Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park

I hadn't been on a proper coach trip for a while so when Chrissie suggested Bletchley Park - Home of the code-breakers - by Brighton and Hove Coaches, with departure at a reasonable 8.49am I went for it. The coach was about half an hour late arriving at Preston Circus, and we trundled up the M23, M25 and M40 before a stop at Beaconsfield services, which I must say was a very superior service station, with noodle and curry bars, a Patisserie Valerie (where we purchased huge croissants for £1.15 each - would have been better warm) and even a Wetherspoon's! (a bit too early for me)

Enigma machine

At Bletchley Park, we were dropped off just inside the main gate and received our season tickets, valid for a year, then it was into the Visitor Centre and our first Enigma machine. After some films and more exhibits, we grabbed our audio guide and emerged into the sunlight, heading towards the lake. There were lots of huts to explore, but first we ate our sandwiches to accordion music coming from one of many hidden speakers around the place. Every so often we'd hear a train toot from the direction of the mansion… we were near the main line, but a steam train? We found out later it was part of the soundscape installation.

  Back of the bombe

First building to explore was Block B where a replica bombe was being demonstrated… I understood the limitations of the Enigma, such as if you pressed L it would never light up an L, but the rest went over my head!

  Turing's teddy Porgy

The museum houses many more Enigmas, lots of Alan Turing stuff, including his teddy Porgy and rowing trophies, and the formidable Lorenz machine.

 The formidable Lorenz

We visited several other huts, the most notable of which had Alan Turing's office in it and then it was into the magnificent mansion with its ornate carvings and stained glass windows.

Alan Turing's office

What a lovely place to work! It was a hot day and it was nice just to sit on benches, watch the ducks and listen to the sound installations all around.

 The lake, Bletchley Park

The mansion housed The Imitation Game exhibition, including the fake bombe used in the film. We learnt that Colossus, well a replica, was in the National Museum of Computing just a few yards away as the stone is thrown, but separated from us by a fence. To visit it we'd have to go back to the visitor centre and round the periphery road. Ah well, another time. We also discovered that the Post Office exhibit was being chucked out of the compound, and that the only 'outside' volunteer exhibit remaining would be the carrier pigeon hut.

Bletchley Park Post Office

If you like motorbikes and old cars there are plenty dotted around, there are also huts featuring radio communications. The place was full of school kids learning about codes and ciphers - and there's enough to see for two days at least, far more than I was expecting! At 5pm we wandered back to the coach and it was down the M1 home, with a stop at Cobham services, where I bought some mini-spring rolls and spotted a truckers' open-air laundrette. I was knackered! The deal cost £36, including admission, which would have been £14.75 for concessions.

The superior British Typex machine

And if you were wondering what the British used for coding secret messages, the answer is the Typex, which the Germans never cracked.

More photos on Flickr.


Freddy on the telly: Green roofs

Last October, a film crew from my local TV station Latest TV came to film Dora from Organic Roofs doing the autumn maintenance to my green roof. I thought it'd ended up on the cutting room floor, but I now have a link to the YouTube version! I appear about 11 minutes in. Not sure about those aerial shots of my bald pate, but there you go.



Mid-Wales: part 2 Aberystwyth

Barmouth sands

On Tuesday 7 April I packed my case and walked down to Parade Street to catch the T3 bus to Barmouth. I had no idea how much it would cost - my bus pass doesn't work in Wales - but it was a reasonable £5.80. The weather was glorious and we went through Bala (home of the Bala Lake railway) and Dolgellau, where I could have caught a bus to Aber. Approaching Barmouth I glimpsed the impressive railway/foot bridge over the estuary. I bought a ticket to Aber (£8.45) and had an hour to kill so walked down to the beach (the tide was way out, like Southport) then inland for a coffee and slice of bara brith ay Murray's cafe. The train was full but I got a window seat with a sea view.

Barmouth from the train

We passed the Fairbourne miniature railway and I caught a glimpse of a red loco at the Talyllyn. Approching the junction, the guard told us to look out for osprey and I thnk I saw one. There was an hours's wait at Machynlleth with nothing to do except have a cup of tea, then another full train to Aber, where the station is one big Wetherspoons Yr Hen Orsaf.

Aberystwyth station

I checked in at Harry's Hotel, where I was in single room 10, a bit of a come down after Cottage 21 but perfectly adequate, even if I couldn't get the wifi to work. It was a stroll to the from, to see the ugliest pier in Britain, then aback to the station for a couple of pints of Crimson King (Butcombe) using my 50p off Camra tokens (=£1.55 a pint!) and some sweet chilli noodles.

Aberystwyth pier

On Wednesday 8 April, after my splendid vegetarian breakfast (two Linda McCartney sausages etc etc), I trudged to the far end of the bay to the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway where a senior return cost £3.50 to ride on Britain's longest funicular. There was not a lot to do at the top so after taking a few snaps I descended and walked back along the front to catch the 12.15 Vale of Rheidol train (£15.20 with senior and Great Little Trains of Wales discount card).

