Thursday 23 November 2023

How to Visit Frankfurt Without Leaving the English Midlands

Day Trip by train to the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market

We have visited a number of Christmas Markets since we began our "adventures" by train a few years ago.  There were the real German ones on the Great Rail Journeys Christmas Markets Rhine Cruise, the big local one in Lincoln and those in Bath and Bristol. I had also taken a group by train to the Birmingham one a little while ago, but it was so cold that day that I did not see much of the Christmas Market that time! The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market lasts almost two months (Lincoln's, now ended, was just two days but was very much bigger), from the beginning of November until Christmas Eve, and occupies New Street and Victoria Square in the heart of the city of Birmingham with German-type stall selling German and German-influenced gifts, food and drink. There is a more locally-inspired market in the Cathedral grounds with smaller stalls selling local crafts, food and drink, and some of the shops join in the Christmas theme or the German theme as well. My wife had never been to the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market but has always been a fan of German culture, and so, Birmingham being an easy trip by train from our home in Stamford we decided to visit it this year. My adventures are having to be a bit simpler at present for health reasons, so a day trip with no change of train fitted the bill nicely: it is quicker and easier to visit Birmingham, several counties away, than to visit our own county town of Lincoln!

Looking at the train timetable and the peak and off-peak fares, it seemed that a good day out, giving enough time for all we wanted to do, could be had by taking the 10:07 train     to Birmingham, returning by the 15:22: if we stayed later than that, the next train on which an off-peak ticket could be used would be the 18:22, three hours later. Looking at our diaries, there were not many days when we could do it! In between our voluntary jobs and our family commitments, and not wanting to leave it to near Christmas we thought that this Tuesday would do nicely and so we kept the date free. I did not actually buy the train tickets until the day so that we could change our minds if the weather forecast were poor.

All was well and we set off for the station. Although I could have bought the tickets at the ticket office for a trip like this, the last two times I had been to the station the ticket office had not been open and so I used the Cross Country Train Tickets iPhone app which gave me our tickets on my smartphone. We had to remember to take our Senior Railcards with us! In the event the ticket office was open, a corollary of which was that the waiting room was also open and heated, which was just as well because the weather in Stamford turned out to be both colder and damper than expected, and the train was late. It had been delayed by "operational issues" around Cambridge or Ely and the slippery rails made making up for lost time impossible. You could hear and feel the wheels slip as the train pulled away from each station. There did not seem to be a catering trolley on the train, but our intention in any case was to have coffee in Birmingham.

Like all east-west lines in central England, this is not a fast line (and not a straight one, either!) but the trains are quite quick, when they can get a grip, and comfortable and the time soon passed. Fifty years ago I used this line to and from university and it was much slower and less comfortable then. We were soon in Birmingham, and New Street station is right in the thick of things in the city centre, so we were straight into the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market. 

We walked along New Street towards Victoria Square, looking cursorily at the stands we passed while seeking an indoor café for our morning coffee. We ended up at Albert's Schloss, and Alpine-inspired restaurant beyond the Town Hall: we had sen this place when we visited Birmingham in the summer but had not been inside. Seeing the menu and enjoying the service and the "German" and "Austrian" atmosphere we thought we'd have to return some time for a meal, but today we wanted to eat from the Frankfurt Christmas Market - it would have to be a frankfurter, wouldn't it?

We looked around the food and drink outlets in Victoria Square and decided where our frankfurters would be bought at lunchtime and then walked off to the Cathedral grounds where there were smaller stands selling more local things, and we bought a glass Christmas tree decoration from a local craftswoman before returning to Victoria Square for lunch, "serenaded" by a singer singing many of the usual Christmas pop songs. It was all very atmospheric, and although it did remind us of our time in the real German Christmas markets a couple of years ago it was a very English interpretation! After our sausages we moved on to gluhwein. The bar we chose served gluhwein in very good glass mugs, for which we had to pay a hefty deposit, so it was much easier to drink than in thin wine glasses too hot to hold. We could take our time drinking it and then we moved on to New Street, buying some chocolate-covered marshmallow on the way. 

We walked the length of New Street, studying the stalls in much more detail now. These are much bigger than the stall you find at most Christmas markets and sell a wide range of goods as well as a lot of German and German-inspired food and drink. We had all we now wanted to buy from the market and were close to the Bull Ring shopping centre, so we paid a brief visit to Selfridges and Marks & Spencer and then it was time to make our way to New Street station to take our train back to Stamford. We bought take-away coffee at the station and it was just as well because there did not seem to be a refreshment trolley on the train home either! If these facilities are not reliable they will be underused because we shall all make other arrangements and buy little if anything from the trolley on the train. We found some good seats together again and had a comfortable ride home, leaving Birmingham on time but arriving in Stamford a couple of minutes late.

It had been a really good day out and we needed very little for supper after our small but sustaining "German" feast at lunchtime. The train to and from Birmingham really is very convenient for us and everything is so close to New Street station that a day out is so easy. We really must do it again.

There is, of course, no other city like London, but when I look at Birmingham now it is so much more London-like than it ever was fifty years ago when I was studying there and it felt like an overgrown market town. I am not sure that the city has caught up with its own new image, though, and it does not live up to its Second City status as I think it could. I intend to return in the spring or summer to hear a concert at its world-class Symphony Hall and, if it is open after its repairs and refurbishment, visit to world-class Museum and Art Gallery, too.

Birmingham Pins

Monday 20 November 2023

Leicester Feels a Bit Closer Than It Did

A train trip we now do rather more often

The train operating companies, and indeed the Government, talk about "changed travel patterns" since the pandemic as a reason an excuse to adjust cut train services, but for me there are two reasons why my travel patterns have changed since the pandemic: one is that train services have been cut and I cannot travel on trains that don't run (!) so I have to travel at other times or even, if I cannot change my timing, drive my car (which makes them think I am not travelling and reinforces the cut). The other is that some shops did not reopen after the lockdowns, among them our nearest department store, John Lewis in Peterborough. There are now very few shops in Peterborough that are any use to me at all and for major comparison shopping I now have to look to Leicester, so my "changed travel pattern" now includes getting a train to Leicester and back for shopping rather than to Peterborough and back - a much longer journey at a higher fare, so the Cross Country train operating company does rather better from me than it did ... Fortunately the withdrawn train services do not affect a day trip to Leicester.

