23.10.14

Llandudno and the Snowdonia railways, part 4

Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Too windy to summit
Day 7: Snowdon, second attempt!
It was my last full day, so I had a second go at ascending Snowdon. Not such an early tart this time, so it was a mini full Welsh breakfast and down the hill to catch the 9.16 X5 to Caernarfon, via Bangor. At Caenarfon I caught the 88 (one an hour, on the hour) to Llanberis and got there in plenty of time. Unfortunately, it was too windy to travel to the top, so the train was only going 5/8 up - to Rocky Valley. Secretly I was a bit relieved as I'm not good with heights, especially when you're the highest thing for miles! With all my discounts the ticket worked out at £16.80 (I'd bought a Great Little Trains of Wales discount card and this gave me 20% off). So, to kill time until the 12.30 departure, I watched the film about the railway in the little cinema.

Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Inside the carriage
The coach was divided into compartments and I was in H. Just as we were about to set off a coach load of Japanese tourists arrive, with cameras and selfie sticks, and occupied the front of the train, we were by the engine, a diesel called George.
Snowdon Mountain Railway.
12 George
   
So, we trundled up the slope slowly, over viaducts and passing waterfalls until the landscape became quite barren. After passing another train coming down we stopped at Rocky Valley, then edged a little further on so we could see Llanberis Pass, from above. We weren't allowed out so had to take pictures through the glass windows.

Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Llanberis Pass - spot the road!
Back down on terra firma (we exited through the gift shop), I'd again missed the departure of the Lake railway so caught an S2 Sherpa bus through the Llanberis Pass trying to spot where we'd just been, up in the clouds. At Bews-y-Coed again I caught the X1 to Llandudno, had a coffee and toasted teacake in the Coffee Centre (there are lots of very old fashioned cafes there) and was temped by the 'veggie pie' advertised on a board outside the Alexandra Hotel (as featured on Hotel Inspector) and the smile of the waitress. It turned out to be a big pasty, filled with what could have been leftover veg in a cheesy mashed potato sauce. I was disappointed not to have had a Welsh rarebit in the time I'd been in Wales! After a pint in Wetherspoon's it was a walk in the rain back to the B&B to watch part 2 of The Apprentice.

Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Compartment H, at the top of our climb 
Day 8: to Bury
After a leisurely breakfast, I ambled to the station via a few charity shops to het the train to Manchester. I got the 135 bus to Bury and after a coffee and Bakewell tart (£3 deal) in the Art Gallery, made my way to my sister's.

More photos on Flickr.


 

22.10.14

Llandudno and the Snowdonia railways, part 3

Llanfair PG
Llanfair PG station
Day 5: Llanfair PG and Conwy
Monday was cold and windy and I accompanied Chrissie to Llandudno Junction to see her off to Euston direct. I planned to visit Conwy but saw that my train was going to Llanfair PG, the station with the longest name in Europe, the journey would also take me across the Menai Strait to Anglesey. Irt was a request stop so I informed the guard and alighted, to take some snaps and buy a souvenir platform ticket (30p) from the Pringle outlet nearby, then it was arm out to stop the next train, and another request stop for Conwy.

Smallest house, Conwy
The smallest house in GB
Apart from the castle, Conwy is famous for having the smallest house in Great Britain, and its mussels. In fact there is supposed to be a mussel museum there, but I couldn't find it. Nowhere seemed to be serving the famous mussels either, so after a pint in the Blue Bell, I caught the bus back to Llandudno and some of Wetherspoon's finest five bean chilli.

