The shocking admission comes later (don’t worry, it’s family friendly and doesn’t involve lawbreaking). Meanwhile, please feel free to enjoy this long and rambling tale of how I left St. Albans and arrived at Truro.
… via Penzance. It all starts below.
I had a great start to the day with a lovely breakfast. Honestly, I can’t sing the praises of the Lower Red Lion highly enough. I slept like a log and was down to breakfast a little early. I was worried whether I’d have time – it is shown as a 17 minute walk (14 as it turned out) and my train is 08:25. I planned on being out the door by 8 a.m. but the excellent service I received and my normal speed of eating meant I did it with plenty to spare.
My walk through a slightly soggy St Albans after some overnight rain served to confirm my opinion that it’s a charming place. My one regret is that my schedule forced me to walk past Starbucks!
St. Albans Abbey station is a one platform unstaffed terminus of a single line branch, served by four car electric units — my eye-in-the-sky has just texted me the unit number I can expect! What is odd is the relative infrequency given this is commuter land. Had I missed this train the next one is in 50 minutes. It’s only 16 minutes end-to-end and (as far as I can see) all services on the branch terminate at Watford Junction.
The train had certainly filled up by the time it reached its destination – hardly surprising. What was a surprise was that there was a First Class bit. The train was full & standing at the end but a few seats in First remained empty. Given the improbability of any revenue protection checks, that amazes me. I held back to let the crush subside on arrival but still got caught up in a huge but rather orderly queue for the ticket gate. I broke away from the queue, off up the stairs to Platform 4 where my London Overground train awaited. It was empty, but inside it looked eerily post apocalyptic with papers and litter from the inbound commuters strewn about. Most Euston-bound travellers from Watford Junction have more direct services so hardly anyone boarded there. It began to fill up along the route though. As a London Overground service it is configured with longitudinal seats like a tube train and a lot of standing room. It rides better than a typical tube though.
Paddington. The Overground train filled up and despite an exodus at Willesden Junction was still pretty busy at Queens Park where a further exodus – including me – took place. The Bakerloo line train pulled in on the next platform and it was off into the depths of the tube system. At Paddington it was, again to no-one’s surprise, manic. I followed the crowd to exit the Bakerloo line, but had a rush of blood and tackled the stairs instead of joining the snake of humanity waiting for the escalator.
Today is clearly going to be a completely different prospect to the first two days as The Weekend Starts Here. Paddington was another melee, concentrated it seems on the gate for Platform 3 where the Penzance train was boarding. I noticed there were First Class vehicles marshalled either side of the buffet which I thought was odd. I went for the leading vehicle but quickly learned it was misformed and temporarily declassified. I moved back to the “real” First Class which was nearly full — either with real bodies or reservation tags. I dropped into a “reserved from Reading” seat to await developments. On departure from Paddington there was an apparent No Show behind me so I jumped in there. Off we go – Right Time.
The respective Virgin branded franchises have a lot to live up to when it comes to frills and “First Class Complementary”. GWR, with little in the way of (comparable) competition don’t aspire to anything so grand. The perfectly functional (and no less complimentary) trolley service appeared about quarter of an hour out of Paddington and coffee No. 1 for the day was duly acquired. It occurred to me that I’m going to be seeing the letters G W & R an awful lot over the next couple of days.
West of Newbury and the rain I’d predicted yesterday finally arrived with a vengeance. Oh well, good job I’m indoors for a while. The countryside through Berks & Hants, while not a patch on the Scottish countryside I was treated to yesterday morning (nor even the Northumbrian coast in the afternoon) is no less appealing to the eye – even in the rain. Pity the poor boaters on the Kennet & Avon which tracked us for some distance. There was a table ahead of me: two ladies of a certain age and a thirtysomething businessman all thrown together by the randomness which is GWR’s reservation system. They began happily swapping life stories but had quietened down a bit by Westbury. I mention this mainly as one of the ladies is evidently an American on a “Brit Rail Pass”. When the trolley attendant listed the sandwiches she had available (for a charge, incidentally) it caused quite a stir when it came to explaining what a “cheese ploughmans” involved.
The trolley made a timely reappearance as we were entering Exeter – remarkably (in my mind at least) only two hours after we’d left London. I marked the occasion with more coffee and the decadence of a Light Fruit Cake. As we passed through Cowley Bridge Junction I mused that it was good to see It without a foot or more of water flowing over the formation. Regrettably the Hobson’s Choice seating arrangement meant I was on the inland side through Dawlish. I’ll make a point of redressing this on Sunday. From a standing start at Newton Abbot the infamous Dainton and Rattery Banks certainly made our HST work hard. It’s a shame it was still grey and overcast out there but the Devon countryside was still looking good.
