Sunday 30 December 2018

Looking forward to 2019

Rail Adventures Planned for the new year

2019 will be a new experience for me, whatever unexpected surprises may come along, for at the end of January I retire from the "day job" and, theoretically, will have more time for travel, and for writing. There may well be, then, a bit more activity on the blog, but as I've never lived this sort of life before I find it hard to predict how things will be. Whether the UK's impending departure from the European Union will make any difference I also find it hard to predict. Not only might this make travel into Europe more complicated and expensive, it may make everything more expensive and therefore reduce what we can do. We are looking forward both to visiting new places and to travelling on "interesting" trains or routes.

I already have some trips in the diary but hope to add a few more, notably to Cornwall at some point. Already planned is a weekend tour of the West Highlands of Scotland in April, a day out in May in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, and the best part of two weeks in summer with Great Rail Journeys in Switzerland. The Scottish and Swiss trips are booked and committed and the Birmingham one advertised as a "Come with me" trip so is virtually committed. We shall also have to arrange to be on the Sussex coast again in August to visit our friends on holiday at Bracklesham Bay.

For the first time since 1980 I shall be free for Holy Week and Easter and we are thinking of visiting a cathedral city and attending the principal worship at the cathedral with exploration and leisure in between the services. Looking at the English cathedrals' websites, York looks the most likely to provide what we are looking for, and would be the first time for ages that we have ventured north on the East Coast Main Line with LNER's excellent catering.

There will also, I hope, be several days out and short breaks once the pattern of life becomes
established, for we have little idea yet of how it will be to live in our new home, the first time in our 38-year marriage that we'll have a home of our own, private, chosen and fitted out by us. We are having as much done as possible before moving in so that I do not have to spend weeks of my life on DIY! But I do have the Swiss model railway to build when I'm not travelling! An annual trip to the Thermae Spa in Bath is one aspiration, and this can often be fitted into a trip to the south or west of England. We have been given for Christmas a voucher for an afternoon tea in London, so that is another trip to come!

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Birmingham German Market

Twelve go to Birmingham by train and have a great time

As my time as a parish priest nears its end, I decided to arrange just one more parish railway outing, and as it had to be in December, a visit to the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market, supposedly the biggest (how ever you measure that!) Christmas market in the UK, and almost certainly the longest at several weeks, and an easy through train ride from our home in Stamford. There is always a lot to do in central Birmingham anyway, to suit many tastes, and I thought this trip might appeal to a wide circle of people. In the event it was one of the larger tours I have arranged, at a dozen people, and was enjoyed by those who came. Christmas shopping was, of course, an option for most, but some visited the excellent Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, particularly to see The Staffordshire Hoard, and some also visited the churches and other places of interest.

We left Stamford on the 09:05 departure, on time, for Birmingham New Street and took up our seats reserved for us by the Cross Country Group Booking team. Although we did not get any group discount because all of us benefitted already from various railcard discounts, the group booking ensured that we could sit more-or-less together. The tickets arrived by Special Delivery a few days before we left.

The weather forecast was not good: rain all day from about the time of our arrival until about the time of our departure, thanks to Storm Deirdre, and although the rain started later than expected and was extremely light for an hour two before becoming a problem, the temperature was very low and we were cold outside.

First we walked through the Bullring Centre to ensure that everyone knew the location of the restaurant where we would be meeting later for supper - this was the Pizza Express, the nearest place I could get when I rang round to book a table for twelve during the Christmas market!

Then we strolled into New Street and everyone split off to follow their own agenda. Mine was a visit to the Ian Allan shop in Ethel Street, just off New Street, although on this occasion I did not buy anything - with a house move coming up and a continental model railway being planned there is a bit of a pause on buying British model railway things at the moment, and I already have enough unread books for the time being. It was time then for coffee and I popped into Caffe Nero opposite the station and came across two others of my party there, sheltering from the rain and wind which were just getting going by then.

Next on the agenda was buying a toy for a granddaughter for Christmas (I cannot say what it is in case she sees this blogpost, but I'll add a picture once she has been given it!) and so I went in search of a toy shop. I had time to look in The Entertainer and Debenhams in the Bullring, neither of which had what I was looking for, and then it was time for a lunchtime pint at The Wellington. On these trips I usually arrange a couple of optional things for us to do together, and at the appointed time five of us congregated in this real ale pub in Bennetts Hill, just off New Street. Then it was back to the toy search and John Lewis, in the Grand Central shopping centre over New Street station had exactly what I wanted, and a few other things as well, so for the rest of the day I was hauling a shopping bag around - I had to buy a plastic bag because (a) I bought more than I had bargained for when I chose my bag for the trip and (b) it was raining quite hard by now.

