Tuesday 4 May 2010

Long Itchington Beer Festival 2010

Long Itchington Beer FestivalThe trouble with this interweb thingy is that you don’t know who’s reading your words. Worse, you can’t tell how upset they are going to be when they do read them. So it was that after last years trip to the Long Itchington beer festival, the organiser got in touch with me and moaned that I hadn’t given his pub a mention, instead describing it as the mystery pub we couldn’t find.

Therefore, this year I had absolutely no choice but to go and try the festival again. It’s not ‘cos I wanted to you understand, it was my duty.

According to the weatherman, the village would probably be washed away by the monsoon conditions predicted. Luckily the afternoon was fine, dry and the bus into the wilds of the Warwickshire countryside, not too late. Riding in unusual backward facing seats didn’t provide the greatest start especially as after a couple of miles, one of the other passengers shut the only open window so that he could feel the full effects of the vehicles very effective heating system. It’s a measure of the true nature of the British people that we politely allowed him to decide on the temperature despite being unable to understand the correct way to wear a pair of trousers. After all, someone who wakes up in the morning and decided that the waistband should be low enough that he has to do a belt up tightly over his own wedding tackle is possibly slightly odd. And can sing falsetto.

I’d taken the precaution of printing a map off from the festival website but we didn’t need it to find the first stop – The Buck and Bell just behind the duck pond. The roads around the building had become a temporary beer garden with crowds standing around enjoying a drink and watching others pass by on the way to their next refreshment stop. Rather than confine us inside, the Buck had laid on a small bar under a gazebo at one end of the building and a very tempting hot food stand at the other.

Darling BudsLast year we had a little bit of a problem explain that the beer should be served in the commemorative glass. This year the problem was getting the glass itself ! The outdoor barman was under the impression that they weren’t on offer this year. A little training was obviously in order along the lines of reading the pubs advert in the festival guide which said, “Festival shirts and glassware available here” Oooops !

On the other hand the beer, Darling Buds from the Warwickshire Brewery, was delicious and more than made up for slight confusion. While enjoying the pint there were plenty of traditional British beer festival characters on hand to provide some entertainment too. For example, “The Trainspotters” were carefully working through the list of brews and highlighting those they had already sampled so as not to waste time repeating a tasting. When I say highlighting I mean with a real, bright yellow, highlighter pen one of the team had probably pinched from their office. Judging by the dayglo effect on the pages they’d been working hard for most of the day too – a glimpse of the book was both blinding and sufficient to provide the viewer with a healthy looking suntan...

Underneath a tree was rarer sight – a genuine drunk person. You might think that a festival devoted to beer would be full of people out of their heads, and ready to make an appearance on a Channel 5 documentary on “Broken Britain” but no, festival goers are decent, honest and upstanding people who are there to sample and appreciate the panoply of tastes on offer. Not for us the “shot” of alcohpop, no we want to savour our drinks – just like people say they do on the continent but without having to learn French or wear a beret. Our drunk may have had an unusual haircut but all he did was sit on the grass drift off to sleep while everyone around him carried on as normal.

Do you come here often ?Finally there were a few people in costume. At least one St George was present plus some cohorts dressed in related attire. One was carrying an enormous axe – that would have given the TV people a shock, no concealed weapon here – another appeared as a ginger wigged woman. Admittedly this last costume was not very convincing, you’d have needed big, thick beer goggles to have been fooled. And of course there were Morris Dancers. Luckily there performances had finished but the law says morrismen must drink their own bodyweight in real ale every day and that’s what they were trying to do.

After the first pint we moved on to the Harvester. Inside the small bar there was a healthy queue. Better still, commemorative glasses were on offer but I couldn’t decide what I wanted to drink. Eventually I delayed the glass buying and went for halves of “Lilly the pink” and something that mentioned lemons. While waiting one of the other customers, who looked like an aficionado, asked if there were any more pumps. Exhibiting my local knowledge I said this was the entire bar, upon which news he mumbled something about the beer being gassy. Then he ordered a Budweiser. The Englishman in me nearly saw him dragged out to the street and given a stern dressing down – dammit, it’s a beer festival there is no need to order an American “beer” when nice stuff is available.

Anyway, The Square became the beer garden for the crowds unable to fit in the pub. Local planning has not been kind to this street as despite its name, the half timbered houses look out onto a sea of tarmac. Along here drove one or two locals not looking too impressed at the revelries taking place. Mind you, they looked like the sort of people you can’t please any of the time as they sat in air-conditioned and very clean 4 wheel drives and Mercedes so we just made way politely and carried on supporting the local economy.

