Wednesday 19 July 2017

Summer Alpine Adventure 3: Geography and Social History

Last time we visited the Alps, we spent one of the "free" days exploring the resorts of Klosters and Davos in the winter holiday season and we decided that we ought to return to Davos and see it in the summer. We left early in the morning in order to allow time for some activities at St Moritz later in the day, and in order to make the most of the day we made sure we also made the most of the breakfast at the hotel before we left! Making our way down to the station we took a train bound for Chur and changed trains at Filisur for Davos. This meant another thrilling ride on the Albula line with the train winding its way up and down valley sides between St Moritz and Filisur, where the three platforms provide a convenient interchange for passengers to and from all the destinations on the lines that converge at that junction.

In Davos we went straight to the Schatzalp funicular railway that we had used last time and were soon on our way up the mountain. This time we only stopped for coffee at the restaurant where we'd had lunch before, and we drank our coffee outside overlooking the town in the valley below. After coffee we walked further up Schatzalp and looked at the wild flowers and grassland that had been snow-covered ski slopes on our winter visit. This time no-one was toting skis, but there were several people with mountain cycles enjoying the slopes another way.

We eventually made our way back down on the funicular railway and with another change at Filisur arrived back in St Moritz early in the afternoon. When we boarded the St Moritz train at Filisur we discovered one coach fitted out for young families, with simpler seating and a built-in indoor play area on a railway theme: what a brilliant idea! We left it for those who needed it and went and sat in a more grown-up coach!

From the station in St Moritz we walked along the lake shore following the signs for the Engadiner Museum which we intended to visit. We were also going to walk around the lake later, so this would be one stretch we would already have completed ...

The Engadiner Museum, which would actually have been a very short walk from our hotel had we started from there, was well worth a visit. It tells of the social history of the Engadine valley before tourism changed it into what it is today, each room being a recreation of typical regional design with artefacts rescued from demolished farmhouses throughout the region. There was only one other visitor there when we looked around: information for visitors is displayed on a iPad which is supplied with the admission ticket and we were able to share one and use the loudspeaker in it as there was no-one to disturb.

As one might expect in a place like this, there was much emphasis on keeping warm, and every room had its stove of one design or another. On all our visits to any part of Switzerland we have always been struck by the enormous stoves in each home!

After an hour or so at this fascinating museum we looked briefly around the shops in the town centre - it had a similar range of upmarket clothes and jewellery shops as, say, Chelsea, many of which had not yet opened for the summer holiday season after closing at the end of the winter holiday season, but critically the Co-op supermarket was open and we bought provisions for a light supper on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking the lake.

After eating we set off back towards the museum and then resumed our walk along the lake shore, the very lake on which we had seen a racecourse set up on the ice on our last visit! Leaving the urban part of the lake we walked along the wooded side opposite the town and looked back at our hotel, and then continued to the short section we had walked in winter three years before and finally back to the station where we just managed to grab a hot chocolate at the café before it closed and then returned to our hotel for a shower and bed. Another great day, but a lot of activity! We needed a rest ...

Thursday 6 July 2017

Tales of the Riverbank

A swan on the Coronation Channel at Spalding
South Lincolnshire is mostly fenland and is probably the most productive agricultural land in the UK. The southwest corner of the county in which I live is rather different and its 19th and 20th century history has been more in engineering and heavy industry, although you'd never know it to look at Stamford now. Not far away is Spalding, centre of the regional food industry and until recently of the British flower industry.

A group of us took a day trip to explore Spalding, a very different town from our home in Stamford, although with some similarities. It is on the same river, the Welland,  but Spalding is a former port town, the river having been navigable by sailing ships as far as the the town centre where goods were transferred to and from barges. Spalding has not been used by commercial shipping for a very long time but in recent years a water "taxi" service has been operating on the river to take people to and from the Springfields Outlet Centre, an edge-of-town bargain shopping development on the site of the former bulb industry show ground.