Aberystwyth Cliff Railway

I'd already seen No 8 the day before when I arrived at Aber - the 2ft gauge steam railway is parallel to the mainline, and here it was again. I sat as near the front as I could on the left hand side of an open carriage. In front of me were a family with a dog that barked at every cow and sheep we passed. Soon we were up on the hill side with a vertical drop down the left-hand side, and a view of reservoirs and misty mountains.
No 8

We passed No 9 Prince of Wales at Aberffrwd, and spotted a pair of red kites. At Devil's Bridge, we had an hour to kill and while the driver polished his engine, i wandered down to look at the waterfalls. I didn't have time to pay £1 for a view of the triple bridge, and all those steps! So wandered back to the station and perused their second-hand books. I bought a nice couple of London, Brighton and South Coast railway books for a fiver apiece.

View below Devil's Bridge

On the way back I sat inside, as it was a bit nippy up there, and back at Aber I patronised The Old Station and ate burritos on their free pint deal (IPA).

Vale of Rheidol Railway.

After a smaller veggie breakfast (just one sausage) i said goodbye to Harry's and after a look in the Oxfam bookshop, headed for the station for the 11.30 to Birmingham. We hitched up with the Barmouth train at Machynlleth (no wait this time) and carried on through fields of baby baa lambs. I spotted Jon Mills' bridge on the cycle network, but saw no trace of the Corris railway or the Welshpool & Llanfair railway. As we got into England, the scenery got grottier, despite some nice looking canals round Wolverhampton way. At Brum it was onto a big long Virgin express to Euston, then the tube and Victoria for home.

No 8

More photos on Flickr.


Mid-Wales: part 1 Llangollen

River Dee, Llangollen

This year's Clarion Cycling Club Easter Meet was in Llangollen, so a great opportunity to explore mid-Wales and the railways there. I got a lift up with Mick and Anne on Good Friday who were taking their bikes (read about Mick's exploits here), and the journey was uneventful with just one comfort stop to buy Waitrose sandwiches: M40, M6 Toll and through Oswestry, where I saw signs for the orthopaedic hospital in which I spent many months of my childhood.

Cottlage 21

In Llangollen we parked outside Cottage 21, owned by Gales of Llangollen, which was pretty near perfect with two double bedrooms, a well equipped kitchen, conservatory, a garden backing on to the River Dee, a Co-op across the road and wifi that worked! We missed seeing the Llangollen Railway steam train on the first day, but it was apparently Prairie Tank 5199, never to be seen again. Then to the Wild Pheasant (Wrexham Lager the only decent beer) to collect our ribbons and the meet and greet. The mayor didn't turn up, so after a slice of bara brith it was back to town for a curry with Bob Harber, David and Terry at the BYO Samira Tandoori and I popped over the road to the Co-op for some beer (and got stung 5p for a carrier bag - good old Wales, I'd forgotten).

Railcar at Carrog

On Saturday 4 April, after the Clarion CC AGM (in which Mick proposed an amendment), I caught the 2pm railcar to Corwen (£13.50 senior), passing the steam train pulled by GWR 2-8-0 3802 at Glyndyfrdwy. I got off at Carrog on the way back to have a pint of John Willie's (JW Lees) at the Grouse Inn and await the steam train, which had pushed the carriages back to Carrog from Corwen, where it could run around to the front.


In the evening it was back to the Wild Pheasant for a ceilidh (the band comprising keyboard and accordion) and buffet supper.

Bombay bomb

On Sunday 5 April it was time to confront my fears and travel over the scary Pontcysyllte Aquaduct. After my second Bombay bomb (£1.80 from Bailey's) in two days, and a pint of Dutch Courage (North Star Porter) at the Corn Mill, I bought a ticket at the wharf (£13.50 again) and was told to wait for a bus down by the river at 2pm. The narrow boat Thomas Telford took us over the aqueduct, which wasn't scary at all as we were sitting down and enclosed, and then on a leisurely cruise back to Llangollen, via Trevor basin, bumping into the odd day boat on the way.

Pontcysyllte aquaduct

After a cappuccino and a quick look round the bookshop in the former Dorothy cinema, it was back to the cottage and thence to the Clarion dinner and prize giving. Our section won nothing, but Mick won a mug in the raffle.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen

On Easter Monday 6 April, it was a climb up Butler's Hill to Plas Newydd, home of the infamous Ladies of Llangollen. My 10% off leaflet was two years out of date but I was offered a free audio guide (£1.50 on top of the £5 admission) which I stupidly declined. However after chatting to the woman on the door I was persuaded to hire one and stumped up. It was well worth the money. I'm no fan of dark gothic wood carvings, but the interior is just bonkers. I had some leek and potato soup in the cafe, where the poor man was rushed off his feet, then wandered back to town for another pint at the Corn Mill, just in time to see the steam train arriving over the water. Popped in to the church yard on the way back to see the memorial to the Ladies and it was a self-catering meal and telly in the evening.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen

 More photos on Flickr.