Plan A thru C and back to A

Evenin’ All.

Before I go on, let me tell you how impressed I am with The Mason’s Arms at Gargrave. I’ll knock together something for Tripadvisor tomorrow which I’ll copy here.


Anyway, here’s how I got here….

It was a beautiful sunny morning in Holyhead, definitely T shirt weather as I walked over to the station at 08:00. Luckily I was in plenty of time as I arrived at what I thought was the main entrance to the station from the town side to find it shuttered, so retraced my steps from last night in the back way. The station was completely deserted, which was all the more striking as it is clearly geared up to handle large crowds ‘when the boat(s) come in’. The Crewe train I was aiming for was already in platform, ticking over but with no sign of any staff. The doors were unlocked though, so I got in and sorted out an email I’d been putting off.

Passengers started turning up in dribs & drabs, but it was still not busy when we departed (hardy surprising for first thing Sunday morning). A family got on at last moment and occupied the seat behind me. I know I come across as the archetypal Grumpy Old Man when I go off on one of these rants, but: Bloody Kids. They weren’t the worst family in the world but were too loud for a Sunday morning and the kids (I think it was the kids!) were distinctly, er, whiffy! I gathered from the conversation (which I had no choice about) that they were going to the zoo – I thought Chester so I felt a distinct sense of relief when they got off at Colwyn Bay. They were replaced by a much quieter lady going to Chester.

An observation which is plainly stating the obvious, but  – Hells Teeth – aren’t there a lot of static caravans along the North Wales coast!? Accepting ‘each to their own’, and perhaps the economics of it, but as I we sped by the millionth caravan I struggled to see the appeal.

There was a conspicuous lack of a catering trolley and another passenger enquired of the Conductor why that was. He said one should have got on at Llandudno Junction but hadn’t turned up. We’d joined another unit there which had presumably come up from the town, so I wondered if their feast was our famine. Still I had water and my snack from last night to keep me going. Speaking of the ‘other unit’, I noticed that our driver remained in his cab, and was still there as the ensemble departed Chester for Crewe – there’s a money-for-old-rope job, if ever there was one.

Around Flint the seaside resorts gave way to various industrial landscapes including the Shotton steelworks and even an abandoned LMS Railway steamship… I was following progress on the map and was mildly amused to note that the English/Welsh border ran through an industrial estate just outside Chester. This, I assure you, is the border:-

The Border!

At Chester I could have dashed over the platform made it straight on to a Liverpool train, but decided to pause and take in the ambiance of the station for half-an-hour, before getting the next MerseyRail train, as planned. Third rail electric trains in the north of England is a complete novelty to me. Despite the 15 minute frequency north of Hooton, it was still a busy old service – especially for a Sunday morning.

I alighted at Liverpool Central and had a scoot around the City Centre. No prizes for guessing where I gravitated to in order to pass the shortish interval until the next leg. Mmm, caffeine! I enjoyed the walk through a busy Liverpool city centre to Lime Street station. I had just enough time to buy a ‘picnic’ to take on to the train destined for Blackpool North.

Now, I know this comes across all anoraky when I go on about the train formation, but… This train, as well as two others on the same service I saw during the course of the journey, was formed of a two car 156 ‘Sprinter’ coupled to a ‘Pacer’. As I’ve moaned about on previous “All Line” blogs, Pacers are effectively buses on rails and are the most inappropriate rail vehicle for anything other than ‘intra-urban’ provincial services, such as around Leeds etc. I suppose it makes sense (commendable, even) to utilise them at weekends to bolster the Blackpool service, but I still made sure I seated myself in the Sprinter.

Again, it was a busy service, full & standing out of Lime Street. A hen party of Glaswegian ladies joined the train at the last moment, and, utilising their guile and charm, managed to find seats close to one another (and definitely within my earshot!). Things thinned out by Huyton, but I’d already decided that I was going change my plans and bail-out at Wigan North Western (as did almost everyone else on the train, hen party included. There I had a choice of a Virgin service from Birmingham to Edinburgh, or a First Transpennine Manchester – Glasgow, as far as Lancaster. The Virgin Voyager arrived first, so I went for that.

