Thursday, 5 September 2019

Rhatischebahn Research Trip

Ready to run but nowhere to go ... yet.
One of my RhatischeBahn trains bought from eBay
Fact-finding in Switzerland for a model railway layout

As we enjoyed our Great Rail Journeys tour of the Bernese Oberland around Grindelwald this year, I remarked that before I could do much more planning for the proposed Rhaetian Railway model layout I would need to make another visit to the Graubunden (Grisons) Canton to take a closer look both at the railway itself and the towns it serves. I had next summer in mind, but to my surprise my wife suggested that I should get it fixed up for this autumn as soon as I get back. Indeed, that perhaps our Tour Manager, who knows Switzerland well, may be able to suggest where to stay. We asked and he suggested Samedan, which is at the junction of several routes through the Engadin valley and both the Albula and Bernina passes.

When we reached home I consulted diaries, maps and timetables then telephoned Great Rail Journeys Independent and asked them to devise a suitable route to Samedan and back and tossed me a draft itinerary and quote. I tweaked the itinerary a bit and called back to pay for the tour. They were not able to get a room for us at the hotel our Tour Manager had suggested, but another one about two minutes farther from the station was able to take us, although at a rather greater cost. It was not too much, though, and we took that rather than change our plans. So it was fixed: our second trip to the Swiss Alps in one year! I then set about thinking what things I needed to see and experience in order to inform the construction a model railway which would give a flavour of the Rhaetian Railway and the Graubunden canton while not attempting to model anywhere in particular. I was to learn a lot of geography and history as well as seeing some of the details of the way the actual railway is built and operated - all new to me as someone who has spent sixty years building models of several era of British (indeed, English) railways.

Cheering up the RER with a little mathematical fun ...
We stayed overnight at the Premier Inn opposite St Pancras International station in London, having travelled there after dinner at home on a Monday evening. Our tickets to and from London were included in GRJ's package and were valid in First Class for any train, which would normally be far too expensive for us. We checked in at St Pancras early on Tuesday morning and had coffee and croissant while we waited to board our train to Paris, a light breakfast being served on the train. We crossed Paris to the Gare de Lyons by RER, which I have to admit was less grotty than on previous trips (although we still struggle with the ticket machines which are not intuitive even if you choose English before starting). We bought a light lunch from a shop at the station and sat there to eat it while we awaited the TGV to Zurich, where we changed again to a Swiss train which took us along the Rhine valley towards the far southwest corner of Switzerland where we were heading. 

Samedan, with the Bernina 1865 Hotel
The TGV from Paris lost time from the start for all sorts of reasons and was over half-an-hour late at Zurich we we missed our planned connection. That in itself was OK because our tickets for that part of the journey were not restricted to a specific train, so we caught one 30 minutes later, but unfortunately the next leg, on the Rhaetian Railway itself from Landquart to Samedan, was booked for a specific train and we would be too late to catch that. The train manager on the Zurich-Landquart train made an official note on our tickets which we could use to authorise us to travel on a later train to Samedan. In the event no-one looked at our tickets on that train anyway! The only problem with being late was that is was dark by the time we reached Klosters and so we saw very little of the lower Engadin Valley to which we were not planning to return during the rest of the visit. Those who think that continental trains are never late, please note that we used very few on-time trains on this trip: many in Switzerland were a few minutes late and this one in France was very late. We walked the three minutes from the station to our hotel and checked in to a lovely room overlooking the railway and airport. Straight to bed, and no hurry to start the next morning ... it had been a long but interesting day, with much seen from train windows.

Wednesday looked like being the only sunny day, although it was hard to dress for a day that started at 3°C and was expected to rise to over 21°! We started with a stroll around Samedan and then travelled to Davos. I wanted to take a good look at Davos station as I wanted to use some elements of it for a main station on my proposed model, and while we were there we planned to visit a museum of domestic life in the region.

Our train took us to the junction at Filisur where we we changed for the branch line to Davos Platz. After photographing the station we walked to the museum at Davos Dorf and after our time at the museum, and a cup of coffee there, we caught a bus back towards Platz, getting off at the valley station of the Schatzalp Bahn which we’ve used a couple of times before. We had a beer and a snack at the restaurant at Schatzalp and then walked back down to Davos Platz station, a long, enjoyable scenic walk, well worth doing. Davos seems to have begun as a resort for health reasons, and the railway from Landquart via Klosters was an essential element in building this business.

We returned the way we came, via Filisur, and went straight across the road at Samedan to have dinner at the Hotel Terminus. This was wonderful and worth waiting for. It was the hotel where we had originally planned to stay but which did not have a vacancy this week - fortunately its restaurant did!

We tried out the “spa” bath at our hotel room, with ozone bubbles and coloured lights (!) and retired to bed, aware that the next two days’ weather was unlikely to match that day’s warm sunshine. At least snow was no longer expected, but rain was certain at some point.

Watching how bridges were built
We woke on Thursday to a dry, bright morning with some sunshine and after breakfast set off on what was probably the most important outing of the trip, the visit to the Albula museum at Bergün. We started a couple of hours earlier than the previous day, buying our museum entrance at the station with our train tickets and so receiving a discount. The train took the same route as the previous day and so we got to enjoy once more the wonderful spirals and multiple curves, tunnels and bridges between the Albula Tunnel and Bergün. At the museum we were to learn a lot about the way this line was designed and constructed and why it took the route it did. At the museum is a huge model railway in Om gauge, built by one man as his hobby and depicting a stretch of the Albula Line several decades ago. At 3pm he was due to come along and operate the layout, so although I took a few photographs straight away we moved on to the rest of the displays and had lunch at the museum's excellent restaurant (local cuisine - worth a visit in itself) and then returned to watch the trains operated. Although he had the points set locally for each station, the trains were digitally-controlled and had working lights and digital sound. It was all quite amazing and the public is allowed to wander through the layout, and even into the builder's workshop area, while it is being operated. I hope to have my photographs and video on my Flickr site soon.

We moved on into the village where there was a small local museum and found there an equally impressive model railway, this time representing the section of line we had just travelled with it spirals, bridges and tunnels, and in HOm gauge (the scale in which I shall be working, and half the scale of the one at the Albula Museum). This one was being built by a local model railway club and in some ways was even more amazing with its huge heiht difference between the two ends. Much inspiration from both these layouts for may own project planning, and much detailed history to inform the background to the planning.

Back at the station for our return to Samedan we met on the platform the builder of the O gauge layout in the Albula Museum who was going home on the same train that we were to use. It was late and he said it often is ... though only by about four or five minutes. These single-track main lines suffer from consequential delays if one train is held up for some reason.

