Friday, August 15, 2008

Day Trip to Cardiff

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Day Trip to Cardiff

This is an account of a 500-mile day-trip to Cardiff on 29th April 2006.

I decided to publish this account in the form of a blog.

I've manipulated the date and time co-ordinates in blogger so that it can be read in proper chronological order, unlike the usual blog arrangement.

Comments on any section of the account are welcome.

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The Heart of Wales Explorer Tour

We hear about this trip from an advert in our local free newspaper, The Tameside Advertiser. It is organised by Compass Tours. I check their website. The tour is provisionally due to leave Stockport at 8am and return for 10pm. A stop of half an hour in Llandrindod Wells is planned. Arrival in Cardiff is going to be 14.30, return at 18.30 allowing almost four hours to enjoy the city.

I email the organiser and discussed our requirements for a wheelchair space. All seems to be in order; I put a cheque in the post and the booking is confirmed.

Our tickets arrive a few days before the tour. We learn that due to engineering works between Wilmslow and Crewe, the train is being diverted to travel via Chester to Shrewsbury. Departure time from Stockport is now 7.24am; departure from Cardiff 18.04 and arrival in Stockport 22.30.

I phone a local taxi firm that I know to have a wheelchair accessible minibus and book it to collect us at 6.20am.

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I'd set the alarm for 5.15am but am awake and only slumbering from about 4.30 so get up at 5 anyway. At 6.20 I ring to check that the taxi is on its way. I am assured it will be there in five minutes. It arrives about twelve minutes later.

We are dropped off at Stockport station. Although I'm sure the meter is reading £9, the driver tells us the fare is £19. He says it is double-fare before 7am. I later learn that night-time rate ends at 6am and even then the fare is only one and a third!

Nonetheless we find our way into the station and are directed to platform 2. A couple of trains come and go and then the screen shows our special train as due in next. It is running 15 minutes late.

It actually arrives 25 minutes late and pulls into platform 1. The attendants get the ramp out and Christine boards the train. The door to the carriage doesn't retract fully and it is a bit of a squeeze to get her chair through.

At least she is facing forward.

By the time the train pulls out of Stockport it is running 34 minutes late. There are two more pick-up points, Altrincham and Knutsford. By now the train is 45 minutes behind schedule.

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via Chester to Shrewsbury

Having picked everyone up, the train heads through the Delamere Forest towards Chester.

The buffet is now open. However, there is a problem. The boiler isn't working. It seems there is enough hot water in the trolley to make tea and coffee.

I set off down the train towards the buffet. There is a big queue for the tea and coffee by the trolley. Rather than wait in that queue I just order two bacon butties. We've brought some cans of diet-Pepsi for Christine to drink and some bottled water, so can manage without a hot drink for the time being. The bacon butties are delicious.

I notice that a number of people who have been on these trips before have come prepared with picnic hampers and flasks.

At 9.15 we arrive in Chester, though not at a platform. We leave at 9.38 travelling out past the Roodee. On the outskirts of town, a fox peeps out from some trees.

As we travel through Wrexham, Ruabon and Gobowen, we notice that all the cows in the fields are lying down.

By now the trolly has used up its hot water and no hot drinks are available. We are told that members of the relief crew boarding at Craven Arms have been instructed to purchase three electric kettles!

We pull into Shrewsbury at 10.20.

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Shrewsbury Station

At 10.20 we pull through Shrewsbury station.

The station has some remarkable chimney-pots on its roof.

My Out and About site has hi-res pictures of the Chimney Pots and Platform 3.

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after Shrewsbury

We leave Shrewsbury and look back at the spires and towers of the city's churches.

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Craven Arms

We now head South past Church Stretton to Craven Arms.

Everywhere are fields with grazing cows or sheep. We watch lambs frolicking, spot the odd black sheep. From time to time we catch a glimps of a rabbit scurrying for cover.

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Elevenses at last

11am and we leave Craven Arms on the Heart of Wales Line.

The train now has hot water for drinks. I make my way down to the buffet. There is a queue for the trolly serving drinks. Eventually I get two cups of tea and return to our carriage. I find that Christine has already got a drink! One of the crew has set up stall opposite us. He is using one of the newly-purchased kettles. It plugs into a socket in the luggage-rack behind us.

I'm pretty parched by now anyway so I don't mind polishing off both cups.

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Horseriders near Dolau

The train continues past Knighton, Knucklas and Dolau.

A few minutes past mid-day we arrive in Llandrindod Wells. We should have had a half hour break here. At least a couple of fish and chip shops appear to be within a cock-stride of the station.

Alas, we were supposed to have left at 11.42 following the arrival of the train from Swansea. Instead the local train has been awaiting our arrival. As it heads North, we continue South.

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Red Kites

We pass a little country church on our way to Llanwrtyd Wells, the bog-snorkelling capital of the world.

As along many other parts of our journey, primroses blossom by the side of the track.

