Network Rail’s Apprenticeships

Network Rail have put up a series of videos aiming to inspire people to take an interest in how they maintain Britain’s railway network. They run an apprenticeship – which could give hope to some young people facing unemployment. The video is also interesting for people who just want to see how Network Rail roll. It’s quite fascinating.

If you are aged over 17 and interested in applying for a place on the scheme, hurry – the closing date is Monday, 30th April: www.facebook.com/ontrack

Paddington and Pigeons

Even people who love trains are fallible when it comes to getting their timing spot on. Recently (right now, today) I managed to miss the last train which can be boarded with a super off-peak return ticket – bought with a railcard. After this deadline, the fare jumps from £34 to £118.15 (or a whopping £179 without a railcard).  Obviously paying an £84.15 supplement for the privilege of travelling on an empty train – but for those who are crazy/ have mothers who are on their deathbeds/ are just that rich they don’t care anymore – is out of the question. Hanging about in the station it is.

For those wanting to work through the wait, there are a few options. The EAT upstairs is quiet but full of pigeons. Plus, people look at you strangely if you take too many photos.

Henry the pigeon

The Fullers pub plays terrible music and is full of people eating massive burgers with eggs in them (not that the latter would put everyone off).

There are some other chain places downstairs and a Sloe cafe – but there is no escalator to Sloe.

Twitter is good for engaging people with your plight when stuck in these situations. Ian Shortman, creator of trains.im, a revolutionary new site that has used data available under the Government’s Open Data initiative to display highly accurate train timetables, tweeted this to me:

More helpful than First Great Western themselves.

The #changefares proposition I mentioned in an earlier post is still on the table, dear commuters (and people who like to get to places in time for dinner).

The New King’s Cross Station Concourse… And Toilets

The brand new shiny concourse has opened at King’s Cross Station. King’s Cross might once have been aptly referred to as St. Pancras’ ugly sister. But look at it now…

It has a Benito’s Hat restaurant and everything.

Now, for many people, toilets are very important in places like this. I was hoping that some of the investment into the station would have gone towards fabulous toilets. Perhaps to rival even those at the Bullring in Birmingham. Sadly the new King’s Cross toilets are a more utilitarian affair and they cost 30 pence to use…

However, the powerful flush is admirable.

To make up for the boring station toilets, it is worth heading to the Parcel Shed pub. Feast your eyes on their toilets, they are free to use (in that there are no signs to say otherwise)…

And the view from said toilets…

Nice.

Not only do they serve Butcombe Bitter in the pub, but the whole place is decked out in train-themed design…

It is light (it even has a ‘light pool’), airy and a welcome retreat when waiting for a train. The seats are comfy, the music is good.

Access to the Underground at the station is obvious…

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Harry Potter‘s Platform 9 3/4 has moved in…

Network Rail’s guide to the changes.

Brighton by Train

Tell someone you’re off to Brighton for a Winter break and they might think you’re mad. It isn’t warm this time of year, so swimming’s out. But one of the lovely things about Brighton, is that the sea always looks magnificent behind the turquoise bollards along the seafront.

And the pubs and restaurants and arcades are still open in the winter. And the locals are still here. Trains from London to Brighton are relatively cheap at £15.50 return, off peak – and £10.25 if you have a rail card. Commuters might hate Southern – But they’re good for everyone else most of the time.

The Food For Friends vegetarian restaurant is excellent – with such delights as a Spiced Cashew, Smoked Tofu, Pear and Grape salad – really quite delicious.

The Mesmeriser pub has live swing band playing and people dancing. The dancers dance there regularly and are very good.

Jo Tomlin, the lovely owner of the Big Bead Boutique on 12 Dyke Road has a lovely shop.

For anyone who can’t read what the necklace says – it says ‘I LIKE TRAINS.’ Pretty cool huh.

Sadly, the Volks Railway, Britain’s oldest public electric railway which opened in 1883 only runs in the warmer months. But will be worth coming back for in the summer.

 

The trip was sponsored by Visit Brighton and new budget seafront hotel Umi. The hotel was ideally located, although there is some noise from a club next door at night and the rooms are large so can get chilly this time of year. The beds were very comfortable indeed. The opera-themed restaurant with live performances was certainly different and we enjoyed dinner by candlelight – even though the food in the restaurant is not excellent quality.

A post by @aladyinlondon on the same trip.

 

 

A Ride on the (Saved) Caledonian Sleeper

The Caledonian Sleeper service from England to Scotland has been rescued by a £50m investment from the Treasury, matched by £50m from the Scottish Government. The investment will not only save the service but pay for the train to be refurbished too. This is great news for a journey that is really quite special.

I went up to Aviemore with a couple of friends in Spring last year, after booking a bargain berth. Scotrail runs a promotion allowing customers to purchase heavily reduced fares if they book twelve weeks in advance (the price rises after that). While it means doing a bit of careful planning, it’s well worth it.