Having had a filling lunch at Bergün, we bought a salad from a local supermarket for our supper in our hotel room and went to bed to be ready for the next day's exploration.

On Friday we caught a bus to St Moritz using our Engadin pass: it was slower than the train but took us through Celerina (home to the Cresta bob run!) on the way, and dropped us in the town centre just where we wanted to be, which was Paulis Toyshop - which also sells railway models. I had discovered it through membership of the Swiss Railways Society and thought it worth a look. There I bought a model of the very bus on which I had travelled there, and a pack of Rhatische Bahn employees in HO scale. I could have bought so much more but the lack of luggage capacity saved me a lot of money there! I then spend some time at St Moritz station taking photographs and making notes because I wanted to use a lot of this as a basis for a station on the proposed model railway. There were several arrivals and departures while I was there, too, so I could observe the working of the station. It soon became clear that I'd need a lot more model employees! And a little orange diesel shunting locomotive; we seemed to see those everywhere.

We caught a Bernina line train from St Moritz to Alp Grüm, the limit of validity of our Engadin pass. We had been to Alp Grüm before: there is nothing there but a view and a restaurant, but we went for the ride. On the way we not only passed a lot of snow-covered peaks but passed through falling snow at the highest point of the Bernina Pass at Ospizio Bernina. At Alp Grüm it was simply raining as we looked around and awaited our train back towards the Engadin. We got off at Morteratsch on the way back, a new station serving nothing but a hotel (the Swiss do this a lot: remote hotel and rail station) and the Morteratsch cheese dairy. It was the cheese dairy we were to visit and we stayed an amazing two hours there (that did include lunch). We were able to watch cheese being made in the traditional way, almost the whole process, and were taken into the store where the cheese is matured before being distributed via the shops. Naturally we had to buy some of the produce from their own shop - as well as having some for lunch - when we left. The homeward luggage would be heavier than the outbound. Back at the station we met another English couple as we waited for the train. We were only going as far as Pontresina, the nearest village to the farm, and there we visited the Alpin Museum for more background on the Graubunden way of life before taking a bus back to Samedan, alighting at the Co-op for the evening's supper, no further further cooked meal being necessary after our lunchtime raclette.

Early morning at Samedan station.
Apartments above the station look fun!
We packed our cases as far as we could so that in the morning we could finish packing and get to breakfast as soon as service started in order to check out in time for our booked 08:16 departure for Chur. Our last trip along the Albula Line, and this time all the way to its end at Chur, passing over the famous Landwasser Viaduct for the first time on this trip - although we have been over it many times before. 

First Class travel on the Rhaetian Railway!

At Chur we left the Rhaetian Railway behind and took a standard gauge German ICE (Inter City Express) through to Karlsruhe. I had expected to have lunch on this train, but apparently the restaurant car only took cash and we were down to our last few Euros and last few Swiss Francs. This was quite ridiculous; everywhere else we have been in Europe we have paid for meals on the train (when we have to pay; sometimes is it included in the fare) by credit card. How behind-the-times DB is! We did afford coffee and we had a few bits and pieces with us which saw us through to Karlsruhe where we bought a take-way lunch from a station shop and ate it while awaiting out TGV to Paris. The TGV was a few minutes late and had an enormous number of passengers to load, so it was a few more minutes late when it departed. This was slightly disconcerting as we did not have a lot of time in Paris to get from Gare de L'est to Gare du Nord and check in for the Eurostar to London. It did make up a few minutes and we were well-placed to leave the train quickly. The walk was only about five minutes and we were in plenty of time. Checked in, security checked and ready, our train was announced and we boarded. The ride back was really good: smooth, on time and with good service. Arrival on time and St Pancras and a swift getaway (we were the first through the exit gates and took the border force by surprise!) meant we were at Kings Cross for a train an hour earlier than we had dared hope, and we actually left even earlier than that, for by chance there was a late-running train that we were able to board just before it left and got us to Peterborough even quicker. We were, nonetheless, too late for the last train back to Stamford, as we had expected - on a weekday it would have been fine, but they stop earlier on Saturdays for some reason - so we took a taxi home, expensive compared with the train fare but much cheaper than a hotel in Paris, London or Peterborough!

And now, all I have to do is start building the model railway ... and I may be writing a blog about that when I start, but don't hold your breath; I have lot to do before I can get going on that.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

While travelling home from London on our last visit we noticed an advertisement for an exhibition at Buckingham Palace about the work that Queen Victoria had done there to make it into the modern home and workplace that it is today. We filed it at the back of our minds until our son mentioned that he would be away on business for a couple of days and that we might like to borrow his home again, so a quick look online for tickets on one of those days, followed by a search of the LNER website for cheap Advance First tickets to get there and we were off once more to the capital.

Complimentary refreshments in LNER First
Class on a short trip: wine, fruit and
sandwich. Other options were available.
It so happens that just a few times a day a fast train to London stops at Peterborough at 30 minutes past the hour, connecting beautifully with our train from Stamford, and that these trains are seldom busy and so have both space and plenty of cheap tickets. So we found our selves on the 14:30 to London and the journey was perfect: plenty of space in our seats; power sockets that worked; complimentary food trolley came round even before the train had left the station, closely followed by hot and cold drinks; friendly and efficient staff who looked after us well. We did leave Peterborough a couple of minutes late but we were in no hurry and I did not notice whether we were late on arrival.

This was a short trip in summer and we combined our luggage in one small wheeled case, so there was little need for step-free routes and I was able to carry everything straight down to the Hammersmith & City Line Underground platforms at Kings Cross, and sitting near the correct end of the train we were down the stairs at our destination in no time and soon letting ourselves into our temporary home. Having had lunch at home before we left for the station, we had not needed all of the food provided for us on the train, so this did well for a light supper.

The following morning we were up bright and (reasonably) early and after breakfast walked to a stop to get a bus to Buckingham Palace, allowing plenty of time for things to go wrong and for traffic hold-ups on the way. The bus is nothing like as quick as Underground train, even if there are changes of train, but it is generally a more pleasant ride and we do get to see something of London. I don't think there was anything on this route, the 148, that we had never seen before, but it was nonetheless a great ride, going through some of London's loveliest residential streets and past Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and the grand hotels of Park Lane. Further, the ride was quite swift and simple and we were well ahead of schedule, so we stayed on past our expected stop as far as Victoria Street, opposite Westminster Cathedral, and went for a walk along Broadway, through the modernist extravagance of St James's Park station to and around the park itself, including a walk along Horse Guards Parade - the only guard we saw was the armed police office at the rear of 10 Downing Street. The flower borders in St James's Park for spectacularly beautiful and we seemed to be seeing them at the very best time, with almost everything in full bloom.