Welsh Highland Railway
Garrett 138
Day 6: the Welsh Highland Railway
It was up at 7am and a bowl of porridge for me on Tuesday - I had to get to Caernarfon for the 10am train and the 5 bus left at 8am. The train was pulled by the same 138 I'd cabbed on Saturday and I spotted a green Garrett on the way. Instead of a return, I booked a 'Snowdonia Single' (£15.80 with various discounts) that would take me to Porthmadog and on to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The WHR journey takes 2 hours, but the Ffestiniog just an hour. At Porthmadog it was much quieter than the weekend so I had some leek and potato soup followed by bara brith in Spooners, then went looking for a cashpoint. The train uphill was pulled by Merddin Emrys. At Blaenau Ffestiniog I took the train back to Llandudno and had a coffee in the Mostyn modern art gallery just before it closed.
Ffestiniog Railway
Merddin Emrys

Then it was to the Palladium for two pints of Hawkshead Red and their sweet chilli noodles, and back to the B&B for Holby City and The Apprentice.

More photos on Flickr.

Llandudno and the Snowdonia railways, part 2

Llandudno
Great Orme Tramway
Day 4: a lovely day in Llandudno
On Sunday we took the tram up the Great Orme. My landlord Keith had advised me of some vouchers in a leaflet that got us 15% off the £6 return. It trundled up the steep streets, past the King's Head. What we didn't realise was that the journey was in two halves: our tram stopped half way up and we had to walk to another tram to take us to the terminus. At the top we alighted and looked round the visitor centre before scaling the summit.

Llandudno
From the cable car
Chrissie persuaded me to have a go on the cable car, so we travelled down to Happy Valley, past some mountain goats, with a great view of the pier, had a coffee and then travelled back up, and then down again on the tram.

Llandudno tram
Tram
We then walked down the pier, past the dilapidated Grand Hotel, and sat for a while basking in the sunshine on one of the many benches that line the pier. Back on dry land, a boat - the Sea-Jay - was giving half-price (£2) trips round the bay, so I jumped aboard and Chrissie sat it out. It was only a half trip too, just about 20 minute round the pier, not venturing round the corner of the Orme.


Llandudno
Sea-Jay
We walked along the pristine front to the bandstand then ventured inland for another coffee. Back at the Wetherspoon's they had run out of Sunday roasts, so we schlepped up to the King's Head for an 'open' veggie lasagne, which was very tasty and not too filling.  After three pints (one Bass, two Spitfire) it was back to the B&B to watch Homeland series 4.

Llandudno pier
Llandudno Pier

More photos on Flickr.

Llandudno and the Snowdonia railways, part 1

Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Ever since I went on my coach trip to North Wales in 2009, staying in Rhyl. I've wanted to return, but this time staying in the more attractive resort of Llandudno, with the twin objectives of doing the Snowdon Mountain Railway and travelling on the completed Welsh Highland Railway line all the way to Porthmadog. I was joined for the first part of the holiday by Chrissie, who through a train-driving friend at the Albion had wangled a couple of free tickets for the Ffestiniog. We travelled up on Thursday 9 October via Warrington, a station that could do with a few more destination boards, and by the time we arrived in Llandudno, at 4pm, everywhere was closing! I booked in at Anglesey House, right bang opposite the Tramway station, and she was in the Stella diagonally opposite. It was curry night at the rather splendid Wetherspoons, the Palladium, and I had a couple of pints of Dark side of the Moose.

Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Will we get a ride today?
Day 2: to Snowdon
We got the train to Bangor (I bought an 8-day North Wales Flexi-Rover ticket for £42.20, Chrissie got  £10 day rover) and then jumped on a bus to get us to the bus station. Bangor was another place lacking in information, so after asking a few bus drivers we established that we needed a yellow 85 from stand A and they were one an hour (a quarter to, we discovered). Arriving at Llanberis we saw the queue for the 1pm train, but our names were taken and if they could find 20 people we'd go up at 2pm. As it happened only 14 people registered so the train was cancelled! We'd also missed the Llanberis Lake Railway, which set off at 1.40, but we spotted an S2 Sherpa bus, heading for Betws -y- Coed so we jumped on.

