way out across the Broads and return by the more direct route, almost straight across the marshes. There isn't much but Broads and reeds between Norwich and Yarmouth, the waterscape starting almost as soon as the train leaves the station in Norwich and our eyes were glued to this unique scenery all the way in both directions. This was a local train full of ordinary people (including others on day trips to the seaside) going about their business on a Saturday: no first class, no air conditioning, no refreshments (although one could stock up at Norwich if necessary!), but amazing views.

Yarmouth's railways as they used to be:
the present station is the one to the immediate
west of the town centre
The station at Great Yarmouth is, like Stamford's, on the edge of the town centre, so the final approach to the town is on foot, which is really rather a good way to see a place for the first time. It is only a matter of a couple of minutes along the street chamingly named The Conge to the market place, and it was market day so this was a hive of activity. For a seaside place, Great Yarmouth seemed to have weathered the recession reasonably well and was not the collection of empty shops we had been expecting, although naturally there were some. We made straight for the seafront and walked out along the pier: if you want to see the sea at Yarmouth, a walk on the pier is almost essential because the beach here is immensely wide, acres and acres of sand even at high tide. It would take many thousands of people to crowd this beach!

A walk along the seafront was then undertaken to select a suitable restaurant for lunch. There are dozens! We wanted fish and chips, we decided: we can do Indian, Italian, Thai etc anywhere but this is the seaside and we were having fish and chips. We plumped for one that looked promising and were very well looked after indeed. With wine, of course, no driving to worry about! It was a great meal, wherever the fish had been caught, and we now say that what we did that day basically consisted of nothing more than going out for a fish-and-chip lunch, but to a slightly more distant restaurant than usual.

Much of the afternoon was spent exploring the quayside, as Great Yarmouth is also a port with the navigable river running parallel to the coast for some considerable distance, the town being on a spit, and then inevitably looking at some of the shops. Soon it was time to head back to the station. This station is the only one left of the four which the town once had, and there remain unused bridges which once took goods lines across to the quayside. The station is now much quieter than it once was, too, since the current railway system does not attempt to cope with the (in any case reduced) summer holiday traffic. The concourse is spacious, and pleasant enough and the platforms far longer than they now need to be. We were soon on our way back across the marshes to Norwich by the direct route, alongside the A47 for some distance, and at Norwich we just  had time to buy coffee while changing into the Liverpool-bound train which we left once more at Ely for our train back to Stamford.

A great day out. Maybe it was a long way to go for fish and chips, but a trip to Norfolk which did not involve a long, hot traffic jam on the Lynn bypass was certainly something to be celebrated. And we saw some remarkable scenery and a remarkable town and relaxed for the whole day. One day, perhaps, we'll do the Portillo-inspired tour of Norfolk, but for now have very happy memories of a day well spent in summer sunshine - which have been rather thin on the ground in recent years.

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