Welcome to Wales.
I’m checked in at the poshest (whilst, bizarrely, one of the cheapest) hotels of the trip. It’s relatively late in the evening, so depending on what happens with photo uploads etc., you may only see the barest, un-proofed version of the diary at first sight tonight.
However it turns out, it’s right here….
I’m really not sure what to make of Newton Abbot’s Hazelwood Guest House. Clean, yes. Comfortable, mostly. The bloke that runs it obviously works really hard and his efforts largely pay off. However, one man and his assistant can’t possibly achieve what a chain hotel can. So when I say “you get what you pay for” that is the context of what I mean. The rate was about half what I paid the previous night and while the difference was tangible, I certainly wouldn’t say that was twice as good. In short, the Hazelwood served my needs perfectly.
Breakfast followed the same theme of being completely up to the job, but paling only by comparison with what had gone before. That disposed of, and the bill dealt with (which had mysteriously risen £10 from what I booked — I didn’t quibble as it still represented decent value), I set off into the morning. The sun had been streaming though the shutters when I awoke but it had clouded over by then, to the point that there were a few spots of rain in the air as I walked over the park to the station.
There was still 35 minutes until the train, with no others due in the interim, yet there were at least half a dozen folk on the station already. Reminiscent of American Sunday mornings with the tourists up and looking for something to do while the locals enjoy their lie-ins.
The Paddington HST arrived smack on time and it was an uneventful run most of the way. I made sure I was on the right hand side to get some snaps of a the seafront at Dawlish in lovely sunshine. At least two fairly pro looking photographers were out on the sea wall and recorded our passing. (Not to mention the Railcam.uk webcam on the front). We had a signal check coming out of Somerton Tunnel and ran at caution for a while which put us nine minutes late. That cut my connection at Westbury to just four minutes. As we were arriving at Westbury the Train Manager announced the delay being due to “children throwing items onto the line”.
As it happened, the timing couldn’t have been better. The Portsmouth train rolled in more or less the moment I stepped onto the platform, conveniently on the opposite side of the same island. Both trains then spent several minutes alongside each other before departing more or less together.
The Portsmouth train was well loaded. It was a three car unit and many of the passengers looked to be service personnel. I found myself perched next to a young man who, on the one hand, made the perfect seat companion in that he was trying to sleep. However, the legacy of whatever it was he had last night made him less fun to be next to. Luckily, at Warminster an empty seat (nearside facing, as it happens) become available so I quickly escaped him and his secondhand curry. Even better, the guard opened some windows (Class 158’s air conditioning being notoriously close to non-existent) as the remainder of the group combined to make the carriage somewhat aromatic.
At one point in the journey I found myself sharing my seat with a large and exotic looking bug (due to the open window, I assume). I have no idea what it was but I did know I didn’t want to have it too close. I knocked it to the floor and it was lest seen crawling under the seat in front!
There’s a slight frustration to this journey in as much as for the last 20 minutes it traces its way round the coastline. At one point I could see Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower off to the right, but the train seemed to be going away from it! This was underlined by the fact that many of the group of what I had learned were Navy guys returning from a stag night for one of their unit, got off at Fareham to get taxis as it was quicker than going round to Portsmouth.
Aboard Wight Ryder 1. The journey is said to be 20 minutes. The process of getting on board was slow but as efficient as I guess it could be in the circumstances. The only fly in the ointment was a group of primary school children with a staff/pupil ratio of about 0:100. They basically took over the sun deck so I retreated down into the lounge to preserve my sanity. That was really irritating as it’s a lovely day and I was looking forward to getting a good view. I hope it’s different on the way back. The sea looks a little bit choppy and as the catamaran was easing out of the harbour it was bouncing up and down a bit. Once it opened up though, things smoothed out. The Solent is pretty crowded with ferries, hovercraft and pleasure boats of all sizes and methods of propulsion. There are televisions on board and I looked up at one point to see – bizarrely – the Offilers logo front & centre. Bear in mind this is a Derby brewery which ceased to exist in the 1960s! Turns out it was an advert for the Heritage Brewery of Burton as one of the pubs in Ryde feature their beers (rather incredible all round, really).
Out onto Ryde Pier Head station and the train bounced its way into the station soon after. I think this journey will be a contender for the most enjoyable one of the whole week. The former tube stock which have been cascaded onto the Island are complete museum pieces. Credit to those who maintain them (and the track they bash about), but good grief what lively ride they produce. It was telling that the conductor is sensible enough not to attempt to use the connecting door between the two cars while in motion as it would almost inevitably end in a concussion. Instead, once he’s checked the tickets in that car he sits and enjoys the view until arriving at the next station! With their wooden panelling and ‘LT’ branded into the fittings it’s almost as though they took a wrong turn at Ruislip in 1954.