Between Llandovery and Llanwrda we spot a pair of red kites in the sky.

Having almost died out in the 30s, thanks to a managed preservation there are now some 500 birds in the area. The Welsh Kite Trust in Llanwrtyd Wells is dedicated to their conservation.

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On then through the Tywi Valley where a new bridge replaces one swept away in heavy floods a few years back.

At 1.45pm we come to a halt in Llandeilo. We cannot proceed until the next train from Swansea has passed.

I go down to the buffet and get a couple of Cornish pasties.

We leave Llandeilo at 2.20pm and are still a long way from Cardiff.

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Hendy Viaduct

At Pontarddulais we finally leave the single-track Heart of Wales line and curve onto the Hendy Viaduct and a line normally only used by fast freight trains.

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A View of the Gower

From the top of the Loughor Viaduct there is a splendid view of the estuary of the river Loughor.

In the distance is the Gower Peninsula.

Somewhere between the meanders of the river is an ancient earthworks known as Hughs Castle.

A hi-res version of this view can be found on Out & About.

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Dynevor Junction

We speed along the freight line following the M4; then through two tunnels.

The Llangyfelach tunnel is over a mile long.

At Dynevor Junction we cross the river Neath where two old ships are stuck in the mud at low-tide. A larger version of this picture is at Out & About.

It is then through Port Talbot and its vast steelworks, Bridgend and finally we arrive in Cardiff at 4pm.

We have a break of under two hours before the return journey.

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Missed the boat in Cardiff

Had we arrived in Cardiff at 2.30 as expected, or even 3pm, our plan was to get a taxi down to the Waterfront. We had been in touch by email with Capn' Ben Slater of the Cardiff Water Bus. Their new ship Princess Royal has a lift and can acccomodate electric wheelchairs. Their last 45min trip around Cardiff Bay was leaving at 3.30pm. Alas we are much too late.

We get out into the fresh air. Crossing over into Mill Lane our ears are assailled by loud music and raucous shouts. There is a strong smell of alcohol in the air.
We work our way around the pavement drinkers and find a quieter spot near the Royal Arcade. Giovanni's serve a delicious glass of orange juice.

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Busker in Trinity Street

We wander down the street and look in Waterstones bookshop but come out without buying anything.

In Trinity Street we find this busker. He isn't as loud or in-your-face as some others we've passed inside the shopping arcades.

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St John's Cardiff

At the end of Trinity Street lies the exquisite looking St John's church. A hi-res version of this picture is at Out & About.

It would be nice to have time to look around the church, but time presses on and we need to stock up on some provisions for the homeward journey.

We visit Cardiff Market and get some bananas off the greengrocer. We find a birthday card for our son who'll be 25 next week and also get him a Welsh tee-shirt. Several stalls have already closed down but we get a bargain at the bakery stall that is still packing up - six coconut biscuits for 99p!

Back out in the streets it is very busy and quite a few of the crowd seem already worse the wear for drink. We get some pre-wrapped sandwiches and bottles of spring water from a shop and then wend our way back to the station.

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Across the river at Newport

We leave Cardiff at just a few minutes past 6 and speed along, only slowing down a bit as we cross the river at Newport.

A larger version of this photograph is at Out & About

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Microlights North of Hereford

After Newport the train turns northwards through Cwmbran and Abergavenny. Again there are lots of primroses growing by the side of the line.

We stop briefly in Hereford to change some crew and are then off towards Leominster.

For a short way we are tracked by two microlights.

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Stokesay Castle

The boiler has been repaired for the return journey so hot drinks are being served at the buffet. However one of the crew volunteers to fetch us some tea and save my legs.

Ludlow racecourse is deserted as we pass by and seems strangely eerie.

As we approach Stokesay Castle I catch a glimpse of a rabbit running into a barn.

A larger version of this photograph is at Out & About.

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Shrewsbury Abbey

The sun is going down behind the Long Myndd as we complete our circle back to Shrewsbury.

A larger picture of the Abbey is on Out & About.

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Balloon over Shropshire

As we speed through the countryside between Shrewsbury and Gobowen we spot this hot-air balloon coming down to land in the deepening twilight.

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Steam Train at Chester

By the time we get back to Chester at 9pm it is dark. The station is almost deserted, but on the outskirts is a steam train. Someone says the engine is called Bahamas and is operating a special service between Chester and Manchester tomorrow.

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Home at last

The train gets into Knutsford ten minutes early. It then drops off in Altrincham. I ring the taxi firm to confirm that our taxi will be waiting for us at Stockport station at 10.30.

It isn't.

At 10.40 I ring again and they say it is on its way.

At 11pm we get into a Stockport taxi — a black-cab with narrow ramps, so a bit of a squeeze with the wheelchair — but we are past caring. Once on our way I phone the other taxi-firm and cancel their journey.

The Stockport driver confirms that we shouldn't have been charged double-fare this morning. His metre is reading £10.10 as we land home, but he says "just call it a tenner!".

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