Anti-Pacer's April ALR Report

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anti-pacer

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I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but just haven’t got round to it.

Back in April I did a 7-day First Class ALR, starting on Sunday 3rd. I didn’t take down any train numbers and I can’t remember all my train times but here’s what I did.

DAY ONE: SUNDAY 3RD APRIL

So, I started off with excitement at Wakefield Westgate for the 08:18 VTEC service to King’s Cross. That excitement dwindled slightly when I arrived at the station to find lots of Barnsley fans travelling to Wembley to play Oxford in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final. I’d never seen so many flat caps and the Yorkshire stereotype seemed to be well and truly alive. They were all good natured and well behaved, and although First Class was packed, it wasn’t rowdy. The customer hostesses kept us all topped with beverages and breakfast items, and the new red and grey leather interiors seemed quite nice.

At King’s Cross the Barnsley fans decided they would come into voice and sing songs that would be of no interest to anyone in London. I quickly departed for St Pancras across the road to board my very first Javelin train for the Kent coast. I took the 1112 to Broadstairs, looking forward to speeding across Kent. I was actually quite disappointed. The speed wasn’t as fast as I thought, and although off the mainline, we seemed to crawl between Ashford and Canterbury. I alighted at Broadstairs for an hour in one of my favourite seaside towns. The beach area was busy as the weather was remarkably nice. Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy it for long as I had to trundle back up the hill to the station, with my heavy rucksack.

I then took a train to Deal where a rail replacement bus was waiting for Folkestone West. I had a pleasant trip aboard a Stagecoach double decker through Walmer, Martin Mill, Dover Priory and Folkestone Central to Folkestone West. From there it was a quick dash to Ashford where I hoped to get the 1516 to Brighton. This was never going to happen given that I had a minute to change platforms in Ashford. I missed it by a cat’s whisker and spent the next 50 minutes in the Pumpkin Café.

My Class 171 train with its tiny but spacious First Class section was pleasant enough as we rode across the Romney Marshes, and through Hastings and Eastbourne. At Hastings a couple boarded and we got chatting as I had my very detailed UK road atlas out on the table (it features railways too, and in fact, just about everything). I explained what I was travelling the country for a week which interested them greatly, especially given my itinerary. Others around us started ear-wigging with interest too. At around 6pm we arrived into a very dark, thundery Brighton. The rain was lashing down and I had to walk the whole length of a 12-car Thameslink train to get to an emptier First Class than the first one. I’m not sure why I bothered as I was only going up to Gatwick.

The half an hour journey saw me chatting to a very attractive lady from Dublin who had been over to Brighton for some Irish Dancing competition with her young daughter. On arrival at Gatwick we said goodbye and we went our ways. As I was alighting people were pushing their way on, and the despatcher was blowing his whistle. The doors closed before this lady and her daughter got off. Bearing in mind they had a flight to catch, I went and reported this to a very uninterested despatcher who quite frankly couldn’t have cared less. I had a bit of time to kill at Gatwick so I had a quick look at South Terminal before taking what was I presume a 165 to Reading, leaving slightly late. This was around 19:15 from memory. The light was fading across the North Downs and darkness fell as we approached a wet Guildford.

At Reading I had a quick look at the newly refurbished station. I say “newly”, although I haven’t seen it since it was done up. I then boarded a GWR HST to take me to Paddington, where I presented my ticket at the buffet car and was given a rather full bag of “goodies”. I decided to save these, opting instead for a Big Mac at Paddington. After this I made use of the First Class Lounge and all it had to offer. Not as much as some guy though who must have thought the wine was water, given the amount he guzzled down. I thought I was bad!

Eventually a GWR Sleeper Host came in to advise that the train was ready to board if we wanted to. I stayed in the lounge a little bit longer before going to find my cabin. Being a “Sleeper virgin” I wasn’t sure what to do. Did I check in, do I wait in the berth, what do I do? I chose to wait in the berth, and a few minutes later a lady host came up and showed me the ropes. She was lovely! Middle aged lady with a northern accent if any of you know who I mean.

