Islay and Oban: Part 2 Oban

Oban sunset

So, my 16.10 arrival at Oban was dramatic, with a sudden heavy downpour after a pleasant day's sailing. Luckily there was a Wetherspoons on the quay, The Corryvreckan, so I sheltered there for a while to check out the Pokemon situation. After it eased off, I found a cashpoint and wandered over to the Royal Hotel, one of those hotels popular with coach parties, and had seen better days. I was in Room 218 with a view out the back.

The Green Shack

I went back out to the harbour and, tempted by a free hot mussel, ordered a £3.95 portion from the famous green shack, eating them in the rain, under an umbrella - not easy! Then it was back to Wetherspoons for another pint and, after watching the sun set, back to the hotel for a £5 tot of Oban.


On Sunday, after a breakfast of beans, fried egg and potato scones, with tea served quickly by unflustered staff, I made my way to the distillery, where I showed my classic malts passport and got a free tour. The distillery is much smaller than Laphroaig, with half the stills - I did learn that the yeast came from Hull. At the end of the tour we got to sample 13-year old whisky, then the 14-year old in the shop, where we got another free glass. I used my £5 off voucher to buy a bottle, for £40. There was no photography allowed on the distillery tour. They have a tasting bar open until 6.30 serving wee drams for a bargain £3 a shot.

Oban Distillery

I dropped off the bottle at the hotel, checked out the free wifi in the lounge bar, then walked to the harbour. There was a big queue at the Green Shack, so I tried the Fishhouse upstairs, where they were doing a two-course lunch deal for £13.99. I had smoked haddock chowder and roasted local coley on a bed of prawn and leek risotto, washed down with a local beer - Skelpt Lug dark ale!

Purple Heather seal boat

I'd been debating whether or not to go on the boat to see the seals, but as the rain had stopped  I just had time to get there by 2pm, just as they were casting off. It was £10 and we headed for the steam ship monument, past the 1950s cathedral and finally to a rock full of seals. We also saw a pair of sea eagles and an M&S salmon farm.


After a pint at Wetherspoons (Sirius Dog Star) and a portion of chips with curry sauce, I wandered back to the hotel to find a keyboard and accordion duo playing for a coach party of Canadians. Then from nowhere, entered a very loud piper! marching up and down swinging his kilt!

Free beer in 1st class

Monday, it was an early start to get the 8.57 train to Glasgow, another scenic journey. I walked from Queen Street, past Robert Peel, to Central where I had a longish wait in the Virgin First Class Lounge! Yes my £46.20 ticket back to Brighton was first class! I had two cappuccinos (from a machine), loads of biscuits and popcorn and played Pokemon until it was time to board my delayed train (floods near Preston). On board I had free cans of beers (Wreckless), a dry tuna salad and lots of pretzels. The Gatwick Express at Victoria was late too, and when I got back to Brighton there was an hours wait for a Seaford train, so it was a taxi home!

  Tickets home

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Islay and Oban: Part 1 Islay

Islay ferry MV Finlaggan

While I'm up in Scotland, I always like to tag on a little extra journey: this year it was the whisky island of Islay and a town I've always wanted to visit - Oban. I discovered that twice a week there's a ferry from Islay to Oban (even though I couldn't find it on the inscrutable CalMac timetables). So Thursday morning 18 August I walked down to Haymarket station and bought a ticket to Glasgow Queen Street. After a pint at a convenient Wetherspooons, I set off to find Buchanan bus station (no trains go that way). What I didn't know was that the Citylink coach was going to Campbeltown! Anyway I found it and the journey was very scenic, past the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne, where we had a comfort stop at Inveraray.

Loch Fyne at Inveraray

At Kennacraig I bought my two ferry tickets as a £15.80 HopScotch deal (bargain!) and boarded MV Finlaggan for the 2-hour journey, where I consumed a couple of bottles of Islay beer and a bowl of chips. At Port Ellen it was a short walk to the White Hart Hotel, where to my surprise the bar and restaurant were closed - but the key to room 3 was waiting for me at reception. The room was fine and I had a view of the sea. I walked to a rowdy pub, the only pub, the Ardview Arms, drank a pint of McEwans and checked my wifi in a quiet room to the right. After a wee dram of Laphroaig Quarter Cask (£5.80) i wandered back to the hotel to watch the olympics.