The starter!
Most recently my wife and I took the train to Leicester to visit John Lewis in order to research induction hobs in preparation for a kitchen refurbishment at home. We caught the 11:07 Cross Country train from Stamford to Leicester and walked straight through the city centre to the department store where we had some excellent advice from a young salesman and made some notes (basically photographing the information labels on the devices that interested us!). On previous shopping trips by train to Leicester we have had coffee and/or lunch at the Merchant of Venice restaurant opposite the station, but this time we discovered that they had opened another branch at the other side of the city centre, near to where we were shopping, so we tried that instead for our lunch. It had the same quirky atmosphere, an Italian restaurant and coffee shop with a Shakespeare theme, even down to having a table with swinging seats in the front window - which we just had to try after using them at the original branch.

Main courses
The walk back to the railway station was essential to walk off the lunch, the starter for which was as big as some main course: it was as well that we were sharing the starter.

And so to the train home. The train rides each way were unremarkable, which for a trip such as this is all we require, really. Cross Country have acquired more centre cars for the Turbostar trains they use on this route, so there is now usually plenty of space, and although the trains are beginning to show signs of wear after a busy life the seats are still comfortable, the heating and air conditioning still works well and the refreshment trolley service is still operating. Timekeeping could be a bit better but the trains are often on time and seldom more than a couple of minutes late, so it could not be a lot better.

And now today the kitchen refurbishment begins. We have not actually chosen the induction hob yet because we need to take advice from the kitchen fitter once he has the worktop removed and can see how much clearance he has above the built-in oven below where the hob is to be installed. But at least we know what the range is and where to order it once the decision is made. The gas fitter arrives this afternoon (pity: it should be on a Monday morning that the gas man comes to call ...) to disconnect the gas hob. Then as soon as we approach the end of our energy contract we can have the gas supply removed and stop paying the standing charge. This will be the first time in my life that I have been without a gas connection.

Monday 6 November 2023

Delays and Cancellations - and that's just me ....

Severn Valley Railway

By this time of the year I usually have a few winter trips arranged and one or two in the summer and autumn of next year, too. This time I only have one booking in the diary, a Great Rail Journeys escorted tour in Switzerland by way of celebrating my forthcoming 70th Birthday (although it will take place some months after the date, which is just as well in the circumstances). I write from a Thameslink train on my next adventure, for which I bought the tickets on departure, and we are planning a visit to the Birmingham Christmas Market but do not yet have a date. The vagueness in the planning is a result of some medical issues I am currently experiencing, but the way forward is now a little clearer and I hope that some plans will soon take shape. I have been a little cautious about announcing any group days out until I know my own availability and until the industrial relations in the rail industry become more stable, hopefully soon.

Meanwhile a recent road trip did include a day exploring the magnificent Severn Valley Railway, so I'll take the opportunity of my current train ride to bring the blog up to date with a description of the day on the SVR.

The Severn Valley Railway Adventure began with the Market Deeping Model Railway Club's annual summer lunch party at which a raffle was held and my ticket was drawn. One of our members had a couple of shareholders' First Class Freedom of the Line ticket vouchers left which he would be unable to use and had given them as a prize in the raffle, and they were still available when I went to claim my prize ... 

We were staying in a Premier Inn in former industrial premises in the centre of Kidderminster and walked across the town centre to Kidderminster station on the Severn Valley Railway on a sunny autumn morning, via breakfast at Caffè Nero. The idea was to catch the first SVR train of the day to the other end of the line at Bridgnorth and then wander back to Kidderminster on various trains, ending with the penultimate train of the day in order to allow some slack in case of a problem: with our car parked in Kidderminster we had to be back there in order to get home. At Kidderminster we went to the ticket office window of the Severn Valley Railway station with our Freedom of the Line vouchers which were converted into First Class tickets by the simple process of stamping them with the date. The first train of the day according to the timetable was at 10:00, but while I was having the tickets stamped an announcement was made that there would be an additional train at 09:40: experience had shown that he first train of the day was overcrowded so by adding an extra one twenty minutes earlier they were more easily able to cater for the crowds - a Good Sign. We boarded the train, composed of 1940s-50s maroon coaches hauled by a BR standard steam locomotive, the sort of train that would have been the latest technology when I was a toddler travelling with my parents! We sat in the buffet car (which was not serving: we'd have had to travel in the scheduled 10:00 train for that, but we'd just had breakfast so that was OK) and we almost had the space to ourselves.

At Bridgnorth I watched the locomotive run round the train for its (unscheduled extra) trip back to Kidderminster and then we walked into the town to explore. There we had coffee and visited the local museum. We had been to Bridgnorth before and did not need to see much, and had plenty of time for what we did do! Back at the station there was time to buy a pint and crisps before boarding our next train: the plan was to visit most of the stations on the line by travelling back and forth, also using most of the vintage trains that were in use that day. One of the great things about the Severn Valley Railway is that it has several complete rakes of coaches of more-or-less matching vintage and style, so it is not simply a steam locomotive with random coaches. We drank our beer and ate our crisps on this train, which took us to Arley, a two-platform country station on the river bank.

At Arley we had (just!) enough time for a country walk to see Victoria Bridge, an impressive cast-iron bridge which carries the Severn Valley Railway over the River Severn, which we remember seeing used as a Scottish bridge in the film The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Back at Arley station we caught the next train back to Highley, a delightful country station where for those who have more time there is an opportunity to visit the locomotives and other historic items on display nearby. Here there was a short shower of heavy rain for our visit, and the station is not blessed with a lot of shelter, but there was just enough for the crowds awaiting the next train, and the rain soon stopped. From there we took the train to Bewdley, where we had allowed ourselves a bit of time to explore. Being honest, arriving at 15:47 the exploration consisted almost entirely of selecting a place for tea and cake and consuming it (The Courtyard Bar - stunning cakes and friendly service, and on the Severn riverside). I could imagine that in summer this would be a glorious place to spend some time at the riverside bars and restaurants. We walked back to Bewdley station to await our last train of the day, back to Kidderminster.

It is a short ride from Bewdley (once the southern terminus of the Severn Valley Railway until the station at Kidderminster was built), past the West Midlands Safari Park with some of its exotic animals visible,  to the SVR terminus at Kidderminster. We had had a wonderful autumnal day out which had mostly felt like summer, if a little cool, and with just one short shower. The Severn Valley Railway was as busy as ever, with a decent service of interesting vintage trains and good service at its many refreshment facilities, and the Severn Valley countryside and the town and villages were wonderful to visit. I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Severn Valley Railway: by rail to Kidderminster it is an easy day trip from much of England and Wales, or makes an easy day excursion from Birmingham (trains from Moor Street or Snow Hill) as part of a longer break.