DrayWe also made way for the horse drawn dray that was doing the rounds. Well, once we’d all had a stroke of the cute horsies anyway. There’s a little something in everyone that is drawn to fuss hairy animals and these good natured beasts were obviously well used to it. Even when one of the cars squeezed past they stood their ground although the look their handler gave them would have scorched the paintwork...

Then off on a voyage of discovery. Past the school. Past the Co-op with its handy cash machine. Past quite a few houses and eventually we found the Green Man. I’d been keen to come here since festival organiser Mark promised me a free pint last year for my previous blog entry. If you are thinking this is mercenary then you are right and yes appearance can be bought on this website for the price of a beer.

Yet again, the pub was packed. My first call was to relieve myself of earlier drinks in the Gents. Ladies may wish to turn away now as I have to describe the room. If a man needs a quick pee, there is a nice wide porcelain urinal available. It’s the white wall with gutter communal variety rather than a series of single receptacles. So far so normal. However in front of the gutter there is a solidly constructed, stainless steel device – a fence with a sloping (towards the gutter you’ll be pleased to note) top about shin or knee height depending how tall you are. Neither myself or the man who walked in after me had seen anything like this before.

“Bloody hell, what’s that ?” he exclaimed.

As a guess, I suggested, it’s to stop us falling in.

“Hmmmm” he replied and then got on with the job in hand.

All I can assume is that the male population of Long Itchington are prone to a bit of urinal snorkelling or that they have a tendency to fall in to the inch deep channel and need to be rescued, hence a fence to keep them out and stop soggy feet returning to the carpeted confines of the bar. To be fair, it worked and no one drowned while I was in there.

Bear AssBack in the bar there was no immediate sign of Mark and I wasn’t going to push my luck trying for the free pint with anyone else, the man with the giant axe had been heading this way last time I saw him. Some amusingly named “Bear Ass” was available (The Warwickshire heraldic device is a bear and staff) and a nice new souvenir glass came my way too. In a side room a folk band played away but it was too crowded to stay inside and listen – anyway one strummer was sitting in front of the door so as to block any potential audience out. Assuming the sound would be audible outside we repaired to the wooden benches in the sun.

Outside again we discovered that the musicians had been put in a room with no open windows. Whether this was an oversight or comment on their standards of playing I didn’t get the chance to find out as Mark found me to say hello. It appears that despite me being rude about all the pubs last year, I wasn’t about to be chased out of the village by pitchfork wielding locals. In fact his disappointment was that I hadn’t been rude about his pub, which of course is his own fault for not putting any maps out for us last year. This year, much better and we could all get around as well as someone who has been living there for several generations.

Finally able to sit, I perused the enormous beer list and discovered that there was drink from the Castletown brewery based on the Isle of Man available at the Two Boats. Being a big fan of all things Manx, once the glass was empty, it was time for the trip to the canal.

On the way a stop was made for a Buck and Bell burger. At first glance a fiver might have looked steep but this was a proper burger. Un-round in the way only a decent hand-made burger can be, it was best part of an inch thick and complete with plenty of salad. It was this that was my undoing. I’ve always had a problem with tomatoes in sandwiches. They always seem to squirt juice over me as I eat and after just one bite, my shirt was splattered. Thus the rest of the evening was spent looking like the sort of sad act who walks around with food down his front.

Posh BurgerIt was worth it though. Delicious. Ronald Mac can only dream of producing such quality fayre.

The Two Boats is a canal side pub. To my disappointment the Castletown beer hadn’t lasted very long into the day so I drowned my sorrows with an alternative. The towpath drinking area was full but taking a stroll up the cut a bit seemed popular with most drinkers getting as far as the nearby lock before returning with a thirst. It certainly seemed a less wet option that the inflatable canoe being tested by a couple of hardy souls. I wondered if the large number of barges moored were related to the festival but then spotted glasses of wine sitting on the roof of one and a couple drinking canned poncy lager on another so perhaps it was just chance. The wall of boats probably did save the odd drinker from a dunking though later on as you couldn’t easily fall into the water.

Finally there was just time for a quick half at the Cuttle Inn the only other pub we hadn’t tried this year or last. It’s a posh place which is probably a haven for those who feel a bit pushed out by the incomers who only turn up once a year and can't be bothered to walk up the hill a bit. Behind the bar they discussed how Peroni glasses are more trouble than they are worth because they just keep breaking. Not knowing what one of these is, I took my Owl Screech and departed to the patio area. Here it was, overlooking the car park with Porches sporting signs warning the owners not to leave them here all the time as the spaces are wanted for other people, that we saw the only proper, TV style drunkenness.

