Friday, 31 May 2013

Some details about the parish trip to Ely

There are nine of us signed up for the parish pilgrimage/outing to Ely so I am in contact with Cross Country Trains to see if a group booking is possible. If anyone else wishes to join us, they can do so but will need to buy their own tickets. If you do this and would like to be included, you will still need to let me know at so that I print enough material and reserve enough places for dinner!

Here are some web pages that might be useful reading material before we go:

Rendezvous for each activity will be at the west front of the Cathedral unless otherwise arranged, and I shall have my mobile telephone with me and will give its number to all participants on the day, along with other information.

Update: I now have the tickets and seat reservation. Railcard holders have saved 65p and the rest of us £1!

Update: Dinner table booked at The Boathouse in time to get the last train home.

Update: @SaintsOnline will be Tweeting updates from the trip as it is in progress. So if you cannot come, you can keep up on Twitter: 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

To the End

Listening to the announcements made by the robotic voice at Stamford rail station is not all that exciting. Nearly all the trains are to Birmingham New Street in one direction or Stansted Airport in the other, with a very regular stopping pattern. Towards Stansted the trains call at Peterborough, March, Ely, Cambridge and Audley End. "Where on earth," one might enquire, "is Audley End?" and even if you know the significant Essex stately home by that name you still might wonder why it has a station and why it is a calling point for trains between Birmingham and Stansted Airport: plenty of other stations on the route are not! Audley End is in fact the station that serves the town of Saffron Walden and it is also on the electrified line between Cambridge and London and therefore has a pretty decent service of trains to many destinations, and most of the country with one change.

We decided it was time to visit Audley End House and that this would make a good destination for another of our rail adventures, and so the planning began. Anyone thinking of following our example needs to make themselves familiar with the fact that the station is in the village of Wendens Ambo, over a mile from Audley End House and that while there is a bus service to Saffron Walden, which takes you somewhere near the house, it is still a bit of a distance. So this is a rail and walking trip! So we set off, prepared for some country walking. It was a day of showers following some fairly wet weather, but then that has been typical of the last two or three summers ... in fact it turned out not to be too bad a day - and in any case "there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!"

Beyond Cambridge our trains share the line with slow and semi-fast trains to London Liverpool Street as far as the junction for the branch to the airport and they rush non-stop through Shelford, Whittlesford and Great Chesterford stations before pausing at Audley End. We arrived there, as we usually have in most places, on time, and made our way to the exit. This is a simple, two-platform country station with few facilities but with a new footbridge and a large car park, clearly designed to handle a lot of people at busy times. This was not a busy time and we ambled out to the bus stop where we chatted to an old man on his way to the shops in Saffron Walden and a young man on his way to visit someone in the same town. We consulted the bus driver on the best place to get off for Audley End House and paid our fare: we bought singles, intending to walk all the way back to the station.

There is something I still find exciting about arriving in a place and having to discover things about it simply in order to get by - where does the bus stop, when does it go, how do I know where to get off. This still involves engaging with new people in new places, even though it is now possible to look up quite a lot in advance on the internet (I had a print-out of the bus timetable in my pocket!) and to me part of the fun of travel is this sort of engagement. Dropped by the bus at a road junction on the edge of Saffron Walden we walked out along the road away from the town for about half a mile or so to the house. Traditionally we would probably have taken an Ordnance Survey map for navigation, but we now carry our maps on our smartphones, complete with compass, and can keep all the navigation stuff we need in a shirt pocket! I still like proper maps, but for walking it is certainly convenient not to have great big sheets of wind-catching tearable paper that do not fit into any normal pocket. Smartphone apps also show you where you are if you get lost, and which way you're facing - this will come into its own for some walking adventures yet to come!

There was plenty to occupy us for the day - there are guided tours but we opted to go round without a guide, there being plenty of people to answer questions, and there were several multi-media presentations giving a flavour of what life in the house would have been like in 1880, through the lives of some of the people who had lived and worked here. Especially fun for us as the housekeeper in 1880 was a Mrs Warwick! The gardens are available for walking and exploring, but we had to be very careful as there were floods, puddles and generally muddy bits all over.

Outbuildings like the dairy and the laundry showed what the work of the various servants had been who worked in those places. In the laundry we could hear the laundry maids talking about how strict Mrs Warwick was ...

 Audley End is an English Heritage house and details are available at At various times actors play the part of some of the characters and we were able to see work going on in the kitchen while we looked around at the equipment in it and could talk with the characters about their work.

We were able to have both coffee and a decent lunch here during our day and then we set out for the walk back to the station, returning by a different route from the way we had come on the bus. Opposite the gates to Audley End House is a miniature railway which may be interest to anyone visiting with children, although it was not the sort of thing that appealed to us and we just had a quick glance as we left. The walk back was quite easy for good walkers, but the paths were narrow in places and I would not want to do them in a wheelchair or when pushing a baby buggy. For about half the walk we had to be in single file. The time soon passed and we were back at Wendens Ambo and the station bearing the name of the place we had left half an hour before!

As I have mentioned before, there are no refreshments on our trains east of Peterborough, but there is a little shop at Audley End station and we were able to buy drinks for the homeward trip before we boarded our train. (There are no toilet facilities at the station, by the way, although there are on the trains!). Our train whisked us back to Stamford in 85 minutes and we were soon home after another short adventure.

Return fare for two can be as low as £44 booked in advance; normal fare if you just turn up at the station on the day is £68.40 for two, less if you have railcards: it could cost less for a couple with four children than for a couple with none!

Next month I shall start the tale of our first international trip, to and from a small town in Switzerland where we stayed in a former watchmaker's premises where we have a recently-discovered family connection!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

An Invitation for readers of Parish News

This series of articles in Parish news has excited far more comment than anything I have written about God or the local community, so I thought the time might have come to invite readers to join me on Saturday 15th June for a combined rail adventure and pilgrimage to Ely, a city with an ancient abbey serving as a cathedral and well worth visiting. Ely is served by trains direct from Stamford and is only fifty minutes' ride away across some fascinating Fenland landscape, a journey long enough to enjoy and not too long for those starting out on rail touring!

This must be booked in advance (as all my personal tours are) in order to take advantage of the minimum prices. Full details are in church along with a sign-up list. The absolute closing date for signing up is 30th May, and it would be good to have some idea before then. I can take bookings by email if it is not convenient to get to All Saints' Church by then. So long as you can get to Stamford station for 08:50hrs on 15th June! I need name, telephone number, whether you have a railcard, and whether you'd prefer to come home in time for dinner or stay and eat in Ely before getting the last train back (arriving 21:04).