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.

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