Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Kentish Adventure for Seven

By High Speed Train to Canterbury, again

As if the November trip to Canterbury for my daughter's doctoral graduation were not enough, the long-planned group day out to Canterbury finally became reality in December, so I was there twice within about three weeks. The weather was similar, showery and cold, although not too cold, and there were gaps between the showers. We had not particularly aimed for a winter outing but by the time we had agreed a convenient date that was when it would have to be, and so it was!

When I was a young child I went with my parents to Kent every summer. My mother was from Margate and the only way we could see that part of the family was to have our summer holiday with them, for in those days annual leave was just the one week plus bank holidays. It was fortunate that my mother's family lived at a seaside town, so it was a good holiday, too! I have smashing memories of the train ride from Spalding or Kings Lynn to London (through locomotive-hauled express trains) and mixed memories of the struggle across to Victoria (no Victoria Line then) for the Kent coast trains to Margate, mentally ticking off the stopping places on the way. How different it is today! Main line trains no longer venture into south Lincolnshire or north Norfolk (see my recent post on the East Lincs Main Line) but the other end is so much better: High Speed trains now operate from St Pancras to many Kentish destinations, giving a simple cross-street change of stations in London and then a fast service into Kent. It is still a long way, but it is now easily possible to have a day trip to almost anywhere in Kent from our current home in Stamford, Lincolnshire, or probably from almost anywhere in the midlands.

Our little party gathered at our local station in time to catch the 08:00 Cross Country train to Peterborough. For some reason the reservation slips had not been put on our seats but as it happened most of them were unoccupied, and there were plenty of others nearby for those of us without our reserved seats. At Peterborough we had about half an hour before the scheduled departure of our connection to Kings Cross: I had arranged First Class tickets for that leg of the journey and a handful of the group took up the offer of free coffee and cake at the Great Northern Hotel that comes with First Class LNER tickets at Peterborough. We were soon on our way on one of LNER's remaining British Rail mk4 electric trains, a touch late but still in good time for our Southeastern Highspeed connection in London. Soon the coffee, fruit juice and croissants were brought round by the attentive First Class hosts. At Kings Cross we made our way through the concourse towards the main entrance to St Pancras, directly opposite, and via the escalators and lift to the Southeastern platforms. Our train, eventual destination Margate, was already waiting for us and the swifter-moving members of the party boarded quickly and "bagged" a couple of tables together while I made sure that those moving more slowly found their way to join them. I had to feel sorry for the unsuspecting member of the public who joined us and took up the eighth place at our tables ...

We left London exactly on time and accelerated out through the tunnelled High Speed One main line, emerging briefly for a stop at Stratford and then along the north Thames bank until tunnelling under the river at Dartford and emerging for the stop at Ebbsfleet. The final stop on HS1 was at Ashford where we waited a little longer while the train's pantograph was lowered and power pick-up transferred to the heritage third rail system for the rest of the trip to Canterbury (and beyond to Margate for the train, but not for us). Highlights of the trip (apart from the astonishing speed!) are the view of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford, the crossing of the Medway estuary with views of the M2 motorway as well as the Medway towns, and the distinctive Kent countryside on the last stretch between Ashford and Canterbury.

The weather that greeted us in Canterbury was as expected: cold, but not too cold, and damp with intermittent drizzle, but no real rain (yet). I walked with the group into the heart of the city and we all went our separate ways. Most people had come with a list of places they wanted to see, obviously including the cathedral, but I had no real agenda myself, having been here many times and as recently as a couple of weeks earlier! I had thought of travelling by bus to Margate for old times' sake, but the weather was really not very conducive to enjoying a day at the seaside, so although I got as far as the bus station I decided against doing that. There were odd bits of Christmas shopping I wanted to do, and although Nason's department store was already closed and Debenham's was in the midst of its closing-down sale, Fenwick's was still going strong, as were many other shops. Canterbury is also one of those cities where it is a pleasure just to be there and walk the streets and enjoy the architecture. Somehow the day just went by!
I had my lunch at The Old Buttermarket pub opposite the Cathedral Gate hotel where I had stayed on my recent visit: the pub was closed for refurbishment then so it was good to try out now - I could small the fresh paint as I walked in through the doorway! Some excellent cooked meals with decent local ale were on offer and the temperature and the company of other customers were congenial ... and I was joined by some other members of the group, too. We use WhatsApp on these tours to keep track of each other and this was the first trip I had done where every member of the group was using it, and it was very effective. The three of us gathered at this pub decided to meet later at one nearer the station before catching the train back, and I messaged the whole group to suggest an informal rendezvous at The Bishop's Finger 45 minutes before departure, and even single one turned up (all of them before I did!).

When I remarked on her Unicorn
ticket clipper, the nice train
train manager kindly made these
two special tickets for my senior
(four years old!)
granddaughters. How kind is that?
And so came the time to make our way to the station for the journey home. It was already dark, so there would be little to see. This time we took a local stopping train to Ashford where we changed for the Highspeed train to London. Ashford International is a convenient interchange station but it is not really an interesting or exciting place to wait for a train, and in the cold and drizzle all we wanted was a train! I did buy a hot chocolate from a buffet counter on the platform, which was warming and pleasant. Everyone was chatting excitedly about what they had done and seen on their day in Canterbury and I briefed them on the next stage of the journey: from Kings Cross we were to travel on one of LNER's new ten-coach Azuma trains, made of to five-car sets couple together, so it was vital to board the correct coach, or, at least, one nearby in the correct half of the train. Again we were travelling First Class and we had time to wait in the lounge at Kings Cross while the train was prepared. Slightly distressing, the escalator down to our platform was out of order, so we had to take two turns to get the whole group down via the lift. We did have reserved seats, which were reserved, so there was no hurry to get to them, but with some of the group having mobility issues I was a bit on edge until everyone was in the correct coach. I could have done without one couple announcing that they had lost their tickets and railcards at this stage ... later found in a hat, of all places, fortunately before they were required for inspection. This was by far the most complex of these day trips I had arranged and everyone had six ticket coupons plus separate compulsory reservation coupons for some legs of the journey, so it was very easy to get tickets confused. I may have to reconsider my policy of giving everyone all their tickets at the start of the day ...