Thursday 14 September 2023

The Italian Lake District

Lake Maggiore by Train via London and Colmar

Our third (and possibly last) holiday based in Italy was booked almost as soon as we were home from the previous one, and again it was a Great Rail Journeys escorted tour. They offer a selection of holidays by train in the Italian Lakes but the one that stood out for us was a week or so in Stresa, on Lake Maggiore, because it included a trip on the Centovalli Railway which we had done once before in poor weather and wanted to visit again in the summer. It also included a stopover in Colmar (where we have stopped before and enjoyed) on the way there and Dijon (which we have never seen before) on the way back. It also included quite a lot of free time and would therefore be quite a relaxing holiday as well as a further exploration of Italy and eastern France. And although we would not be stopping there, a passage through the Alps would be good to do in a year in which, for once, we had not visited Switzerland!

We had tolerated a cool, fairy wet, summer and had been looking forward to getting away to some sunshine, and as we were about to leave the sunshine suddenly resumed, temperatures rose and England started enjoying summer at last, although, if anything, it was a bit too hot and we began to look forward to the slightly lower temperatures on the lake shore in Italy!

We began with London, as always when bound for the continent, but this time instead of going late in the day (Sunday, when we have no local trains until lunch time) simply to stay overnight we went earlier so that we could take the chance to see the King's and Queen's coronation robes on display at Buckingham Palace. In order to fit this in we asked both of our sons for favours: one to drive us to Peterborough to catch a Sunday morning train to London, and the other, in London, to look after our baggage while we visited the palace: it is always nice to see the family anyway, especially those in London whom we see only occasionally.

We had our usual breakfast at home before leaving by car for Peterborough station, but on boarding the train the smell of bacon rolls required me to have another breakfast on board the train! With orange juice and coffee this was a very satisfying start to the day. Sunday engineering work had closed the Hammersmith & City Line, so our journey to Shepherd's Bush for the personal left-luggage facility was more complicated than usual, but the Underground still delivered and we arrived there via a short visit to the Westfield shops where my wife had some pending business ...

Free of encumbrances, then, we made our way to Buckingham Palace, via an ice-cream break in The Green Park, and although we were half an hour early for our ticket time we were admitted and after the security check we were handed our audio-visual personal guides and began the tour of the Palace state rooms, which included the coronation robes displayed in the ballroom and quite a lot of information about the coronation service, the work of the monarchy and the life of King Charles III. It was all very well done but slightly amusing that the commentary spoke several times about what His Majesty normally or usually does each year, but he has not been doing it for a year yet! Clearly it is a description of what the monarch normally does, based upon what Queen Elizabeth II had established and often what the King has done just once.

We had tea with cake and sandwiches before leaving the Palace and returning to our son's home. We stayed a short while and took up their offer of dinner, although we did not need a lot after our royal tea.

For our overnight accommodation in London we try to get as close as possible to St Pancras International station and have often stayed in the Premier Inn opposite the British Library in Euston Road, but even the Premier Inn can be expensive in central London, so this time we tried The Hub (by Premier Inn), an even more budget hotel, and slightly further away, on York Way, east of Kings Cross station. Our room was two floors below street level but it had all we needed just for a night's sleep: a bed and an ensuite shower/wc, with space beneath the bed for two cases. There were mains and USB sockets for charging our devices (interestingly, continental as well as UK mains sockets), air-conditioning (no window, of course) and huge towels. We did not book breakfast and from getting up on Monday at 6am we were at St Pancras, after a ten-minute walk, just after 6.30 to check in with our tour manager before making our way to the Eurostar departure area.

I could not believe how efficient the operation at St Pancras had become! There was no queue at the ticket gates and I was caught off guard, not having bothered to have my ticket ready because I am used to taking five minutes to get to the barrier: still, with no-one behind me it did not matter that I had to ferret for my ticket before scanning it at the barrier. The security check was only slow owing to the need to put all my metal stuff, including my belt, onto the tray and then take it all back again after passing through the scanner. Then before I has time to get my passport ready I was being ushered towards the UK border post, fumbling now for my passport, for there had always been a queue here in the last few years, plenty of time to get ones passport ready. Once through the UK check at least I was now ready for the French border police who inspected and stamped my passport quickly and efficiently All done in less than ten minutes from turning up to being ready to go - with still an hour before departure. My wife had come through even faster and had found a couple of seats in the waiting area and then I went to buy coffee and we had our first breakfast: coffee and the apples we had brought from home, and in my case a croissant from the coffee shop.

We made our way early to the travelator up to the platforms, our tour manager having had a tip-off about the platform number. We were the first people up to the platform when the train was announced: never done that before, although we have been the first off when arriving.The train left London on time and our second breakfast was soon served, the usual Eurostar light meal on an early train, included in the price of our Standard Premier tickets. Engineering work in France made us just a few moments late into Paris, but that was not significant as we had a couple of hours there to walk to Gare de L'Est, have some lunch and board the train to Colmar where we were to spend the first night of the escorted tour. 

Bob the tour manager asked me to walk at the back of the group as I happened to have hat like his and he would know where the rear of the group was if he looked back and saw me, and he could tell the group to stay between the two hats! I have been chosen for many things in my life, some more pleasurable than others, but this is the first time that my headgear has been the criterion of selection ...

The TGV to Colmar was very comfortable, as TGVs generally are, but it was very disappointing that the bar car was not open ("il y a une problème"), so no after-lunch coffee. Colmar is a place we have stopped overnight a few times before, and it was good to have a chance to walk round for a bit before dinner. Just as on the last few visits the weather was very hot. In one shop we even managed to do a very little very early Christmas shopping! Colmar is a lovely town, and one of the great benefits of overland international travel over flying is that you do get the chance to see other interesting places on the way to you main destination.

Dinner, a good night's sleep and a decent breakfast completed our stay in Colmar and then we met the rest of the group and crossed the road to the railway station for the train into Switzerland on Tuesday morning. This was a local train to Basel (Bâle in French) and we were all together in the First Class coach at the rear of the train. We had about an hour between trains at Basel, a station we have used several times in the past, both on group tours and on our own: it is really two stations in one, a French section and s Swiss section. We sat in the sun for a while outside the station and then joined the next train which would take us on through Switzerland to Domodossola in Italy. The original plan has been to stay on this train all the way to Stresa, but engineering work on the line had cut this particular train service short and so we had to take a coach for the few kilometres to our hotel on the lake shore in Stresa, but not before we had seen the beautiful Swiss Alps and several towns we have visited in the past, including Brig which was our first Alpine destination almost ten years ago.