In the distance we could hear the sound of a military band, and as we neared The Mall we saw a contingent of marching troops in ceremonial uniform entering from a side street. Meanwhile large crowds, including many escorted parties, were beginning to gather. The Changing the Guard ceremony was taking place at the palace, and our 11:30 timed-entry ticket meant that we would be passing the front of the palace on our way to the side gate in the midst of this crowd-drawing spectacle. Visitors to London from all over the world will have come to these few street just to watch this hour-long piece of traditional pageantry. We managed to get past the crowds and to cross the road without inconveniencing any marching bands, and although we did not know this end of the palace grounds at all well it was fairly obvious where the entrance to the State Rooms was and we soon joined the small crowd of people entering for the 11:30 start. The Queen Victoria exhibition is simply woven into this year's opening of the State Rooms, so an ordinary ticket to visit those rooms is all that is required, and then as you go round there is extra information and additional artefacts relating to the life and work of Queen Victoria.

Photographs are not allowed, so I cannot show you any here, but I will say that these rooms are well worth seeing. You do not have to be an ardent monarchist or historian, but an interest in British culture or in architecture and design will be well satisfied here. There are many rooms open, and personal headsets are available free of charge to give a commentary and further information as you round at your own pace. If you want to study all the paintings in the Royal Collection, you can take all the time you want, but in the unlikely event that you are bored by these you can just walk through and enjoy the spectacle of the building. The profits from these public openings go to maintain this art collection, and part of the purpose of opening this rooms is to allow the public to see the works of art.

Exit was through the famous Buckingham Palace garden where we had been several years ago at one of Her Majesty's summer Garden Parties, but now the terrace along the back of the palace was host to a café where we enjoyed an excellent lunch, and where the tea tent had been for the Garden Party there was a large souvenir shop, where we bought little gifts for the two grandchildren whose parents had kindly lent us their home for this trip. On the way out we also took time to visit an ice-cream stall by the lake (did I mention that we'd also had a Bertotti's ice-cream the previous evening? No? Well, we did: this ice-cream lark is becoming a habit so ingrained I do not always remember it ...). Back out on the street we took the bus back "home" via a brief shopping trip, mostly to get something to cook for dinner, and our amazing day out was over. Our tickets are valid for 365 days, so if we can return to London on a day the State Rooms are open any time in the coming 364 days we can ring for a time slot and repeat the visit if we wish.

On Saturday I had a small task to do, involving a walk to the Royal Mail office a short distance away, and then I went for a longer walk with no destination in mind, with the intention of returning with something interesting for lunch ... I finished up at the whole foods market in Kensington High Street, on the ground floor of the former Barkers department store. On the way I passed Olympia where people were queuing for the current event, Drag World. Looking at the queue it was clear that this was nothing to do with drag racing but with dressing-up, and while the majority of attendees seemed to be dressed normally (although you could not always tell whether they were dressed in the usual clothes for their sex, of course), quite a lot were very flamboyantly dressed and made a colourful spectacle. I could not help wondering just what might be on display at Drag World, being well outside my life experience, but it was clearly a very large niche and seemed very popular with all sorts of people, including families.

After my lunch-buying trip I caught a bus back to my temporary home and after lunch we packed, locked up, left gifts for our absent hosts and made our to the Underground for the trip home. Our LNER train left Kings Cross bang on time and got us to Peterborough where we had time to buy a few necessities from Waitrose before taking the connecting train to Stamford. On the platform were several Ipswich Town football supporters fresh from their 2-2 draw with Peterborough United and waiting for their train which was due to leave two minutes before ours. There was a heavy police presence for crowd control and although all the fans I saw were very well-behaved their mere presence might have been alarming for some. By the time our train left it was clear that things were not going well: on the opposite platform the train to Ipswich, just three coaches like ours, was not going to cope with all the intending passengers; this was not a special and there were many other folk aboard including children, all squashed into their places and the lobbies overcrowded while some football supporters were still on the platform. The police were having heated discussions with one group as our train pulled out so I do not know what became of those who would not be able to get on this train. It is only an hourly service and some of the trains are even shorter than that one; it is not a service designed for heavy flows of football fans on match days, and yet such capacity problems were easy to predict. Our own train came into Peterborough heavily laden with Newcastle supporters who were changing trains at Peterborough on their way home - a large crowd leaving the platform as the large crowd of Ipswich fans arrived - all good-natured but simply too many people for the trains and platform to cope with. Most Newcastle fans, knowing they had some time to wait, simply stood around until things eased off with the departure of the trains at the platform.

And so home, unpacking once more and preparing for our next trip! Watch this space ...

Monday, 12 August 2019

Yarmouth (no, the other one ...) and Chichester

Ready to go!

Summer holiday by rail on the south coast of England

I recently had an interesting conversation with an Australian lady at Yarmouth bus station on the Isle of Wight, off the coast of Hampshire, England. When we arrived to wait the few minutes for our bus she was engaged in a telephone call and when she had finished she told us that she had booked a hire car but it was on the other side of England in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk! The car-hire company had misunderstood her desire for a car in Yarmouth, and being a visitor to the UK it had not occurred to her to say, "Yarmouth, Isle of Wight," when making her booking; she had probably never heard of Norfolk. It really was the duty of the firm's call handler to enquire which Yarmouth she meant, surely, rather than assume it must be the big one - especially as that one is, strictly, Great Yarmouth. Woe betide anyone asking for a car in Newport, for that could end up anywhere.

I was in Yarmouth at the start of the latest of my south coast summer holidays. We always include a few days in Chichester in order to visit friends who regularly stay a week at nearby East Wittering, in Bracklesham Bay, and we precede and sometimes follow those few days with a visit or two to other places in the area on the way. In the last two summers we have stayed a few nights in Shanklin on the east coast of the Isle of Wight, and this year we decided to stay at the other end of the island, which involved a little research into both travel and accommodation, since I had only ever been there once before, which was by car (two cars, actually, for there were many of us) and in a self-catering holiday flat. I knew that there was a ferry from Lymington but that was about all I knew until I turned to the internet and looked at maps, hotel information and rail/ferry timetables.