Pen-y-pass
Pen-y-pass
 The journey through Llanberis Pass to Pen-y-pass was spectacular and made up for the disappointment. At Betws-y-Coed we visited the museum (£1 admission), where they had many model railways and a scale model of 70000 Britannia and got an X19 back to Llandudno and fish and chips at the Palladium and another pint at the King's Head, up near the tram station.

Brittania
70000 Britannia model
Day 3: Ffestiniog Railway Victorian weekend
On Saturday we discovered there was a rail strike, so got the X1 bus to Blaenau Ffestiniog. We got there just as the train was coming in and exchanged our vouchers for free tickets. The train was hauled by David Lloyd George, one of those push-me pull-you designs, and we travelled down the hill to Porthmadog, where Chrissie was surprised to find her football friend Paul waiting.

Ffestiniog Railway
David Lloyd George
A beautiful Garrett, No. 138 from the Welsh Mountain Railway was also waiting on the platform, and Paul arranged for me to step up into the cab. He also arranged for us to travel back First Class in the observation coach.

Cabbing 138
Garrett 138 with me on board!
On the way back up, we stopped to allow a gravity train to pass by, populated by volunteers sitting in slate wagons with their legs hanging over the side of the loco-less train.

Gravity train
Gravity train
We had to make the last X1 bus at 16.30, but we had plenty of time and back at Blaenau Ffestiniog had a coffee in a nearby cafe. In Llandudno, we had a pint at the Cottage Loaf, and a Chinese at Jasmine House, then it was back to the B&B for Dr Who and Casualty.

First class
Travelling First Class
More photos on Flickr.

17.9.14

Pipes on film



Paul Light's video Changing Lanes - The Story Of Lewes Road For Clean Air, about improvements to the Lewes Road cycle lanes. I'm interviewed 10 minutes in! Above, that's me and Caroline Lucas MP.

16.9.14

Folkestone Triennial 2014: Day 3

The Wind Lift

So, I splashed out £9.50 for a full English breakfast and was shown to my table for two. It was the weekend buffet service, rather than the extensive menu waiter service the morning before. The veggie sausages were the type made from vegetables! Not impressed. Very kindly, Chris gave me a lift to The Wind Lift (Marjetica Potrč and Ooze), which was working! There was a Host at the bottom operating a button and a Host in the lift with you explaining it all. Half way up he stopped it to see if I was OK. I'm not good with heights, so was a little nervous. We went to the top, almost level with the viaduct, but after a minute or so I asked if we could go down now. An exhilarating experience!

  Host of The Wind Lift

Round the corner was everyone's favourite, Jyll Bradley's Green/Light on the site of an old gas works. It weaves hop poles and twine amongst the neon lights and is apparently spectacular at night. I checked another headless cock Whithervane (rootoftwo) off my list (they also light up at night depending on their mood) and a final Pent House.

Jyll Bradley
Then it was a walk back to the station where I saw the two I'd missed on Day 1: Strange Cargo's The luckiest place on earth, with its penny wish machine, and Yoko Ono's Earth Peace poster.

 Strange cargo: penny wish machine

Yoko Ono at the station

The train was going to be ages so I jumped onto a Javelin HS1 train to Dover for the journey, and got a Victoria train back and onwards to Ashford where I had a coffee waiting for the Brighton train. Back home I jumped onto my bike to catch Stage 7 of the Tour of Britain, down the seafront.

Julien Vermote: The winner of stage 7

The Triennial is on until 2 November, give it a go! More photos on Flickr.

Folkestone Triennial 2014: Day 2

Art lovers

After pinching a piece of toast from Chris's breakfast plate, we set off down the Zig Zag path in search of more art. I was expecting just a regular zig zag path, but what we got was a Victorian (built in 1921?) fantasy in Pulhamite artificial stone, which looked remarkably like bungeroosh. In one of the grottoes was Krijn de Koning's Dwelling, a sort of de Stijl construction in vibrant colours.