I was in bed ready for the train leaving and after the odd sensation of sleeping sideways on something moving, I must have dosed off. I was awoken in the early hours by the sudden urge to use the toilet. I quickly got half-dressed and tried to work out how to keep my berth door unlocked, failing miserably. I opted for putting a shoe in the door and quickly trotted off to the toilet. I realised the train wasn’t moving and a quick glance outside advised me that we were in Exeter St David’s station. I’ve never been to Exeter before, but now it reminds of having bad guts. Too much information I’m sure.

Right, that’s day one, but day two will take us from St Erth and St Ives in Cornwall, right up to Holyhead via Cardiff and the WAG train.
 
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fishquinn

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A very good read of the first day! I'm looking forward to the rest!
 

Techniquest

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An excellent read there, most enjoyed that!

First Class ALR too, wow that will have been an expensive trip from the outset. Surprised you didn't enjoy the thrash down HS1 though!

Know how you feel regarding Exeter, you do get places that will have that feeling. For me, being on a packed 323 out of Manchester Piccadilly brings up memories of a conversation by text years ago, and storming along the last few-ish miles north of Stafford on a LM 350 brings back memories of a different textual conversation with someone else. The two primary examples I can think of at least :)

Nice bit of variety there too, one of the privileges of an ALR!
 

David Goddard

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First Class Seven Day is £731 now, with £482.45 for Railcard holders
Standard Class is £483/ £318.80.
 

Techniquest

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I've always been of the view a First Class ALR is worth the money, but I'm always going on foreign holidays now so I doubt I'll ever get one done sadly.
 

anti-pacer

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I've always been of the view a First Class ALR is worth the money, but I'm always going on foreign holidays now so I doubt I'll ever get one done sadly.

Do it. It's well.worth it.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
DAY TWO – MONDAY 4TH APRIL

After getting some sleep, I awoke and after a wash presented myself to the lounge car where I was presented with a bacon roll, fresh orange juice, and a pot of tea. I glanced out of the window and we were coming into Lostwithiel. The lounge car seemed to act as a commuter train at this point. Looking out of the window at Cornwall, I couldn’t help noticing how different it looked to other parts of England. I hadn’t been before but it felt like I was in a different country, and most of the houses appeared to be white. I sat back and enjoyed the pleasant run to St Erth.

At St Erth I boarded the 0905 to St Ives which was a 4-car 150. After what felt like a slow, but extremely pleasant journey I arrived in St Ives. I was only here for just over half an hour, just enough time to walk up the steps at the end of the station car park and admire the view over this stunning little town. I could have stayed there all day but I had an itinerary to stick to. I boarded the 0953 back to St Erth which was late, and I only just made my connection onto the 1010 GWR HST service to London. Stupidly I had not reserved a seat, and although most were reserved, I did manage to find one. An attentive host soon arrived offering refreshments and croissants. He must have offered these 6 times by the time I arrived in Plymouth – very good service.

At Plymouth I changed onto the XC service, which from memory was a HST set. We’d not even left the station when I was offered something to eat and drink. I opted for a roasted vegetable wrap which was quite nice. The journey was lovely although the weather was poor. I especially liked the bit around Teignmouth and Dawlish. At Exeter, this time without bad guts, I chuckled to myself about the events much earlier that morning on the Sleeper.

I left the service at Bristol Parkway and after a quick dash up the stairs, across the bridge, and down to Platform 2, I boarded a GWR HST to Cardiff. Again, the hosting was good and I was adding to my collection of “goodies”. No wonder my bag was heavy! At Cardiff I asked if I could leave my bag in the First Class lounge whilst I had a whistle-stop tour of the city centre. They were most obliging, so off I trotted around a very different Cardiff from the one I remember. I was very impressed!

An hour or so later back at the station, I waited with anticipation for one of the highlights of my trip, the 1716 WAG train to Holyhead. A very bubbly hostess (more later) showed me to my seat – one on a 4 seat table, whilst a couple of ladies got on and plonked themselves down on a 2 seat table. Being the nice guy I am I offered to swap with them to give them more space. Big mistake! They closed the curtains after Abergavenny because of a tiny bit of sun creeping through, so I missed the Black Mountains. The food however was lovely. I had smoked salmon to start, trout for my main, and a cheeseboard served on a slate to finish, all washed down with a couple of glasses of wine. After Hereford when someone had got off, I moved to a 4 seat table so I could see the scenery a bit better. I got chatting to the two hostesses, the blonde one called Cara, and the other slightly larger girl who’s name I can’t remember. We pretty much chatted for the rest of the journey, although the one who’s name I ‘ve forgotten got off at Bangor. They were lovely!

