Events in 2004

Major visits we made.

In January we took short away trips to Southampton and South Wales. Paignton was the destination for a short visit in early February - good value too, three nights in a large sea front apartment cost us just 54. The first visit of the year to our French abode commenced the middle of that month. Not at all nice weather, overcast damp days, made worse by a cold north easterly wind keeping temperatures to not much above freezing levels. Luckily we had work indoors that kept us occupied. The second week we took a few days away for a visits to Nantes and Saint Nazaire on the Loire. Our last night was at the resort of La Baule. On coming down to breakfast the next morning, we were amazed at the curtains being drawn to reveal outside, a deep covering of snow. Driving back to Josselin through this proved possible, but very slow - luckily we had plenty of time - needed, because the first couple of hours or so, the car had to be driven in second, or at the most, third gear. We passed many vehicles that had been abandoned. Even worse, some had fell off the road into ditches, probably as a result of the driver persisting in proceeding when not sure where exactly the line of the carriageway was. A lesson I felt I should take on board if faced with a similar situation - stop at the first opportunity and try and find a place to stay.

The remarkable "pens" built by the Germans during then war to protect their submarines while in port at Saint Nazaire. These heavily reinforced concrete buildings resisted all attempts by the Allies to destroy by bombing.

Af the end of March, following a stay with friends near London while we arranged it, we commenced on the 30th, just about the most pleasurable trip we have taken since giving up 'real' work. We had purchased at the Swiss tourist office, a Rail Pass that gave us more or less free reign on the public transport system of Switzerland for a period of fifteen days. We had in the past sometimes heard how good it was, however seen in reality, it far exceeded our expectations.

We travelled Stansted to Basel - or 'Basle' as the French call that city. The airport is actually in France - these Europeans do work well together! So we had to travel into the city by diesel powered bus - it was to be over a fortnight before we were to travel with that power
method again. We were dropped outside the train station, from here we walked in order to locate a room for the night. We did not have to repeat this walk in reverse - we did not need to - we got on the tram, the system in Basel was a good indication of the public transport system in the rest of Switzerland - outstanding!

When in London, we had tried to aquire a reasonably sized timetable for the Swiss rail system. The tourist office indicated however the only had one size, this covered all public transport, and seemed much larger than the one we already possessed. This itself larger than we would have preferred - covering as it did the whole of the European Rail system - it was in fact the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable. So this book had to be transported around with us, along with other guide books - the Swiss Rough Guide we used the most. Our luggage was thus rather heavy - but we managed!

Rail map loading

The map shown above is taken from the initial page of the Swiss section of tables, the numbers indicate which table to look up for that section of rail. Note while looking at the map, that some of the lines marked have twists and loops on them. Yes, the trains really do have to traverse this way, this is done so that heights can be gained as easily as possible. The line north of Basca is perhaps the most obvious. Here the mainline from Zurich south down to Italy is forced to gain and lose height in order to negotiate the high Alps. The most common method of so doing is to run through tunnels dug into the mountains, these circle round with the train emerging at a higher or lower level than when it entered - a most remarkable and amazing system!

In some ways it would have helped had an existing itinerary been available to make use of, as it was I had to make one up. All of Switzerland to travel through, but where to start! I decided to commence by travelling south west. So we headed for Lausanne, starting with the line via Mouler. We had an early indication on this journey of just how good the system was. We should have changed trains at Yverdon, for one onto Lausanne, but for some reason did not grasp in time this we had to do. Too late, the train was just on its way out from the adjoining platform. The inspector on our train saw us looking puzzled, and asked what we had wanted to do. We explained. He said "jump back on this train, and go as far as Morges (he spelt this name out) there, catch the next train going to Lausanne" I knew the time the train we had missed should have arrived at Lausanne. To my utter amazement, in spite of the additional route travelled, the train we caught at Morges, arrived in Lausanne less than ten minutes later the the train we had missed!!