The usual snack meal available to short-journey passengers was served on the way back to Peterborough and we arrived just slightly early there so that even with some mobility difficulties we all managed to catch the very tight East Midlands Railway connecting train to Stamford rather than having to wait half an hour for the usual Cross Country train. We made our way over the footbridge at Stamford and said our farewells - the walk home allowed me the chance to relax and thus soon to sleep after an exciting day out with half-a-dozen friends.

I have to say that we met some wonderful train staff and station staff throughout this day. I don't think I have ever enjoyed the company of so many cheerful and helpful railway employees in one day. All our trains were either on time or so nearly so that it made no difference to us, and all were clean and had enough space for us. Given the amount of time we spent on the railway, these aspects mattered to our enjoyment of the day, and they certainly contributed to it. Some members of the party do not often (or ever) travel First Class, so it was an introduction for them - I did emphasise that it is inexpensive because of boring three months in advance which cannot always be done. Whether it is affordable otherwise is a decision which each of us would have to make depending on our means and other calls on our funds.

Where to next? Well, it is probably time to organise another party in a brewery ... See my Come with me! page for details of how to join us.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

By Train to the Trains

Full-size exhibit!

The Warley National Model Railway Exhibition

Model Railway Exhibitions vary enormously. There are local club exhibitions held in village or school halls all over the country, bigger ones run by bigger clubs in exhibition centres or at places like racecourses (some of these are commercially sponsored and are quite large as a consequence), and then there's this one, the Warley National. It is Warley club's exhibition but is held in Birmingham at the National Exhibition Centre in one of its large exhibition halls. In spite of the size of the hall, it was crowded when I visited this year and must have had a huge number of visitors. (The whole NEC had rather masculine slant since the other major show there, taking two large halls and some other spaces, was a motorcycle show - there are ladies interested in motorcycles and model railways but they are heavily outnumbered by men!)





So the morning after coming home from Canterbury I was off to Stamford station for a train to Birmingham New Street where I would change for Birmingham International for the NEC. I had through off-peak tickets and went for the 09:05 train, feeling that an early start would be a bit much after the travels of the two previous days. By Nuneaton the three-car Turbostar train's seats were full and there was a large crowd waiting for the train, almost all of whom had to stand, for few left the train there. The guard apologised for the crowding which he attributed to the strike by West Midlands Trains staff, taking place every Saturday for several weeks, which was diverting passengers onto other services, although I could not see how it would put many onto this one.Still, that was how it was and when I arrived at New Street I was cautious about what sort of service I might find to International. There was a handful of West Midlands Trains services operating, but on the line I needed, so I boarded a Virgin Trains London-bound Pendolino which was due to stop at Birmingham International; so had several others, but although the vestibules were packed like sardine cans, there was a lot of standing space completely empty in the interior of each coach, so that was where I stood, excusing my way through the crowd just inside the doors. It is a swift ride to International and then I excused my way back out, then followed the throng up the stairs and eventually to the exhibition hall.

MDMRC members operating Woodcroft
The ticket windows for the exhibition were right in front of those entering from the car parks, but from the station could not be seen without asking the way! The queues for paying by card were immense, but by gathering together enough cash I was able to join one of three much shorter queues and soon paid and was inside.

I began by making my way right across the hall to where I knew my fellow members of the local Market Deeping Model Railway Club were exhibiting our layout Woodcroft which I had been helping to restore and repair after the notorious vandalism of our own exhibition in May.

By the time I had chatted to my friends there it was lunch time and I went to one of the many street food type kiosks around the hall for something to eat and then, after some searching, found somewhere to sit and eat it!

Then a long walk up and down the hall trying not to miss any of the layouts, which varied from tiny one-person shunting or loco shed scenes to huge, multi-operator complex systems with lots of trains moving at the same time.

A Rhatische Bahn station in HOm gauge
I also needed to look at some trade stands and did come away with a few bits and pieces for my planned layout based on the Alpine Rhatische Bahn. I even bought some snow ...

When all was done I paid a final visit to my local friends and then wended my way back to the station to begin the trip home. Again, of course, there were fewer trains than usual because of the local strike, but I did manage to get a Virgin train to New Street before very long, and even to sit down this time. At New Street I had a short wait for my Cross Country train home, but it was time for tea anyway, so I bought something suitable and awaited the boarding time for the train. It was busy, but not overcrowded and before long I was at home unpacking the newly-bought items for the planned layout, the magazines and book I had bought (the book from the Swiss Railways Society, which I joined this year) for technical advice on the Rhatische Bahn and on modelling Swiss railways in general, and the advertising material I had taken from companies whose products may be useful when building commences.

It was a tiring day, but very useful and very interesting. I hope that soon I shall be there exhibiting, either the club layout or even perhaps one of my own.

The Last Graduation


By High Speed Train to Canterbury


From the first primary school events in which our first child participated, as parents we have always supported our children and celebrated their achievements whenever we could. And so, thirty years on we found ourselves attending Canterbury Cathedral to witness our youngest receiving her doctorate. An occasion not to be missed, and, wedged in between many other diary commitments, we could not extend the visit into a proper holiday, but we did enjoy the trip - and a surprisingly good hotel room. It is worth mentioning the hotel in some detail, actually, but first, the journey there.