The First Class carriage virtually emptied at Bodmin Parkway – by all accounts the attraction being a bus connection to Padstow. Clearly the In Place for weekending Londoners. St. Austell was popular too (and very wet at the time). A family with two children alighted there but as the rear coach is off the platform Dad ferried their cases and paraphernalia forward in preparation for arrival – I swear he came past me a dozen times laden down on each occasion. Bring back the luggage train.
Penzance: Just when I thought I couldn’t get any dafter…
Let’s just say my brief time at the furthest westerly part of my trip didn’t go exactly how I planned it. It all started to go wrong as the train arrived at Penzance. By that time there as only me and the thirtysomething bloke I mentioned earlier left in the rear coach. As the train slid gracefully to a halt I stood and collected my bag from the overhead rack and reached for my coat which should have been with it. It wasn’t. Bugger. My immediate thought was that in the flurry of excitement at Paddington I must’ve left it in the rack above the first seat I occupied. I checked – no I hadn’t. Double Bugger. I asked the lady running the buffet which, as I’ve mentioned, was between these two positions, if a coat had been handed in. Of course it hadn’t. Oh, by the way, while it was not exactly pee-ing down, there was a definite medium grade drizzle happening outside.
A brisk walk into the town centre and, luckily (if that’s the right word in this context?) not only was there a Mountain Warehouse, but there was a very suitable coat in XXL, “reduced” to £29.99. I managed to politely decline the manager’s attempt to up-sell me other outdoor equipment at half-price and went back toward the station, chuntering — and not always under my breath. I consoled myself with a very welcome bacon butty and a cup of tea from a kiosk outside the station, being served by a friendly and very chatty lad who was evidently bored out of his skull as the weather had killed his trade.
While chomping that I returned to the station as my train back east was starting to board. As I did so, the lady from the buffet saw me and recognised me. She’d found my coat! I was promptly reunited with said garment in the Station Supervisor’s office. Now, this is where I have to make my confession…. Turns out it had been hanging neatly on the hook behind where I’d been sitting for the whole journey. If I have a defence, and I realise it is a very thin one, it is that a black neoprene coat was very well camouflaged against the GWR dark green curtains. That’s my excuse and I shan’t be shaken.
Anyone want to buy a coat? Only been worn for 10 minutes and quarter of a mile.
I was then back more or less where I arrived — in the same coach at least, albeit on the coast side this time. There was not another soul in the carriage as we departed, but an awful lot of reserved tags for later in its journey back to London.
Must remember my coat is hanging up… Must remember my coat is…
Later: The County Arms, Truro.
There wasn’t much about retracing my steps to Truro that I need to tell you about. It was still grey & quite miserable and the rain in the air made taking snaps out the train window all but impossible. It was a 40 minute ride back to Truro where I crossed over to the Falmouth Branch platform. A fair sized crowd was already waiting for the two car 150 unit which drew in just as I joined them. On board it was pretty cosy and I found myself right at the front in the middle of the car with very little view of the line or its environs. I gritted my teeth and waited until the train emptied considerably at Penmere Platform, just outside Falmouth – a mere five minutes from the end of the line. I’d given myself the option of catching the next train back to Truro as there’s a pretty good frequency, but decided I needed to get checked in and relax more than I wanted a look around Falmouth. Having taken a few pics at the end of the line, I reboarded the incoming train and returned northwards.
I’m glad I made the journey, obviously, and I know completely that when I say there wasn’t much to look at, that is entirely my fault for not leaving railway property. I dare say one day I shall return to Falmouth (hopefully in somewhat better weather) and give what I understand to be a pretty little town a good looking at. As it was, at least by getting a window seat this time, I was able to appreciate some pretty special views over the town as the railway climbs back toward Truro. The return journey wasn’t nearly as busy, but didn’t do bad business, especially given there are two units shuttling back & forth with very little dwell time.
Back on the platform at Truro I waited to watch “my” unit depart once more, again heavily laden with incoming holidaymakers and homeward bound locals. I then set off to find the County Arms. If I tell you the ‘suburb’ part of its address is Highertown, Truro, you can guess what familiar whinge is coming next! OK, I’ll spare you – I think my point is made.
Having found it I am very impressed with what I have seen of it so far. The beacon of all hope is that it is run by the St. Austell Brewery, so I’m confident I’ll be sampling Tribute later (some of which is brewed, so the company were grudgingly forced to admit a little while ago, in Burton). The room is really good – everything you’d expect from a decent quality hotel. My photos for the day are very slowly uploading as I type and I’ve already scoped out the menu for my evening meal.
As with previous days, it’s looking like this page is going to end up getting published in stages with several updates/edits during the course of this evening and maybe into tomorrow. If you’re an early-bird reader, I urge you to have another look a bit later on, too.
My evening meal: Almost too beautiful to start eating…
And some belting beers… Had to try the middle one (5.0% – and quite rare, even round here, according to the barman) twice.
Lager pump censored – I don’t want to promote their brand!