Our planning chart for this year's south coast
summer holiday
The Lymington ferry by Wightlink goes across the Solent to Yarmouth every half-hour and connects this side with shuttle trains to and from Brockenhurst where neat connections are made with fast trains to and from London. There is no railway at the west end of the Isle of Wight and so although it is quite possible to complete a journey by bus I decided to start the search for a suitable hotel or bed-and-breakfast in Yarmouth. I soon came up with the George Hotel, just a few steps from the ferry terminal and with great reviews - and it had vacancies for the dates we needed. I snapped up three nights bed and breakfast at the George Hotel and then set to work to book a stay in Chichester. Our usual lodgings at 4 Canon Lane could not have us for the days we wanted, so I looked further and booked four nights at the Chichester Harbour Spa Hotel, nowhere near the harbour and not as near to the railway station as we have been before, but perfectly acceptable. I then waited a few months until the Advance rail tickets became available so that I could try to get good prices on First Class train travel and booked those: through to Yarmouth from London Waterloo, Peterborough to and from London Kings Cross, and Stamford to and from Peterborough; then there was Ryde to Chichester and Chichester to London Victoria. Everything else would be done by Oyster in London and contactless bus fare (and my senior citizens' concession pass) on the Isle of Wight.

Planning done and tickets bought we waited for the day of departure and set off with our cases to our local station to await our first train, the short hop to Peterborough for our LNER fast train to London. We did this section in standard class as usual and had our seats reserved near the luggage rack to make things easy for this quick trip. We had a little while to wait at Peterborough, but our First Class tickets from there to London include coffee and cake in the coffee bar of the Great Northern Hotel in Peterborough and that was where we awaited our connection, which, like all the other trains on this trip, was on time. The train to London was one of the old diesel High Speed Trains, now over forty years old but still providing excellent front-line service: would this be our last ride on one of these on this line, now that they are being replaced gradually by the new "Azuma" trains? We were served the usual drink and biscuits on the way to Kings Cross.

In London we made our way by Underground to Waterloo station. It was now after noon and I had allowed time for lunch before our booked departure for Yarmouth, so we had lunch at Auberge, a French restaurant right opposite the exit from the Underground at Waterloo, and then strolled along the Thames for a few minutes before going back to catch our train. We do like to enjoy the journey as part of the holiday, and how well this compared with the frantic search for a roadside restaurant, or, worse, the current type of fast-food motorway services!

The ferry Wight Sun docked beside Yarmouth Castle. We
had arrived a little earlier on Wight Sky. Our hotel, the
George, is on the left of the castle. Taken from the pier.
We travelled First Class to the ferry at Lymington: our fast train from London called at Brockenhurst in the New Forest where we changed into a connecting branch line train to Lymington Pier where our ferry was waiting. We had through tickets from London to Yarmouth so there was no fuss and with every train on time everything went smoothly - and we were comfortable in the knowledge that had something gone wrong there were half-hourly ferry crossings long after our intended one was due to sail. The First Class fare Waterloo to Yarmouth was just £19.60 each, including ferry! The ferry was a pleasant crossing with a buffet from which we enjoyed a cup of tea - no food necessary after a good lunch.

Once ashore, it was a very short walk around the corner to The George where we were shown to our very comfortable room, described as "cosy" by the receptionist, but nevertheless quite spacious and well-equipped. After unpacking we set off to explore Yarmouth, which is a very small town with a population of around 800 people but which receives a lot of visitors, many of them in their own boats. We visited the pier, which was built for the London South Western Railway as the terminal for passenger ferries before the service was upgraded to take vehicles as well. Now it is there for fun and for heritage and has recently been restored. The story of its restoration is interesting in itself and the toll of 50p well worth paying. The views of the town from the pier are good, too.

We walked along the shore and then along the disused railway line, now a bridleway and cycle track, as far as the former station which is now a café-restaurant with a strong railway theme. We promised ourselves we would return one day - it does not stay open for dinner and was closed when we went by. For now we returned to the town centre and had a great dinner at Jireh House, the former town hall now a restaurant and B&B.

And so to bed. Was this really only the end of the first day?! By the end of the next day it felt like we'd been there for a week ...

Freshwater Bay
The next day, Friday, was forecast to have by far the best weather of our time away so we decided that it would be the best day for exploring the west of the island and in particular for our visit to The Needles. The whole of the Needles headland is owned and cared-for by the National Trust and has an amazing amount of history in such a tiny area. It is quite a walk up to the Old and New Batteries (of which more shortly) and the view of the pointed rocky outcrops called The Needles with their lighthouse protecting shipping from them, but for its members the National Trust subsidises the bus fare on the Needles Breezer open-top tour bus, and this bus is the only one which goes right to the top, the ordinary services terminating at the "visitor attraction," which is also as far as you can get by car.
We took the Needles Breezer from Yarmouth bus station with our National Trust half-price Rover tickets and broke our journey for half an hour at Freshwater Bay where we had a brief walk along the beach before boarding the next Breezer on which we stayed up to its turning point at the Old Battery. There (after a cup of coffee in the 1940s-themed tea room) we climbed down to the tunnel to the searchlight position from which a brilliant view of The Needles and their lighthouse was to be had, and then explored the changing history of the Old Battery right up to its time as the "eyes" of the New Battery in twentieth-century conflicts.

The Recording Room at the rocket research facility
At what was once the New Battery we discovered the beginning and untimely end of the British contribution to space exploration. It was here at two gantries that British rockets were test-fired before being launched at Woomera in Australia. There was just one British satellite launched by a British rocket (built at Cowes on the Isle of Wight), before HM Government pulled the funding and British participation in space exploration came crashing down from its leading place to a cameo rôle. (Perhaps there is a lesson here for those who like to blame Johnny Foreigner for our nation's woes: how about having enough confidence in our own place in the world to put our money behind it?)

We walked down to the Needles Landmark Attraction, as the visitor site at the neck of the headland is called, with a stunning view of the Alum Bay multi-coloured cliffs and sands on the way. There we caught the Needles Breezer bus back to Yarmouth and made our way to Off The Rails, the railway-themed restaurant, for a very late lunch, just before their 4pm closing time! The food and drink matched the superb quality of their railway-retro décor and style, and the service was very good, and friendly. The former railway line was busy with cyclists and it was clear that this is a popular meal stop for cyclists, many customers having cycling helmets with them, and some serious people were clad in Lycra!

Back into town we took the Needles Breezer one last time and stayed on it through Freshwater Bay and the Needles headland, getting off in Totland for a walk along the beach. There we saw that Totland Pier is being restored (much work needed!) and on our way north towards Colwell Bay we came across a landslip from several years ago where the footpath has only recently been reopened, by-passing the damaged section. We walked back up to the main road at Colwell Common and took a service bus back to our hotel for the night. It had been a brilliant day: great weather, much walking in the fresh air, a lot of new things learned, superb views from the top of the bus, and an excellent lunch in entertaining surroundings.

