Saturday 28 January 2023

Car-free Holidays to the Isle of Wight

Four stories about holidays by rail, ferry and bus

Our annual visit to the south coast is now planned, hotels and restaurants, anyway; the train tickets will have to wait for a bit. We shall visit Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, again this year before moving on to Chichester. I thought readers might be interested in our four previous visits to the Isle of Wight, as this really is a great place to go car-free. Indeed, I'd say that the Isle of Wight is actually better without the car, which is a bit of a rave to get onto the island in the first place and can be a bit of an encumbrance when you are there (we took two cars one year, some time ago, when there were six of us); the ferry queues are not much fun.

So here are the four visits we have done in the past, all great:

The secret to enjoying these holidays is:

  • Book the accommodation in advance (and restaurant the first night - we always regretted when we didn't do this)
  • Allow plenty of time for the journey to make it relaxing, no rushing across London
  • Think carefully about packing and try to keep it to one modest suitcase and a small backpack each
  • Book train tickets early and go First Class; book through to the Isle of Wight destination so that the ferry is included in the ticket - that makes it both simpler and much cheaper
  • Download in advance the Southern Vectis bus map and install their app on your smartphone, and use their day rover tickets
Southern Vectis buses will take you all over the east or west sides of the Island without a change of bus, and to go from one side to the other involves a simple change at Newport bus station. We also do a lot of walking, and bicycles can be hired if you like cycling. We love the buses; almost all of them are double deckers and the views from the top deck are wonderful. Even from the bottom deck the views are better than from a car.

Wednesday 18 January 2023

An Unofficially Fast Journey!

The connecting train that should not have been!

I went to a meeting in Lincoln this week. It was quite a short meeting, so the travel was a substantial part of the day, although the advantage of travelling by rail was that I could do things on the way, which I did. The journey toward was quite straightforward, with a change at Peterborough to an East Midlands Railway service. This route is now worked by two-coach Class 170 units, much more comfortable than the inadequate units that used to be used: the green interior gives away that they were acquired from the defunct London Midland franchise and only painted on the outside - still the green does fit very well with the Lincolnshire vibe! They have more table seats and better luggage facilities even than the similar units used by Cross Country on the route through Stamford. The schedule to Lincoln is very, well, relaxed, shall we say. That is, it could be a lot faster, but it has to contend with single track through Sleaford as well as connections there, Peterborough, Lincoln and Doncaster.

In Lincoln I went to the bus station to see if there was a suitable bus up to the Cathedral, intending to use a taxi if not, and as it happened there was a bus just about to leave, so I was in very good time for the meeting with no additional expense.

The way back was not so straightforward (it seldom is), and I went to the station as soon as I left the meeting, where a train for Peterborough was expected, on time, in just a few minutes. It was a similar train to the one on which I had come and went the same way. I looked at the itinerary that LNER had given me when I booked the tickets and spotted that it included a 61-minute wait in Peterborough for the connection to Stamford - and I thought that means it actually arrives one minute before the preceding train to Stamford, but, of course, that one minute is inadequate a margin for an advertised connection, especially as Lincoln trains and Stamford trains normally use platforms on opposite sides of the station. But then the real times section of the LNER app showed my train from Lincoln arriving on time at platform 7 in Peterborough and the unofficial connection home leaving from platform 6, a cross-platform change, easily done if the arrival is on time.

Checking my watch as the rain approached Peterborough I stood by the door with my coat on and briefcase in hand and opened the door as soon as it was released and walked briskly across to where the three-coach Cross Country train was waiting with "Birmingham New Street" on its destination display. The whistle blew just as I was taking my seat and I was home a whole hour earlier than planned, with no hanging around in Peterborough. 

Had I missed that train I would have gone to the bus station instead and caught the bus which leaves just a few minutes later and which would have taken me home before the next train would have done, so I would still have been early but not as early as I was. That may be a record fast time for Lincoln to Stamford, but you certainly cannot count on doing it, and any issue like a heavy suitcase, a pram or a mobility problem would require the Birmingham train to be running late if one were to stand a chance of catching it! A good day on the rails: no cancellations (affecting me, anyway) and nothing running late. All comfortable and all clean. 

Thursday 12 January 2023

Train Travel Plans for the New Year

UK and International Rail Tours

By this time of the year I usually have a couple of plans fully formed and others taking shape. This year is slightly unusual in that no fewer than three European train tours are already booked. One British short hotel/spa break is booked but I am not yet sure whether I shall be doing that one by car or by train, so it doesn't count yet! Dates have been chosen for the usual August trip to the south coast, the last time we shall be doing in the way that we have been doing for several years, but nothing has yet been booked: time to get on with it!

The first European holiday by train will be to Amsterdam in early spring, using the through Eurostar service to Amsterdam for the first time. I was going to book direct with Eurostar, who also would have booked a hotel, but I looked elsewhere and discovered Planet Rail who were offering a similar deal but with a better-located hotel for our purposes. I telephone them and took their advice on dates, times and other details and booked Standard Premier Eurostar tickets and the hotel in Amsterdam. Now I need to look for at least one day trip to visit the tulip fields, a sight no longer available in south Lincolnshire but common when I was growing up here.

In the summer we are going to the south of France with a Great Rail Journeys escorted tour, including a day in Monaco and a river cruise on the Rhône. This will give us the return to Nice, Cannes and Avignon which we promised ourselves when we went there independently a few years ago, along with much else. I just fear it may be a little too warm there, but we shall see. In the autumn we finish our three years of annual trips to Italy with a visit to Lake Maggiore, again with Great Rail Journeys.

This all leaves us with several shorter British trips to arrange as we owe visits to several friends whom we have not seen since before the Covid pandemic. Once the disruption in the rail industry has settled down (when ever that is going to be), then we shall be in a better position to make plans: currently everything has to be contingent on the trains running on the planned days. I also need to restart the programme of day tours for my friends, once I am confident that they will not be disrupted.