Lagavulin distillery

The White Hart lived up to its Fawlty Towers reputation at breakfast, where two extremely flustered women tried to keep a minibus full of Poles and a celebrated musician happy with poached eggs. Mine - beans, fried egg and potato scones - was fine however. I walked to the bus stop - I wasn't sure of the times as I'd found two different timetables on the internet, but one arrived heading towards Ardbeg so I jumped on and bought a £10 day ticket. It passed Laphroaig and Lagavulin distilleries (which were supposed to be just a short walk from Port Ellen) and turned round at Ardbeg. I decided to jump off at Lagavulin and try to get on a tour. No luck, they were full, but I got my passport stamped. So, after failing to get a lift, it was a trek through the drizzle along the cycle path back to Laphroaig.

Tasting at Laphroaig distillery

Not a lot of people know this, but I own a plot of land on Islay, thanks to Laphroaig whisky and I was able to print out a map of its location. I also got 'rent' in the form of a wee bottle. The £6 tour was great - unusually they do their own malting - but I still had a two hour wait for the next bus, so I sat down in the comfy lounge, tasted a few more drams and played Pokemon Go with their free wifi!

Laphroaig plots

The bus took me along long straight roads across the island to Port Askaig, via Laphroaig's peat bogs by the airport, where a raucous group of men up for a charity football match (one played for Arsenal!) were waiting, but the bus had to do a school run, so we went to the pub (Port Askaig Hotel) and I had a surprisingly nice pint of Tennents 60/- Light (more like dark mild). After a sing song on the bus, and them calling me Ronnie, they got off at Bowmore and I travelled back to Port Ellen in peace.

I gave the posh restaurant at the Islay Hotel a go for a cappuccino, and stayed to eat in the bar, where they had Islay Ales on draught. I had roasted scallops followed by chunky fish pie. Excellent!

View from the White Hart Hotel

Saturday 13 August, morning, the women at the White Hart were even more flustered, giving me bacon instead of tatty scones, but never mind. At check out, one of them told me the hotel was up for sale and the owners didn't want to lose his licence hence the bar downstairs being dark. I caught the 9.40 bus to Port Askaig and met two old girls who'd been on the bus the day before. I had an hour and a half to kill so jumped on the ferry to Jura (£1.30 return) with the women and back on my own, then a cup of tea and wifi in the Port Askaig Hotel.

Jura ferry

The big ferry was MV Hebridean Isles and the four-hour cruise took us past many islands, with a stop at Colonsay, most were uninhabited - in fact we didn't see any houses until almost at Oban. I had minestrone soup and more Islay beer. The weather was glorious until we arrived at Oban, where it threw it dowm. Luckily there was a Wetherspoons nearby...

Arriving in Oban

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Part 2 Oban >
< Edinburgh 2016


Edinburgh 2016

Edinburgh freebies

Again, not much more than an itinerary:

Friday 12 August 2016
Travel up by train. Because Southern is so unreliable, get taxi to the station. Virgin East Coast delayed due to person on line at Newark, so had a half at the Parcel Office. Arrive Haymarket an hour and a half late, pint with Sam at Lock25 and go and inspect new BBC venue at George Heriot School. Raining.

Saturday 13 August 2016
£4 bus day ticket to Stand 3 for
12:00 Daniel Kitson presents an insufficient number of undeveloped ideas over ninety testing minutes, basically him talking to biologists on the front row, very funny though, and he's so quick witted.

Dazzle Ship at Leith

Bus to Serrano Manchego on Leith Walk for tapas, then to Leith docks for the Dazzle Ship. Bus back to Pleasance, thence to Mandarin House/Star Sea for chinese food and Blue Blazer for drinks then back to Stand 3 (same seats) for
22:05 David Kay, the self-effacing Scottish stand up. 

