I’ve had the morning off as it’s Dawn’s birthday. We’ve had to cut the planned days celebrations short due to work commitments but I was determined that I’d at least take Dee out to celebrate before I began my journey from West Yorkshire to the Kent coast. I’d booked us in at La Luna in Halifax which is an attractive cafe/restaurant in the centre of town that does a cracking brunch which (sadly) is all we had time for. Even so, it was a lovely interlude.
Now I’m on my travels again, beginning with Northern’s 14:16 from Halifax to Hull as far as Leeds. The service is made up of a pair of former Scotrail Class 158s. Having started from Halifax the trains pretty quiet which is nice as it give me the chance to do some work and recharge a few devices from the USB sockets. I know now why my new Fitbit 5 is called the ‘Charge 5’. It’s because the damned battery needs recharging every 5 minutes! OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. It’ll last just over 24 hours on a full battery, but as it was advertised as lasting seven days someone is clearly taking the pee. I’ve some setting to play with yet and I’ll do a full blog review next week when I’ve played around with it, but right now I’d suggest ‘caveat emptor’…
My trip South’s been very pleasant for a number of reasons. LNER’s 15:15 from Leeds to Kings Cross wasn’t that busy so I could spend some quality time on the 9-car Azuma editing pictures and sorting out paperwork. Plus, the further South we got the more the weather improved. Brollies were extremely useful in Halifax this morning, now you’d be using them as parasols. As we sped South I did decide on a minor diversion – purely in the interests of research you understand. The 15:15 stops at Grantham en-route, so I decided on a short interlude at the station to try out the new micro-pub. The ‘Whistle Stop’ opened in November 2019 but I never had chance to visit before the pandemic hit. Today seemed like the ideal time as the train following just 20 minutes behind was something else I’ve never sampled – a ‘Hull Trains’ Class 803 (in other words, an ‘Azuma’).
The micropub has three real ales on tap, two of which rotate and one of which is a dark ale. There’s also a selection of lagers, cider and bottled beers. The pub also has outdoor seating on the road and platform sides. It was quiet when I popped in. I was the only other customer inside but credit to the young guy behind the bar – he was industrious and kept himself busy behind the bar rather than just sitting there on his phone.
A quick pint later I was heading South again on Hull Trains. From what I can see there’s very little difference with this flavour of ‘Azuma’ other than seat moquette and carpet. The train’s about half-full and – like all Hitachi 800 series trains – it can shift!
A quick change in London has seen me transfer to the precursor of the ‘Azuma’ – the Class 395 ‘Javelin’ trains used by Southeastern trains on High Speed 1 services from St Pancras international. I love this line as it shows what’s possible with some imagination. I remember what a pain it was to get to the South coast when I lived in North London. First there was the schlep across London by bus and tube to Victoria or London Bridge and then the crawl on old 3rd rail slam-door units. I remember my excitement in watching HS1 being built then using it when it opened. I’m currently on the 18:07 to Sandwich – a ce that demanded to be included on the HS1 network as it was never part of the original plan.
Right now we’re speeding through Essex on structures I watched being built and construction sites I was privileged to visit working for RAIL magazine. The line’s really blended into the landscape in the 15 years it’s been open – just as HS2 will do in its time.
17 minutes after leaving St Pancras and including a stop at Stratford we’ve arrived at Ebbsfleet in Kent, having passed under the Thames.
I’m now on a murky South Coast where mainland Europe’s not cut off by fog. Just us, by Brexit. My train split at Folkestone Central with the front portion continuing on to an old haunt – Sandwich, so as I have time to kill and for the photographic opportunities I’m staying with it. Passing Dover is odd as I remember it as a hive of railway activity before the ‘chunnel’ was built. Now the boat trains and train ferries are long gone – as are the sidings and stations that serviced them. Now the physical journey is seamless – if you ignore the new customs and mental barriers the UK’s built in its foolishness.
My visit to Sandwich lasted all of 50 minutes which was the time allowed before the next train back to Folkestone and a bed for the night. Despite that it was a fascinating trip. I’ve not been to Sandwich since the cycle trips around Kent that Lynn and I used to do after the Canterbury beer festivals, so I’ve probably not been back since 1996. Arriving by train’s odd as nowadays the station’s tucked away in a midern housing estate. No doubt these were once the old station goods sidings. I struggled to recognise anywhere in the pretty but dead little town. Most shops and restaurants were shut so the place had a sonambulent air. That aside I found the architecture fascinating. I love stuff like this which is an historical jigsaw and mystery.
Right now I’m retracing my steps to Folkestone. This time it’s on a less than high-speed Southeastern service to London Charing Cross from Margate. It’s quiet this time of day in this neck of the woods but I’ve no doubt that’ll chane when it gets closer to the capital.
Time to end the day. I’m now tucked up in my hotel by Folkestone harbour. I’ve not been here for years – maybe 13? – I’d need to check my pictures, and I’ve never ventured this far from the main railway station even though I’ve done an overnighter before. I must admit to being pleasantly surprised. The town’s obviously putting in a lot of effort to reinventing itself. I’ll be up early tomorrow before I go to work so I’ll explore (and explain) more. But for now it’s time to sign off….
I’ve a small favour to ask…
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