I alighted in Holyhead and made my way to the nearby Travelodge where I promptly fell asleep. All in all a great day!
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
DAY THREE – TUESDAY 5TH APRIL

Waking up at the crack of dawn isn’t my favourite task, but there was an itinerary to stick to and the country wasn’t going to see itself now was it? Showered and dressed I made my way to the station for the 0655 VT Voyager to London Euston. A very nice hostess took my breakfast order and not long after I was travelling across North Wales eating a surprisingly nice cooked breakfast. The sun was shining as I watched it reflect off the sea between Colwyn Bay and Abergele, and my mood was “relaxed”. At Crewe they had a crew change and a miserable Asian guy took over. He really looked like he couldn’t be bothered, bless him! Speeding through the Trent Valley and alongside the M1, then through the Home Counties, we arrived at Euston before I knew it.

I went down to the Underground and topped my Oyster card up and took the Northern Line to Moorgate and changed there for the Circle Line to Liverpool Street for the 1130 “Not so Great(er) Anglia” service up to Norwich. At the gateline there seemed to be much confusion as to the validity of my ticket, until another colleague arrived and verified that I was, in his words, “good to go”. So off I went, to the most unremarkable First Class of any of the “Intercity” operators. As we were passing Shenfield a hostess asked if I would like some refreshments. I asked what the choices were, and was told basically a drink and a packet of crisps OR biscuit. I asked for a can of Coke and was advised they weren’t included. I opted for orange juice instead. The rest of the journey passed pleasantly enough, even if the First Class offerings were underwhelming.

At Norwich I transferred onto a rather busy 2 car 156 which left at 1345 for Sheringham. I alighted at Cromer and trundled with heavy bag in tow to the pier and seafront. The weather was dull so I didn’t stay long on the pier, just long enough to take some photos, have a brief sit down and eat my crab sandwiches purchased en-route from the station. Still hungry I walked up the steps into town and bought some jellied eels (never again!). I sat on a bench and heard two couples chatting to each other. The two guys worked with each other in Guildford 15 years earlier, and one had moved to West Runton (just outside Cromer), and the other had moved to Dubai. They were totally amazed to have bumped into each other after all this time! Anyway, after ear-wigging I walked back to the station cursing and swearing at my heavy bag, and sat in the shelter with a couple of overly noisy kids and their grandparents. They were doing my head in, and I had to bite my tongue. Still, I suppose kids will be kids.

I took the 1557 back to Norwich, again formed of a 2 car 156 and equally as busy as the train to Cromer. The journey passed quickly and I was straight onto the 1657 EMT service to Manchester Piccadilly, which I would take as far as Peterborough. I was surprised there wasn’t a little First Class section, so instead I had to “rough it” in Standard (I joke of course). The journey across Breckland and the Fens was pleasant enough, and it didn’t seem long before I was boarding the 1837 VTEC to Wakefield.

I had feared that by boarding at Peterborough I wouldn’t be able to get anything to eat but how wrong I was. A charming hostess arrived very quickly and took my order. I enjoyed a continental meat platter with olives which was very tasty, followed by a cheeseboard. I washed these down with 3 cans of Magnum’s Irish Cider, and even took a bottle of their real ale “Hop On Board” home with me.

I really enjoyed this day, apart from the heavy bag I was carrying. It was also nice to come home, if only for one night, to sleep in my bed before setting off again early the next morning.

Join me again for the next instalment - Day Four – which takes me from Wakefield to Mallaig, then back down south on the Caledonian Sleeper.
 

Techniquest

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Another excellent read, and good to know First Class service on the Western is still top notch. I really need to do that again, been far too long since I had a First Class run anywhere.

You certainly had a good time so far, and glad your second experience of Exeter wasn't as bad as the first one!

Surprised you didn't carry on to Sheringham after Cromer though. Shame the First Class experience isn't much to speak of on GA. The scenery is nice up to Hereford on the run from Cardiff, so a shame you missed it. It's still nice enough to Shrewsbury, but not quite as good in my eyes. I speak as a local to that line!
 

anti-pacer

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Another excellent read, and good to know First Class service on the Western is still top notch. I really need to do that again, been far too long since I had a First Class run anywhere.