Krijn de Koning: Dwelling

Dotted about the descent there were also lots of playgrounds for children (and adults - see Flickr). At sea level and further west we found the Beach hut in the style of Nicholas Hawkesmoor by Pablo Bronstein, a fabulous steampunk lighthouse, but we were not allowed inside.

Pablo Bronstein: Beach hut in the style of Nicholas Hawksmoor

Then it was a long long walk to the harbour (they need a Dotto train!), passing various remnants of past Triennials. To recover, I popped into a dark room to watch Look out! by the Folkestone Futures Choir, a mix of Parkinsons sufferers, OAPs and children voicing their complains to 'the council' among others. The rest went to explore the station and lighthouse, while I had a wander up the Old High Street to see the other Andy Goldsworthy place Clay steps, clay window, and a wonderful shop called Rennies where I bought a checklist of Picture Puffin books.

Andy Goldworthy:  Clay steps

After a quick look at Emma Hart's Giving it all that (Oi! Mate!), the rest headed North; I headed to the nearest bus stop heading for Dover, from which I was treated to fabulous views of both towns. Once there, I hopped on to a bus to Deal, where I admired the pier, had a coffee and teacake at King's Coffee House and bought a book from Oxfam.

Deal pier

Back in Folkestone I just had time to have a go on the Leas Lift (80p down and another 80p back up again) - one of the few water-powered funiculars left in Britain - before joining the others at the Lifeboat Inn for a couple of pints in the garden. We got a cab back to the hotel and ate out at Hop Kweng, a Chinese laid out in booths, patronised by Bob Monkhouse and Jim Davidson. The food, and company, was excellent. Over dinner we'd been discussing magic shows, particularly Paul Daniel's trick of making a man stick to his chair. I said it must have been a willing assistant of some sort. When the fortune cookies arrived, mine said 'Disbelief destroys the magic'. Spooky! I went to bed while the rest crossed over to the Grand hoping to see a Victorian magic show, but it wasn't...

The Leas Cliff Railway

The triennial is on until 2 November.

15.9.14

Folkestone Triennial 2014: Day 1

Reading Dan's blog reminded me that I'd been meaning to see the Triennial, and a quick shout out on Facebook established that Bongo Pete and Way-out Wolfie - surely the world's best tour guides - had booked two nights at the Burlington Hotel. In 2008 I went for the day, which was not enough - and I missed the last one completely, so off we went. They were getting there in Chris and Judy's motor car, so the idea was to travel by train with Pete's sister Sarah. Except… there were two rail fatalities on Thursday morning cancelling my connecting train from London Road to Lewes, so I jumped on a Brighton train and arrived only to see the 10.32 Ashford diesel pulling out! So, it was back on the train to Lewes, another to Hastings and I ended up on the one I would have caught an hour later from Brighton. At Folkestone Central at last I walked past two pieces of art without noticing (Look Out!) on the way to a bus stop. From the bus station I headed for the top of the Road of Remembrance where I bumped into Sarah!

Knitted poppies

At the harbour, we saw our first art - Gabriel Lester's The electrified line, a bamboo observation tower straddling the old railway lines. But first we had coffee and toasted teacakes at The Hatch cafe, where we failed to spot our first Pent House, where the lost River Pent pours into the sea. The Host at the bamboo deck was very helpful (all the hosts we met were friendly and informative), pointing out all the other art we'd missed. But where were Pete and Lisa?

Gabriel Lester: The electrified line

After popping along to the deserted station to see the neon Tim Etchells Is why the place, we had a quick token dig on the sandy beach to find the gold bars Michael Sailstorfer had buried, to no avail and found our way to the Visitor Centre at the bottom of Tontine Street, where I recommend you watch the short videos so you'll know what to look out for (also keep an eye out for the green triangles). Here we were joined by Pete, Lisa, Chris and Judy and we all went to examine the second Pent House (Diane Dever and Jonathan Wright) - a big wooden water tower you could climb into.