Eight of us left Stamford on the 09:00 train to Peterborough and changed there for the 09:35 Lincoln train which took us on to Spalding. We had reserved seats together on the Cross Country train to Peterborough; East Midlands Trains do not reserve seats on their local services in Lincolnshire but we were among the first to board and were easily able to find eight seats together. From the train we could see many church spires on the flat fenland horizon, and of particular interest was Crowland Abbey in the east, a short, broad tower with a low spire, and beside it the vacant arch of the ruined part of the abbey. We passed the lakes at Deeping St James where the gravel was extracted for the building of the line and is now a wildlife sanctuary.

Boarding the Spalding Water Taxi
We soon arrived in Spalding and walked together to the Market Place where the Tuesday market was in full swing. We had an hour before our booked Water Taxi tour and most of us took a coffee break at one of the many cafés in the town centre. Some also made a start to their day's shopping!

We were met at the Water Taxi landing stage at the agreed time by our pilot Marcus who took us on an hour's tour of the river and the Coronation Channel, a flood relief channel dug after the 1952 east coast floods and opened the following year. The Coronation Channel has become a nature reserve and many waterfowl were spotted by the keen naturalists in our group.

The Water Taxi dropped us at the Springfields Outlet Centre and Festival Gardens. Here we all went our separate ways until our agreed rendezvous at 14:30. Everyone found their own lunch at one of the many venues and many also did some shopping. The gardens are also worth a visit and in retrospect perhaps I did not allow quite enough time here. Some people took a bus back to the town centre (route 505 runs roughly every 20 minutes through the day) and most of us walked along the riverside which provides a very pleasant stroll through Spalding's mercantile past (and my teenage years - I lived here between the ages of 10 and 26!).

Back in town we relaxed over a pint at the Lincolnshire Poacher inn - formerly The Crane, named after the dockside hoist, not the bird - and then used a town tour booklet to guide us through some historic sights on the east bank of the river, Ayscoughfee Gardens in particular, and then crossed over to take in Welland Terrace and the Grammar School. By now it was time to gather at Prezzo where our dinner table was booked; Prezzo is located in Elsom House in Broad Street, a wonderful art deco building which used to be the head office and retail outlet for Elsoms Seeds, for whom I use to work in my summer holidays when I was an undergraduate student over forty years ago. It was great to be back enjoying a pizza where I used to collect my P45 each September!

After dinner we strolled back to the station and arrived on the platform just as the train arrived from Peterborough which would form the service back to Stamford. This was the last train of the day and was a through service to Nottingham via Melton Mowbray and took us direct to Stamford without a change.  Everyone seemed to have had a thoroughly good time, and for me it was really odd to be visiting a place I knew so well and yet seeing it as a tourist!

A word about tickets!

Half of our party had Senior Railcards and received discounts on their tickets. Two had a Two Together Railcard which only allowed a discount off-peak and we left too early to use that, so I tried an experiment before booking and split the journey at Peterborough, looking at prices between Stamford and Peterborough and Peterborough and Spalding.  It worked: I could get a discount for the Two Together Railcard holders for the second half of the outward journey (the return timing, well into the evening, was never part of the problem); to my surprise the price for everyone else was a bit less, too, with the the two part returns being cheaper than returns for the whole trip. So that was what I booked! It meant everyone had four ticket coupons but it saved everyone some money. The moral is that it is always worth looking at splitting the journey, even for very short trips.

Spalding Water Taxi

Taxi awaiting next turn of duty!
We booked a charter tour on the Water Taxi, £60 for an hour's tour for up to 12 people. We only mustered eight, so it cost us £7.50 per head.

If you just turn up on the day and use the public service, then it costs just £3 per head for a half-hour trip direct to Springfields. It is also possible to book a self-drive hire boat but I did not look into that possibility for this trip and cannot say what that would cost. The company is really friendly and I can recommend using this service for a relaxing and interesting trip on the river.

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.