The Master Gunner's dining room at the castle
We had done in one day almost everything planned for two! After a leisurely breakfast on the Saturday we went to explore Yarmouth Castle. Looked after by English Heritage, Yarmouth Castle has a long history as a coastal defence battery along with Hurst Castle opposite on the English mainland and a number of other blockhouses and batteries along the Isle of Wight northern coast. They are often considered follies as they never fired a shot in defence of the realm, but when you look at the formidable firepower available they probably did an excellent job for centuries simply by being there: the real folly would have been on the part of any enemy captain who tried to get past them! These defences were erected after a French invasion of the island, and there was never another. Yarmouth Castle was designed to defend against a land attack also, in case an enemy landed from another direction with a view to establishing a base on the island and disabling the sea defences. It is fascinating to visit, and its history is intimately tied in with the one-time governor of the island whose home there is now The George hotel in which we were staying. We looked down from the castle walls on our breakfast table, and what was once the front entrance to the castle, with the Tudor arms over it, now faces into the hotel garden. We were there two hours altogether, including some time looking over the harbour (when the ferry was not obstructing the view!) and learning about local shipwrecks in a display in one of the rooms in the castle.

The castle's coffee shop is no longer open but we made a final visit to Off The Rails for coffee and cake to keep us going and then took a trip on the Island Coaster, another tour bus service by Southern Vectis, which lasted most of the rest of the day! This took us back down the west of the island to The Needles (but not onto the actual headland as the Needles Breezer had done) and then along the dramatic south coast of the island all the way to Ventnor and then back up though Shanklin and Bembridge, terminating at Ryde. It was not fast; it was not meant to be. This was a ride for the scenery and it was well worth it. We saw both coast and countryside that we had never visited before. After a very good fish and chip dinner at a restaurant on the seafront at Ryde we travelled back to Yarmouth on ordinary service buses with a change of bus at Newport. Southern Vectis provide an excellent service throughout the island with a range of helpful tickets which make getting about both simple and inexpensive. I now have a senior citizen's concessionary bus pass, but still have to pay for my wife's travel, and the Vectis 24-hour Rover ticket meant that after the afternoon's travelling there was still enough validity to get her to Ryde the following morning for the next stage of our holiday. (I did have to pay a fare for myself for the Island Coaster - reduced for a senior citizen - because as a leisure service it is not covered by the pass.)

And so after checking out of The George after breakfast on Sunday we set off by bus with our luggage, changing in Newport again, for Ryde. As it happened we boarded a bus to Ryde immediately after arriving from Yarmouth, and were well ahead of schedule. I had allowed time for lunch in Ryde but we did not need any after a good breakfast, and we had had our fish and chips the previous evening, so we went straight to the pier head on foot and boarded the catamaran that was just docking as we got there. It was a lovely sunny day so for the first time ever we travelled on the "sun deck" of the boat and arrived in Portsmouth two hours ahead of schedule. A Southern train was about to depart calling at Chichester so we hurried to board that and probably broke the record for travelling from Yarmouth to Chichester, if such a record exists, all by sheer chance!

Chichester is a wonderful little city (similar to our home town of Stamford, but rather bigger), and we very much enjoy spending time there. After checking in to the Chichester Harbour Spa Hotel we met our friends for an early-evening drink and then went for our evening meal at the Côte brasserie where we have eaten at least once every time we have been here (why? well, for no other reason than that it was the first restaurant we visited when we first came here five years earlier and we rather liked it!).

The following day, Monday, was our day to join our friends at the coast at Bracklesham Bay after the usual good hotel breakfast. A four-per-hour bus service operates there from Chichester and we had a great day with them both on the beach and walking on the edge of Chichester Harbour.

The view from our hotel room in Chichester,
across the rooftops to the Festival Theatre amid the trees.
On Tuesday we went our separate ways for the morning and early afternoon, although we met for coffee at noon. I explored the western edge of the city where on the map I had seen some evidence of a disused railway line; as a former planner I do like to explore these bits of urban history. Although a footpath/cycleway followed a course which looked like it might have been a railway line, that was only clinched when I found a line of disused telegraph poles. It didn't merit any celebration but it was good to feel right!

Tuesday evening was booked for a musical at Chichester Festival Theatre, the third year we have done this with our friends, and was the usual stunning performance we have come to expect. We are already thinking of 2020.

Wednesday was an empty day in the schedule. I had toyed with the idea of a visit to Goodwood House but this was complicated to book and with much walking involved it depended on good weather, which was far from assured. So that was put aside and we visited the wonderful open-air Amberley Museum, a collection celebrating and remembering Sussex life through industrial and other artefacts and set in a disused limestone quarry. It includes historic buses, a narrow-gauge railway, workshops, a garage, a museum of electrical devices, another collection of TV and radio equipment, a print shop and lots of other exhibits including the limekilns once the centre of activity of the site. The entrance was right opposite the station and so the place was easy to reach and easy to find. We stayed there for most of the day and I took dozens and dozens of photographs.

A mine entrance at Amberley Quarry, as used in the James
Bond film A View To A Kill as Zorin's Mainstrike Mine
For the third time this year we came upon a James Bond connection, as much of the action of the film A View to a Kill was filmed at a mine entrance on the museum site, and there are still two tipper wagons carrying the livery and logo of Zorin Industries. After a visit to a local pub and a stroll along the riverside at Amberley we took the train back to Chichester for our last night.

We were not scheduled to leave until mid-afternoon on Thursday and in the morning after checking out we left our luggage at the hotel and walked the couple of miles to Fishbourne to revisit the site of the Roman Palace which we had seen several years ago on a previous visit. Knowing what to expect we learnt rather more this time and also enjoyed our walk in the sun. We returned to Chichester by bus in the afternoon (no lunch needed after hotel breakfast!), collected our cases and made our way to the station for the journey home.

The trip home from Chichester should have been a simple one: through train to London Victoria, cross London at our leisure (I had allowed two hours) then LNER First Class to Peterborough and a change for Stamford - with enough time during the change to pop into Waitrose for milk. It finished OK but it was not a good start when our first train was several minutes late and was then terminated early at Horsham so we had to travel on the following train. Nevertheless we had time in London to travel from Victoria to Kings Cross by bus (never quick, always interesting!) and still had refreshments in the First Class Lounge before getting our on-time LNER train with complimentary light supper. We took a taxi home from Stamford station at the end of a long day and unpacked rapidly ready for the next exciting instalment of our travelling lives, to follow soon! (And I have applied for delay repay for the Southern Railway section of the trip, which amounted to a half-hour late arrival at Victoria.)