In the evening of our trip we were greeted by a middle-aged blonde Scottish conductor wearing bright pink lipstick. She showed us to our rooms, each with bunk beds for two, and asked whether we would like coffee, tea, or orange juice with our wake up call, which would be around an hour before we were due to alight.

The sheets were crisp and white and there were even little bottles of water in each cabin. The train rolled north and after some excited talk…

…we turned the lights out. The train stops at Crewe for a couple of hours, which can wake some people – but if you’re a heavy sleeper, the berths are more than comfortable enough for a good night’s sleep.

Arriving in Aviemore the first thing I did was take a trip on the Strathspey Railway.

(small stones can fly toward your eyes when sticking your head out the window).

The Strathspey Railway affords beautiful views of the Cairngorm mountains, which are in Spring left with just a dusting of snow across the peaks. The train serves great coffee and is one of the few places left on Earth you can still buy IRN-BRU.

From Aviemore, there are some great day trips to take in a hire car. Loch Ness is a must, especially for fans of cryptzoology – who can enjoy the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, a humorously dated museum dedicated to debunking the myth of the Loch Ness Monster.

Urquhart Castle sits looking out over Loch Ness…

As does this rather prepossesing graveyard…

Near to Loch Ness there’s a writer’s centre run by the Arvon Foundation

Beyond that, another spectacular drive goes through the hills…

(a train in a field!)

…all the way to Balmoral castle.

We stayed at the Aviemore Bunkhouse which is dead cheap from £17 a night. It also has the added benefit of being next to the Old Bridge Inn, which has a cozy candlelit oak interior and serves a fantastic selection of ales and whiskies as well as putting on live music.

A New Experience on the British Pullman. (Shopping!)

On the first day of December a great train gave to me… a Christmas shopping on the rails ride. The British Pullman by Orient-Express has for the first time ever (in living memory at least) run a shopping trip on the train. The idea was good – a chance to buy gifts from luxury British brands on a very British train. Each retailer had a carriage to create a little shop in, and each set up their shop in a different way. Cath Kidston, ever the marketing genius, made special badges, which even the more elderly passengers pinned to their lapels. (Just imagine everyone had lapels).

Cute huh?

For lunch, there was fillet steak. There are few things finer on Earth than the fillet steak -and a 12pm glass of champagne beforehand. Lovely. The steak was served with what I thought was cabbage and so munched happily away on. When glancing at the menu the discovery was made that it was actually Creamed Brussels Sprouts. This has inadvertently saved Christmas, as I usually hate sprouts but have to cook them (blame my father). Anyways, here’s a video of the day:

 

A Day on the British Pullman by Orient-Express

September 2011 I was lucky enough to be invited on board a train. Not just any train but the train for anyone who loves travelling this way. The British Pullman by Orient-Express has had a lot of work done on it to restore each of its eleven individual carriages. To the way they would have been when they were used on trains taking British holidaymakers to the seaside towns of Bournemouth and Brighton in the 1920s. It was a time when travelling by train was glamourous. People didn’t fly to Ibiza on a whim then and cars were a thing for the future. The train was the way people got around. Or in carriages pulled by horses. My grandparents actually met on a train from London, he was a doctor who had trained in Soho and later an anesthetist in the navy, she was young and had been recently left by her fiance. In those days trains were as they are on the British Pullman, or the Metropolitan and Bakerloo underground trains in London, with seats that faced each other and with individual booths. It made chatting people up on the train a whole lot easier than it is now.

Anyway, I was invited by Orient-Express to enjoy a gourmet five-course dinner on board this very special train. And this is how it went:

A Ride on the British Pullman by Orient-Express from Sophie Collard on Vimeo.

Thank you to everyone that made this journey possible. Look out for my Conversation on the Train with the train manager. Coming soon…

A Visit to the Brand Spanking New St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

Last week Laura, @aboutlondon, editor of golondon.about.com and I went to have a sneaky peaky at the fabulous new St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

The entrance lobby is pleasant, with water flavoured on the one side by limes, on the other, strawberries. Perhaps the carpets in the lobby could have been consistent with those on the grand staircase, rather than so modern. But I guess there are different requirements for each space.

We spent a long time looking at the magnificent staircase and gorgeous fresco at the top of it. Then were led through the stunning hallway and into rooms we could never afford ourselves.

The first was designed perfectly, although I personally could never stay with a partner in a room without a bathroom door. I loved the features and the historic paint-colour (historic paint-colour?)

I loved the way you could see the carved figures on the exterior of the building out of the window.

Of note also were the doorknobs. I really liked the doorknobs.

We were shown another Grand Room, again with a beautiful mirror, lovely bedspread.

Then Laura asked for a tour of the more modest part of the hotel. We found these rooms quite agreeable. The views were actually probably the best in the place – you could see the back of St. Pancras and the British Library.

Downstairs, the breakfast room was spacious and the food on the side looked fairy-tale good (fudge and cookies on platters covered by glass lids, cup-cakes on the side).

What a privilege for London to have this hotel restored back to it’s former glory.