Thursday, July 5th 2007
Our trip this time is to Shrewsbury. We visited it once before in peculiar circumstances and out of necessity rather than choice. This time we have come intentionally and with plans. These will become apparent as we proceed.
The aforesaid peculiar circumstances occurred during a visit to Wales. We stayed a few days in Swansea in a hotel run by a rather right-wing elderly Australian New Zealander with two sons, one permanently bad-tempered and the other, who was also the cook, rather slow-witted. They deserve a chapter all to themselves.
After this Antipodean interlude we were to travel to Caernarvon. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to travel by train from South to North Wales within Wales: you have to go out into England and come back in again.
On the day we were to travel, we climbed about the two-carriage cuckoo that was to take us on the first stage, only to told that there had been a bridge strike and the train could not run. What was to be done with us? No one knew. In the end, it was decided to transport us by taxi to Shrewsbury. The journey took 4 hours in an ex-London black cab and I can tell you we were glad to arrive. Those cabs are not very comfortable for long journeys.
This being our first acquaintance with Shrewsbury, we were hoping for a better experience this time around. Today we left Tigger’s workplace at 4 pm, dashed home to zip up the suitcase and put out the rubbish and then took the bus to Euston. A Virgin train took us as far as Birmingham where we changed to an older and more dilapidated Arriva train which brought us to Shrewsbury.
We found our guesthouse, Stiperstones, dumped our suitcase and went in search of sustenance. We found it at Cafe Saffron, an Indian restaurant which operates on the second floor of the building it inhabits, irresistibly bringing back memories of “Hotel 61″(see our adventures in the Isle of Man).
The meal was hot in spice but bland in taste, rather disappointing after a long journey. Then it was back to the hotel for a cup of tea and, it now being 1 am, the hope of a good night’s sleep.
Friday, July 6th 2007
After a good vegetarian breakfast (there were no waffles, at least) we set off to the train station to buy our Rover train tickets. These permit unlimited rail travel throughout the region and represent good value as well as saving the hassle of buying tickets for each journey.
Shrewsbury is to serve as our base for visiting several places as I shall explain as we go. Today we took train to Manchester, about an hour and 20 minutes train time away.
Never having been to Manchester, I had no idea what to expect. In the event, my general impression is that the city contains a lot of beautiful and historic buildings cheek by jowl with some modern monstrosities but is overall rather a mess. Maybe if you live here you perceive the pattern but, if there is one, I failed to see it.
One of the first places we visited was the Barton Arcade which I very much liked. It is a shopping arcade with office accommodation in ornate Victorian style with lacy metal work on stairways and galleries topped by a glass roof which fills the interior with daylight while protecting it from the weather. The whole place seemed rather dismal, as many of the units were empty or closed and the few people we encountered were mostly passing through on their way to somewhere else rather than lingering there.
Manchester has at least one excellent facility that is doubtless useful to residents as well as being a boon to visitors. I refer to the free bus services numbered 1, 2 and 3, which follow different circular routes around the centre. We sampled all three.
In the course of our wanderings we came upon the town hall, a huge and magnificent building. There was a Dutch market in the grounds which we visited and then we noticed that the public are admitted to parts of the building. In we went and spoke to a lady at reception who kindly gave us permission to take photos in return for assigning copyright to the Council and also access to the Great Hall on the first floor.
The Great Hall is magnificent, with painted panels round the walls depicting important events in Mancunian history and a ceiling with panels containing names of countries and symbols to represent them. The whole is sumptuous and colourful but also elegant.
It was now late afternoon and we had not had lunch so we entered Chez Gerard where we enjoyed a vegetable cous-cous in pleasant surroundings.
After this we took a ride on free bus 3 and got out at our train station, Manchester Piccadilly. We had just missed a train for Shrewsbury so rather than wait we took the next train to Crewe, which is on our way.
We didn’t explore the town as we were a little tired by now and so sat and took refreshments in the Upper Crust cafe until our train arrived.
Back in Shrewsbury, our first task was to find a meal. Dodging the bands of drunken young men whose idea of a good night out seems to be roaming the streets shouting at one another, we dined in ASK, and then went for a ramble around the town.
Shrewsbury turns out to be a picturesque town with many interesting old buildings. The town is almost an island, being situated in a loop of the River Severn. Thus wherever you go, the river is never very far away, lending its character and charm to the scene.
After a long walk we found our way to the station where we knew there would be taxis and hired one to take us up the hill to our guesthouse. We were glad that there are only 15 steps up to our room.
One amusing incident concerns photography. I grumbled to Tigger that the rechargeable batteries I use in my camera seemed to be wearing out as the two I put in fresh last night were already run down. Tigger looked at them and pointed out a notice on them saying DO NOT RECHARGE and another saying they should not be used after May 2005. For several years I had been recharging non-rechargeable batteries which were by now two years out of date. I got value for money out of them, I think.
I bought a set of rechargeable batteries of the same brand as I reckon they are good quality.
Saturday, July 7th 2007
Today we are going to Liverpool. I have never been to this legendary city and so I am interested to see it. Also, I have a connection with the general area that will become clear in due course.
When travelling anywhere from Shrewsbury, it seems necessary to go through Crewe. So it was today. We had to wait for 30 minutes there, reenacting our stop of yesterday evening.