You certainly had a good time so far, and glad your second experience of Exeter wasn't as bad as the first one!

Surprised you didn't carry on to Sheringham after Cromer though. Shame the First Class experience isn't much to speak of on GA. The scenery is nice up to Hereford on the run from Cardiff, so a shame you missed it. It's still nice enough to Shrewsbury, but not quite as good in my eyes. I speak as a local to that line!

Glad you enjoyed it.

Two reasons for choosing Cromer over Sheringham.

1) Timing
2) I have happy childhood memories of Cromer

Sheringham is lovely though.
 

Techniquest

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Fair enough, I've never stepped off a train at Cromer so no idea what it's like. I assume then you didn't need the track if you've been up that way before.
 

anti-pacer

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Fair enough, I've never stepped off a train at Cromer so no idea what it's like. I assume then you didn't need the track if you've been up that way before.

My dad's company had a villa at Cromer Country Club back in the 80's and 90's. It's still there to this day and is a complex of villas surrounding a clubhouse, pool, gym, takeaway, and a small amusement arcade. It's very nice and located up by the lighthouse. As a result of numerous trips there I could settle in Cromer very easily.

We also moved to Norfolk in 1992 for 4 years, living in Gorleston near Great Yarmouth, so have been to Sheringham countless times.

For a county so flat Norfolk is surprisingly popular and beautiful.
 

Techniquest

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Fair game, I've only ever really done the railways around the area, not stopped off properly and looked around much of the county.

Agreed that it's a nice area though, based on a short visit to Brundall!
 

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very interesting, seems like a good trip out - your first two days are an almost carbon copy of my ALR from 2 years ago. Even day 3 is only sightly different in that I went to Yarmouth rather than north Norfolk and you got off at Wakey rather than Leeds ;)
 

anti-pacer

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very interesting, seems like a good trip out - your first two days are an almost carbon copy of my ALR from 2 years ago. Even day 3 is only sightly different in that I went to Yarmouth rather than north Norfolk and you got off at Wakey rather than Leeds ;)

It's funny because I read yours after I did mine, and it was actually yours that inspired me to post mine.

When I was reading yours I thought they were similar. My plan was to try and cover all of the country. Given the lack of a good First Class on Scotrail I did change my plans slightly, as will be revealed shortly. ☺
 

DarloRich

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It's funny because I read yours after I did mine, and it was actually yours that inspired me to post mine.

When I was reading yours I thought they were similar. My plan was to try and cover all of the country. Given the lack of a good First Class on Scotrail I did change my plans slightly, as will be revealed shortly. ☺

Glad you liked it! I had a lot of fun. I even broke my no travelodge rule and was impressed with the one at Holyhead. Still cautious after one to many bad stays with TL!

Scotrail was OK when I did the first class ALR and the same OK on a standard one ;) I am looking forward to the Mallaig section - i have never managed to cover that area. That is despite trying several times!
 

anti-pacer

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Glad you liked it! I had a lot of fun. I even broke my no travelodge rule and was impressed with the one at Holyhead. Still cautious after one to many bad stays with TL!

Scotrail was OK when I did the first class ALR and the same OK on a standard one ;) I am looking forward to the Mallaig section - i have never managed to cover that area. That is despite trying several times!

The Travelodge in Holyhead was nice. I have stayed in two more since - Swansea city centre, and Bethnal Green - both were nice. Prior to these three I had stayed at one on the A40 near Monmouth. This was back in 2007 but they appear to have stepped up their game.

The Mallaig line is stunning by the way. A definite must!
 
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anti-pacer

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Agreed on Mallaig, not been for a long time but highly recommended, even on a day of heavy rain as I had!

I rained when I was there, but more on that in my next instalment.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
DAY FOUR - WEDNESDAY 6TH APRIL
 
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55013

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Thoroughly enjoyable stuff so far.
It fair takes me back to 2006 when my wife and I did a two week, none cranking, ALR.
 

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If anything apart from a 334 turned up on the ride via Bathgate, it will be a contender for Move of the Year! It's rock solidly 334-operated down that line, I doubt much else at all is cleared between Airdrie and Edinburgh. 67s I know are but for normal operations, probably nothing else.