There is electrification work going on between Liverpool & Wigan, no doubt at great cost (financial and disruption), all done in the name of being Green and simply just being, er, “better™”. I found this Ironic given that while waiting for my northbound train, the southbound platform was crowded with folk. Apparently “damage to the overhead line between Carstairs and Edinburgh” had delayed southbound trains. A Birmingham train was announced as 72 min late. Once I’d joined the northbound Edinburgh service, the Train Manager was making announcements, warning they would be delayed “even though this is a diesel train”. A little later, the announcement was a little more optimistic that the service would be diverted around the problem and would “only” half an hour late into Edinburgh as a consequence.

On arrival at Preston, however, the Train Manager came on to say that the train would be delayed for an indeterminate amount of time due to the replacement train crew being stranded somewhere further north because of the Carstairs fiasco. Remember this when the Midland Mainline is wired-up (but the Erewash Valley isn’t). Passengers for Lancaster (i.e. me) were advised to travel on the First Transpennine service to Barrow in Furness. This, as it turned out, is what my original plan was! We’d overtaken the Northern Trains service to Blackpool which I had been on just north of Leyland, so that trundled in behind us. Back to Plan A, then.  

This service was formed of a Class 185, which on the plus side had a First Class section, but I think is the only train that is noisier than a Voyager to ride in! As it stopped at Barrow-in-Furness, I decided to continue through to there and swap to the Leeds service. I ended up regretting this for two reasons. Had I swapped at Lancaster, I’d have had the (new) experience of calling in at Morecambe. Also I’d have avoided this bit…

At Lancaster a bunch of Carling fuelled louts wearing replica sports kit of some description got on. Evidently the service was busy by now as they congregated in the vestibule. One of their number decided to show his mates how big his balls were by coming and sitting in First Class. Of course the others followed. Once the Guard appeared, most scuttled back into the vestibule but a couple stayed put, at least until a £6 supplement was requested. They declined and got up to leave, but of course as soon as conductor moved on, they came back. I was glad to get off.

I had a wander around Carnforth station – the setting of Brief Encounter and now a minor tourist attraction in its own right, complete with Refreshment Room, of course. I was more taken with “The Snug” – a micro pub in the main station building. Had I had more than half an hour there, I would have been seriously tempted but managed to resist.

My heart sank when the Leeds train approached – a Northern Trains “Pacer”. The five mile-an-hour drag around the curve at Carnforth was almost unbearable. The problem is that each vehicle has a single axle at each end, evidently with only limited axial range, consequently the flanges grind against the rail agonisingly.  When the line straightened out and it eventually got into its stride the wheels thumped their way over every rail end, threatening to knock out the passengers’s fillings.

I’d said farewell to the sun even before we’d crossed the Menai Strait back onto the mainland, and it had remained cloudy & grey all day. At Clapham, in the Yorkshire Dales, the weather closed in some more, turning to typical Yorkshire mizzle.

The train had been only moderately busy from Carnforth. I could hear another group of blokey-blokes in the other car getting increasingly louder and thanked my luck for choosing the vehicle I had. At Skipton this service acts as a ‘semi-fast’ to Leeds, at least compared with the local electric all-stations service, so it got really full.

When I’d boarded there had been three empty coffee cups on the seat next to the one I chose, which I studiously ignored. By Shipley, however, it was the only empty seat left and it looked like I was deliberately blocking use of the seat – which is something I wouldn’t do (unlike a LOT of people who blatantly and obstinately do). I dutifully stacked up the (not all empty – yuk!) cups and in the absence of a bin, wedged them between my feet. A bloke who had got on at Skipton with his wife & daughter (who were seated directly in front of me) came and sat next to me as he’d given up his seat opposite them. I apologetically explained that the detritus was nothing to do with me and he equally sheepishly confessed they had realised they’d been on this particular train on their outward journey and the discarded coffee cups were theirs!! He didn’t volunteer to relieve me of wedging duties though.

The aforementioned bloke was, it seems, something of  a mileage basher as he was keeping a running commentary of progress via the RealTimeTrains website and had a National Rail Timetable map highlighted with his conquests (I have yet to descend to that level in the same way I refuse to become a literal beer ticker!). I’d mentioned in my earlier apology about the coffee cups that I’d boarded at Carnforth and this obviously intrigued him. So, in conversation, he asked why I’d been there. I explained I’d changed trains having come from Liverpool. He made a quick route calculation in his head and, realising what a long way round that was, said “you must be a rail enthusiast then”. The look I unintentionally gave him while trying to frame a suitably evasive reply must have been far more expressive than I intended, as he didn’t say another word to me for the rest of the journey!