 Pent House

Further up the street was a small wild garden, the site of a WW1 bombing raid that killed 60 people and destroyed the bakery there. Here was Amina Menia's Undélaissé ghost signs, right next door to a decorative pub turned art school annexe. And then it was across the road to the Andy Goldworthy pop-up gallery. It was almost 5 pm and everywhere was closing, but we managed to see Something & Son's Amusefood, a self-contained recycling 'farm' for producing fish, chips and mushy peas hydroponically, sadly not yet available to eat!  After a pint or two of Harvey's at the Guildhall, it was a long stroll to the cliff-top hotel, and thence out to The Meze House nearby for a delicious Greek supper.

Something and Son: Amusefood

The Folkestone Triennial runs until 2 November.

10.8.14

Edinburgh 2014: part 2

Tamsyn Challenger installation at Summerhall

Saturday 2 August and we walked across the Meadows in the rain to Summerhall, to meet Mad. It wasn't quite open for business and the number of art exhibits seemed to be down on last year. Particularly liked the Meteorite room (Swiss artist Augustin Rebetez), full of mechanical things moving and screens with stop motion animations on. Genesis P Orridge had a show too, in the Hope room where Michael Nyman was last year. After a pint of Barney's beer, we put Mad on a bus to the borders and sheltered in the Green Mantle where I had my first Mac and Cheese, and American version of macaroni cheese only not as cheesy.

Mac and cheese at the Green Mount

Rob Newman's New Theory of Evolution at the Stand in the Square was the first show we'd paid to see and reasonably good it was too, on an oversized yurt. Afterwards Sam and Teege went on to the Purple Cow to meet friends; i carried on back to the flat.

Sunday 3 August I spent most of the day indoors watching the Commonwealth Games road race in Glasgow on tv. Then it was over to the Zoo venue near the Pleasance for The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote by Little Soldier Productions, three Spanish women and an Englishman who clowned out scenes from the book on a small stage with trapdoors, swopping roles as they went along. Spanish guitar was played throughout and there was only mild audience participation.

That evening we had more free tickets to see Rhys Nicholson (Clover, 20.05), a dapper Australian who made jokes that sounded somehow shocking coming from such a young mouth! The narrative was based around a guard llama. At least there was no audience participation, apart from a dig at someone who left in the middle of the show.

Pizza at La Piazza

On Monday 4 August we saw the biggest show so far: Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete History of Comedy (abridged) 13.05 at Pleasance One (free tickets!). They were American, which came as a surprise, but were very amusing, except when they invoked an imaginary (?) clown Rambozo, it did tend to go on a bit.

We met Mad again at the City Art Gallery and had coffee there then at 16.25 it was Stand 3 for Robin Ince's Blooming Buzzing Confusion. He'd already said on Facebook that he'd lost his voice, but it didn't sound too bad, though he stopped a couple of times to complain he couldn't do his Brian Blessed impersonation. The show was about the amazing brain and I enjoyed it a lot. We caught the tram to the West End, had a pint in Aubar and a pizza next door at La Piazza.

Last show of the day was David Trent back at Pleasance Courtyard (21.45). He used a video slideshow to dissect the sexist Robin Thicke video and a Nick Griffin of BNP fame cookery show (yes, it really exists!). This was Sam's favourite show, so far.

Ellie Harrison at the Talbot Rice

Tuesday 5 August was my last full day and we visited the Talbot Rice for  Counterpoint, a group exhibition, including a confetti cannon that will only be fired on a Yes vote. The last show of my stay was Simon Munnery, back on stage at Stand 1 (15.55) with Sings Soren Lierkegaard (half price tickets). Munnery is a banker and never ever disappoints. Stewart Lee is another but we were taking a rest from him this year. We were going to have a Chinese fish meal, but it was shut so we had a very filling African tapas at Indaba.