We packed after breakfast and with no hurry set off to Peterborough on the 13:00 Cross Country train from Stamford, which makes a very handy connection with the 13:30 LNER train from there to London. We had Advance tickets throughout, giving us affordable First Class travel between Peterborough and London, and enjoyed our sandwiches, wine and cake on that leg of the journey. There was plenty of time at Kings Cross to stroll across to St Pancras for the SouthEastern High Speed service on to Canterbury. We took a few moments to look around some of the shops at St Pancras, and by the time we reached the platform to board the train it was a struggle to find two seats together! We shall not make that mistake again: I had not realised how popular this high speed service had become, even between peak times. We did get seats, though, together, right at the front of the train. Many stood. We had a long walk along the platform at both ends of the journey, too, but it was a fast, comfortable ride. There is nothing special about these train except the speed: no First Class, no refreshments, but they do deliver what they promise and we were in Canterbury very quickly. I shall be going there again quite soon and look forward to using this service again; next time it is just a day trip, now quite feasible with this quick service and quick change in London.

Which brings me to The Cathedral Gate Hotel. Our large, comfortable double room with two armchairs and en-suite bathroom with bath and shower cost just £90 for the night, including an excellent continental breakfast with fresh croissants. There are some snags with this hotel if you are mobility-impaired, but if you can ascend and descend stairs and don’t mind going outside on a roof-level walkway to get to and from your room it is amazingly good, friendly, efficient and comfortable.

We asked at reception for advice about restaurants and for that first evening we tried Posillipo, a genuine Italian restaurant off the city centre where we were able to try out our fledgling Italian language skills with the waiting staff (the menu was in Italian, which helped). I ought to mention that we are learning some Italian for a trip to Rome next year, not just for eating pasta in England! Posillipo was again excellent value: terrific food and service at low price; they have restaurants in Faversham and Broadstairs, too, if you want to try other places.

The following day was the graduation ceremony in the cathedral and I attended with my son-in-law while Granny looked after their little boy. Graduation ceremonies are not the most entertaining events but it was amazing to see all these young (and some older) people receiving degrees of one sort or another and to hear the topics on which doctoral theses had been composed.

Afterwards we went for coffee (I’ve never had coffee with someone in doctoral robes before!) and after the disrobing we all visited Chapman’s, a seafood restaurant which our daughter had booked conveniently near the rail station. We thoroughly recommend this restaurant, too, but unlike the previous evening’s one it was not such a bargain.

And so back to the station and the High Speed train to London, a short visit to the shops at St Pancras and the a wait in the First Class lounge at Kings Cross and the 21:00 LNER Azuma to Peterborough for the connection home.

I was not at home for long, though, because the following morning I was off to Birmingham... but that is another blog post!

Friday, 15 November 2019

Wet and Windy, or how we miss the East Lincs Main Line

By train to Boston, Lincs

My route across Lincolnshire! You can easily see where the
route of the East Lincs Main Line used to be
People in Louth, Lincolnshire, say that in the 1960s they could travel by train to London in about the same time as it now takes them to drive to their nearest main line station. The people of Boston may look more fortunate as they still have a railway station, but to get to London from there now involves a fifty-minute ride to Grantham before starting a main line trip of a similar length to the old direct train from Boston itself. The closure of the East Lincolnshire main line between Grimsby and Peterborough was, combined with decline in fishing and in seaside holidays, a catastrophe for the Lincolnshire coast from which it has never recovered. The roads around the area are grossly inadequate for the traffic they are now forced to take, and even the new A16 laid along the track bed of the main line between Spalding and Boston is often overloaded, especially with lorries taking agricultural produce to market, traffic once taken by rail. 

Still, Boston is on the railway and can be reached. So when I had to go there I thought I’d give the train a try. I had to attend a training session in Boston, at 9.30 in the morning in November. It is in the same county but is a difficult drive on busy roads at the best of times, and in rain the journey by road was not a pleasant prospect. To be sure of getting there for the start, I'd have to plan to arrive at 09:00 to allow time for Boston's chronic congestion (probably also a result of having inadequate railways!) and to find a parking space. This would mean leaving at about 07:30, given the slowness of traffic around Spalding and along the A16. That perspective makes the 06:57 departure required to do the trip by train seem a little less daunting, although I did have to walk to the station before then, of course! But then, had I gone by car I'd have had very little exercise that day whereas I actually walked a fair bit one way and another. and exercise matters.

A pleasant surprise. I had no idea that USB
sockets had been fitted to EMR class 158
trains
It was a good day, broadly speaking. There were niggling little delays here and there because of the dreadful weather, but nothing to spoil things; all connections easily made. I bought my tickets in advance using the Cross Country Trains Train Tickets app and had them as electronic tickets on my iPhone, with a print-out just in case, so I did not need time even to pick up the tickets at the station and could just walk onto the train. I had reserved seats from Stamford to Peterborough and back, and between Peterborough and Grantham and back, but there are no reservations available between Grantham and Boston. The total fare, Standard Class Anytime Return was £30.65 with my Senior Railcard. (The mileage would have been £31.50, plus the cost of parking, so I have saved a bit on the expenses claim!) All the trains were warm and dry and I was able to get on with the tasks I had in mind to do on the way there and back - something which would have been out of the question if I had travelled by car. This was helped by East Midlands Railway and LNER trains having USB charging ports at all Standard Class seats: it was only at the stations and the on the section between Peterborough and Stamford on Cross Country Trains where I had to run my
iPhone and iPad on battery power, although on the other hand that was also the only stretch with free WiFi. WiFi was available at all the stations, too. With a fully-charged iPhone I never needed to use the paper tickets I had printed at home, but they were handy to keep in the pocket because they include the itinerary for the trip - very useful with two changes of train each way - and the seat reservation details, so although I never showed them to anyone, I looked at the times and seat numbers at each departure and junction station. That, too, would have been on the iPhone, but it rather more fuss to consult than a folded paper in my jacket pocket.