[Added much later: On a tip-off from Howard (whom I spookily name-check later in the post) it turns out I was being “followed” on this leg of the journey. Geoff and Vicki of All The Stations — a fabulous project that I was blissfully ignorant of at this point — were on the same train from Ryde to Shanklin. I had seen them, not knowing who they were of course, simply wondering who this couple with the big camera were and why they were so excited by the former tube train. They also evidently saw me… as amply illustrated in their IoW episode at 2min 15…. ]
I rode all the way to Shanklin, sticking my camera out the door where I could and snapped away, before returning back to Ryde Esplanade. I did consider lingering at either Brading, where there’s a railway heritage centre, or Ryde St. Johns, where the car shed, and the only operational signal box on the line, are located. However, in the limited time I had before my booked ferry back over the Solent, I decided to spend it in in the sun chomping on a pastie and chips.
I walked the chips off along the pier rather than catch the train (in fact, had I waited for the train I would have been among a considerable crowd of people rushing up the gangway just as the ferry was about to cast off). This time I did manage to get (and keep) a space on the sun deck and, if anything, it was even sunnier than the outbound voyage. Wall-to-wall blue skies, in fact. I had been a bit worried about how long it would take to disembark and get up to the platform for the Waterloo train I needed to catch — to the point that I wrote a contingency into the plan in case I missed it (not difficult: Everything plus one hour!). In the event, I was even in time to see the preceding Brighton train leaving the platform in front of my train. First Class is deserted. We’ve just passed through Hedge End as I type this (Hi Howard, I waved!) and there’s yet to be anyone to come & check I’m entitled to be here. The ultimate Weekend First offer. I have my first and only Voyager experience of the trip to come next.
The CrossCountry TM who checked my ticket offered to fetch me a drink — which I thought was good service — but I declined as I was getting off at Reading. He’d spotted my ticket was issued at Derby and assumed I’d be going there tonight, saying “I’ll see you on that service as I’m working it after my break”. I had to explain that Derby doesn’t figure in my plans for another 51 hours or so.
Final change of the day at Reading took place unremarkably. Off up the Great Western mainline to Welsh Wales. Still no dramas (and one cup of coffee — because I know Panda is concerned about my caffeine intake) and here I am in Cardiff.
Just as an aside; I’d checked in on line for the Marriott. Other than there being a key card already attached to my folio on reception, I’m not really sure what difference that made. “Key Collection” did give the clerk the chance to try and up-sell me breakfast… for £12. For the record, a room service full cooked breakfast would be £21 — tempting?
Anyhow, I headed out. There are a bewildering number of places to eat within a stone’s throw. I reckon there are at least half a dozen different “gourmet burger” joints clustered within a quarter of a mile. Needless to say I passed them by. My destination, plucked from the handful of Cardiff city centre GBG listed pubs, was the City Arms. My walk there was soured a lot by the experience of running the gauntlet of beggars. I really could rant on the subject, but discretion dictates I won’t.
In the City Arms the first thing my eye alighted on was Brains SA (4.2%) – when in Wales! At £3.10 it was definitely good value. Next, and I sort of wish I saw this first, I had a Vale of Glamorgan – Dark Matter blackcurrant porter (4.4%) for a mere £3.45 … very fruity!
I wanted to have a little variety so left at that (detouring into a convenient and well known pseudo Scottish American burger chain for supper). I was in search of the GBG listed Cambrian Tap. In exactly the place where the GBG App places the pin for said establishment I found the Yard Bar & Kitchen. I had to assume the former business was no more and this was some sort of reincarnation. It had a Cask Marque sign outside so, here goes nothing. I went for a Brains Craft Brewery – Melba at 4.something (a very reasonable £3.50)… served through a fancy stainless steel beer engine with high nozzle. I didn’t have high hopes. To Be Fair™️, the girl serving did give me the option to have a taste which I declined: “Let’s go All In” says I (I was on a McDonalds mayo high). The verdict: It wasn’t at all bad. (Don’t get me wrong, I had every confidence it’s a cracking beer – it was the way it was kept I was worried about).
Amazingly, I was (sort of) ejected from this pub! Come 10 p.m. they announced they were closing. Whilst keeping the above trademarked cliche in mind: They did give me the option of ordering another drink first and I actually left long before anyone got round to saying “Oi…”. It did make me wonder if this was suddenly 1970 or was it just a Wales thing? However, as Panda observed when I shared that observation by text: “If it was the 1970s the place wouldn’t even be open on a Sunday”. Yeah, I see that point. My theory: City centre pub – not enough punters. No profit. Welcome to 2017 economics.
Then, as if by magic, resigned to wandering back to the hotel, I found the “real” Cambrian Tap. I really wish I’d found it earlier. It’s the Brains Craft Brewery Tap – but selling more than just their own brews on the eight real ale pumps (and goodness knows how many ‘craft’ tap lines). I went All In again: Salopian – Bulletproof (5.8%)! Luckily the place is in reasonable proximity to my hotel. Even the Pink Floyd playing as the piped muzak was sounding good. It may be doing this beer a disservice, but I suggest it is a significantly amped up version of their well known (and cherished by many) Salopian Gold.
Back to the hotel, still acceptably compus mentis, all things considered.
The Red Sox lost.