We had a beautiful hotel room on an upper floor with a balcony (where I am sitting typing this post!) overlooking Lake Maggiore and the islands we would be visiting the following day. We went for a walk around the town and then returned for a shower and dinner with the rest of the group at the hotel. And so to bed. It had been a fairly murky evening after a sunny day, but the sky was beginning to clear by sunset and held some promise for the morning, but with very thick curtains to our room we would not see the weather until we opened them after a good night's sleep ...

Dazzling Sun, and A Dazzling Palace

Our room had very thick curtains and when we finally awoke, on our alarm at 07:30 on Wednesday I opened the curtains and immediately had to close my eyes and back off as the sun was shockingly bright, straight across Lake Maggiore and into my face! Once I had recovered my composure and my eyes had adapted to the light I could see that it was a wonderful sunny morning and a brilliant day was beginning. 

The morning and early afternoon were completely free and so after breakfast I spent some time in the morning writing my weblog on the balcony and then we walked into town again did some of the Town Trail of interesting buildings, with a stop for a gelato at a place where we bought one last time we were in Stresa, but to be honest, not many of the buildings were particularly interesting ... then we sat by the poolside (or, rather, I did: Alison swam, after much grimacing at the cold, in the pool) at the hotel until it was time to get showered and dressed ready for our first included excursion.

We all gathered in the hotel reception and Bob the tour manager led us out to the landing stage opposite the hotel where, a few moments later, a hired launch arrived to take us to Isola Pescatori for a brief visit - we had been there before for a slightly longer visit, but it was good to see it again - and then we were taken by another launch across to Isola Bella, the island we could see from our balcony and which we had never visited before. Isola Bella is the island on which the Borromean Palace stands. We had a swift guided tour around tha palace, which is still in use by the Borromeo family and in which the current Princess was actually in residence when we visited. The place was stunning. Buckingham Palace was still in our minds as we had been there just a couple of days before, but although the Borromean Palace was a lot smaller it beats anything else I have ever seen for decoration - except possibly some of the rooms at Burghley House ...

After the tour of the palace we visited its gardens and were served Prosecco and nibbles there before returning by another boat to our hotel for a later dinner and straight to bed to recover from the day: it did not seem that we had done a lot, but it all added up to some miles of walking and a lot of sunshine.

Freedom and Adventure

Normally on a Great Rail Journeys tour the free days are interspersed among days with included activities but for various reasons of non-availability on certain days it turned out that our two completely free days fell together, and immediately followed the first full day in Stresa when there had been only the island tour beginning late in the afternoon. Unfortunate in some ways but a free day is a free day and there was plenty we could do to fill them, or we could sit and do very little as I had tried in vain to do on Wednesday morning! We had toyed with the idea of visiting another lake, but the railway works which had caused us to use road transport for the last stretch to Stresa would also make reaching another lake rather long-winded, and in any case, there is much to see around Lake Maggiore without travelling so far. We decided to go to Verbania, the largest town on the lake and just across from our hotel. It could be reached easily by public boat service, by bus or, according to the timetable, by train. We decided to take the train, although I soon realised from the map that Verbania station was some kilometres from the town centre, indeed from the town, and even then I was daft enough to buy return tickets ...

Stresa station was about a ten-minute uphill walk from the hotel, pleasant enough, and although a little tatty in places with a faded splendour, a nice little station. We bought our tickets and went via the subway to the opposite platform to await the train. With a minute to go I remembered that the tickets had to be validated before travel so I nipped back and inserted them in the validation machine and returned to the platform just as the train was drawing in. No-one checked the tickets in any case.  Our train was a semi-fast from Arona to Domodossala, the first stop being Verbania. The station there was modern and pleasant but now we needed a bus to the town. Apple maps showed a bus stop on the main road nearby with a bus in a few minutes' time. It took a while to find the stop, but find it we did: nowhere to stand but the newly-mown verge (which must have resembled a meadow before mowing. The bus picked us up and then took us via a stop right adjacent to the railway station, but on the other side of the tracks and which we had not noticed, and would have been much more convenient. It was about twenty minutes into town and we were pleased we had not attempted to walk. We were already beginning to reassess the value of the return halves of our train tickets, the distance from the station to Verbania being roughly the same as the distance we had travelled on the train! I am not complaining: this is supposed to be an adventure, and an adventure it was! 

We had coffee at a café at the town hall and then went for a long walk along the lake shore, enjoyed a cold lemon drink overlooking the lake and then walked back into the centre of Verbania for a gelato and a bus back to Stresa. For our evening meal we had promised ourselves a cocktail and a pizza at a lakeside pizzeria near our hotel and that was what we did. While we were there two other pairs of people from our Great Rail Journeys group turned up, and we had seen another couple there earlier in the day. I hope they all liked it as much as I did. A good meal for two, with cocktails and coffee, €53.00, that's under £50: brilliant.

Friday was the last of the free days and we had decided to take a bus in the other direction to Arona, farther south along the lake. Buses around Stresa were not a big tourist thing and it was not easy to find all the information we needed; stops were not always easy to find and the online data available to Apple Maps and CityMapper, our usual public transport information sources, was patchy and difficult to understand, but we were able to get a timetable and information from the tourist office. The buses were actually quite useful once we found them and stops included one at the rail station (we'd alighted there on our way home from Verbania) and one by the lake boat terminal, so there was some effort at integration, but not a lot. After a quick look around Stresa Friday market, we waited at the (unmarked) stop by the boat terminal, soon encouraged by local people turning up to wait for the bus, too. It was a little late which would have made us concerned if it had not been for the others at the stop. The vehicle was more like a coach than a bus and was very comfortable. Like the buses we had used the day before, they did not take card payment as we were used to in Britain, but only cash, although they did offer change so were able to pay with no difficulty.