Thursday, 1 August 2019

An Exciting Few Months

Planned and spontaneous trips by train

To come soon is our usual few days on the south coast of England, this year beginning with the west end of the Isle of Wight, and there are already two further firm dates in the diary for next couple of months. 

One is to the Engadin in Graubunden (Grisons) Canton in Switzerland to research for my proposed model railway based on the Rhatische Bahn in that area, including a visit to the Albula Railway Museum at Bergen

The other arose from a marketing email from the Royal Hotel in Bath, England. We have stayed there a few times and have joined their loyalty scheme and mailing list, and every now and then they write to me with a great special offer: I have never been in a position to take them up on any of these before, but now that we are both retired we are free enough to fit in a trip when the bargains are available. So in October we are off to Bath again and will take the opportunity to have a session at the Thermae Bath Spa: having telephoned the hotel within minutes of reading the email I then went to the Cross Country Trains website and booked Advance First Class tickets to Bath Spa via Birmingham and Bristol at a reasonable price. It should be a great break, with dinner with wine included in the hotel special offer - we have never dined there before in all the times we have stayed there.

That, then, takes us towards the end of the year. But first, Isle of Wight, Chichester and the English seaside holiday!

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Sunny Fenland!

A small group visit to the Isle of Ely by train

A recent group trip to Ely, suggested by one of the travellers on the Jewellery Quarter visit a few months ago, only took a small number of participants, a universally available date being hard to find at this time of year, but those who went had a really good day. No rain this time, and quite a lot of sunshine. We began a little later than we usually do, taking the 10:00 train direct from Stamford to Ely, a journey of well under an hour but to a completely different world. The train was on time and the ride smooth; although we did not have reserved seats we were able to find seats together easily enough, and once the train left Peterborough we enjoyed the view across the fens, looking out for Ely Cathedral in the distance. Soon we enjoyed the classic experience of curving around the city and watching the changing shape of the cathedral above the trees, with a final view across the marina as well prepared to leave the train.

We walked down to the riverside from the station and found mooring for the excursion boat. The service times were not posted but there was a note inviting a telephone call for information, so I rang and was told the next departure would be in about ten minutes. We went off for coffee, thinking the following departure might be better - for everyone wanted coffee! Boats operate every half-hour. I have taken the river trip before so after coffee and cake I left the others to enjoy their cruise and set off to do some things of my own, starting with a cycle, toy and model shop where I bought a couple of things for my next railway modelling project, a Swiss Alpine layout which would be quite different from anything I've ever built before. I then went to the Ely Museum in the former gaol building, well worth a visit, but it is to close for a while this autumn for improvement works, so bear this in mind if you want to copy this trip! I met one of the others for "lunch", which following the cake of the morning consisted of just a couple of pints of ale ... and then I had some work to do for my religious order while they went off and visited some of the other attractions that the city of Ely has to offer. If you want somewhere to go on a summer day, I can thoroughly recommend this little city with its history, charming streets, grand cathedral (with its unique lantern roof) and river. It is so easy to reach from anywhere by train, too.

The Riverside Inn:
More of a restaurant than a pub
Two of us met again by chance and went for afternoon tea at the cathedral tea shop - tea and cream scones are a very reasonable price here, and excellent quality. All of us then attended Choral Evensong at the cathedral: during the summer the cathedral's own choir is on holiday but the services that week were sung by a visiting choir from Tucson, Arizona and this was beautifully done. We then set off for dinner together by the riverside. Normally I have pre-booked the evening meal for group outings, but with such a small group I thought it was safe to chance finding a table as the fancy took us, and we decided to go for fish and chips at The Riverside Inn, with a bottle of house white wine between us. The others had ice-cream, too, but after a cream tea I did not feel the need to join them!

And so to the train home, and during this otherwise uneventful trip back it transpired that the postponed trip to Canterbury might happen this autumn - see the Come with me! page for rudimentary information. We happened for some reason to start talking about aircraft and fell into conversation with a young Portuguese resident of Peterborough sitting near us who is modeller of vintage aeroplanes. A great thing about train travel is the people you meet - and even on a short journey entirely in ones own country it is possible to meet some very diverse and interesting people. Travel broadens the horizons if not the mind, and nowhere more so than in the fens.

Friday, 12 July 2019

So we meet again, Mr Bond

Another train trip to London, with a secret mission!

As I have mentioned before, we do seem to go to London rather a lot at present, but it has come to a peak this summer when we managed to have just one complete day at home between visits to the capital. Fortunately the weather was sunny and warm and we managed to wash and dry our clothes before setting off again.

This trip was a while in the planning (unlike the hastily-arranged one from which we'd just returned) and began with a message before Christmas from one of my London-based offspring to the effect that they'd like to give us a present which would require us to be in London for a night and needed to consult our diary. Meanwhile another sent me a link to Secret Cinema asking if it was the sort of thing that might interest me as a present .... putting the clues together I wondered if they were both thinking of the same thing so I suggested that they speak to each other. The result was two VIP tickets on an available evening in July to a Secret Cinema immersive screening of the James Bond film Casino Royale. I cannot say anything about the location of the event for fear of spoiling it for others who attend, but I shall describe something of the experience. However, there was another (welcome) complication first!

Our son who had first suggested the Secret Cinema event found himself and his family invited to a baptism abroad and offered us the use of his house in London for a week, although unfortunately it did not quite cover the night needed for the screening so we had to add a night in a hotel, but it did make another London break which would give us a chance to visit some more of the less well-known places we had begun to see on our visit a couple of months earlier. Once the dates had been decided, fitted in between the Windsor steam train booking and the Secret Cinema booking, with the day at home and a haircut (!), I was still able to book cheap Advance First Class tickets on LNER to London  and off we set.

The luggage was interesting: the weather forecast was warm and dry, starting with some hot, sunny days, but as well as the summer shirts, shorts and other lightweight things I also needed evening wear for the immersive Casino Royale evening, and my wife needed a suitable dress for it. I had never travelled with evening wear before, but it might be good practice for some of the tours we are planning for the next couple of years.

The day we arrived was very hot and we were fairly tired after our travel, perhaps not assisted by the generous amount of wine we had as our complimentary refreshment on the LNER Azuma up to London! We had left Peterborough at 14:10 after having lunch at Sundays, the restaurant at Peterborough Cathedral, which we can thoroughly recommend - if you're hungry: generous roast dinner for two with drinks for under £25.