I had had a rather earlier-than-usual breakfast so I bought a croissant at Peterborough station before boarding the Liverpool-bound train which would take me to Grantham, and at Grantham I had a few minutes to wait for the Skegness train which took me to Boston. These were both comfortable trains with plenty of legroom, quite unlike the dreadful units that run between Peterborough and Lincoln and which I have to use much more often than these. I was on time at Boston and walked through some fairly heavy rain to my course in the town centre - a test for my new raincoat which it passed with distinction! All dried out soon enough during the day.

When it was time to come home I hurried far too quickly to the station and had to wait several minutes for the train. I don't think I had taken in just how convenient Boston station is, and I could have chatted just a little more to colleagues instead of rushing off.

The train back to Grantham stopped at Rauceby signal box (they still have them on that line!) for the signaller to warn the driver that the line was flooded ahead and that the train would have to proceed slowly. In spite of this we were only a few minutes late into Grantham, easily allowing for the connection to Peterborough. I would not be home for dinner as I was intending to go straight to a meeting when I arrived in Stamford,  so I planned to have a snack on the train to Peterborough, which was a LNER "Azuma" scheduled to have a buffet car. I was horrified on arrival at Grantham to see that my train was indicated baldly "Delayed" and with no time shown. I was soon comforted when a two-minute late departure was indicated (although the EMR train behind it was still just "Delayed" - probably yet more flooding). The train was one of the new service from Lincoln, a five-coach Azuma set ideal for this service, and I had my reserved seat. I walked through to the buffet and bought my sandwich and a can of Hop on Board ale which occupied the time to Peterborough: indeed I was still enjoying the beer on arrival there and finished it while waiting for the connection to Stamford.

And so to my evening meeting and eventually home to bed - arriving about fifteen hours after setting off from the station! But all very relaxed, with jobs done.

I was happy that I had made the correct decision to go by rail. Yes, it takes longer than driving, and it involved two changes of train. But it also gave me time to get things done, time to relax, and some exercise. I only got wet once, but then so did those who drove, for the car parks were no handier for the venue than the rail station in Boston. It was good day, a bit of an adventure. really, and as you know by now, I do like a bit of an adventure!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

An easy way to lose a pound

Having returned from my trip described in the post below, I went through the Journey History on my TfL Oyster app and found an interesting phenomenon. The trip from Kings Cross St Pancras to Orpington cost me £3.70 but the trip from Orpington to St Pancras only cost me £2.70. It took me a while to twig why that was, but it is plainly because I used the Underground between Kings Cross and London Bridge on the way there and Thameslink (which is part of the national rail network) on the way back. The change of mode involving an extra touch-out, touch-in at London Bridge cost me £1, whereas by using a rail connection the charge was as for an unbroken journey because I had not passed through any barriers.

So .... always Thameslink in future (it's a more pleasant ride anyway).

An Unexpected Adventure!

LNER Azuma train in the evening mist at Peterborough
I was a guest at a little art exhibition in a suburban chip shop in Peterborough on Sunday afternoon (it is a long story: perhaps I shall tell it one day, but that day is not now), when I received a plaintive WhatsApp message from my daughter in Orpington: she and her little boy both had stomach upsets and she would struggle to look after him when her husband went to work on Monday - could I possibly come and help?

I went home and packed and my wife drove me to Peterborough station on her way to collect another grandchild who was already due to come and stay at our home. The drive to Peterborough went very well and I was expecting to catch a LNER Azuma and be well on my way in a short time. It was tight and I had a ticket to buy, but just enough time, until we joined the queue of cars for the drop-off area at the station! I had no choice, really, but to grab my luggage from the boot and walk to the station; no time to be driven the last few metres! To my great relief the travel centre was still open and I was able to ask for the ticket I needed from a real human being; I find LNER's machines long-winded to use and was afraid of missing the train. I bought a Standard Class off-peak single for Kings Cross with the intention of buying a Weekend First upgrade on board which ever train I caught. Mercifully the one I had intended to catch was just a couple of minutes late, so I did not have to run to catch it. I found a single seat at one end and settled down, on edge, hoping I had packed all that I needed and could do all that would be asked of me in Orpington. I was expecting to stay just the one night but could just manage a second day if necessary. Those who follow this blog may remember that there is no guest accommodation at my daughter's home, but the usual fix of staying at the Premier Inn would not really work for this visit as I needed to be on site, so I had an inflatable mattress among my luggage, a brilliant pice of kit in its own backpack and with its own pump for inflating and deflating it. So easy to carry but one more thing to keep track of.

Weekend evening snack
As the train left Peterborough the First Class hosts came round offering the food and drink: I had a bacon, lettuce and tomato roll, which I do not recall having before on a LNER train, and apple juice, there being no included beer at weekends. Soon the ticket examination began and I paid £25 for the upgrade - an expensive BLT sandwich but a very smooth and comfortable ride with space to unwind, just what I needed to help me calm down after the hectic preparation and departure. Well worth it.

And so in London to the Northern Line Underground to London Bridge (yes, I remembered to bring my Oyster Card with me!) and then the next train to Orpington, a fast one in just a few minutes. I splashed out on a taxi to complete the journey as buses are thin on a Sunday evening and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible. This was probably the fastest door-to-door trip I have ever done between the two houses, and also probably the most expensive, being at short notice.

Wine already served, work on blog continues
When I came to book the return trip, once I was sure the emergency was over and it was safe to come home, by choosing a late train back and booking in advance, even on the day, I was able to secure a First Class ticket for only £15.50, much less than the cheapest possible fare on the way out  even without the upgrade! The downside was that I had to take a specific train and as it happened I could have gone half-an-hour earlier if I had known how easily I could get away and how smoothly my journey into London would go. (So much time did I have in hand that I wrote most this blog post as I awaited the train back to Peterborough.) I took a bus from my daughter's him to Orpington station where a fast train left for London Bridge just a few moments later. From there a Thameslink train took me quickly to St Pancras whence I waited in the First Class Lounge at Kings Cross until my train was ready to board. There I typed most of this blog post: much of the rest was done on the train until my meal arrived.