Sunday 14 August 2016
Taxi to Pleasance for 
13.45 Teatro Delusio by Familie Flöz - puppets and mine in masks, backstage at the opera.
Walk to Summerhall for

Meet Fred at Summerhall

15.55 Meet Fred by Hijinx Theatre - another puppet becomes self-aware helped by learning disabled actor Martin Vick.

Hole in the Meadows I fell down

Pint of porter and a quick look round the art before walking through the Meadows looking for Pokemon, where I put my right leg down a dangerous hole!

Surrealism at the modern art museum

Monday 15 August 2016
Art day. After a quick look round Daubigny Monet Van Gogh at the Mound with Mad, 14.30 art bus to Modern Art for Surreal Encounters: Collecting the marvellous to re-acquaint myself with all the paintings from the  Edward James collection that used to be in Brighton, now in Rotterdam. Back to Summerhall for more art and with a comp from Max, saw 
17.40 Molhados & Secos - Wet and Dry at Zoo - Argentinian physical theatre

Walked to Pleasance where I bumped into Jo Neary and Pad and saw
20.00 Pete Firman Trix at Pleasance Beyond - magic, with Sam dragged on stage!

Tuesday 16 August 2016
Brisk walk to Traverse for
13:15 Mark Thomas : The Red Shed - socialist comedy where we got to sing The Red Flag, Wakefield style.

Sunny walk to Book Festival, then bus to Dovecote and Talbot Rice galleries, then walk to George Square Gardens where we met Millie flyering, and home after a pint or two and a bowl of chips - spotted Paul Zenon and Alisdair Darling.

Best of Fest

Wednesday 17 August
Walk to George Square Gardens for 
12.30 'Best' of the Fest in Spiegeltent Palais de Variete - with drunken woman (Holly Burn), conjurer Chris Dugdale, Regency comedian Penny Ashton and Hoola Hoops by Flip FabriQue from Attrape Moi, all compered by Lloyd Griffith, who does impressive impressions of diy tape.

To Tanjore for Indian 'pizza' (uthappam) then back to Summerhall for
17.15 Adler & Gibb a play by Tim Crouch about a student doing a dissertation about a woman making a film about a reclusive American artist and her partner and an art dog (played by a child). Powerful stuff, as you'd expect. Then half an hour later it was back into the same room for
19.15 Robert Newman: The Brain Show - with Rob disagreeing with the experts and playing his banjolele

Then it was a final pint and a Mac and Cheese toastie and home. This year I didn't get to see Simon Munnery, nor the Fruitmarket, nor did I walk down the Royal Mile!

Mac and cheese toastie at Summerhall

Thursday 18 August 2016: Off to the western isles...


Mumbles and South Wales

Explore South Wales Pass
Explore South Wales Pass
When Jackie and Rob, Pam and Steve said they'd rented a cottage in June on the edge of the Gower, I jumped at the chance to mop up a couple of heritage railways and art galleries. All did not go to plan, however, and I'm not talking about the weather! At Swansea station, I bought an Explore South Wales Pass, which would give me four days of rail travel and eight days of buses, though many of the bus drivers I encountered had never seen one before and were wary! It cost £45.55 with my senior railcard. I subsequently found out that with my English bus pass, I could have got a day saver on the buses for £3. The Welsh, by the way, get their bus passes at age 60.

Vintage Gatwick Express at Barry Island!
Gatwick Express at Barry Island
We travelled down on Saturday, changing at Bristol Parkway and getting a taxi from Swansea station,  and Sunday 12 June was the only day the Barry Island Tourist Railway would be open. Sunday was also a day of few buses, so getting to Swansea bus station, then the not-nearby railway station was a trial. Anyway I got to Barry Island to find that the train running was a vintage Gatwick Express, operating as a Park and Ride shuttle - it was also the day of Barry Festival of Transport, with the Red Arrows (who didn't turn up due to weather). Anyway it was only £2 and on the way back (driven from the guard's van) I had the train more or less to myself.

View of Mumbles pier from Oystermouth Castle, South Wales
view of Mumbles Pier from Oystermouth Castle
Monday it was a trip round nearby Oystermouth Castle, up and down lots of steps and spiral staircases, and a look at Mumbles Pier (closed), coincidentally meeting up with Rob and Steve, then Jackie at The Pilot of Mumbles for a pint, sheltering from the rain. I caught a bus into town to buy some kippers and cockles from Swansea Market.

