Saturday, 20 October 2012

Pints and Pork Pies

The first time I ever rode on the railway through Stamford I was on my way to an interview at Aston University in Birmingham, just after my eighteenth birthday. I remember being amazed by how pretty Stamford station was as my train from Peterborough emerged from the tunnel (in those days I used to ride behind the driver whenever possible, watching the scene ahead of the train). I also remember thinking how lovely the town of Melton Mowbray looked from the train. I must have been through Melton a hundred times since, both by rail and by road, and had often said I really ought to come and look at the place some time. It is so near that it had been easy to keep putting it off until later. When Michael Portillo included it in his Great British Railway Journeys we were given the push to get on with it and the next time I could clear a Saturday in my diary we set off.

Unlike the long and complex itinerary I described last month, this one was simplicity itself: one train in each direction, just half an hour each way. But it still took us to explore somewhere we'd never been and to experience new things. Our luggage was just a shopping bag and a camera this time!

The trains on the main service through Stamford pass each other just outside the town, and so once an hour the station gets busy with trains in each direction just five minutes apart and then it settles down to peace and quiet again for another fifty minutes until the next sets of passengers turn up. Thus when you are a waiting passenger the whole place has an air of busyness with people waiting on both platforms, a mildly exciting way to begin an adventure. CrossCountry's "Turbostar" trains are quite comfortable with air-conditioning, spacious seats with armrests and tables and a trolley refreshment service, and our ride to Melton was on time and straightforward.

Melton Mowbray station was being redecorated when we arrived, and a new council office building was under contruction opposite, so the scene immediately on arrival was pretty chaotic (but it is all finished now and looks very good!). If you look at the place on Google Streetview now, even though the site is labelled "Melton Borough Council" their building is still the disused goods shed!

We started with the shops, including, of course, Dickinson and Morris, the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Shop, to which we returned later to buy our souvenirs: a pork pie and a couple of bottles of Melton Red ale. Some pies are made in the shop and we were able to watch them made in the tradtional Melton Mowbray way, although business is now so great that they also have a factory near Leicester which makes most of them. This shop sells lots of other interesting foods and is well worth a visit, the oldest pork pie shop in Melton and the only one still manufacturing in the town centre.

There was a street market and lots of little back streets worth exploring, with a heritage trail at as a guide to the town.

Lunch was at the Crown Inn which did a very warming and filling cooked meal with a pint or two of very decent real ale - one huge advantage of taking the train for such days out is that within reason it is possible to try the beers on offer without fear of not making it home: Everards at this inn, local to this part of Leicestershire.

Regrettably the church was not open for visiting, but the town still has a very good museum, the recently refurbished Melton Carnegie Museum which  traces the social and economic history of Melton and includes exhibitions on the town’s world-renowned Stilton cheese and pork pie industries and accounts of the arguments for and against fox hunting. We spent much time here and then made our way back to the station, stopping at one or two other shops on the way.

By the time we returned everyone else seemed to be returning home as well, so the little train was somewhat crowded but all got a seat and we arrived home on time determined to do this again some time with another town - of which I shall try to write in future months.

For those who would like to read a little more about the practicalities of trips such as the one I wrote about last month, it is worth looking at and for our local train services is the site to see (our "local" company actually can take you all the way to Penzance, by the way!).

Next month I intend to describe how 2011 accidentally became the year we saw both ends of the Caledonian Canal!