Thursday 31 July 2014

The Meeting Place

When St Pancras station in London was refurbished for its new rôle as the terminus for high-speed services to France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel, the traditional meeting and greeting place under the big clock was enhanced with a fabulous sculpture by Paul Day. The work is dominated by an embracing couple, he obviously British, she probably French, meeting (or saying farewell) above the heads of people eating and drinking at the pubs and cafés around them, and if we can just spend a little time here rather than rushing on by as if we have a train to catch - for there is much more to do at St Pancras these days than merely catch a train, even an international one - we can see much about the history of this station and the people who have used it in war and in peace in the carvings under the couple's feet.

Here are some of my photographs. I shall not comment on them but leave readers to imagine their own commentaries. I have some personal favourites among the sketches seen here but would not want to spoil anyone else's enjoyment by seeming to suggest that you might like these too.

Monday 28 July 2014

The Jacobite - October 2012 movie on YouTube

Missed this on our trip to the West Higlands. Will have to return in the summer season and have a ride!

In the beginning

Just a small piece of cake ...
Ten years ago we were on holiday in Bridport, Dorset in England, by car, and I saw a sign pointing to Pecorama. As a railway modeller I had heard of this place but had never really thought about visiting it, but I followed the sign and we had a great half-day there.

Pecorama is a pleasure garden attached to the Peco model railway equipment factory at Beer, near Seaton in Devon and includes a permanent model railway exhibition, some great gardens and a long miniature railway ride.

We have returned a few times since, the highlight always being a cream tea in the static Pullman car Orion, one of the famous Golden Arrow coaches from the 1950s.

It was the experience of sitting in Orion that set us on the hunt for further Pullman train experiences, and 2014 had turned out to be the year of the Pullman! It has included a Pullman afternoon tea on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, the Pullman Dining class excursion to Snowdonia and hopefully will include another tea on Orion.

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Pecorama: you do not need to be an avid railway fan to enjoy it as there is plenty for everyone and the ticket prices are very reasonable. Buses X53 between Exeter and Weymouth will take you to Beer from the stations at those places.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

The Blue Eyed Maid

With my new assistant curate Nikki about to be ordained, I was invited by her course leaders, The SouthEast Institute for Theological Education (or SEITE), to a meeting for receiving incumbents to hear about the training she had received. The meeting was to be at their London premises “near London Bridge”. I booked advance tickets and was able to travel for a very good fare. I did not have the cheek to travel First Class at the parish church's expense, but in fact I was paid expenses by the course so … I still would not have done, for wherever the money comes from it has ultimately been given sacrificially by God's people.

The meeting was just three days after the church trip to York, which had been in First Class, and so the contrast between the two journeys was easy to see. Boarding my connection as usual at Peterborough at lunchtime I found my reserved seat (advance tickets always come with a reservation, another advantage of buying them) and noticed that no-one had reserved the one next to mine. And no-one took it, either, so I had more space than I might have done. I brought a packed lunch with me but bought my drink from the refreshment trolley that makes its way through Standard Class, this being the trolley's last run before the train was due into King's Cross. A can of Stella Artois went very nicely with my sandwiches but not as good as the included Old Speckled Hen at the other end of the train, in my humble opinion.

When travelling to or through London I generally book just to the terminus at King's Cross and use an Oyster card for my travel within London. This ensures that I always pay the minimum fare and that while I never pay more than the daily Travelcard limit, I do not pay as much as that limit if I travel less than it would cover. Cash per journey is the most expensive way of travelling in London, but if just going to one place and back, the London Travelcard can cost more than you need to pay, Oyster fares being lower than cash fares. London Bridge is easy from King's Cross: out of the side exit and across the road into the main entrance to St Pancras International station, straight across to the First Capital Connect (Thameslink) platforms in the basement, and there is a frequent service from there to London Bridge and beyond, with some interesting views of central London here and there on the way.

I had deliberately arrived with plenty of time to try to find the venue for my meeting. It was in a “court” off Borough High Street but the address was unknown to any of my on-line maps although the postcode gave me a rough idea where to look. So, getting off at London Bridge station I strolled around, eventually deciding to stride along Borough High Street until I saw Chapel Court. What I didn't know I needed was the simple instruction to “turn left at the Blue Eyed Maid,” that being the pub on the corner of Chapel Court and which IS on the on-line maps and stands out in the street with its distinctive signage, whereas the street sign has to be sought out. And there it was, the building I was looking for.

The view from London Bridge during my stroll before
the meeting
I shall not bore my readers with the content of the meeting, save to say that having signed in at reception we were taken through a door labelled “probation service” for our business, which was just slightly disturbing. I made my way back to London Bridge afterwards and caught a train through to St Pancras International. By now it was the evening peak and surrounded as it is by offices London Bridge station was heaving with people trying to get home to all parts of the home counties. I was deeply impressed with the way the various train companies who now make up our railway industry coped with the intensive demand, especially as this station is in the throes of a very substantial rebuilding project. The train I caught was a through train from Brighton to Bedford and threaded its way slowly through London, crossing the Thames at Blackfriars, a station which has had its platforms extended and now spans the Thames with entrances on both banks. The stop at St Pancras, being opposite King's Cross, has opened up a large part of South London to travellers from the East Midlands, the North and East Anglia without having to cross London on foot or by other modes of transport.