A group of lads were out for the night and some were wearing fancy dress. In particular, one of their number who I seem to recall was named “Seth”, was dressed up like a polyester Richard Gere from “An Officer and a gentleman” in a suit slightly to big for him. For some reason he decided a beer throwing session was in order despite the protestations of his friends. Well, here is a handy hint for the future – If you are wearing a bright white suit, presumably with the intention of standing out in the eyes of the opposite sex, do not get beer and lager all over it. At the end of the film, Debra Winger was not swept off her feet by someone who looked like he’s been urinal snorkelling.

And so back to the bus. Just in time to escape before the predicted monsoon. With a bit of luck I’ll still be able to go back next year. Seth will have dried out and I might even claim my free pint.

Official Long Ithington Beer Festival website

I took a load of photos which are on Flickr for your amusement.

Thursday 29 April 2010


Welshpool Station SignBirmingham News Street station isn’t an appealing place at the best of times. With half the lights switched off thanks to an electrical fault, the resulting gloom does nothing to improve it’s appeal.

More of a worry that as well the escalators, the electrical mishap had closed all the concessions on the concourse, apart from a dimply lit branch of WH Smith. While this might have been a minor inconvenience for those in the magazine rack reading library, for me it could have been disastrous as my favourite muffin supplier was out of action. I was facing a long train journey at the mercy of the onboard catering trolley.

A quick dash up to the shopping centre above the station and a bit of hammering on the counter sorted things out as I purchased the last double-chocolate muffin in the place. Even better, it was so freshly baked the choccy chips were gooey as I sat and ate it three-quarters of an hour later.

My trip to Welshpool was a spur of the moment decision. Faced with a department meeting which didn’t concern me but promised to be limb-gnawingly dull and held in some out of the way centre that I suspected would tax my limited ability to navigate the roads of Coventry, I decided that a day off and a nice train ride was in order. The destination was one I’d promised to myself a couple of times looking out of carriage windows from passing trains. The weather was threatened to be superb, what was stopping me ?

Birmingham to Welshpool is served by a surprisingly long train that was unsurprisingly low of passengers. In my carriage there were no more than half a dozen of us. A couple of seats in from sat a sharply dressed man in a pale grey suit that contrasted with his Virgin Media t-shirt. When the guard arrived to check tickets he surprised me by pulling out an old-fashioned roll of cash rather than a piece of plastic to pay up – more Dell Boy than Gordon Gecko.

Plastic coated fieldSome say that England is disappearing under concrete. I disagree as the gaps between towns are still huge when viewed from the train. “They” may need to revise there opinions however as the latest thing seems to be to cover fields in plastic sheet. Long, shiny strips of the stuff are laid in neat rows covering and protecting (I assume) the precious seedlings. For anyone who complains about bright yellow fields of oilseed rape, the sight of striped grown visible from miles away should have them prepareing to fire off a missive to the Daily Telegraph.

At Telford the sharp dressed man left and was replaced by two very clean cut men in identical suits and ties who sat facing each other around a table. On the lapel of the one facing me was a large black badge on which I could read the words “Elder O’Brien” and “Jesus Christ”. I’d guess that it was Mr O’Brien on the train and not his boss, although if I’m wrong then the journey was surprisingly uneventful – no water into wine, raising the dead or that sort of thing. Closer inspection later allowed me to read the full text showed him to be a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ and the laterday saints – more commonly called a Mormon. Followers of this faith often carry out 18 months to 2 years full-time missionary work around the world apparently (OK, I looked it up on Wikipedia). It would appear that Elder O’Brien and his colleague were off to the wild lands of deepest Wales to print religion to an area where strange people spoke a funny language...

To be frank, the scenery on this trip isn’t much to write home, or even a blog post, about. It’s green and pleasant enough but rarely diverted me from my book, a slightly turgid tomb on the history of Radio 4. When we reached Shrewsbury the keen observer would notice some slight changes. The railway signals are the old-fashioned semaphore type rather than traffic lights.