Monday evening's meal, with wine
I decided to try out the new electronic ticketing system and did not have to pick up a paper ticket at the station: it is held in the Apple Wallet on my iPhone. I also downloaded the optional PDF file as well so that I could show it on my iPad in case I had a problem with the phone. I still needed the Standard Class single between Peterborough and Stamford and bought this using the Cross Country Train Tickets app, again placing the ticket in my Apple Wallet. I still needed to keep my Senior Railcard to hand as I do not (yet?) have a digital version of that, although I gather they are now available.

The LNER ticket worked fine when inspected and although the Cross Country one was safely own the Apple Wallet that ticket was never inspected so it was not put to the test, although I have no reason to think it would have been otherwise. What I have not yet done is use one at a ticket barrier, and I can see that being a particular problem when travelling together with both tickets on one iPhone: there would be a delay while swapping tickets.

The Azuma arrived in Peterborough on time, allowing me plenty of time to cross to platform 7 for the connection home, also on time. Two perfect journeys giving me the opportunity to relax after my unexpected trip and to prepare for a good night's sleep before what were already expected to be a couple of busy days.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

London Never Ceases to Amaze

It started as a short visit to daughter and grandson in Orpington, although we did take a slightly different route by way of a change, but on the way back we popped in on an exhibition at ExCel and that's where it became amazing, as I shall explain shortly!

For a year now Thameslink have operated weekday half-hourly through trains between Peterborough and destinations in Surrey and Sussex, using a new tunnel to reach their subterranean platforms at St Pancras International inserted of terminating at Kings Cross. The trains go on to the usual Thameslink central London stations including London Bridge, which is the station from which we depart for Orpington. They stop at several stations between Peterborough and London, so they are not for those in a hurry, but it does mean there is less fuss crossing London,  with just one change of train.

We booked the tickets just a day in advance, Super Off-peak Day Single, standard class, a reasonable price. Catching the 14:00 train from Stamford to Peterborough we had plenty of time at Peterborough to go across to platform 1 where the London train was already waiting - the Thameslink trains start and end their journey here. There was plenty of space on the train: they are twelve coaches long and it was easy to find a seat where we could keep an eye on our luggage and enjoy the ride. The seats are firm but comfortable, similar to a good bus seat. We had plenty to read and the trip soon passed. We barely noticed the station stops until we got to London and had to get ourselves ready to leave the train at London Bridge.

We were going to use our Oyster Cards for the rest of the trip to Orpington, so we had to go out through the ticket barriers using our tickets to London, and then come back through again using our Oysters to ensure that we paid the correct fare for the journey. That took just a few seconds and we caught the very next train to Orpington, just a few moments after our arrival at London Bridge. Orpington was the train's first stop, so it was a quick and easy journey, then we walked down to the Premier Inn where we had a room booked for the two nights we were staying. All three trains were on time and our room was ready for us, and after unpacking we walked to our daughter's home for our little grandson's bedtime and our dinner. We spent the next day together and the third day, Saturday, it was time to leave. We had the day to ourselves and the plan was to speak some time in London. It so happened that there was an exhibition at ExCel (with a convention for those who wanted it) for those interested in family history research, RootsTech, and we had obtained free tickets for the exhibition only by email before leaving home. We were unsure how interesting it might be, but in fact it took my wife all the time we had to spare, while I stayed for some of the time as well.

So it was that on our return trip we alighted at London Bridge as usual but then took the Jubilee Line Underground to Canning Town where we were to change to the Docklands Light Railway to get to the ExCel Centre. The Underground train was packed, even though we had let the first one from London Bridge go without us (just one minute before) as it was so full. Some other passengers were in interesting costumes although the only one I recognised was a Jedi knight. Was there something on at ExCel, people were pondering, but I did not think RootsTech would draw such crowds, nor in such interesting clothes, although in London you can never be sure ... As we changed trains at Canning Town, people were being guided, in their hundreds, to the platforms for the DLR for what sounded like "Commicon", and several of them were interestingly attired. We began to realise that there was indeed something else on at ExCel - not a surprise as it is a big place and quite capable of mounting several events at the same time. The DLR train we boarded was an extra added to the schedule to help with the crowds, terminating at Prince Regent station for Comic Con, for so the comic convention was really called. Leaving the train at Prince Regent we were greeted by a Stars Wars fanfare from the public address system and herded off the station, urged not to take the time to touch out our Oysters as it would cause congestion. At the entrance to the exhibition centre, as the Comic Con visitors went their way to another door, there stood meeters and greeters in RootsTech t-shirts and we found ourselves in the right place. I have a feeling I would have been equally happy at either event, to be honest, possibly even finding more of interest at the other (it being so much bigger and more varied), and would not have been out-of-place in ordinary clothes for by no means everyone was dressed up, probably about half.

At the end of the day we made our way by the Docklands Light Railway to Bank station where we walked through to Monument station for the District Line to Kings Cross for our train home. This is probably not the quickest way to go but we had plenty of time in hand and the District Line is so much more pleasant to use than the Northern Line tube, especially at the Kings Cross end. We actually went via the shops at St Pancras for we had run out of Fortnum & Mason's St Pancras Blend tea and visited their shop to buy some more - they only sell it at their St Pancras shop! For the return trip we were booked on a fast LNER train with Advance First Class tickets as far as Peterborough, so at Kings Cross we were able to use the First Class Lounge to await its departure, with a very welcome cup of tea. The train left just a touch late and was quite full. We were served the usual light refreshments: sandwich, drinks (not alcohol at weekends), crisps, cake, biscuits.