Arrival in Arona was by the rail station in the centre of the town, by the boat terminal there, where there was also a tourist office where we were able to pick up a map of the town. Again we walked along the lake shore and stopped for our morning coffee at a little restaurant that was just opening for the day. We decided that from there we would walk up to the statue (described as a "colossus"!) of St Charles Borromeo, a member of the ruling Borromeo family who had become a Cardinal and Archbishop of the Counter-Reformation and was very popular locally. When you read of his reforms to the Church in his diocese you wonder if he had come a little earlier in history the Reformation, with its great divisions in the Church, might never have happened. It was a long, uphill walk to the church and the great statue, sometimes along the roadside, sometimes a long stepped footpath, sometimes on the road itself. It was hot and sunny, but we got there! Apparently this is second in size only to the Statue of Liberty in New York of the type of statue that one can climb up inside: I did not try that ...  We returned to Arona town centre by a different route which was a lot easier going but just as hot and sunny and with much more walking on the carriageway. On arrival in the town a gelato was the most urgent thing to find, and we sat looking over the lake and recovered from our exertions of the morning before taking the bus back to Stresa - once we had found it! We  knew it would go from the rail station forecourt but did not really know exactly where: a bus in the right livery stood among about ten others but with its engine running, so we walked to the front and saw that the destination was, among other places, Stresa, and the door was open. So we asked the driver, paid him and sat down. About three local people were already aboard and one more joined us. It was not at a bus stop but just among a pack of coaches and would have been easy to miss! The adventure continued ... back in Stresa we bought salad and fruit for our evening meal at our room and one to relax. We would be up a little earlier the next day for what would be, for me, the centrepiece of this exciting holiday.

The Centovalli Line in Sunshine at Last - and in Its Centenary Year

We last rode the Centovalli Line almost ten years ago, but it was in winter and on a wet and murky day. Winter is not a bad time to travel a scenic line, actually, when the deciduous trees are bare and there might be snow highlighting some features, but the rain and mist were, well, a dampener. We looked at doing it again one summer but on that particular day the forecast, although warmer, was not much sunnier, so we didn't even try. Third time lucky: the inclusion of this scenic line in Great Rail Journeys' itinerary for this holiday was one of our reasons for booking it, and it was sunny. Along with the rest of the group we walked up to the station from the hotel and awaited a train to Domodossala where we had just under an hour before taking the Centovalli Line train, just right for the morning coffee break. The station buffet operated the traditional Italian coffee bar system where you pay at the till and take the receipt to the barista who then makes the drinks listed on the receipt. We had become used to the concept on out earlier visits to Rome and other cities, but it was the first time we had come across it on this trip, the first time, I suppose, that we had been at a bar not specifically aimed at foreigners. The entire transaction was conducted in Italian; we are getting there.

The group had a block of seating reserved on the Centovalli train, Second Class in this case: I suspect there would not have been enough First Class seating on the four-coach multiple unit that comprised this train. It is a two-hour ride to Locarno on the express service we were on, and it is scenic for all but the first and last couple of kilometres. I did not take photographs because they would never do justice to the scenery: if you want to see it you'll have to travel the line yourself, well worth doing!

There was a party atmosphere in Locarno when we arrived, with a large music festival happening in the streets, a sort of urban Glastonbury.
Above: Locarno market place this summer
Right: Locarno market place on our previous visit

In Locarno we revisited the pizzeria Al Portico where we had had lunch the last time we were there, but this time we could speak to the staff in Italian. On my iPhone I showed the waitress my blog post with a photograph of the restaurant. It had barely changed, although we did notice that the menu now had a German translation of each item - not that that was any use to me. By the time we had eaten our salads and enjoyed the coffee it was the to wander back to the rendezvous with the group to await the boat ride back to Stresa. Our tour manager was keen to ensure that we boarded the boat fairly early in order to give us the best choice of seating, and as it was so hot and sunny we chose a shaded area on deck, bt eventually moved under cover with an iced drink from the on-board bar. It was a three-hour journey back to Stresa, the boat calling at several places on both sides of the lake on the way, including two stops in Verbania, which it was nice to see again from a different angle. By then the sun was much lower in the sky (we arrived at Stresa at seven o'clock), so we were out on the sundeck for the last part of the voyage, from which we could see the side of the Borromean Islands that we not visible from Stresa, and could spot our hotel among the buildings as we approached the town. Dinner was back at the hotel after a very quick shower.

Another Lake

Sunday dawned with another sunny morning but we had a chance to recover from the three preceding days' adventures in the heat as the included tour to Lago Orta did not start until 13:30. After a snack lunch in our room we joined the rest of the party for the coach trip to the small town of Orta San Giulio: it was not far as the crow flies, but was in the next valley and so further by road (and would have been even further by rail!). From the coach park we took a little road train down to the town centre and lake shore where we had a few minutes (another gelato stop!) before we all boarded a boat to visit the tiny island of San Giulio on which stands a church founded by Saint Julius and in which his body is buried. The church is beautifully decorated with wall paintings throughout and well worth a visit. The island is densely packed with homes and a large Benedictine convent and there is a walk around the island, the "Walk of Silence" in one direction, with plaques about the value of silence, and the "Walk of Meditation" in the other direction with plaques of platitudes which really did not make a lot of sense to me. Either way round, though, and we had ample time to do both, was a very pleasant walk. Lake Orta itself is much smaller than Lake Maggiore, much more the size of the lakes we know in England and Scotland. The boat to the island took us the long way round so that we could see something of the lake and the island's numerous boathouses where the residents keep their boats. The boat back took the shortest route and we were soon walking back to the little road train and our coach back to the hotel for dinner and bed.

Food and Wine

Bob the tour manager had warned us to have a light breakfast on Monday morning because we would be fed amply during the day! It was quite a long day out by coach into a wine-producing area some way south of Lake Maggiore, and began with a visit to Ghemme, including a tour of the Rovellotti winery, which must be unique, followed by a tasting, with accompanying nibbles. The winery is situated in the town centre in a collection of building which began as a fortress in which the citizens could try to hold out in the event of an attack on the their town when it was situated between two warring dukedoms but which become surplus to defensive requirements when peace broke out between those families. We were shown around by a young member of the Rovellotti family who have had premises in the former fortress since its founding in the medieval period Two generations of the family and a couple of other employees currently run the wine-making business and we sampled four varying wines accompanied by light bites to suit them - trying to keep consumption of food as low as possible because of what was to follow ... but needing something to stop this being nothing but wine, and before noon, too!

This followed by a drive through the countryside (which was possibly gorgeous but most of us slept through most of it after all that wine) and lunch, a generous lunch, with wine, at Cascina Monchucchetto, an agriturismo even farther south. The views from the agriturismo were fantastic but it was so hot in the sun that we did not want to enjoy the sun for long. It was necessary to go a bit steady on the food and wine as well after the morning's indulgences at the winery. No dinner was necessary that evening.

