Friday 2 September 2022

Strike-dodging in London and Windsor

 A Quick Turn Round

As well as staying occasionally to look after our grandchildren in London when our son and his wife are away, we also sometimes simply stay in their house when all of them are away on holiday. This year much of their holiday in Greece coincided with our on the south coast of England (our holiday had the hotter weather!), but we were back several days before they were, so as there were things we wanted to in London and Windsor we decided to go and stay just the day after we returned from the coast. It was tight but quite feasible, allowing some quick jobs to be done on  the day we were home and then a rapid trip to London for the first night.

The idea was to stay at the house in Shepherds Bush for three nights, tripping out to a couple of things in London on each of the first two days (on one of which the railways, including London Overground would be on strike) and the last of which the Underground would be on strike - although none of the strike days was fixed when we made the arrangement, They were a complications, and didn't quite go to plan, but they did not stop us having a great time!

Our first train, from Stamford to London on a Tuesday evening, was on time and we met at the station, each with our own luggage, as my wife was attending a meeting nearby that finished just before we left. The next train, and LNER express to London from Peterborough, was shown as cancelled following some overhead wire problems much earlier in the day, so I had rapidly booked a couple of seats on the next train to ensure that we could still travel. When we arrived at Peterborough we found that this train was heavily delayed and that another one would leave before that, so again, I started to book seats on that one ... while I was doing so, completely unannounced and unexpected a LNER train arrived at the platform heading south. I asked the Train Manager, who was standing at a nearby door, if the train was going to London and if we could board and he assured it was and we could so we did and found a couple of handy seats together, too. The train had come from Edinburgh and to this day I am convinced it was the one we were first booked to travel on and which was supposed to have been cancelled. Whatever, as far as LNER was concerned we had been inconvenienced and by the time we arrived in London the Delay Repay compensation had already been sent to my credit card account: I wouldn't have applied for it as we were hardly late at all as it happened, but I was signed up for automatic Delay Repay and they just sent it! We were soon in our temporary home and asleep awaiting the first outings of our visit to London.

Unusual National Trust Destinations

After breakfast at home we took the Hammersmith & City line back to Kings Cross to take a bus to Homerton. We were en route to visit the only National Trust scrapyard that I'm aware of! It is Sutton House and Breakers Yard, a historic house with a long and complex history including having been used as a squat in the twentieth century and whose garden was at one stage a yard for the breaking up of vehicles. Visits are by guided tour by appointment (self-guided at weekends) and it has a wealth of history - the National Trust website is the place to go for information - much of which has been preserved by accident. We arrived too early for our booked tour and took coffee at a corner coffee house not far away and found, almost by accident, my mother-in-law's secondary school to which she must have travelled daily from Bethnal Green, quite a trek.

We had "pencilled in" a visit to "Superbloom" at the Tower of London moat but had not booked ahead because after the very hot, dry summer we were not at all sure it would be worth a visit this year. We took a bus from Hackney to Aldwych and then walked to the Tower and ascertained that it was indeed "past it" for this year and resolved to visit at some time in the future. This is a project with no termination date, designed to provide a home for insects and other wildlife in the heart of London where there had been only grass before. A path meanders through the planting and I am sure that in wetter years it will be a splendid sight in late spring and early summer. I look forward to it.

Having decided not to visit Superbloom we had time to spare, and another unusual National Trust property sprang to mind, The George Inn, a pub in Borough High Street, the last remaining timber galleried inn in London. It is a fully-functioning public house with a decent range of real ales and all that you would expect of a city public house. They also do decent meals and so we had our lunch there, accompanied by a pint of Greene King Abbot Ale. I actually walked right past The George on a previous visit to Borough High Street without noticing it because I was looking for something else and The George is barely visible from the street, hiding behind other buildings until you walk into its forecourt.

That evening we watched the Netflix film, "The Dig," a  dramatisation of the discovery and excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial just before the start of the Second World War. Sutton Hoo is a National Trust site and has only recently become a really good visitor experience and when we visited a few weeks before (a rare outing by car, so it will not be appearing in this weblog!), we heard about the film and were now able to see it at our son's home using his Netflix account, having no pay TV channels ourselves, we so rarely watch any TV. This set the scene for the following day's first activity!

British Museum and Marble Hill House

At Sutton Hoo, which is in Suffolk, near Woodbridge, you can see the site of the ship burial and other royal burial mounds and you can visit the home of the landowner of the time, Edith Pretty, and learn about the discovery of the astounding Anglo-Saxon burial chamber. You can only see replicas of the actual artefacts found there, though, as the originals were given by Mrs Pretty to the British Museum so that they could be conserved and seen by the greatest number of people, this being a find of international significance. the Sutton Hoo display at the British Museum was our first destination (after coffee at a nearby coffee shop, of course) on the Thursday morning. We did not stay to look at anything else in this vast museum which we have visited on other occasions. Indeed, we had seen the Sutton Hoo discoveries before but they meant much less to us until we had visited the site of the discovery.