Jim Lambie at the Fruitmarket

On the way home on Wednesday 6 August, I got the bus to the Mound and popped into the Fruitmarket for the Jim Lambie exhibition. I wasn't expecting much more than stripes on the floor, but it was worth a visit, especially for the maze of mirrored ladders downstairs. Edinburgh to Kings X was a breeze (at York I'd seen 46115 Scots Guardsman on the way up, but only the Harry Potter loco was outside on the way back). The Thameslink train from St Pancras to Brighton was another matter, it was packed, it being just after 5pm, and it went a very circuitous route, via Herne Hill, Tulse Hill, Gypsy Hill and Crystal Palace! Should have got the bus to Victoria…

PS. It has always been a tradition that the first pint in Edinburgh is a glass of 80/-, but this year it was nowhere to be seen. Deuchars IPA is more or less everywhere, but no Cally 80… On my last say however I finally got a pint of heavy at the bar in Stand 1. So now you know.


Edinburgh 2014: part 1

This year's Edinburgh was a bit of an experiment: go up early and bag some free tickets. Yes, groan! Free means crap usually, doesn't it? Anyway, I was willing to take a chance - besides I couldn't find any really cheap rail fares, so it was £33 up and £15.85 back from Kings X with another £20 on the fare from Brighton to St Pancras and back (bad move, more later).

Edinburgh tram on Princes Street

I arrived on Tuesday 29th July, met Sam and had a quiet night in. Next day it was to the Mound by bus and a trip on the new tram to the stop before the Airport. The tram journey was included in my £3.50 day ticket (hooray!), but if you go all the way to the airport, which you could see from Ingliston Park & Ride, it'd cost a fiver. The trams are badly laid out for the casual viewer as the driver is so high up you can't see out the front.

  On an Edinburgh tram

 Went back all the way to York Place then popped in to the National Portrait Gallery to check out the Ruskin (with Sam's Friend card) and John Byrne (Tilda Swinton) exhibitions, use their loo and have a coffee! Walked through St Andrews Square where they were erecting a Spiegeltent for the Stand, and after a pint of Munro Mild at the Abbotsford on Rose Street met Sam and Teege to see Steen Raskopoulos at the Wee Coo (20.10), a shouty Australian with a little too much audience participation in his act for my liking. Nobody was safe!

Most pierced woman in the world

Thursday 31 July, I visited the Writers' Museum off the Royal Mile, a really interesting building, but dull exhibits, apart from the printing press at the top of the stairs (no photography allowed!). Walked down the Royal Mile and spotted Elaine Davidson, the most pierced woman in the world. Ended up at the Pleasance and got some free tickets for The only way is Downton (18.20, Pleasance Above, Luke Kempner), which I enjoyed but Sam hadn't ever seen it so was mystified. The impressions were excellent except for Richard Osman in a Pointless segment. Then it was Luke McQueen at 20.00 in Bunker Two, who did the whole act in his underpants, baked beans dribbling down his chest. This involved far too much audience being picked on, tho one punter refused to play ball!

David Shrigley at the Mound

Friday 1 August, I got the bus to the Mound and visited the Scottish National Gallery (front bit) which was given over to Generation: 25 years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. The David Shrigley room was the best tho I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the show. It continued at the Modern Art Museum, so i got the 2pm Gallery Bus (now a cramped minibus) out of town. Tip: get there early to get a seat, and it no longer stops at the Portrait Gallery.

 Gallery bus

I gave the American Impressionism show at the former Dean, now Two, a miss, checked out more Generation and had a coffee in the grounds behind the gallery. Back at the Mound, I popped in to the back bit to see the permanent collection and The Art of Golf downstairs, which had some nice railway posters in it.

Installation at the Modern Art Museum

That evening we had sushi with Belle and Adam at Kanpai, where I was presented with a customised bottle of 'Clear yer Pipes' green chilli sauce from Big Red's Chilli Company, and cocktails at Monboddo, where the cast of River City were celebrating the opening of a play 3000 Trees directed by Libby McArthur. Jimmy Chisholm from Braveheart was also there.

More to follow...