Me and Magritte, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Me and Magritte
Tuesday it was a trip to Cardiff for the National Museum of Wales, getting off at Cathays station. Unfortunately seven galleries were closed due to industrial action, including 19th Century British and the Blaschka glass sea creatures. Plenty of good stuff though: lots of Augustus and Gwen John and a big exhibition about the Battle of Mametz Wood. But I did get to meet my Facebook friends Nerea and Jo, who took me for a pint of Brains at the Old Arcade. They live up the Rhondda at Treherbert so suggested I stay over Wednesday then they'd drive me to the Brecon Mountain Railway on Thursday.

Trevethick replica at National Waterfront Museum, Swansea
Replica Trevithick loco
So Wednesday it was into Swansea for the National Waterfront Museum and Swansea Museum - I knew in advance that the Glynn Vivian art gallery would be closed. First though, there was supposed to be a guided tour of the Brangwyn Hall and Guildhall at 10am. I turned up, but it'd been cancelled due to lack of numbers, so I booked in for Friday. The Waterfront museum is modern, with big things like the replica Trevithick loco on the ground floor, and smaller pieces upstairs, including a first world war postcard exhibition. I had a coffee in the cafe first, then braved the various school parties visiting. It was raining stair rods outside!

Sign in Tram shed, Swansea Museum
Swansea Tram Shed
When it stopped, I popped in to the Tram Shed annexe of the Swansea Museum to see the trams, then on to the main building, which again had a big WW1 exhibition. Two galleries upstairs were closed, leaving only Egyptology and the Swansea Mummy. I was told that on Wednesdays, the Swansea Museum’s store, housed in the former Hafod / Morfa Copper Works in Landore is open to the public,  but I didn't have time to find it.
Replacement diesel at Brecon Mountain Railway
Diesel replacement at the Brecon Mountain Railway
So it was on the train up the Rhondda valley, a chippy tea and some tv at Nerea and Jo's. On Thursday we drove over the mountain, past old mines and wind turbines to find that the German steam loco at the Brecon Mountain Railway had broken and there was a diesel replacement. Ah well, it was a fabulous journey anyway, but it would have been nice to hear a steamer working hard up those inclines. We saw the other US locos in the shed (through windows) and the viewing gallery over the workshop, plus another two in the Steam Museum at the cafe stop. Then it was a lift to Merthyr Tydfil (home of Trevithick) and the train back to Swansea.
Brangwyn Hall, Swansea Guildhall
Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Friday was the guided tour of the 1934 Guildhall, with its viking theme, and especially the Brangwyn Hall and murals. Frank Brangwyn was commissioned to decorate the House of Lords with panels depicting the British Empire, but they were considered a bit too colourful and lively and were rejected. After a showing at the Ideal Home exhibition, they were snapped up by Swansea, and the half-built Hall was altered to accommodate them. They are magnificent, with lots of topless women, all painted in Ditchling using local models! Then, after welsh cakes and tea, it was a bus ride to lots of places beginning Ll... in the Gower, a Coffee Crunch cone at Joe's Ice Cream Parlour and a pint of Plum Porter at the Mumbles Ale House, thence home without incident on the Saturday.

More photos on Flickr.


Bavaria steam, rail and ale: part 2

Lake Ammersee
Lake Ammersee
Day 5: Sunday 8 May - to the lake!
Another early start to catch the 7.17 to Augsburg. Here we boarded the steam train hauled by 38 1301 to Utting and Lake Ammersee, via a station called Kissing! The heritage coach we were in had a flat tyre, so that meant a loud thumping sound every revolution. After a coffee by the lakeside (where the cafe had a veggie menu!), and watching a paddle steamer pass by, we returned to the steam train for a visit to the Augsberg Railway Park.

38 1301 at Augsburg Railway Park
38 1301
Here I had a quick €1 ride on a miniature railway (no photos!) to get my bearings, a walk round the International roundhouse, and into a shed containing various locos, the Trans Europ Express, people in Bavarian dress, a jazz band and a bar! Then it was backwards back to Augsberg station and back to Nürnberg, to be greeted by a whole station full of footy fans, inc St Pauli with their skull and crossbone shirts. We could have revisited the brewery on Day 2 to see the cellars, but it was a longish walk through the old town so I opted for a tram ride with some of the chaps for an Italian meal.