It can be a tourist line, if you enjoy your 334 motor noise as I do ;)

Green with envy on the Mallaig trip, really need to get myself up that way!
 

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DAY FIVE - THURSDAY 7TH APRIL

After a surprisingly comfortable night on the Sleeper I awoke minutes before the host knocked on my door with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, along with a pot of tea. According to Realtime Trains we were near Nuneaton, so after breakfast and a wash I moved down the carriages to a different lounge car. This one had removable tables and chairs and looked more like a bar. So there I sat watching Milton Keynes and the countless other commuter towns pass by before Bakerloo Line trains came into sight at Harrow & Wealdstone. How odd it seemed that this same train was passing snow capped mountains and lochs when I boarded, and now the urban sprawl of London and its tube trains were upon me.

After alighting and a very quick dash to Victoria by tube I took the Gatwick Express to.... you've guessed it, Gatwick. The plan was to charge my almost battery dead phone up for 30 minutes before boarding, from memory, the 0940 train to Portsmouth Harbour (time thereabouts if not exact). I'm not sure of the train class, but let's just say apart from a dividing door, there was no difference in seating arrangements between First and Standard Class. At Horsham the train was divided and off we departed on a very pleasant trip across what was for me uncharted terrortory, past Arundel Castle, Chichester and soon into Portsmouth Harbour.

I rushed down to the ferry terminal and bought a "ticket to Ryde", and immediately boarded the fast ferry across the Solent, enjoying the sights on deck. Portsmouth has a great skyline in my opinion and with the three forts dotted in the sea, it makes an interesting crossing. Shortly after at Ryde Pierhead, I boarded an ex-LU stock train at about 1145-1150 that would bounce and rock me down the east coast of the Isle of Wight to Shanklin. I then bought a through ticket to Yarmouth on the other side of the island, courtesy of Southern Vectis buses, and enjoyed a lovely journey via Ventnor to the main town on the island, Newport. Time for a quick bite in the very busy McDonald's near the bus station before continuing my bus journey to Yarmouth, now in the pouring rain.

I had about 45 minutes before the next Lymington ferry, and despite Yarmouth's picturesque appeal, the rain made me stay in the small terminal. By the time I'd boarded the ferry the rain had stopped so I spent the whole journey on deck. I could see the Needles in the distance to the left of me, and as far as Portsmouth to the right, and the ever closer Lymington ahead. The nearer we got it felt like we were doing a slalom course following a channel marked by buoys.

I took a 159 train for the quick journey to Brockenhurst, which I was surprised to see had a First Class section and those all important plug sockets (something the Southern train to Portsmouth didn't have). From memory I then took the 1615 SWT train to Waterloo, again with much needed plug sockets, and although I was travelling back up to Wakefield, I did wonder about staying down there as I would be back through Brockenhurst the very next day. I opted for home instead.

A very busy SWT train on what I thought was quite a boring route to London passed the next couple of hours. It wasn't unpleasant, just nothing special. At Waterloo my legs were aching somewhat, although I'm not sure why, so I walked slowly to the tube. I took the Bakerloo Line to Piccadilly Circus from where I took a secret(ish) staircase to the Piccadilly Line for King's Cross. I had read about this on a website and I'm so glad I discovered it.

I think my train to Wakefield was the 1833, again I could be wrong. Again very attentive hosting. I opted for Continental Meat Platter I had two days previous, along again with cheese and biscuits. They even gave me a second helping of cheese and biscuits later on as they had some left. I washed the lot down with a few cans of Magners cider and some whisky. En route around Grantham I saw the most dramatic sky which after a few snaps quickly became my Facebook cover photo.

All in all a fantastic day!
 

Techniquest

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You would have had a 377 to Portsmouth, one of 6 different varieties on Southern. Obviously it wasn't a /6 or /7 as you'd have had power points on those. I *think* 377/4s have them in First Class, so you were unlucky.

Your trip from Lymington to Brockenhurst will have been a 158 with SWT too, probably a 444 (if it was white on the outside at least) for the London leg.

It is the most magical thing about the Cally Insomnie, being able to wake up in London having fallen asleep in mountainous scenery. As you can imagine, the same magic doesn't happen when you join at Inverkeithing on the Seated Sleeper and leave at Crewe! :lol:

Another excellent read!
 

