Friday 20 June 2014

Day Trip to Snowdonia

I'll tell the story one day, but for now the photographs of last Saturday's exciting day out to North Wales by Pullman can be seen at

Here is breakfast being served ....

Monday 16 June 2014

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat

Snapshot after leaving: no photography allowed at party
An invitation to London to visit the Queen is not something I receive very often, but a few weeks ago a thick piece of card bearing an invitation to the first of the 2014 season of Buckingham Palace garden parties. A few days before the occasion we discovered some friends were attending the same party so we arranged to meet and go together.

With an occasion like this, once-in-a-lifetime and with extra smart clothing required, First Class travel was essential and was booked with East Coast from Peterborough to Kings Cross, with the usual connection from and to our home in Stamford by Cross Country. We could be fairly flexible about our own timing so we were able to book advance tickets at reasonable, although on this occasion not spectacularly cheap, fares.

It was a lovely day, sunny and warm but not hot, and given that I had to wear a suit and black shirt this was ideal. As we looked at our fellow passengers on the train it was clear we were not the only ones on board who were going to this party: the luggage racks were almost empty of anything but ladies' hats, and the "rules" for Royal Garden Parties stipulate no luggage and that ladies should wear hats!

We enjoyed the usual East Coast First Class hospitality, although I had to buy the sandwiches from the CaféBar as lunch service is not available south of Peterborough, but wine service was ... by the tumbler!

Proprietorial pose with High Speed Train!
We met our daughter, who just qualified by age to accompany us to the party, at Kings Cross and then took the Victoria line to Victoria where we met our friends for coffee before venturing to the convenient entrance at the corner of the Palace garden off Grosvenor Place, joining the queue of overdressed gentlemen and hat-wearing ladies. The queue moved quickly and we were soon showing our admission cards and strolling into the Queen's back garden. It is just like anyone else's garden only bigger, with lawn, pond, trees and flowers, with a huge tea tent (three, actually) and a couple of tents set up for the two military bans which were to play alternately through the afternoon. This was not boring military music, though: the RAF band, for example, was the Squadronnaires playing swing and jazz music which suited such an occasion so well.

Tea (or soft drink) was available from so many service points in the tea tent, with sandwiches, cakes etc., that the seven thousand or so of us did not take at all long to be served. We did not meet the Queen or any other member of her family, although we did see her at a distance and did see the Duke of Edinburgh, looking not a day over 70, chatting to someone nearby. What was amazing was how many people we met whom we did know! Including someone else from Stamford, someone whose parents live in Stamford, a a former Rector of Grantham and a former Bishop of Grantham.

At the end of a lovely afternoon we made our way out and parted company with our friends who had a couple of things to do, arranging to reconvene in the Parcel Yard bar at Kings Cross for a drink before catching our separate trains home (they do not all stop at all stations). We walked to Green Park Underground Station and took our train from there to Kings Cross. A lovely stroll to round off an afternoon in London. In good weather London really is a city hard to beat: there is just a joy about being there.

When the Parcel Yard first opened one could walk straight up to the bar, order and choose any of dozens of seats. Now it has proved a huge success and the bar is often crowded and seats hard to come by, but even with no baggage with which to "bag" seats we managed to grab a table for four and enjoyed a pleasant drink or two (welcome at this time on a warm day) and I simply had to try the "life affirming" (so it said on the pump) ale by the name of Lazarus!

Soon the time came to board the train to Peterborough (with a complimentary glass of Famous Grouse, of course) and onward connection to Stamford and so to home, where our garden really would not work for such a party ...

Monday 9 June 2014

The York Adventure

Having been prevented by weekend engineering works from carrying out our original plan to visit Canterbury, a group of six set off recently to York instead, England's "second" cathedral city. Because it is much nearer and to suit the availability of cheap fares we left rather later than we often do and returned rather earlier, having our dinner together in central Stamford instead of choosing a restaurant somewhere on the way back.

Through the trip updates were posted on the Twitter account so that we could be followed by those not with us: perhaps more will come next time!

We met at Stamford station and, each with our tickets, boarded the train for Peterborough where we had a little while before our connection to York.

Because of the changes to the timetable necessitated by the works which caused us to abandon our plan to travel to Canterbury, our train was actually starting from Peterborough so we did not have to wait long for it, just long enough for the cleaning team to do a quick run through and then we could board and chat to each other in our places as we waited to go: the crew had just got the seat reservation cards in place as we arrived to take our seats. Six of us travelling First Class meant that we could easily sit together in a group, two one side of the aisle and four the other; a civilised way to travel together.

Saturday's First Class catering is not as high a standard as on weekdays but was pleasant enough. We were served the weekend breakfast menu: fruit juice, croissant, muesli yogurt, coffee. Very nice. One member of the party had also brought some chocolate along which we shared after breakfast, just before arriving in York.

Most of the party went straight to the Minster first and spend an hour or so there, then some of us walked a section of the city wall, some of us meeting at The Maltings, a Black Sheep pub not far from the station, at lunch time, and then going on to the National Railway Museum for the rest of the afternoon. Regrettably our schedule did not allow attendance at worship at the Minster but some of the party caught the regular daytime prayers.

We reconvened at the station to catch our train back to Peterborough and again travelled together in our reserved seats, this time enjoying the "all day" menu of tea, sandwiches and cake, well-suited to this time of day ... and it was as well that we'd booked supper in Stamford rather than Peterborough as this gave a chance to recover our appetite before the next meal! There may be no cooked meals on East Coast First Class at weekends, but they do not let you go hungry! And I was able to update the church website using the free wifi connection - a job I do from my desk most Saturdays!

And so to our connection for Stamford, for some of us via the bar of the Great Northern Hotel which makes a convenient waiting room: our East Coast train was very early getting to Peterborough, so there was longer to wait for the Stamford train. A pleasant stroll across the meadows where we were greeted at Melbourn Bros for supper by our landlord Mark, and homeward at the end of a pleasant day out.

If you live near Stamford, Oakham or Peterborough and are interested in joining me on some of these day trips, please see the "Come with me!" Page.

Monday 2 June 2014

Interim report

Photos of York outing now posted to Flickr. Full report to follow shortly, I hope ...