We spent some time that evening packing our bags, for this was our last night in Stresa: the next day we would begin the journey homeward, and although it would be quite possible to get home in one day (as we have done from, say, Neuchâtel when travelling on our own), we still had one more interesting place to see.


We were all taken by coach with our luggage to Stresa railway station where we caught a Geneva-bound express through the Alps to Lausanne where we changed trains for a Paris-bound TGV as far as Dijon, a city we had never visited before. We arrived in Dijon on-time mid-afternoon and after finding our room at the hotel, the Oceania le Jura, a short walk from the rail station, we set off for a stroll in the city centre. We bought a gift, mustard, of course, for our kind neighbours who have kept our plants watered in our absence, and by then a little rain had begun, so we started back in the direction of the hotel, past the miniature version of the Arc de Triomphe which graces the city centre, and went for a drink in the hotel bar. By the time I had ordered the rain was very heavy and we were soon joined by other members of the tour who had baled out of walks around the city centre, looking considerably more bedraggled that we were. Later we heard tales of those who had ventured farther and who developed a sudden need for coffee or for prayer, sheltering in a café or the cathedral ... 

The evening meal was a fixed menu of local specialities at a nearby restaurant and the eggs in a burgundy sauce were especially good in my opinion, as was the cassis-flavoured sorbet with which we finished. Unlimited water, and coffee, were included but we had to buy the wine and I must say that for a cheap house red the wine was magnificent. My opinion of Burgundian cuisine and wine has been enhanced by this visit. We brought a selection of mustards home for ourselves, too.

The rail station at Dijon has a large cylindrical booking hall very reminiscent of Charles Holden's inter-war designs for the London Underground, in white concrete rather than brick as in London. We were back there in the morning to take a TGV train to Paris (it was the same service, earlier in the day, as the one on which we had arrived the previous afternoon from Lausanne). This time we arrived at Gare de Lyon and Great Rail Journeys had provided a coach to take us through the streets to Gare du Nord, where we arrived neatly in time to check in for our Eurostar train to London. By the time we had all been through passport and security checks (and, like London, this all seems to have become much slicker now) it was almost time to board: I don't think I sat down in the departure lounge at all!

Taking a seat on Eurostar now I almost feel like I'm already home even though I still have two more train rides after this one and a time zone to cross! The light meal, lunch to us, was soon served and we had our final conversations with the people who had shared (some of) our adventures of the past week and a half and before we knew it we were in the familiar space of St Pancras station. It was a long walk from the last coach of the train to the exit, but that did mean that we got to enjoy the vast and glorious railway station that London St Pancras has now become. We walked across to Kings Cross and although I had booked seats on a train to Peterborough at 16:06 we had a look at LNER's app and saw that pairs seats were still available on a train that would be leaving in about twenty minutes, and hour earlier than that, so I reserved a pair of seats on that, cancelled the ones I already had and by then its platform was announced and we took our places. Again, a light meal was served, although I kept the pudding course to eat later at home since it did not seem long since Eurostar had fed me! There were only four minutes in the timetable between the arrival of this train at Peterborough and the departure of the train to Stamford, so we knew we might not make that connection. The idea was that we would shop at Waitrose in Stamford if we got it and in Peterborough (it's right by the station) if we didn't! As it happened our train from London slowed down to a crawl on approach to the station and we began to give up hope of getting the tight connection (so tight it was not advertised) but by being first at the door, and choosing a door near the footbridge steps we were able to get over the bridge and be going onto platform 7 for the Stamford train just as the whistle blew, and the kind dispatcher had the doors opened for us to board. For whatever reason it was still held at the platform for several more minutes, so perhaps the haste was not necessary after all ...

Back in Stamford we took the familiar walk across the Meadows and stopped for tea at the open-air Italian restaurant at the Sheepmarket square, a last little glimpse of Italy as we made our way home. While we had been away there had been a heatwave at home, and we were actually less hot (high twenties Celsius) than England, and specifically Lincolnshire, had been. Now both places were beginning to cool down and autumn looked like it was coming at last!

Friday 11 August 2023

This Could Be the Last Time, I Don't Know ...

Holiday by Train on the South Coast of England

Waterloo station in London has seen many an excited departure for seaside holidays on the south coast and the west of England, and in recent years some of these have been mine. The trains themselves are not very exciting these days, and the First Class seating was downgraded at the last franchise award, although it is still excellent value for money if booked in advance. Waterloo is a busy station with many local and suburban services but also with some significant long-distance trains serving several holiday destinations all along the south coast, although it has been many years since it served the Devon and Cornwall resorts. our holiday this year began at Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. Fast trains normally leave Waterloo every half-hour on the route to Bournemouth and Weymouth, and there is a simple cross-platform change of train at Brockenhurst in the New Forest, from where a local branch-line train connects with a ferry direct to Yarmouth.

We had used this route twice before and I worked out a schedule that fitted our needs, taking us to London via Cross Country and LNER trains from Stamford, with a change of train at Peterborough, in plenty of time for the 13:35 departure from Waterloo. All our travel was booked in advance as soon as Advance tickets became available, and the hotels both at Yarmouth (very expensive) and Chichester (just expensive) where we were stopping next. I also booked the restaurants for dinner on the Isle of Wight as we have had difficulty finding places in the past. 

The weather had not been good all through July, dull, cloudy, showery, and cool for the time of the year, but on our day of departure the sun was shining when I woke up and stayed out until well after we had left home, making the journey to London much more pleasant than I had anticipated, helped by the trains being on time and clean. I had allowed plenty of connection time at Peterborough and we enjoyed the coffee and biscuits from the "Bike Barista" which are free for LNER First Class ticket-holders. On the train, the 10:50, brunch was served from LNER's Dish menu and I had the blueberry porridge and an orange juice. It really was a very good trip, arriving at Kings Cross on time. At Kings Cross Underground station we spoke to a member of staff to have my wife's renewed Senior Railcard linked to her Oyster Card to gain the Railcard discount on Underground travel in London, then we made our way to Waterloo.

Kings Cross to Waterloo is not a difficult journey by Underground, but the route is not that obvious! We have done it several different ways, and also by bus (takes ages) and many years ago I used to do it on foot. This time, which may be the last time, we took the Victoria Line to Warren Street and from there the Northern Line straight to Waterloo: in both cases a train came into the station as soon as we arrived on the platform, so the cross-town change of station was pretty quick, although the Underground trains were both very busy, for the middle of a weekday in summer. 