Back across the road to Kings Cross I had a few moments to wait for my train back to Peterborough and then the connection to Stamford. Having been fed sandwiches and other nibbles by SEITE just before I left I did not need any tea before travelling home. The rebuilding of Kings Cross station has made waiting for trains so much more comfortable than before. The long queues across the old concourse have been replaced with a two-level waiting area with seats and no queues – as most of us now have reserved seats there really is no need to race for the trains anyway. For East Coast trains where the First Class section is always at the London end, First Class ticket-holders are best waiting at ground level and then walking through the ticket barriers and on to the platforms by the original way, but with Standard Class it is better to wait upstairs and then go to the platforms via the footbridge where escalators take you down to the appropriate part of the train, and this is the way I went.

This time the sat beside me had been reserved, but still no-one occupied it and I still had some space. This happens often: unless travelling on Advance tickets like the one I had, you can take any train but it is useful to reserve a seat on the most likely one you think you'll take, and if you get another then your reserved seat stays empty. Again, sometimes people simply find another seat they prefer elsewhere (not next to that Vicar, perhaps?!), or miss the train or don't travel for some reason. But Standard Class can be a bit tight on space and if you need to work it can be quite difficult, so if cheap First Class tickets can be had, it is definitely worth it.

I had a bit over 30 minutes to wait for my connection at Peterborough. This is not too bad, although I'd have been happier with less. Sometimes it can be almost an hour, which is OK if you're not in a hurry and are happy to sit in the bar of the Great Northern Hotel or the station cafe, but when you just want to go home a shorter wait would be much preferable and there is a little campaign under way to try to get the next franchise on our line to include a half-hourly service, as well as later evening trains, to make these connections better. We are so well-placed here with easy access to London and even easier to Birmingham and yet the services stop too early and could usefully be more frequent. If you want to sign the petition, it is at and you have until 26th August to sign. You can follow the campaign on Twitter @BetterRail.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Cornwall: Night Train - the most romantic way to visit

A couple of years ago we travelled to Cornwall on the Night Riviera. The full story is at

I have since come across this video on You Tube which I thought my readers might like to see. I do recommend the Night Riviera as a brilliant way to get to and from Cornwall. You could even leave after work on Friday and, if you live and work in or near London, be back at your desk on Monday after having a full weekend in Cornwall!

Friday 4 July 2014

Didn't we have a lovely time, the day we went to Betws y Coed: a ride on the Snowdonia Statesman

For many years I have noticed an annual advertisement by Statesman Rail for excursions to various parts of the north-west and North Wales, calling at Stamford. They operate many other trips  which call at Peterborough and/or Grantham, but only one a year stops at Stamford. The problem with starting and finishing elsewhere is the need to park the car and come down to earth at the end of the day by driving home and putting the car away, and also to watch the drinking on the way back. There are four classes: Standard, First, Premier Dining and Pullman Dining. This year the way it worked out was that we could use the outing as Alison's birthday treat (a trifle early) and travel Pullman Dining, the journey being more important than the destination.

We began at Stamford station at 06:50 on a Saturday morning and there was our train indicated on the departures list! 06:51 to Blaenau Ffestiniog makes a change from the usual 5 past the hour departures for Birmingham New Street! It arrived on time, hauled by a class 57 locomotive and consisting of a long string of brown and cream Mark2 air-conditioned coaches: all painted this colour it was hard to pick out the Pullman cars, which were at the rear with their names painted on the sides.

Because Stamford station only takes 4 or 5 coaches we had to walk through the catering vehicle to reach our coach, which was interesting in itself. This train has been created by refitting disused 1970s vintage coaches which once worked most of the inter-city services in the UK.

Waiting for breakfast, fizz in hand!
The Pullman Dining fare included a full English breakfast which was served after a little while, but Bucks Fizz greeted us on boarding and the fruit juice, coffee and croissant were available straight away, and then before arrival in Snowdonia we were served morning coffee with pastries. There would be no need for lunch! We stopped at all the usual stations as far as Nuneaton and then sped up the West Coast Main Line to Crewe, then via Chester to the North Wales line with sea views until the train reversed at Llandudno Junction and took the Conwy Valley branch inland, with river and hill views as we approached our destination.

Although the train terminated at Blaenau Ffestiniog with an optional trip on the Ffestiniog Railway, we had been there before, and so instead we opted to get off at Betws y Coed which we had never visited. Supposedly the most popular inland tourist destination in North Wales, it is certainly a pretty place and it caters well for all its visitors. We were amazed to come across a suspension footbridge over the river, and we visited the ancient parish church (which I had read about before we went), closed because it became too small for the growing congregation and had to be replaced by a larger one, and a small railway museum.

It was hot and sunny and although a meal was not required we did stop for beer and for ice-cream during our meanderings about the village. There was a craft fair on the green which had some fascinating stalls (and provided a souvenir-cum-birthday gift!) and we bought the traditional Welsh fruit loaf bara-brith to bring home to keep the trip current in our lives for a few more days.

Back to the station we were greeted with a glass of Champagne and canapés, and the four-course dinner began fairly swiftly. This was amazing quality for mass catering, table d'hôte unless vegetarian, with probably the best lamb I've ever eaten. All passengers were served before Nuneaton when the first would be leaving the train, and there was a charity raffle in which we won nothing but we'd made our contribution to Help for Heroes, and each passenger was given a small box of chocolates as a "Thank you for travelling with us" and the ladies were offered the flower arrangements from the tables - ours was still going strong a couple of weeks after the trip!

Snowdonia and back in a day, with four-course dinner with wine on the way back. Great day out. We were fortunate with the weather, of course, giving us a great time at our destination as well as a great ride on the train, and scenery was at its very best.

Travelling Standard Class would make this an inexpensive trip and in the past we might have done that, taking a picnic and buying coffee from the on-board buffet, but there is no doubt that the Pullman style catering was the most important part of the day for us and will be long remembered.