Shrewsbury ArtThe station entrance is guarded by a huge signal box and the multiple platforms speak of a town of considerable importance. The platforms are graced with a brace of train-spotters, the first I’ve seen. Where once would have been displayed adverts there is now an art show by the Shrewsbury Youth Project. Each arch on a wall is home to a large canvas that has been decorated in a style the cognoscenti would call “Street Art” and others “Graffiti”. I suppose it ads a splash of colour to the scene and keeps the kids off the streets where they might choose to paint surfaces that can’t be easily replaced. You have to wonder if the architects and builders of the station ever envisaged that we’d be less interested in repairing the canopies than hanging up aerosol cartoons of people on bikes by “Shaz”.

The hills arrive as we approach journeys end. I could tell that I was in Wales thanks to the local speed camera van having something unpronounceable written in big letters on the side. Presumably “Safety Camera Partnership” or similar doesn’t translate naturally but you don’t want to annoy someone who has just been nicked for racing his Ford Escort down a windy road built for sheep by imposing law from a blatantly English vehicle”. Business looked slow as the only powered transport other than the train was a distant tractor.

Welshpool has several stations but the one travellers arrive at is a single platform affair with a bus stop shelter and connections to the town on both sides via a straggly metal footbridge. In an effort to completely avoid any steps and the straddle the neighbouring bypass the designer produced a structure looking like an enormous daddy-longlegs that someone painted in pale, municipal, grey. Contrasted against this were several fluorescent jackets belonging to one of the largest Police presences I’d seen for a long while.

The Old StationExiting the giant insect I wandered over to the Old Station. It was this building that caught my eye as I’d travelled past previously. A magnificent bring building obviously intended as a show-off gesture by a confident railway company. Now separated from the platforms by the main road, it has been turned into a sort of shopping centre where women buy clothes inspired by the countryside, rather than the sort of thing real country people wear which is mostly wellingtons and baler twine, for themselves and their husbands. For the gentleman there is a golf shop and surprisingly a small room full of Hornby trains and Scalextric cars. For the tourists, Welsh fudge and rock plus all manner of lovely souvenirs were on offer for that last minute present buying spree. While poking around and realising that even I was too fashionable for the garments on offer, I asked why the local constabulary were out in force.

“The Queen has come by train to open the new livestock market” was the reply. This explained it, when the monarch arrives then every copper locally is expected to polish his or her boots and keep the local population under control. Judging by the numbers on duty, it would have been a field day for burglars in the surrounding areas. Even though there was no sign of the royal train, every exit on the footbridge was guarded and a small group sat on borrowed chairs by the end of the station building.

Now the livestock market appeared to be on the other side of the tracks to the town in an industrial area. On that basis I didn’t expect to see HRH during my visit. How wrong I was. At the end of the short walk into town were streets bedecked with bunting and crowds filling the pavements – only prevented from encroaching on the road by cattle barriers and even more burly coppers. In the distance were some official looking cars and in front of these were some armed forces cadets, a lady in mayoral garb, lots of press wielding cameras and in the middle of the scrum, a very short lady dressed in blue.

QueenTo my right was the Royal Hotel, obviously the destination for the party and outside there more official types who were presumably wishing her maj had stayed in the car and ignored the crowds so they could have something to eat. Instead she was making her way down one side of the street talking and collecting bouquets from the public. On the other side of the road, Prince Phillip performed the same function although you get the feeling that those there felt they had got Wise and not Morecombe – good but you wanted to meet the bigger star.

Eventually the Queen got as far as me to the sound of cameras and mobile phones snapping away. A spontaneous burst of applause rang out – presumably clapping to congratulate her on being Queen or something. The general feeling was “Isn’t she tiny” and “Doesn’t she look lovely” followed by “Thank God she’s got here, now we can have something to eat” from those by the hotel.

Even then the entertainment was not finished. The BBC correspondent Andrew Marr was doing a piece to camera, presumably desperate to link the new market into some election farming story. “Hello Mr Andrew Marr” shouted someone close to me although he received no acknowledgement. Possibly Marr had already discovered that the big political story of the day was happening elsewhere...

With the Queen in the hotel feasting on the best this part of Wales can offer, the crowd dispersed. I headed off down a side street – fighting up the main road wasn’t an option as everyone had decided they needed to be somewhere they weren’t. Feeling a bit peckish myself I found a fish and chip shop with attached cafĂ© and ordered Newspaper frontfish (unspecified and no options were offered) chip and peas (mushy, again, not options). I’d picked up the local paper to read as it had a suitably apocalyptic story on the front page regarding the recent Icelandic Volcano. The editor had obviously decided that this was a bandwagon not to be missed and leapt on it with aplomb - “Volcano wreaks havoc in Powys” - which translates into “bowls players held up abroad thanks to lack of flights” . The food was very hot and very tasty. If I'm being picky, the peas and chips got a bit mixed up on the plate but who cares ? Not the local population as the place was filling up nicely as I finished munching. You could hardly hear “Loose Women” playing on the large screen telly opposite the serving counter.