On Friday we visited the National Trust property at Osterley Park, walking to Hammersmith for the Piccadilly Line to Osterley, a gorgeous little 1934 station on the Great West Road, then walking round to Osterley Park. One really great thing about walking to these places is the "accidental" things we find on the way, and in this case we stumbled upon a disused station on the Piccadilly Line near the shops at Osterley - now I had always thought the line was built in the 1930s and that the present station was the only one that had ever been here, but apparently not: it was once part of the District Railway. To me it remains a mystery why they moved the station out of the town centre in 1934! Maybe they wanted a higher profile on the new Great West Road?

Osterley House
Osterley House was a "party house," as one of the guides described it. meant to impress guests rather than to dwell in, and it certainly impresses, especially from the front. It was the property of the Child banking family, given to the nation early in the twentieth century and later handed by the Ministry of Works to the National Trust for posterity. It is set in great parkland with some lovely gardens and although some of the house is only available for visit by guided tour much of it can be seen "free-flow" and the parkland is available without charge. We had a great lunch at the restaurant in the stables before our tour of the house and gardens and then made our way back to the station, calling on the way at a little farm shop on the Trust land for some very high quality vegetables and salad - a bit heavy to carry home but worth the effort for the next few days' meals.

Walking back from Hammersmith station we called at a little ice-cream parlour which we'd visited a few years before, just to round off the day. We did not need much supper ...

Isle of Dogs seen from Greenwich. The once-dominant 1
Canada Square (with pyramid roof) now just one of many
tall buildings
On Saturday I had most of the day to myself and set off by Underground and Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich. It had been a long time since I had been that way and I was bowled over by how much development had taken place on the Isle of Dogs: the three towers which once dominated the skyline at Canary Wharf were now surrounded by other towers of similar height, and others were under construction. New flats were taking over much of the land to the south towards Island Gardens. Soon my light railway train plunged into the tunnel under the Thames and I emerged from the underground DLR station at maritime Greenwich. After looking back over the river to see the skyline through which my train had just snaked, I set off to explore the area of the former naval college and other buildings which make up the famous symmetrical layout of the Greenwich townscape. The grounds of the former College, much of it now Greenwich University, were being prepared for a concert that evening, part of a series sponsored by Viking Cruises, and a huge cruise liner was anchored in the river off Greenwich. A varied and impressive line-up of performers was advertised but all I saw was workmen, technicians and caterers setting up for the evening. Many parts of the buildings were open to the public and I made a note to return some time when we were together; for today I would just enjoy the walk through the famous spaces and among the buildings.

I did eventually venture into the National Maritime Museum just to see whether it might be of interest (it was!), for admission is free so a long visit to see everything is not necessary - and there was a great café there and by now I needed some coffee! I looked at one gallery on the East India Company, a subject that has always interested me, how a trading company can find itself governing  nation, and left all the others for a future visit. At least a whole day is going to be necessary at Greenwich, and that's without queuing for the Cutty Sark (which I visited about 53 years ago when more of it was original, before the disastrous fires).

We reconvened late in the afternoon and visited the other branch of the same ice-cream shop as the day before, and then went home to cook our dinner ... another great day was ending.

An Exploration

On Sunday we worshipped at the local parish church and then took the District Line down to the end of the line at Richmond, from where we caught a bus to Ham to visit the National Trust property Ham House and Gardens. Ham House is full of paintings and other artwork and much original décor and was inhabited until the mid-twentieth century and witnesses to the history of the family who lived there.

Incidentally, the CityMapper smartphone app is great for planning public transport routes in areas you do not know: we do know this area to some extent so we did not follow everything it suggested, but it did give us the bus routes to use, in conjunction with information from the National Trust website. On our way to Ham House from the bus stop we passed a signpost pointing not just to Ham House but also to "Foot Ferry to Twickenham", just slightly further away, so after looking all around the available rooms of the house and as much of the garden as we wanted to see (fitting in a decent lunch and yet another ice-cream!), we sought out the ferry landing stage in order to go back a different way.

I do like these unplanned "adventures", especially on warm, sunny, Sunday afternoons. The ferry was small and took twelve passengers but the queue was short and we were taken on the first sailing following our arrival there. It operates on demand and at the time we were there there was a constant demand and it performed a shuttle service at just £1 per passenger.

Awaiting the ferry across the Thames

Marble Hill House
One side advantage to this unexpected detour was that it included a walk through the grounds of Marble Hill House, an English Heritage property on our list of places to visit but which we had not anticipated being able to fit into this trip! We still could not go into it for the time was so late by now, but it is undergoing a bit of work at present and so is best left for another occasion. I knew is was almost opposite Ham House across the Thames but had not know that there was a ferry allowing both to be visited in one outing. from Marble Hill we took a bus back to Richmond and then the District Line home to Hammersmith. I hardly dare mention that I succumbed to uxorial urging to visit the local ice-cream shop one more time! We did not eat much that evening.

Back to Kew, without the queue

The weather forecast for the Monday was not so good, but then it had not been so good for Sunday either, and that turned out OK, so we took a chance on the Monday being similar and decided we should go to Kew Gardens that day, a visit we wanted to make during this stay in London and the price of which had been given as one of my wife's birthday presents. So we booked online before we set off, bother receiving a discount and avoiding the queue which we had suffered on the last visit (although we did not expect it to be so bad this time, a weekday in term time). Kew Gardens is so easy by train, with three gates within easy reach of a station; for us the District Line Underground serving Kew Gardens station was the easiest, and for some it would be Richmond or Kew Bridge (South Western Railway) or the Overground to Kew Gardens. We first visited the Palm House and after coffee walked though the newly-planted area which formed part of an enormous project to categorise plants using data now available from their DNA, and then visited the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which had been closed when we last visited and which had some amazing water-lilies among many other fascinating plant exhibits and a few fish and aquatic animals.

Restored dragon at the pagoda
Lunch was at the newly-opened Pavilion restaurant, enjoyable once we got the hang of how and where to order, great quality food and pleasant outdoor dining area, but not cheap. Then came the Temperate House and a visit to the famous Pagoda, newly opened to the public and with its dragons restored after many decades. A sight to behold, and apparently a brilliant view from the top but I dared not risk my health on such a climb and had to leave that to others. I'll get there one day, I hope.

After a cup of tea and a visit to the art galleries and gift shop it was time to return, via M&S for some smoked salmon to make a light supper, and then rest after a lot of walking. Come to that, we had done a lot of walking every day of this holiday, and although tired each evening we feel a lot better for it.

A walk over Hampstead Heath

Tuesday was the last complete day of of our break before we moved on to our pretend MI6 secret mission to the reopening of the Casino Royale at Montenegro. The weather was just right for our planned trip to Kenwood, which involved a train ride on the London Overground to Hampstead Heath station and then a walk of over a mile across the glorious heath to Kenwood. It was a wonderful walk: I have long wanted to see Hampstead Heath and this walk was such an important aspect of the trip to Kenwood that I had not really given a lot of thought to what we would find when we got there! 