0-8-0 well tank at Emermannstadt
0-8-0 well tank No. 4
Day 6: Monday 9 May - our steam charter
Not such an early start to catch the 9.08 to Ebermannstadt. Here we had a guided tour round the shed - which included a prototype electric battery loco donated by Siemens that recharged the batteries on braking, whilst our industrial 0-8-0 well tank was prepared. The journey to Behringersmühle was very scenic with a couple of castles on hills said to have inspired Wagner to write Parsifal. After a beer from a dress shop (well, it was 11.30!) we returned, with a couple of fly-past opportunities on the way.

Bamberg Rathaus
Bamberg rathaus
Then it was on to the scenic town of Bamberg, with a route march to tonight's restaurant, then free time to see and photograph the sights. I had a coffee in a cafe next to the Tourist Information, then a hike up to the Dom (cathedral). Dinner was in the Schlenkeria restaurant, famed for its smoked beer (they do their own malting), and the best toilets in Germany. The meal - which started with white asparagus soup (we saw lots of it on the veg market), followed by stuffed courgettes - was fine except for the cheese afters, which looked like something the cat threw up. Strangely enough my veggie option was more salad! The smoked beer, however, was excellent.

1906 streamliner at  DB Museum, Nürnberg
Bavarian semi-streamliner from 1906
 Day 7: Tuesday 10 May - homeward bound, but first…
At 9am, after breakfast of muesli and boiled egg, we walked the short distance to the DB Museum for what for me would be the highlight of the visit - the German streamliner 05 001. But first, a walk round the main museum which contained an ancient 4-4-4 Bavarian streamliner from 1906, Class S 2/6 No. 3201. The museum was arranged chronologically, and they hadn't shied away form the period 1933 to 1945. The continuation upstairs was closed for building works, and I didn't have time to see the Telecommunications museum on the top floor, so it was outside and through a tunnel to the annexe, and the star of our show: 15 001. It didn't disappoint, a huge beast of a loco, in LMS maroon!

05001 streamliner at Nürnberg Railway Museum
4-6-4 streamliner 05 001
After a two-lap ride round the yard behind a narrow gauge diesel, it was back to the InterCity Hotel for our bags and the noon train to Frankfurt. At Aachen we spotted a couple of new Thameslink trains en route to England. Just missed a Brighton train at St Pancras so was joined by Big Alan as far as Three Bridges, and I got home, knackered, at around 10.30pm - we regained our hour down the Eurotunnel!

More photos on Flickr.

< Back to Part 1


Bavaria steam, rail and ale: part 1

52 8195-1
2-10-0 No. 52 8195-1
Day 1: Wednesday 4 May - getting there
My third trip with Railtrail Tours and another very early start to get the 8.55 Eurostar to Brussels. That meant catching the 5.44 from Brighton! This was before the London Road trains started, so it was a taxi to the station. In the end I caught the train before the one I'd planned on, so met Martin and got my free coffee and croissant at Des Vins. So, it was an ICE to Frankfurt and a change for Nürnberg, arriving at 8pm. Then it was a coach ride round the city walls to the Hausbrauerei Alstdthof for my first veggie meal of cheese croquettes and salad (the others had pork and dumpling). With this we got to try three very tasty beers and a red beer brandy! The itinerary had changed somewhat to accommodate this meal and there was an optional return later in the week to look at their cellars that I declined.

Czech 4-8-2 loco 475 III
Czech 4-8-4 475.111
 Day 2: Thursday 5 May - by steam to the Czech Republic
Another early start for the 6.40am train hauled by 2-10-0 No. 52 8195-1. At the Czech border, we changed engines to a beautiful 4-8-2 'Mountain' loco 475.111 which took us to Pilsen. Here we marched out of the station and I got left behind, but phoned Martin and was found in the cathedral square. Had a ridiculously cheap coffee (paid in Euros) - €4.20 for three coffees! - then went underground with a tour of the town's joined up cellars. There was a celebration going on of the towns liberation by the Americans, with various re-enactors to be seen. On the way back, we had a meal in the restaurant car and arrived back at the hotel around 11 o'clock.