After this I took a gentle stroll up the high street. For pudding I tried a shortbread biscuit, which was disgusting, and then a chocolate covered ring doughnut from a different shop which wasn't that much better. Handy diet hint: only eat food that you throw away before the second bite.

The town hall has been turned into a rather nice indoor market. Lots of local food on offer plus hardware, second hand books and two stalls of “stuff”, those weird gift like things involving far too many fairies and elves plus added dream catchers. How do they make a living ? Also, perhaps I was being unfair but on seeing another bakers stall, I decided against more cake attempts in that direction even though the comestibles on offer looked tempting and home made in a good way.

Over the top of the hill is the third station which belongs to the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway which although it closed in 1956, lives on in the hands of enthusiasts who run steam engines on days when I'm not there leaving me with a view not much better than that available from Google Streetview.

Giant HandbagNever mind, I wasn't there to look at steam trains. Even if I'd wanted to I didn't have time. Besides, the canal museum spotted on the way into town looked very interesting with an unusually shaped warehouse. Back in town the Queen had started to move so the straight route was blocked but some nifty navigation past the chip shop circumnavigated her. It's at that point my luck ran out – for future notice, the museum is shut on Wednesdays. Still, there were some nice wooden sculptures outside to look at, if you like giant handbags and fake birds anyway.

Back at the station the royal train was parked in the platform looking very nice and purple. Wale's best were blocking all entrances to the footbridge just in case anyone tried to find a seat on-board. A few people hung around but by this point she was ensconced in the travelling throne so there was nothing to see. Eventually the train pulled out and the plebs were allowed to wait for their own rather less grand conveyance.

Sitting on the platform a concrete mixer drove past with a fantastic claim, “Longest concrete conveyor in the world” . What a claim and what a way to finish up the day.

In summary: Welshpool, lovely town but give it a miss on Wednesday and try to avoid your visit clashing with the Queen.

See more photos on Flickr

Friday 1 January 2010


Exactly a year ago I set myself a challenge. The plan was to visit every town on my NRM Railway posters Calendar. Those who know me won't be that surprised that I failed. By the 30th of December I had visited exactly none of the places. So with one day to go, I made a dash for Chester.

The trip involved 35 quid and 2 changes of train but at least I'd have achieved one goal. That and I've been off work between Christmas and New Year so I needed to get out and about a bit to ease the effects of close proximity to chocolate. Even the weather seemed to be on my side.

First stop was Birmingham which is easy enough. A quick walk from Moor Street to New Street and on the departure board leaving in under 5 minutes was a train to Crewe, my next stop. This left me with a dilemma, I could make progress or catch the next train while purchasing my preferred travelling fare, vis a muffin from the Millie Cookies beside the ticket barrier and some soft drink. (Note: Other muffin outlets are available but for some strange reason they just don't seem to taste as good). Abstemiousness won and a few minutes later, after a search for the mysterious hidden platform 4C, I was on an electric train that made noises last heard emanating from the BBC Radiographic workshop in the 1960's.

Chocolate Orange MuffinFear not dear reader, I did not starve. On the train I was able to fill up on a chocolate orange muffin notable for it's unworldly colour. To be honest if you sat in front of it for long enough you'd get a suntan. I own an orange colour car and even that isn't this orange. It probably doesn't taste as nice as this did either.

The trolley operator was surprised when I purchased my food. She'd obviously spent the day dragging the thing up and down a quiet train and from the look of the stock my travelling companions weren't hungry. Mind you, the only other people in the coach were a couple who seemed to be studying closely the Daily Mail which was proclaiming that dissatisfaction with rubbish collections was resulting in 3 attacks on bin men every day. Presumably the writers of the paper though this was a good thing as they sat in a warm office in front of a computer having arrived at their desk some time after 9am. Later the couple turned to the Telegraph and the husband took great delight in reading items from the letters page agreeing with the Chinese Governments deployment of the death penalty.

Crewe is a station with a small town attached. Until 1831 it was a village with only 70 residents, then the Grand Junction Railway decided that it would be a nice spot for an engine works and station. Even today the station is impressive in a ramshackle kind of way. The low winter sun made for some spectacular photographic possibilities and I think I took what is possibly my best railway photo ever.