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Sounds like another great few days! I'm now really looking forward to taking the Cally Sleeper tomorrow from Inverness to London!
 

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Probably would have been a 377/1 (or a /2)to Portsmouth as they don't have sockets in first class.

Sounded like a good mix of units and locos so far :)
 

Aldaniti

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An enjoyable - and if I might say so - very well written report. Looking forward to reading the last instalments. :)
 

anti-pacer

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DAY SIX - FRIDAY 8TH APRIL

I had I hopes for today as I took the short taxi ride from my flat to the station. I was about to experience an EMT breakfast on the 0538 HST set which I planned to take as far as Leicester. From there I was going to travel via Nuneaton to Coventry to connect with a southbound XC service. I knew EMT started doing breakfast after Sheffield so I figured Leicester would be OK to have crammed one in. However, it wasn't meant to be! I'd picked the one day when the kitchen had no power. Breakfast was off!

I decided to alight at Derby and assess my options. I needed to be in Swansea that evening as I had a Travelodge booked so I frantically searched Realtime Trains to plan a revised itinerary. I was rather pleased to be able to do this in the First Class Lounge where I took advantage of their complimentary offerings. After much deliberation I opted for the 0750 XC service to Southampton. This train proved to be my only real delay of the trip. This was due to line problems into New Street restricting the amount of lines in use on approach to the station. It was all falling apart and when we limped into New Street we were 30 minutes down.

All was not lost as a travelled south with my breakfast wrap, through Banbury, one of the many places I've lived. I sat back reminiscing about my few years there and the great time I had there. A pleasant run followed through Oxford and onto the GWML, where I noticed new electrification poles being erected (sorry, I don't know the official term). After another seat change at Reading to prevent backwards facing travel, I noticed we'd made some time up.

I decided to change at Winchester to take advantage of the same platform interchange onto a SWT 444 unit to Weymouth. I waved to Brockenhurst where I'd been the previous day and enjoyed a lovely journey through Bournemouth, Poole, Wareham and Dorchester, again, new territory for me. On arrival at Weymouth I was delighted to see the seafront was very close to the station. I liked Weymouth instantly. I had a lot more there than I was expecting. I enjoyed a walk along the seafront towards the harbour with its almost turquoise water. I bought some seafood which although was nice, was hardly filling. I opted then for some chips which I enjoyed looking out to sea. I really didn't want to leave and have vowed to visit again.

Approaching the station I saw the police arrest someone, much to his protest. Minding my own business - kind of - I boarded a 150 to Bath (1508 rings a bell). This was a long, uncomfortable ride although I kept nodding off so probably missed some lovely countryside. The scenery was very nice the closer to Bath we got, especially at Avoncliff. As we approached the fine spa city, we all got off. No service beyond Bath due to electrification works so it was a rail replacement bus to Bristol from the nearby bus station. This was a brand new Wright Bus registered to First LEICESTER!

The bus was stuck in traffic for much of the journey to Bristol Temple Meads, although it was rush hour. Later, aboard the 1830 XC Leeds train, I was offered some snacks. I was only on until Parkway where I changed to the 1843 GWR HST Carmarthen service. As I sat back in their comfy, high backed, leather seats an attentive host came along to offer refreshments as I watched the South Wales cities and countryside go by. At Port Talbot I noticed the BTP in reasonably large numbers but with few passengers about.

Not long after I emerged from Swansea station into the "ugly, lovely city" as Dylan Thomas once described it. "Wet" was my description as I trundled off down the road to the Travelodge by way of an off-licence for some beers. I checked in, had a shower, changed, and passed the rest of the evening watching telly with a few beers.

Not quite the day I'd planned but enjoyable all the same.
 
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fishquinn

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Shame about the brekky faliure but it sounds like you had a good day anyway, 221 from Derby to Basingstoke (<() excepted.
 

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Shame about the brekky faliure but it sounds like you had a good day anyway, 221 from Derby to Basingstoke (<() excepted.

The First Class on a XC 221 is rather nice through ;)

Luxury compared to the 150 from Weymouth towards Bath, which could either have been one of the delightful high-density units (mostly 3+2 airline seating) or a reasonable 2+2 seating with tables.
 
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