10 001 semi-streamliner at Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg
10 001 at Neuenmarkt
Day 3: Friday 6 May - 10 001 semi-streamliner
Phew, a later start today. Time to buy a sandwich and catch the 9.05 to Neuenmarkt-Wirsberg to visit the railway museum (Deutsches Dampflokomotiv Museum) there - tantalisingly close across the tracks, but we had to walk to a bridge to get there. No live steam today, but a surprise was finding the semi-streamliner No. 10 001, one of the last locos to be built in Germany (in 1957). We also saw Hitler's coach, a tank painted in photographic grey and an austerity class of wartime locos. A big loco, 50 975, was outside on the turntable. We had two loops on a little diesel railway, past a snow plough, then back over the bridge to the station, where we spotted a rally of Goggomobils going on!

Brewery museum at Kulmbach
Then it was back on the train to Kulmbach and a long walk to the Mönchhof Brewery Museum (Bayerisches Brauereimuseum Kulmbach), where we were treated to a glass of their microbrewery Museum beer. After the guided tour, including a lovely art deco tiled room of mash tuns, we had more beer samples (no dark beer tho), with pretzel, then a meal in their on-site restaurant, sitting outside - I had two sorts of fish and potatoes. Then I shared a taxi back to the station with Big Alan from Horsham, who'd got one there!

Two Pacifics at Neustadt Weinstrasse
Two Pacifics, Swiss and German
Day 4: Saturday 7 May - two Pacifics
Another early start! This time on the 7.29am to Hanau. Here - on platform 101 - we joined a train hauled by No. 01 150 to Neustadt Weinstrasse, where we spotted Swiss Pacific 01 202. An extra on the itinerary was a (long) walk to the shed… once again I got left behind in the hot sun, but it was worth it to see the two locos side by side posing. Then a schlep back to the station and over the bridge to their railway museum DGEG Eisenbahnmuseum (which as the crow flies was within spitting distance of the station) to see a Bavarian pacific and various railcars. After a couple of beers in a cafe opposite the station it was back to Hanau for a meal of warmed up pizza and platform 103 for a train back to Nürnberg.

Part 2 - to the lake! >

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Liverpool, again!

Yo Hole in ye Wall
Ye Hole in Ye Wall, Liverpool
So, on Sunday I travelled down to Liverpool with NUJ DM Delegate Melita on the train and got off at Moorfields. When researching the pubs near my hotel, I discovered about five good ones were situated between the station and the Z Hotel. We popped our heads in the first one but Melita didn't like the look of the big screen, so i asked the barmaid the way to Ye Hole in ye Wall, and she took us there!

Yo Hole in ye Wall
Ye Hole in Ye Wall gents
It's a quaint old pub with lots of snugs. There was a session going on in the first one, and a Sports screen, but the beer looked good so we settled on an empty snug next to the Men's (women weren't allowed in until 1975, their leaflet told me). Mine was a pint and a half Peerless Oatmeal stout, made in the Wirral. I was convinced the crooner and guitarist next door had been in Liverpool beat groups back in the day!

View from my hotel
View from Room 614
Melita headed off to Lime Street and I crossed the road to find my hotel. It was a converted office building, with the bar and reception on the ground floor. It was next to one of those enigmatic Art Deco buildings without windows that are ventilation shafts for the Mersey Tunnel (but not at all noisy). I was on the 6th floor, with a view of a magnificent building with a sun dial. At 5pm we were promised free wine and cheese - but only one (large) glass per customer, that did me for tea, so it was upstairs to watch my 40in tv and bed.

Walker gallery
Walker art gallery
 Monday morning I walked to the Walker art gallery to see the Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion. With my Art Fund card and concession it worked out to be £2.50 entrance, so after a cappuccino in the cafe it was upstairs for the art. The exhibition was more about the Liverpool collectors and contained many lesser local Pre-Raph followers, plus some old favourites, including Rossetti's only nude Venus Verticordia. George Rae had a copy painted with drapery because he found it 'too voluptuous for a respectable  old timer like me'! A great exhibition and more outside in the permanent collection. Of course, I bought the catalogue!