At Peterborough we had to take a rail replacement bus service to Stamford because the railway line was closed for maintenance work, but I had known this when booking the tickets and had taken it into account when planning the journey. Not as quick and simple as the usual train, but it was a very comfortable coach rather than an actual bus and gave us a smooth ride to the station in Stamford where those going further would be able to take the waiting train to Birmingham while we we set off across the Meadows on our walk home.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

A Short Break at Short Notice

By train to Bath, with a special hotel deal

An email message arrived a little while ago from The Royal Hotel in Bath, whose loyalty scheme I joined about three visits before. I was offered, for about the usual price of two nights' bed-and-breakfast, two nights with bed, breakfast and dinner, with a bottle of wine at the dinner. A cream tea on one afternoon was also part of the deal. The dates were restricted: it was clearly an offer aimed at filling space during the relatively quiet time between the summer holiday period and the forthcoming Bath Christmas Market. I have received this offer a couple of times before and had always been unable to take them up on it, but now that I am retired it was possible to go for it at last! I asked if they could include tickets to Thermae Bath Spa and they said they could, but they could only sell full-price tickets and I could do it more cheaply by buying them at a discount price from the spa myself, so I took that advice. They had no standard rooms left at the advertised ("from ...") price but I was happy to take a better room for a little more money. We have stayed in several different room at this hotel and have never been unhappy yet, but it would be interesting to see what their superior rooms were like, at a bargain rate.

From the hotel phone call I moved onto the Cross Country Trains website where I sought decently-priced conveniently-times trains. As we were only having two nights away I went for relatively early trains there and late trains back, and was able to book Advance First Class for both legs of the journey as far as Bristol, and then just day single Standard Class for the short trip between Bristol and Bath. I paid the small fee to have paper tickets which I collected from the station when I was next there. I am not a fan of having tickets on my iPhone: when two are travelling together, electronic tickets are much more of a palaver to show when asked, and one of these days I'll drop my phone or something and the tickets will become invisible. I do have a lot of things stored on my phone, it's true, but I have physical copies of them elsewhere, too!

Changing trains at Birmingham:
the amazing architecture of New Street station
On a Tuesday morning we set off for Stamford station, a last-minute check on live departures on Cross Country's app revealing that there had been a signal failure at Cambridge and our train, the 10:05 to Birmingham, was cancelled. It did show that an additional train had been put on in its place but that, to, had been cancelled. We went anyway so that we could take anything that might be going but that we could go somewhere nearby for coffee if there was going to be a wait for the next train. The station staff could not tell us what might happen, although it was clear that there would be no 10:05. He was not confident that there would be a 11:05 either but I was much more optimistic: surely they would terminate eastbound trains early and send them back to Birmingham - or they would soon acquire a heap of trains at Peterborough or Ely! Sure enough, over our excellent cup of coffee at Gooch's Coffee Shop I checked Live Departures again to see that the 11:05 was on time, having started at Ely. After coffee we returned to the station and resumed our journey. We had Advance tickets, normally only valid on the booked train, bit, of course, we were allowed to use them on the next train in these circumstances; our seat reservations did not apply, but we were easily able to find seats together. In fact we had a very smooth and easy journey after that, just an hour late (which was not really important to us on this occasion). The Train Manager endorsed our tickets so that we could demonstrate to his colleague on the connecting train to Bristol that we had missed our booked connection because of a cancellation on this leg, although in the event he just took our word for it anyway.

Again, the journey was smooth and easy, and lunch was served on the way (no wine on these trains, but good sandwiches). At Bristol we took the next train to Bath Spa, which was a GWR InterCity Express Train bound for London, our first ride in one of their new trains. I have to say I found it very comfortable, although I have heard much criticism of the seats. They are, of course, just like the "Azuma" trains of LNER but with different décor.

Mushroom risotto with peas
At Bath we walked across the road to the hotel and checked in. Our room was excellent! We decided that when booking in future we would always ask for this room (although not in summer because it faces south and would easily overheat on a sunny day). It was on the third floor and overlooked the station ...

After unpacking we went for a walk into the city. I was keeping an eye on the shops for a new raincoat since my ancient M&S trench coat had worn out a couple of years ago, and we saw just the thing in a shop in Bath city centre. Trying it on it fitted wonderfully and was just what I needed - a deep breath was needed when paying for it because the shop turned out to be Gieves & Hawkes - although the cast will probably last me the rest of my life so is actually good value and an excellent investment when I stop to think about it.

We soon returned for the first of our included dinners! It is a sign of how popular the restaurant is that even though I booked the dinner times only the day after I booked the room the latest time I could get was 18:45. The restaurant is open to non-residents and is well-regarded. We had the run of the à la carte three-course menu with wine up to £23 (which was almost all the non-sparkling wine on the list), but any extra sides would be added to our room bill - but even these were only £2 a time and we decided to share some mixed vegetables. A walk up three flights of stairs is just what is needed after a three-course dinner with wine, and fortunately that was available to us! We only used the lift when we arrived with our luggage and when we left with our luggage on the last day, so we made sure that whatever else we did or didn't do, we were not short of at least some exercise! We had a fairly early night after all our travelling and the early dinner, looking forward to our visit to the spa which we had scheduled for the following morning.


Thermae Bath Spa
After an excellent night's sleep we had slightly less for breakfast than is often the case when staying at hotels: it really did not seem long since the three-course dinner ...  Then we went along to the Thermae Bath Spa prepared to join the usual queue. We had downloaded The Times to our iPhones using the hotel's excellent free WiFi so that we could do the Quick Cryptic crossword puzzle while queuing ... but there was no queue. We walked in through the door and waited for one person to finish paying and then it was our turn. Sure enough, 10% discount applied (I think that is a mid-week reduction but I am not sure), and we were handed our towels, robes and flip-flops for use in the spa, along with the wrist-bands that operate the lockers and are used for charging us for anything we may buy and any time we take over the allotted two hours (half an hour is added free to allow for changing into and out of swimwear, so it is two hours pool time. Further time is added if the café is used). So after about three hours altogether in various hot spring-water pools, steam rooms, ice room (did not spend much time there!) and the café - for the usual Prosecco - we left feeling very fit and well. It was a sunny day and the daylight on the rooftop pool was dazzling bright when facing the sun, but unlike last time we were there there was no visible vapour rising into the frosty air and we were not terrified of leaving the hot pool when we had had enough!