The other optional gathering I had arranged was a walk ... which, given the rain and bitter wind, was rather shorter than I originally intended! It did include, however, tea at the Centenary Lounge at Moor Street station. About eight of us came on this activity and although the Centenary Lounge was busier than I have ever seen it we - eventually - found a seat, although a few had decided to go across the road to Selfridges instead. Those who had not been to Birmingham before stood staring at Selfridges on our way to Moor Street, amazed at its architecture. After tea, we had the added bonus of the sight of a steam locomotive at one of the terminal platforms, returning with the Polar Express train, a Christmas special for families. In the retro-style of Moor Street it all looked very splendid.

We abandoned the idea of walking any more and all went our separate ways once again, although I bumped into other members of the party in Selfridges and elsewhere from time to time. Wanting somewhere to sit and read and write, and warm up, I went for a hot chocolate at one of Selfridges cafés. I sat opposite the french windows looking out at the driving rain and was glad to be inside. While I sat there the rain did gradually clear up and things began to look better, and just as I was about to leave there was a sudden blast of wind and the glass doors all swung open, letting in the cold air: it was like a scene from a spooky film!

I strolled over to New Street station to check that all was well for our return train, which it was, and then made my way, via browsing in sundry shops, to Pizza Express. I began to wait for the rest of the party but all of them had arrived there before me, and the table was ready, so we started our supper early and were in no rush at all to get to the station for the train home. The rain and the wind had both stopped by now, and the temperature was gradually rising, even though it was night! It was forecast to continue rising until midnight, by which time we'd be long gone.

The train was at the platform early, too, and we boarded and made our way to our reserved seats - it was just as well that it was early because, as I have discovered on this service before, the reservation cards had not been placed on our seats, and as the train was to become crowded (in spite of being three coaches rather than the two we sometimes get), we might have struggled to claim our seats if we had arrived just before departure. I had the list of seats which Group Bookings had sent me, but I don't imagine it would have been easy to turf others out of our seats just using that! Disappointing, that, but at least, as it happened, it did not actually affect us. But more by luck than judgement.

On the way back I sorted out who owed what for the meal and then we arrived in Stamford to find the Stamford Street Pastors greeting this, the last train of the day, as they usually do, and then made our way home, warm and dry here, too!

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.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

A London Triangle

or a grandparental adventure

In November two grandchildren were born, a boy to our daughter in Orpington (see The Leafy Suburbs), and a few days later a girl to our son in Shepherd's Bush. My wife had to pop down to the latter at short notice to look after the big sister-to-be (births are always short notice even though you have nine months to get ready for them!) and found the Thameslink service there and LNER back very satisfactory. It was a straightforward birth and she met the new child at under a day old and then returned.

We had both met our new grandson a few days previously but that left me not having met the new little girl, so a visit to Shepherd's Bush was arranged, this time with a few days to prepare! As we had done for the other parents, we took food with us to cook for them and all had lunch together, but we then moved on to visit the other part of the family in Orpington as well, a three-cornered trip. It was all remarkably easy to do, if a little tiring. The main line section between Stamford and London was booked in our usual way, with a Standard Class day return between Stamford and Peterborough and then LNER First Class singles between Peterborough and London - First Class was especially welcome (and especially cheap!) on the way back when we were tired, and supplied us with a good light supper. It was a bit expensive on the way there and it was fares at just a few days' notice that determined which train we took.

The rest was all done on our Oyster Cards, and with family advice we found a simple route between the two homes: Hammersmith & City Line to Baker Street, then Jubilee Line to London Bridge where we caught the next fast train to Orpington. These trains are about every ten minutes and Orpington is their first stop: it really could not be much quicker. From Orpington station we tried the bus service to get to their house: there are three possible routes and we took the first bus that came along which dropped us right at the end of their street, about 100 metres from the house: almost as close as the taxi would get, but we did have to stand in the cold for a few minutes to wait for it - substantially cheaper, though! We did call for a minicab back to the station, with it being dark, late, cold and with a train to catch. Must get in the swing of doing this by bus, though, which will be even cheaper when my concessionary pass arrives next spring! And so to London Bridge, Thameslink to St Pancras, wait in the First Class lounge at Kings Cross, train home via a change at Peterborough. And bed. A great day!