Paul Brown at FACT, Liverpool
Paul Brown at FACT
Then it was to The North Western, the Wetherspoons under Lime Street station, for a beer with Rob and Jackie, who were up for a sundial conference. Now FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) was supposed to be closed on Mondays, but I risked it anyway and found the cafe and lobby, where there was a Paul Brown and Son exhibition - Scouse roots: Art that makes itself - open. I had some soup in the cafe then enjoyed the computer art. Then on Melita's insistence I patronised the Roscoe Head, opposite, for another pint, of St George - another pub with many rooms. In my snug was a canoodling couple and I didn't know which way to look - no music either to mask their snogging! They eventually left to be replaced by a little old man who told me how much he'd saved by cancelling his landline.

FACT cafe
Soup at FACT
The Bluecoat shut at 6pm, so I headed down Bold Street to find it. The exhibition on was Double act: art and comedy, which was slightly interesting. I ended up watching a 40-minute video of stand up by 'Karen' of Common Culture, which despite being rude about short men and old people, had some good lines. Her imaginary audience was called Fred! I nearly got locked in…

So, it was back to the Z Hotel (which I discovered was a stone's throw from Mathew Street), for free wine and cheese, then tv and bed. Tuesday morning I got the tube from Moorfields to Lime Street and caught the train before the one I had scheduled for - I had an open ticket. Found an unreserved seat in Coach U and was delighted to spot 46100 Royal Scot in steam, at Crewe


Southport (and Liverpool), again...

View from Southport pier
View from the end of Southport Pier
The last time I was in Southport was for the NUJ DM back in 2011. I was a delegate then, but this time I was an observer. I was also very diligent then, attending every session and a couple of fringe meetings besides, and regretted not taking time off to go to the end of the second longest pier in Britain, when it had a tram service. I also missed out on the Atkinson art gallery, which was being refurbished at the time.
Southport Pier road train
The Promenade Express
So, Saturday lunchtime I headed for the pier and hung about by an A-board advertising the Road Train, every half hour. It was nippy and a family and me waited what seemed like ages before the 'train' arrived. Bought a £2.50 return and we headed off, me wishing I'd brought a scarf. At the end of the pier was a pavilion containing a cafe and some penny slot machines. No sign of the sea, just endless sand. The driver and conductor were having a fag and a cuppa but eventually drove us back.

Atkinson museum, Southport
Victorian sauce inside the Atkinson
Sunday was much sunnier and I was joined by delegates Amy and Melita to the end of the pier. This time it was a bit busier - still no sign of the sea - and I got the next train back cos I wanted to see the Atkinson. It's housed in the same building as the town hall, under a clock tower, on Lord Street, which has many splendid buildings. The art gallery is on the first floor and comprises a large room themed as Victorian Dreamers, with a group of saucy paintings in the corner, including Pygmalion and Galatea by Earnest Normand and Lilith by John Collier, plus a couple of William Ettys. There was also a travelling exhibition of more modern works entitled One day, something happens. Another floor up is the museum, which houses some mummies, a Dan Dare exhibit, Meccano and Dinky Toys and lots about the history of Lord Street. On the ground floor is a cafe called Bakery, where I had a cappuccino.

Dan Dare
Dan Dare was born nearby
We were staying in a hotel that had seen better days - the Prince of Wales - me in a tiny single room on the 3rd floor. The DM was in the Floral Hall again (it will be in two years' time too) an we managed to visit a couple of quirky bars, including the Baron's Bar (ale £2.10 a pint) in the Scarisbrick Hotel and the Inn Beer Shop with its 'Continental-style seating' at the far end of Lord Street.  The strangest thing that happened at DM was at the Saturday night Gala Dinner when someone went to the loo and reported that Michael Jackson was next door! Well, a lookalike was, with a huge queue of women and children getting selfies with him. Apparently it was a show! 

Preston Bank, Southport
One of the magnificent buildings on Lord Street
On Sunday I set off with Melita to Liverpool…

More photos on Flickr.