Why there are no photos inside the spa
We decided that we really needed no lunch between the hotel breakfast and the forthcoming dinner, and we also decided to take the included cream tea early in the afternoon on the last day, after checkout, in lieu of lunch. That would do nicely until the snack on the train heading back towards Birmingham. I had left the schedule empty on the last day so that we could decide what we wanted to do depending on the weather and what we saw advertised, and what we decided to do was to return for another spa session on the last day!



So, back to the hotel for dinner, then sleep and after packing we checked out and left our luggage, returned to Thermae Bath Spa at pretty much the same time as before, but with a coffee break instead of a Prosecco break (the Prosecco had been a mistake, really: caffeine a more appropriate drug at that time of day, although I always say that sparkling wine is the only alcoholic drink that can be taken before noon). After the spa session we returned to the hotel for our cream tea and then had one little task to do, to buy cheese from the amazing specialist cheese shop, before returning for our luggage and taking a convenient train to Bristol to begin the journey home.

Bath Spa station
We had a little while to wait at Bristol and went to Bonapartes bar on platform 3 to await our departure. Although it had a clutch of Cask Marque certificates and four or five real ale pumps, none of them had any ale under them and I was offered some gassy stuff or other, from a tap, which I declined and ordered two halves of Stella Artois: at least that is supposed to be fizzy and cold. It was reassuringly expensive (well, expensive anyway). Our train came, more-or-less on time, and we had a good journey as far as Birmingham. No First Class host on this train, but the Train Manager served us with hot drinks, sandwiches and biscuits and we did not go hungry.


At New Street our departure for home was waiting at the platform, without its engines running, and we boarded in plenty of time. A driver boarded and made several valiant attempts to start the engines, watched by ominous-looking people in overalls on the platform, before the train was declared failed and we were asked to get off. This is where it all unravelled and Cross Country Trains did not make a very good start at dealing with customers: there was no clear plan about how they were going to get us on our way, and for those of us going beyond Leicester (like us) this was the last train of the day. I asked platform staff and was advised to join the train to Leicester, due at another platform in half an hour, and then ask at Leicester - experience tells me they would have ordered taxis, or they may have had a bus put on by then, or even dug out another train and crew. However, after about fifteen minutes it was announced that our train would be departing from the extreme end of the platform we had just left! They had found another train that could be used and there was enough space for it at the platform. We were urged to join it quickly so that it could get away as soon as possible, but the announcer did not seem to realise that it had passengers aboard who had to get off first, so our very haste actually slowed things down as people at the back blocked the way off for those arriving.

The replacement train eventually left almost thirty minutes after our original train was supposed to have departed and the journey actually went quite well in the end, just rather later than planned. A few minutes were made up and we were not too late getting home. I was impressed by the way things were eventually worked out and the problem was solved, but not at all impressed by our unnecessary trip to platform 10 and back, and the worry about how long it would take to get us home from Leicester: while the managers were working out a plan we should have been advised to wait until they knew what would happen. In the event there had been nothing to worry about, but we had been given something to worry about anyway! It was very similar to the situation at Stamford on our departure: the staff on the ground seem to take a pessimistic view of what the railway management are able to achieve when things go wrong, bit my experience in all our travels has been that problems are usually tackled very well - if only the information could be given to passengers, even if it is only, "we're working on it and will let you know shortly," that would make a huge difference.

See my previous trips to Bath at

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Adventures by Bus

Stagecoach Gold bus. Stop buttons, reading lights and USB
sockets are on the back of the seat in front of most passengers
I have always liked travelling by bus. I suppose it takes me back to childhood when every journey anywhere always had to start that way, and probably end that way, too. The vehicles were very different then and buses always carried conductors to collect the fares and look after the passengers. From a practical point of view, it is good to be able to do things while travelling (which I cannot do when I drive my car) and I get a great view from the bus - even single-deckers are higher than most cars. You can read about some bus rides as part of my rail adventures in this blog.
Before we moved to Stamford we did not have a railway station within walking distance, so many of our trips then began with a bus to and ended with a bus from Peterborough. I used to use buses quite a lot then, even for local shopping, even though we were then a two-car family: it is part of the way I prefer to live, only using my car when I really have no other option. On days off I sometimes took a round trip on a rover ticket, visiting both Peterborough and Stamford to do odd tasks and enjoying the scenery on the way. Most bus companies offer “day anywhere” rovers which provide a cheap day out if you’re at a loose end.

Since I acquired my senior concessionary pass the incentive to use buses has grown by the fact that it is free at any time of the day within Lincolnshire, and after the morning peak anywhere else in England. Unlike most day rover tickets it is not restricted to just one bus company.
A couple of recent trips are worth describing (I hope!) for readers’ interest.

The Long Way Round to Kettering


 One Saturday I needed to go to a function in Kettering. Now Kettering is about a 45 minute drive from my home in Stamford but on this particular day the car was not available to me because it was needed elsewhere by the family. I had time to make the trip by bus but only just, and even then I had to use a train for part of the way back because bus services no longer go on late enough. I enjoyed the ride and was in no hurry, but it would have been all the same if I had been!

My bus to Kettering, a Stagecoach Gold X4, was due to leave from Peterborough Queensgate bus station at 13:12, so I left Stamford on Delaine’s 12:00 service 201 which would give me about half-an-hour between buses in Peterborough. I took a packed lunch with me which I intended to eat while sitting at the bus station. Going into Peterborough my bus was delayed by roadworks and then again by cars queuing for access to city-centre car parks - this city desperately needs bus lanes, and I do not understand how it can call itself “environment city” when it is choc-a-bloc with cars! Anyway, in the event I did manage to make the connection but had to eat my lunch while queuing to board the bus rather than in a civilised, leisurely fashion.