From there we tried out the new Elizabeth Line from Tottenham Court Road to Paddington, and then the District Line out to Richmond to visit Marble Hill House which had been closed for conservation work
last time we were visiting historic houses in that part of London. The Elizabeth Line is very impressive although we need to work out a more efficient way of getting from its platforms at Paddington to the District Line platforms. Marble Hill House had been the Georgian home of courtier Henrietta Howard, a woman who made her way in what was very much a man's world in her time. We had lunch at a fabulous little Italian restaurant in Richmond before we walked to Marble Hill, and after a cup of tea there we took the bus back to Richmond and then the District Line back to Hammersmith from where we walked home to Shepherds Bush. We had been on a journey of discovery around the homes of two very different women who had come to be landowners and homeowners in times when this was not common for women. It had been good to do.

Windsor, the Coronation Dress and Robe of State

Thursday had been the day of a rail strike and this had had slight repercussions for the extremities of the District Line which share tracks with London Overground, a national rail service affected by strike action, but thus had not affected our travel more than a little. Friday, though, was the day of an Underground strike and many local buses in west London were also subject to strike action. I had planned the trip to Windsor on the Friday because Friday was not a national rail strike day and the expectation was that by the time we would be travelling the Overground and Southwestern Railway would both be running almost normally. It unravelled a bit when we turned up (early, just in case) at Shepherds Bush station to see that trains to Clapham Junction were running to time, only to see "On time" replaced by "Cancelled" not only for the next train, but also for the one ten minutes later and the one after that, so we left the station and scrambled, along with a trainload of other people, onto a bus for Clapham Junction. It was crowded but we got there, and the bus, one of the few running in that part of London, made good time through the streets and we arrived at the Junction in time to catch the train we had originally planned to take.

Given that we had to go home that evening and were not yet sure how we were going to manage it, we decided not to make too much of a day in Windsor and went straight to the castle some fifty minutes ahead of our booked time. No-one cared at all about the time printed on our tickets, or even looked at it, and we went straight in. Coffee (with Platinum Pudding and the Platinum variation on Victoria Sponge!) came first and sustained us the for the day.

The main purpose of the trip to Windsor was to see Her Majesty the Queen's Coronation Dress and Robe of State which were part of a special exhibition for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. No special ticket was required, though, as a simple admission ticket to the Castle included the special exhibition as part of the normal tour of the state rooms. While there we enjoyed a visit to the model house designed by Edwin Lutyens and given to Queen Mary and known as her "doll's house" but in fact is a celebration of British domestic architecture, design and technology and to me as both a modeller and an enthusiast of twentieth-century design was absolutely fascinating.

The Queen's Coronation Dress and Robe were displayed along with much reading material and photographs showing their design and manufacture as well as a lot of information about the coronation itself. I am old enough to remember the Queen as a young monarch but was unborn at the time of her coronation and to see in close-up these impressive garments which I had previously seen only in grainy old TV images was well worth all the trouble taken in coming to see them in these difficult days.

As soon as we were finished at the castle we made our way back to Riverside station to begin the journey back to London. All went well this time, the Overground having resumed normal service with our connection at Clapham Junction for Shepherds Bush working as it should have done. Back to the house, then to pick up our luggage and see about getting home to Lincolnshire! The intention had been to overlap with our son and his family as they returned from Greece, but we dared not wait around in case of difficulty, and in any case their flight was delayed so they were unlikely to be home before our train back. With the Underground not operating because of the strike, we took the Overground from Shepherds Bush again, this time heading north and via the former North London Line to Camden Road station from where we were easily able to walk in good time to Kings Cross for our train to Peterborough: indeed we had enough time to go via Mornington Crescent to enjoy the splendid art deco former Carreras factory and still visit Fortnum and Mason at St Pancras to stock up on their St Pancras Blend tea which we love but can only buy there.

The LNER rain to Peterborough ran on time and with the usual standard of catering, but our journey home crashed to a halt at Peterborough when trains to Stamford just seemed to have disappeared. They were not listed as cancelled like the morning Overground services had been; they just were not listed at all, on the live train times app or on the station departure lists. Staff at Peterborough station were totally unhelpful saying that Cross Country had only un about three or four trains all day and had not made any arrangements for intending passengers. While we expect some disruption the morning after a strike (as with the Overground), this was mid-evening and it should have been fairly normal by now. Annoyingly, if we had taken a LNER train just half an hour earlier (and we did have time!)  we could have caught the once-a-day East Midland Railway train for Nottingham that goes via Stamford ... but we didn't and were stranded, so we took a taxi at our own expense and I have since written to Cross Country to ask for the fare: we shall see how successful that is! At the least I expect the rail fare refunded as they simply did not provide any train at all even though they sold me a ticket dated for that date and time. I am becoming less and less impressed with Cross Country as the days go by; they began so well with our local service, making it far more reliable than it had been and building up usage, but it has been absolutely awful since the pandemic and very difficult to use. For Stamford that is unfortunate as we have no choice, and it is clear they have major problems because customer service is overwhelmed and I do not know whether I shall ever get a response to my demand for compensation. I shall keep up the pressure, though, and whatever happens we did everything we wanted to do and we did get home (no later than if we had waited for the train!) having had something of an adventure, picking our way among the disputes between companies and staff running our transport networks and a government that seems not to care.

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