Rembrandt's portrait of the artist
I knew it was a large and impressive house overlooking the Heath (and had overlooked London before the trees grew so high!) but I had not taken in just how significant its art collection is. This is not so much a house as an art gallery with a very important collection of painting by well-known artists such as Rembrandt, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Turner. We were bowled over by many of these magnificent paintings, and what's more were allowed to photograph them. The reason is that the house and its artworks were bequeathed to the nation by its last owner, Edward Cecil Guiness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, and it is stipulated that access should be free of charge - so it is a constant drain on English Heritage's funds but a constant joy to lovers of art and architecture. The Earl, heir to the Guinness fortune, bought it to display some of his art collection and wanted that too continue after his death; his purchase of the house prevented it being demolished for redevelopment when the Murray family who had owned it for some generations, disposed of it on their return to Scotland. Upstairs is another art collection from the Earls of Suffolk, mostly of Jacobean subjects. And housing all this is a house remodelled by Adam! This is a place really not to be missed, and is free to enter as well. If you do not fancy the walk across the Heath, buses do get nearer than trains but I have not experienced these so I cannot comment on them.

We had both coffee and a light lunch (although "heavier" meals are available) at Kenwood and after seeing all we wanted we made our way back over the Heath by a different route to the station and back to our temporary home for dinner. And so began the preparations for moving on the next day, hoping it would not be too hot for comfort in my Black Tie outfit for Casino Royale!

And so the following morning we packed our bags, tidied the house and wrote our thank-you card then set off for our hotel for the next night: Hammersmith & City Line to Whitechapel station then walk round the corner to The Whitechapel Hotel. I had never really been to Whitechapel before and as a one-time town planner was interested to see it in the midst of a transformation from one of the cheapest properties on the Monopoly board to a thriving urban centre. The station is currently a bit of a mess: already an interchange between Underground and Overground it has an Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) connection going in as well - if they ever get it finished - and this is probably part of the reason for the place's attractiveness

Our hotel was a new, boutique, hotel in New Road and we had one of their fourth-floor "executive king rooms", small but reasonably well-appointed. We showered (second shower of the day, for it was hot) and changed into our evening wear ready to meet M, Q and all the rest at a mystery venue in east London. Over the weeks approaching the event we had been sent several email messages couched in suitably secret agent type language hyping up the "importance" of our "mission" and advising us to dress in black, white and our "departmental" colour. We had answered an online questionnaire which purported to be sorting out which department we would be in, and therefore which colour we should wear, but I think everyone with a VIP ticket got Control Department and gold; our gift was a pair of VIP tickets and so we dressed with gold accessories. I had always wanted a gold-coloured pocket-handkerchief so this was my chance to acquire one, along with other bits and pieces in the "mission kit" from the Secret Cinema's online shop.

We also had to choose a time to start and we went for 18:15, a bit after the 18:00 opening but, we hoped, early enough to see and do all that was available, and we had to adopt an alias, a person we were pretending to pretend to be (!), and we went as Jacob Bolt and Jenna Buckingham (all the available names began with J & B). We were given a meeting point at a station in east London, which is how we chose Whitechapel as a place to stay, and so when the evening finally arrived and we were all dressed in evening wear fit for a casino, with gold accessories, we set off by train for the rendezvous station which, being top secret, I cannot tell you even now. As the journey wore on and passengers came and went we saw a smartly-dressed couple, he in a purple bow tie and she in purple gown so we had an inkling that they were going the saw way ... and then I saw a couple with matching green accessories, then red, then another green ... no more gold, though. When we got off the train the platforms awash with people in evening wear with coloured bits and pieces and as we made our way to the street there was no way this was a secret gathering as scores of us joined a long line of people being led through unlikely streets to a secret cinema. There are no photographs for we were not allowed the use of cameras or telephones during the evening, our smartphones sealed into pouches for the duration of the event!

At the ticket check we were ushered into a small entrance labelled "Gold Club Members Only" and were given a pack of things including our vouchers for a meal and for two drinks, then we were shown inside. I cannot give you all the details of what we experience, but I can say that the team put on a very good show of pretending that we were on a mission. We could participate as much or as little as we liked, and there was a "world" to explore as this vast space contained all sorts of scenarios with appropriate food and drink available in each one. We had, of course, martinis in the VIP Club bar (where we met M and Q) overlooking the airport, but we had our meal in Madagascar ... As the grand "reopening of the Casino Royale" was interrupted by an event I cannot tell you about the "mission" was "suspended" and we moved into our seats for the showing of the film. Our two-person VIP seats had goody bags on them and bottles of water, and drinks were served at our seats to order - I had to pay for these as we had used our vouchers by this stage - and as the film was shown, various parts of the action were also acted out in the auditorium. At the end of the film we could have stayed on for further drinks had we wished, but we took the train back to our hotel, late enough as it was. At the station the platform was heaving with people from the Secret Cinema: we had arrived in a phased manner but most left at the same time. An almost empty train came in and it left jam packed! People boarding at intermediate stops were amazed that there was standing room only on a train after 11pm. Back to our room, third shower of the day and bed. What an amazing evening it had been!

Waiting for the food! Fortum & Mason
And so home. The following morning we dressed and packed in a leisurely manner and made our way by Underground back to Kings Cross St Pancras and had our breakfast at Fortnum & Mason at St Pancras. this was not the cheap option, at about four times the price of breakfast at our hotel, but it was a very special treat at the end of a great week, and it was handy for the train home.

Workspace in the First Class Lounge at
London Kings Cross
We went over to Kings Cross and tried out the newly-refurbished First Class Lounge which was a huge improvement on the cheap, flimsy and, frankly, silly makeover which Virgin Trains East Coast had done a few years before. There were many comfortable places to sit and the space looked much more efficiently used, so I expect that they also fitted in rather more waiting passengers than before, as well as accommodating in more comfort. We went for a cosy little space for two, but there were larger spaces for larger groups, tables and chairs for those who wanted them, and partly-screened carrels for those who wanted to work or study, with plenty of power outlets and USB charging sockets.

When our train, the 12:30 to Newcastle, was called it turned out to be a diesel High Speed Train instead of the expected electric train so all the seat reservations were in unexpected places but the train staff had done their best and we were directed to our seats efficiently and caringly. A sandwich and wine were served before we changed trains at Peterborough and made our way home. As we went to bed after an evening unpacking and tidying away it was hard to believe that previous night we had been at the Casino Royale with James Bond ... we had, hadn't we? Or had we?