The Stagecoach Gold bus was very comfortable and had on-board WiFi and USB ports for device-charging, being intended for lengthy journeys. I sat on the top deck and spent some time catching up on reading some documents I needed for later in the day, combined with some gazing out at the countryside and the towns. The way we passed through Oundle was amazing, a circuit of the town in some residential streets, following Peterborough-bound bus through the market place. Although this is a limited-stop inter-urban route it plainly serves as a local bus service for Oundle, too. In due course the bus arrived at my stop on the road into Kettering - whatever else this service did it dropped me right at the end of the street I needed, and I could not have asked for better than that.


At the end of the day I caught the bus back to Peterborough from the opposite side of the road. This time it was about ten minutes late leaving, but the timetable allows some slack at Corby and the driver also managed to make up some time between towns so that we arrived at Peterborough Queensgate bus station on time. By this time, however, the bus service to Stamford had come to the end of its working day; there are no bus services into the evening in Stamford. The train service goes on for several more hours, though, so I walked across to the rail station and bought a single ticket home to Stamford and travelled back on the train. Total fare, then, for the day's adventure was that of a single for a short train journey at Senior Railcard rate, the bus fares being zero for me as a concessionary pass holder.

Going for a Ride


Free entertainment for senior citizens: bus rides for fun! It is quite possible to set off by bus for an adventure not knowing where you will end up, but with services finishing early in the day in most places (see above!), it is a good idea to have the bus times with you to ensure you get home. Our local operator, Delaine Buses, publishes pdf downloadable timetables on its website, and it is easy to keep those on a smartphone and refer to them as needed. I began my little round trip with the 203 service towards Spalding and got off at Deeping St James where I used to live. I was not sure how much time I wanted to spend there and when I consulted the timetable I realised that there was a bus to Peterborough due from the opposite side of the road in about two minutes, so I thought I'd move straight on with that. Ominously, the bus passed on its way from Peterborough at about the time it should have been at this stop on its way back. It turned up going the right way about fifteen minutes late, having been held up by roadworks in Peterborough. I rode right through to the Queensgate terminus and spent a little while in the shopping centre before having lunch at the brilliant Pizza House in Colgate. Do try it if you are in Peterborough at a mealtime; run by an Italian family this restaurant has been there since I worked in Peterborough in the 1970s and has recently been enlarged by taking over the shop next door to its original premises and knocking them into one.

Market Deeping Market Place seen from the front of
the top deck
After lunch I caught a city bus to a trading estate which I wanted to visit and from there awaited a bus towards Stamford. The roadworks were playing havoc with bus running and the first Delaine bus to come along was for Deeping; a quick look at the timetable on my phone showed that I could connect there for the next bus back to Stamford from Deeping, so stopped the bus and boarded it, spending a pleasant while in a little café in Market Deeping chatting to someone I used to know there long ago. Soon it was time to get my last ride of the day. This bus was the one that schoolchildren use to get home from The Deepings School to Stamford or the villages in between, and there were many children aboard, all of them extremely well-behaved. I was very impressed.

I must plan a proper trip and take a picnic, on a warm sunny day it can be a great day out and the buses stop in some lovely villages on the roads between Stamford and Bourne or Stamford and Peterborough, some of them still having pubs. Even if paying for a rover ticket it is amazing value for money, and for those of us who are old enough, it is a very cheap day out indeed!


Friday, 11 October 2019

Exciting Trip for Next Summer

Edinburgh
Scotland again, but by a very special train this time

I have just taken the plunge and booked a trip through the Scottish Highlands on Belmond's Royal Scotsman, a very special trip to celebrate a special wedding anniversary next summer. I have also booked a couple of night's at the Balmoral Hotel (formerly the North British) adjacent to Edinburgh Waverley from which the tour departs, and our actual anniversary will be spent there, leaving on the Royal Scotsman the day after.

The trip takes in the Kyle of Lochalsh line, the only line out of Inverness that we have yet to travel, so it all fits in nicely. I look forward tremendously to the experience, and to writing about it afterwards.

Meanwhile there will be other journeys and experiences, of course, beginning later this month with another visit to Bath for a session at the Thermae Bath Spa and just to take life easy at the Royal Hotel. We are taking up a special offer of inclusive dinner with wine at no more than the usual bed-and-breakfast rate - and in all our trips to Bath we have never actually had dinner at the hotel before, so that, too, will be a new experience and will make the trip more relaxing, although less adventurous. It is a measure of how popular the hotel restaurant is that I had trouble booking a table several weeks in advance! Also adding to the relaxing feel of the trip is that I have been able to book reasonably-priced First Class seats with Cross Country as far as Bristol. The whole three days will feel like pampering, but at a budget price! I'll write it up as soon as I get the chance.

In December I have the group outing to Canterbury, too, which should be a grand day out.

Nothing is sorted out for next spring yet, and no beach holiday for the summer, so there is some planning yet to do.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Another Group Outing Booked

Southeastern Javelin train arrives at Canterbury
I have just returned from the station with a huge pile of tickets! I have booked the trains for a group of seven to Canterbury for a day in December. High speed trains and the closeness of Kings Cross and St Pancras stations in London mean that a decent day out in Canterbury is now possible from south Lincolnshire without any difficulty. To get a reasonable ticket price (those of us with Senior Railcards are going for under £70) I have split the journey into stages, including First Class on LNER between Peterborough and London. It promises to be a great day, although I hope the weather is better than when we visited Birmingham last winter, when the biting cold and the drizzle stopped just as we were about to board the train home.

If you are interested in my little "friends' days out", so have a look at the "Come with me!" tab at the top of this page.

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 to send 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 eras of British (indeed, English) railways.


Leaving London by train

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.

The train to Davos


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.