Something Funny Happened at Waterloo

The idea was get to Waterloo in good time, buy a simple lunch and wait for the train while eating it. There is a Marks and Spencer Food Hall and that is where we bought our lunch, but there is also a Benugo café (I did get coffee there) and many other food outlets, all of which looked quite good. Tip: go and sit on the balcony overlooking the concourse: it is much less busy and frenetic there, and Benugo is there, too, with interesting views of the activity below.

While eating, knowing I had plenty of time, I looked idly across at the departures board to see if our train was posted yet. Not only was it not there yet, but neither did it appear in the "subsequent departures" section even though several trains timed after it did appear there ... "13:35" was clearly printed on my Advance ticket, and LNER, through whom I had made the booking, sent me the automatic reminder stating 13:35, but there was no 13:35 departure! Live Train Times on the LNER app came to the rescue: I looked up live departures from Waterloo to Brockenhurst and found that it was retimed to 13:30 owing to some alterations to the timetable to reduce the number of trains operating. That was fine, no need to ask anyone for help. Soon the platform for the 13:30 to Bournemouth and Weymouth (also holiday destinations, of course) was indicated and we made our way to platform 12 and boarded.

Delayed, Not Delayed

We left Waterloo station on time, but by Southampton our train was four minutes late for some reason (even though the retiming had given it an extra five minutes ...), and as it made its way through the New Forest the train became later and later, not by a huge amount but by enough to miss the connection at Brockenhurst for Lymington Pier for the ferry to Yarmouth. Disappointing, but not tragic. The next train to Lymington Pier was just half an hour later and was on time, giving us seven minutes to board the ferry, and, of course, the ferry staff were expecting a last-minute influx because they had noticed that not many arrived on the preceding train ... so in spite of a half-hour delay we arrived at Yarmouth exactly on time, but we waited at Brockenhurst station rather than at Lymington ferry terminal. Our afternoon cup of tea was on board the ferry instead of while waiting for it!

We checked in at The George Hotel and Beach Club at Yarmouth, went for a stroll around the town and then took up our reservation for dinner at The Terrace, the rather splendid restaurant above the ferry terminal at Yarmouth. Nothing in Yarmouth is cheap - indeed it did occur to me that this place is similar to Switzerland in the cost to visitors, but it is a very small town and we were here at the peak of the holiday season, so we could not expect a bargain.

Our drinks lined up for dinner!

We did have a table indoors, although the weather was very considerably better than last time, but still not really right for overlooking the harbour. The cocktails, the food (I had fish and chips!) and the beer were great, and we were greeted by a fantastic sunset (see header photograph) as we left. Back to The George, bath and bed ready for the morning.

When planning the holiday I had left the first full day vague, to put it mildly, thinking that in suitable weather we might visit a beach and just take the day easy, then visit Osborne House (English Heritage) on the next day. The weather forecast, however, showed that the next day, Saturday, was to be the only wet and windy day (Storm Antoni, as it turned out, yellow weather warning throughout the south of England!), so we rescheduled Osborne to the first day, Friday, and left Saturday as the vague day but no longer expected to visit a beach!

On the Rocks and Off the Rails, but Nothing is Wrong

We took a bus to Newport on Friday morning and changed for Osborne House. The wonderful Southern Vectis buses from Newport to East Cowes stop at the gates of Osborne House and so we were soon there, showing our English Heritage membership cards and breezing in. First stop was for coffee and then we toured the house itself. While we have done this several times before, there are often new things to see, and in any case one does not take in everything each time. 

From there we strolled down to the beach, once Queen Victoria's private beach, where we enjoyed an ice-cream, and then we walked through the woods to the Swiss cottage and children's garden plots where the young princes and princesses learnt their life skills under the care of Prince Albert. we took the courtesy bus back to the house and then, having seen enough, walked into East Cowes, which we'd never done before, and from there took the bus back to Newport and thence to Yarmouth. Dinner that evening was at On The Rocks, a "hot stones" restaurant where we cooked our own steaks on hot stones, accompanied by unlimited salad and chips, and glass of Malbec, of course.

We woke on Saturday morning to the sound of rain. We had breakfast on Saturday morning watching the rain as it eased off and came back. By ten o'clock it was much lighter and the sky much brighter and we set off on the 10:25 bus to Newport where this time we changed for the bus towards Ryde, alighting at Quarr Abbey. I had long ago heard of this Roman Catholic Benedictine abbey and on the ferry from Lymington its various facilities for visitors had been advertised, so we thought we'd use this free day to have a look. Quarr is set in beautiful countryside and woodland, near to the ruins of its pre-reformation predecessor which was dissolved by Henry VIII. The abbey is an unusual design in brick, and very peaceful, and for visitors it offers a café, a farm shop and a more general gift shop and plenty of opportunity to walk. Visitors are welcome to attend the chapel services (but to leave the singing to the monks!), although we were not there at the times for any of those. We were in the café when a shower of rain occurred and did not encounter any other wet weather until we arrived at Newport bus station on the way back, but all the bus stops there have shelters so we managed to take cover while waiting for the connection onwards to Yarmouth. By the time we left the weather was dry again, although we did pass through more showers on the way. Back at Yarmouth we returned to our hotel and changed ready for our evening out: this was a meal at Off The Rails, the restaurant with a railway theme located in the former railway station building on the edge of Yarmouth. This was about a ten-minute walk away and, as on our previous two visits, the food was different (I think "quirky" the word for the menu) and both delicious and filling.

Sunday was the day to move on and we said farewell to our hotel at Yarmouth and left for Newport on the same bus departure as on Saturday morning, but this morning was sunny and much warmer, and we had luggage. Even with our cases, which are not huge, we travelled on the top deck of the bus. This ride, scenic as it is, was a lovely end to our three-night stay on the Isle of Wight. We had not explored much the time but we had rested a lot, which was what we needed more than anything. We were making our way to Ryde, by changing buses once more at Newport bus station, a place we had begun to know quite well, for from Ryde we were to cross back over the Solent for the next stage in our week's holiday. Buses to Ryde are "only" every fifteen minutes on Sundays but soon enough we were on our way, past Quarr Abbey where we had been the day before, and into Ryde. We had coffee at an Italian coffee shop we have visited before and then it was time to make our way to the Hovertravel check-in for the flight across to Southsea.