Platform 7

Of course Crewe station is home to the much maligned train spotter. Even on a cold New Years Eve there will still a dozen of so men in their late middle age and hearty outdoor clothing hanging around the platform ends watching trains. I feel a bit sorry for them - not only does the general population and mass media stigmatise their hobby as being worse than terrorism and mass murder, the railway have let them down. Once upon a time trains were made up of coaches with a locomotive at the front. Nowadays the coaches have engines and all look the same. On this one day though, with the sun shining, the trainspotters got a gift - into platform 10 (I think, Crewe is a bit of a maze) came 3 engines, being moved around for something technical to happen. 3 in one train ! You could see the faces light up.

More photos of Crewe.

I seemed to be one of the few heading to Chester. The train was quiet again although at one end of the coach there was a lady with one of those wheely suitcases who insisted on standing up with it in the aisle rather than availing herself of the many comfy seats available. From the way she clung on grimly to her luggage I assume that she was moving the crown jewels...

Steam MillChester starts with a huge railway station. The frontage is enormous - it's far too wide for my camera and even a decent panoramic outfit would struggle. The signposts point two ways into the city centre and I took the one that lead over the canal and past the slightly over restored Steam Mill. Once this will have made something useful but now it's a multipurpose nightclub and small business venue with what appears to be a greenhouse placed very tastefully on to. It's a very handsome building and rather more industrial than I'd expected to find in a historic Roman town.

Once into the city centre there was another surprise. It shouldn't have been of course as even the most cursory research (or looking things up on Wikipedia) would have forewarned me about the Rows. Chester's shops are a curious and unique design with two floors of frontage. The top row is set slightly back from the front and has a walkway along it. Therefore to see any street properly you need to make 4 passes, 2 at ground level and 2 at the first floor. On a rainy day I can see the upper levels doing good business as people shelter from the weather. Even those buildings that have been re-built maintain the design. Most of the structures are black and white wooden but there are a few that date from the 1960's and later yet have been incorporated into the frontage sympathetically.

Croner Shops

Another rarity are the city walls. For the casual visitor a quick nip along them allows you to loop from one area of town to another without retracing your steps. They afford excellent views of the cathedral and surrounding area. Some bookshops have even taken up residence along side them. In fact one of the joys is wandering as there are so many side streets and little alleyways to explore. Knowing I was tight for time I didn't had to pass many of these by but a weekend would be more appropriate to do the place justice. A complete circumnavigation by walking the walls ought to take a couple of hours, although this isn't possible at present due to a collapse earlier this year. At present repairs are being made but the archaeologists are taking the opportunity to find out more about the construction while access is available. Things should be back to normal by summer 2010 though.

Indoor MarketChester doesn't stand still though. A major re-working of the town cetre is planned, in fact the tower cranes are already looming. One casualty would appear to be the indoor market. Always a fan of these, this isn't one of the best but it has atmosphere, a lot of variety and a Christmas display that left the song "Rudolph the Red Nose Raindeer" rattling around my head for the next couple of hours...

My train home left in a different direction from the way I'd arrived which was exciting as that means a trip through Wales via Wrexham, Ruabon and Gobowen. This last stop is somewhere I've been before. For the leisure train traveller it represents the furthest west you can go on a West Midlands ranger ticket - any further and the network is Welsh (Gobowen is in Shropshire) and you'll need a different ticket sir. Sadly although the station is intact, the enormous coal conveyer and sorting system that delighted those of a mechanical bent is long gone and replaced by an icy puddle of a car park.

On the train, half the passengers were Arriva trains staff who told "war stories" to each other. One recent tale involved a passenger who was unhappy that people kept checking her ticket. She refused to show it to the guard on the grounds that he'd seen it several times already. As told the man said, "The more she protested, the more determined I was to see this ticket" and his comrades nodded in ageement, doubtless all with simialr stores to tell. Not all end quite the same way though. Eventually the woman reaslised that she hadn't show this guard her ticket after all because, "The last person I showed it to was a female." and promtly produced said item.

The trip through Wales was beautiful, or at least world have been if Arriva ever cleaned thier trains. If you are going to paint the coaches silver, get a system to wash them as they look terrible when covered in muck. Worse, from the effect from inside of a glorious sunset over snow topped hills was slightly lessened by all the mud on the windows.

Snowy Welsh Hills

More Chester Photos.

So I made one destination and thoroughly enjoyed it. Let's hope 2010 works better !