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 ...