Festina Lente

We had never used the hovercraft before, but when I was booking the train tickets this was the route I was offered. They were open tickets via "any permitted" route but the itinerary I was given was for the hovercraft and its integrated bus link to Portsmouth and Southsea station. So we gave it a try. The Hovertravel website urges everyone with a through rail ticket to book a specific flight in advance and I had done this and had to show my rail tickets and quite the booking number on check-in: we were a touch early and were allowed to board a flight 30 minutes in advance of the one I had booked, since it was far from full. The flight is just ten minutes and the bus is waiting by the terminal at Southsea, but it was straight into heavy traffic. All the time gained in charging across the Solent so much faster than the catamaran we have normally used was used up poking our way slowly around Portsmouth city centre to transfer to Portsmouth and Southsea railway station - the catamaran used to take us direct to Portsmouth Harbour station, but I am not sure that direct trains to Chichester now operate from the Harbour, so perhaps that is why we were sent the long way round via the hovercraft to Southsea. Another "disimprovement" in our national rail network which is now run more for the convenience of the operators than the passengers, it seems. 

We had about forty minutes to wait for our train - perhaps Sunday is not the brightest day to choose to travel - but there were ice-cream parlours nearby so it was not difficult to pass the time! Soon enough we boarded a semi-fast train bound for London Victoria which whisked us swiftly to Chichester station from which we walked to our hotel, the Chichester Harbour Hotel, a bit of a way from the station but very handy for the theatre which we would be visiting in a couple of days' time.

According to established tradition, that evening we met our friends for drinks: it is their holidays, for many years spent at nearby East Wittering, that have drawn us here each summer to join them for a day at the beach and an evening at the theatre. The reason why this could be the last time is that they had just (last week) moved to Chichester and will no longer be taking their holiday at East Wittering. This year they were doing it, one last time, as it was the easiest thing to do with having only just unpacked their possessions. We shall doubtless continue to visit, but not as a summer holiday in the same way. Dinner the first night in Chichester was at Côte, only because that's where we went the very first time we came and we've been there on the first evening ever since!

Our first full day staying in Chichester was spent exploring. We took a bus to Arundel which we'd only visited together once before, over thirty years ago! The obvious way to Arundel would be the train, but it was fun to try the bus, an infrequent service and so needing thought and discipline (though good to have the train in mind as a back-up in case we decided to stay longer). It was a very pleasant ride through the Sussex countryside and we visited the splendid Roman Catholic cathedral there and wandered among the shops, having lunch at a very individual place called Green & Coal. The bus back took a slightly different route through some different villages and then we had a relaxing evening, with a takeaway salad in our room.

The Hills Are Alive

The second full day was the day we were booked at the theatre (The Sound of Music this year), with a pre-theatre dinner booked at The Bell at 5pm: the dinner arrangement has become earlier and earlier over the years as we've feared missing the start of the play - although last year we were served so expeditiously that we had time to kill before the theatre! That still gave us some time, though, and in indifferent weather we took a bus to explore Midhurst, a few miles to the north, where we've never been before. No longer on the railway, Midhurst has a half-hourly bus service so we had no need to plan our travel. Among other things we discovered that the administrative centre (and the information office) for the South Downs National Park is right opposite the bus station in Midhurst and we picked up lots of information for potential future visits. We had coffee and croissants at the local bakery, served by the French owner of the business and his Italian assistant - good coffee, good pastries and a chance to speak French and Italian!

Back in Chichester we changed and prepared for our evening out ... Now we have been enjoying musicals at Chichester Festival Theatre for many summers and have seen some fantastic productions, but I have to say that this year's The Sound of Music was the best we have seen. The performances by some of the child actors, some of them in their first major production, were superb. Before the theatre we had dinner (if you can call it that when starting at 5pm!) at the Bell Inn, opposite the theatre, as we have for several years.

The following day, weather much improved, fortunately, was our day at the seaside, so we set off for the bus stop, via Tesco to purchase a contribution of wine towards the day's catering. Our bus ride to East Wittering was much quicker than we have ever experienced before, with less heavy traffic, and also we had a double-deck bus for the first time and so had a very different view of the countryside, and West Wittering as we passed through it, than in previous years. We walked from the bus stop to our friends' holiday home and so began our probable final visit to East Wittering. We walked along the beach, we ate and drank with our friends, we walked again, visited an inn of the shore of Chichester Harbour and an ice-cream shop on the beach at East Wittering and spoke of old times spent together. After what seemed all too short a time we were driven back to our hotel and prepared for the following day's train trip home.

Homeward Bound

Having breakfasted in our room for three mornings on fruit salads from M&S, we pushed the boat out with breakfast at The Ivy on our final morning. We packed our cases and checked out of the hotel, asking them to keep the luggage until we were ready to catch our train. We had booked a table at The Ivy along with all the other bookings when the holiday was planned, but I don't think it would not have been difficult to find a table on this morning if we had not booked. It was warm enough to sit outside on the pavement: the restaurant faces north so it needs to be a warm day as the sunshine does not reach the outside seating until late in the day. After a really great breakfast I visited an exhibition at The Novium Museum on JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth fantasy novels and the art, music, TV and film adaptations from them, and then it was time to collect our luggage and make our way to the railway station to begin our journey home. 

We had booked Advance First tickets for the 13:09 train to London Victoria, but because of an overtime ban this train was not running and we opted to take the 12:39 instead, running half an hour ahead of our schedule rather than half an hour behind. We did not need lunch after the late an substantial breakfast, and in London we went straight to Kings Cross (easy on the Victoria Line from Victoria, and all step-free, so easy with luggage, too). We had coffee at Notes, which we had visited once before, many years ago when it was surrounded by building sites, and then waited in the First Class lounge at Kings Cross until our train was ready to board.

The train journey from Kings Cross to Peterborough went smoothly but by the time the catering trolley reached us we had to take our food and drink with us to eat later as we were almost in Peterborough. Not to self: travel in coaches M or L next time rather than K - that way the food will come sooner! At Peterborough we popped to Waitrose for milk and then caught the connection, on time, for Stamford and walked home. It was a lovely, warm, sunny evening and the town was full of people enjoying themselves, many of them having a drink after work. We'd had a great week and it was good to be home: washing on, LNER supper consumed at home, shower and bed. Now the question is: was this the last time? What will replace this staple of our summer holidays?