I had decided much earlier in the day that my original plan of arriving at Gargrave around 16:00 was far too early. I’d looked at various options but in the end decided to stay on the Leeds train and go and get (another) coffee. Thus I had half an hour at Leeds and, having made room, duly made my way to the SB’s kiosk on the footbridge. I found myself in an impromptu race with two blokes who had exited the escalator to my left and were also evidently on a bee-line to Starbucks. It was as I glanced across to them that I realised that the one wearing a fetching light blue suit was the renowned actor Timothy West. I won the race – though given Mr. West’s senior years, that sounds so churlish of me!

Leeds Station SBs

The journey back to Gargrave was uneventful and after a five minute walk I darkened the door of the Mason’s Arms. As I’ve already mentioned, I was instantly taken by the place, and (other than the unavoidable World Cup on the tv) remain very impressed. 

I’ve already updated the Flickr page with today’s better photos. I’ll upload this before my battery goes as there’s free WiFI in the bar but I’m not sure about in the room, besides, there’s more beer to be had. I’ve been sitting in the corner typing away after I finished my excellent Mason’s Melt, pictured at the top of the page, but I didn’t bring the power brick into the bar with me. I mention this as there will inevitably be lots of typos (early versions of yesterday’s page referred to a “bacon nutty”, for example) which I’ll cure in a later update. [Should be glitch-free now – any errors which remain are in the way you’re reading! 🙂]

SBs Selfie!

SB’s Selfie!

Update 17JUN2014: Here is what I’ve posted on Tripadvisor about the Mason’s Arms:

I was in need of an overnight stay somewhere in the Skipton area. My ‘go to’ choice was booked so I was in need of an alternative. I consulted the Good Beer Guide as wherever I stayed had to fulfil two very important criteria; be within walking distance of a railway station and serve good Real Ale. That’s how I found the Mason’s Arms at Gargrave and I made my booking – itself a painless experience.

I duly arrived and was shown to my accommodation. This takes the form of two level chalet-style rooms at the back of the pub, accessible without having to enter the pub if a guest happens to return after closing (which is, frankly, unlikely given that the pub is open until midnight!) My room was on the ground floor which I had misgivings about having been kept awake by elephants on the upper floor in places like this before. I did indeed hear occasional footsteps above, but either they were particularly dainty people or it’s a well-built place. I suspect the latter.

The room was very impressive. I’ve stopped in some top quality chain hotels over the years, but there was simply nothing this room lacked in comparison. To the contrary, in fact. By way of example; the generous provision of tea/coffee and — especially — milk sachets, puts pretty much everywhere else I’ve ever stayed to shame.

Though the room and its facilities are excellent, it is the pub itself which is the highlight here. For my evening meal I chose the Mason’s Melt. This chicken, bacon & cheese stack comes with bbq sauce but that was left off at my request. It was served with home made chips and veg and was in all respects perfect. That provided the perfect basis upon which to enjoy the beer offerings; Timothy Taylor Landlord, Back Sheep Bitter, Tetley Bitter and Thwaite’s Wainwright. For a “beer ticker” that choice may be considered something of a let-down as there is nothing unusual there, but all were well kept and well presented. As well as catering admirably for the visitor such as myself, the Mason’s Arms is clearly a popular local, which adds to the ambiance. Sometime the phrase “a local’s pub” can infer something of a bad atmosphere for strangers, but again, nothing could be further from the truth here.

Well watered I headed for bed. I was initially a little disconcerted by the nearby church clock chiming each quarter-hour, but as it was a pleasant evening I elected to keep the window open. I know I shouldn’t quibble, it is after-all part of the village’s character. Besides, I think I only heard it twice and I could always have closed the window! The open window did become a bit of an issue in the early hours as the occasional car seemed to whizz by as the world started on its day. Again, I stress it was my choice to keep it open.

Breakfast isn’t served before 08:30 as a matter of routine, but the welcome letter displayed in the room does make the point that alternative arrangements can be made if required. When I went through to the pub are saw it was the landlord acting as waiter, having been at the bar until midnight, I understood why breakfast is no earlier. Anyway, my train wasn’t until 09:30 so I was in no rush. Breakfast was excellent. Guests are asked to fill in a form the night before indicating what they want and what time they will be showing up for breakfast, so it is freshly cooked and you get exactly what you want. Fantastic.

As I suspect comes across in this review, I cannot be too fulsome in my praise. I had the perfect stay and would happily go back… but it won’t be until the forthcoming madness associated with Le Tour has passed!

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