On arrival at Liverpool Lime Street station we walked for a while looking at the sights and taking photos. Our next action was to take bus 10A to St Helens. Our destination manifested itself as we passed through Thatto Heath: Tigger spotted Elephant Lane. We got off the bus and went to look for Elephant pub.
Why was your non-alcoholic tiger looking for a pub? This particular pub was one of the reasons why we had come to this part of the world.
It is a large building (see photo) with a substantial courtyard at the back and a gate big enough to admit horse-drawn vehicles. A plaque on the wall carries the numeral 1903, which is presumably when the place was built. It would have been a grand establishment in its early years and is still impressive today.
This pub was once run by my maternal grandfather and my mother lived her early life there before running away and moving south where she married and had two children. She told me many stories of her life in the pub. I was now visiting it for the first time.
Of course, no one had heard of my grandfather though some men in the yard where they had gone to smoke showed some interest in my story and advised me to get in touch with a staff journalist on the local paper who publishes articles on local history.
On returning to Liverpool we had lunch. I later felt quite ill and think this caused by something I ate. On the spur of the moment, we decided to go to New Brighton but couldn’t find stop for the bus. We asked an off-duty bus driver. As we were talking to him, we saw a bus with “New Brighton” on the front but it had already left the stop.
“Come on!” exclaimed the man, “I’ll get him to let you on! I’ll tell him your my friends or something!”
Imagine us running through the traffic after the driver, dodging speeding vehicles and being hooted at, reaching the bus as it halted at traffic lights; the bus driver banging on the doors which opened to admit us. This is an illustration of how friendly and helpful people tend to be in this part of the world even to the point of breaking the rules and putting your life in danger…
New Brighton perhaps bears some resemblance to its better know namesake in Sussex but is smaller and quieter. There are sea views and a small sandy beach, and that’s about it.
Returning to Liverpool, we took a bus more or less at random. This one took us to Dingle via the Kingsway tunnel under the Mersey. When we wanted to return and saw the bus coming, the stop was far away, we ran trying reach it but knew we would not make it in time. Not to worry: the bus stopped beside us and opened its doors: that friendly kindness again.
We explored Liverpool in the evening light, taking photos, then caught a bus to station and boarded a train for Crewe.
At Crewe I suffered a strange incident. It was not a cold day but as I got off the train I felt cold and put on a pullover. Before long, I felt so cold that I was shuddering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering. I felt as if I were standing naked in snow. Tigger was quite alarmed.
The station cafe was closed so we went out and found a cafe and bought tea. I drank it as hot as possible in the station waiting room. I warmed up a bit but was still feeling cold by the time we got to the hotel where I went straight to bed.
I have no idea what happened to me or why it occurred.
Sunday, July 8th 2007
My stomach is still upset and I don’t feel like eating but at least the strange coldness has gone.
The plan today is to visit Sheffield, my old university city. I haven’t been there since I completed my postgraduate studies so the pictures I carry in my mind will no longer correspond to the modern city.
It turns out that there are rail works in the region, meaning that we have to take a roundabout route via Manchester.
Once again we find ourselves in Manchester with about an hour to wait for our connection. We found an eatery called Podz where I managed some soup and tea.
The train to Sheffield was crowded. It was old and there were only two carriages. We spent the journey on fold-down seats beside the doors.
Arriving at Sheffield, we enquired what was the best way to get to the university and I was pleased to be told this was by tram, or “Supertram” as they call them. I found Sheffield changed almost beyond recognition and had difficulty to getting my bearings.
I found a few traces of my time there, including the house that had been taken over by the university and was the Spanish Department in my day, and the West End pub where we spent so many evenings playing darts with the locals.
I must say that modern Sheffield impressed me. I prefer it to Manchester or Liverpool. I also felt more at home there than in any of the other places we visited. We hope to return and explore it more thoroughly another time.
We took a tram back to the station. The journey from Sheffield to Manchester was rather tiresome as train stopped at every small station. At Manchester we had an hour to wait but the bonus of a through train to Shrewsbury.
I think Manchester train station is the pleasantest and best organized that I know. After what I said about the town they deserve a compliment.
Monday, July 9th
The trip is over and we return to London today. Our train is at 13:22 so we can proceed in a leisurely fashion.
Having settled the bill we arrange to leave our suitcase at the guesthouse while we pay the town a last visit on this occasion.
What is the town called? Some prononounce it so that the first syllable rhymes with “toes” and others to rhyme with “brews”. My impression is that outsiders say “shroes” and the locals “shrews”. According to the taxi driver, it depends on which school you went to.
Be it “shrews” or “shroes”, the taxi takes us to the guesthouse to collect the suitcase then back to the station. The weekend rail work is finished and services are back to normal.
So normal, in fact, that the train which is to take us to Birmingham New Street is late and we may not make our connection. This is an ever present problem with two-stage journeys.
It is a mad scramble at Birmingham, running along the platform, up two flights of steps, along the bridge and down two flights of steps, dragging our suitcase, but we make it. There is even room for the suitcase in the luggage rack beside our seats.
The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive Euston and take the 205 to Angel. The familiar embraces us. We make tea, check email and download our photos. Tomorrow I will fetch Freya.