After finding accommodation in Lausanne, that afternoon we started our first 'ramble' - via Payerne to Merton, then back down to Fribourg. We did have a real ramble at Romont, where we took our tea. Then onto Bulle. Lovely traditional Swiss countryside, unfortunately though, the train we caught back to Palezieux was so crowded we did not have the freedom to enjoy it - unusual this, the majority of our later journeys were lucky for us, much easier.

Starting at 8.39 AM the first train was to Montreaux. Then a narrow gauge via Gstaad to Zweisimmen, then up to Lens, here we ambled round for an hour (we never intended to spend every minute of our time on the rails!) Travelling on again, through the Simmental valley to Spiez. Another train to Bern. Then the 14.47 train from here onto Geneva. We had stayed outside this city many years previously, so spent time visiting old haunts. Back to Lausanne for a good value evening meal in a 'Manoir'

                 On the line to Engleberg.                                                       The cliff railway train returns down from Murren.

Same train caught the following morning, but this time stayed on it much longer, up the Rhone valley as far as Brig in fact. Very industrial this area, not interesting. The next journey was though, right through the Alps to Interlaken. This town I made a bit of a mistake - got off at the wrong station! I had not done my homework properly, two stations here, the first being closer to hotels. However after this silly waste of time involving a long walk carrying our heavy luggage (future journeys we vowed, should use a wheeled suitcase) However we soon found a lovely old style hotel at a reasonable price - this town being touristy, has plenty of them. The afternoon provided time for a classic Swiss rail journey - Interlaken to Engelburg and back by the same route - not often did we repeat a traverse, but this was worth it.

Next day, a Saturday we toured all the routes to and from Jungfraujoch, also including the hair raising trip on the cliff rail to Murren. The route inside the mountain to the "Top of Europe Station" was not included for use on our pass, so we had to pay - very expensive it was too, and not worth it as it turned out. For every time the train stopped so that passengers could take a view out through the window lookouts on the side of the almost vertical mountain face, cloud obstructed almost everything. No better when the top was reached. Amazing to consider the main purpose of the line is for tourism, yet for probably the greater majority of these, the trip is unlikely to be much more successful than ours was. 

The following day we transferred ourselves once again, this time to a place called Zug - pronounced "Zoog". Actually Zug Baar, but we had not realized 'Baar' was a couple of miles away from Zug - one station away, though with many fewer trains. We had gone via Zurich, the station here was not as straight forward as we had previously assumed either - it being just so vast! So big in fact that the platforms were on two levels, we found the train to Zug mostly left from platform numbered 54 - which took time to locate! Thus a journey that was timed as being around two hours was doubled. So other train trips that day were limited to Zug.

Olten via Lucerne started the next days journeys. Then down Solothurn, and on to Bern, which we spent some time in looking round. Back via Langeau to
Lucerne. Here was spent most of the rest of that day. A worthwhile visit we felt.

Arth-Goldau was our initial destination on Tuesday 6th April. Then catching a train on the interesting route from Lucerne to St Gallen, we though got off at Herisau. The branch line to and through Appenzell was noted as worth seeing, equally so was this village itself, paintings on the walls of houses, within characterful streets and shops. In England, a town ten times the size rarely has a rail station, yet this one also served as a junction, with as the map shows another line coming in from Gais. But it was the line onto Wasserauen which was really interesting, my understanding is that it has been laid down in the last few years, much of the route was beside a road, the termini just one small hotel, virtually no other living accommodation in sight - little wonder we were the only passengers! Obviously we returned to Appenzel by the same train. Then to Gais, and onto Romanshorn, here another look around - it is a port on Lake Constance. A line runs along side this, thus we travelled to Schaffhausen. Here again was spent much time in viewing, along the streets, and down to the Rhine. Later a tram was caught to drop us off near the famous Rhine Falls - interesting, but could have been missed. Back to the station to catch a train for Winterthur, changing for Zurich.

We woke the following morning to see that a light fall of snow was in view from our window on the local hills. Snow did in fact fall quite heavily during that days trip to the furthest south of Switzerland. The train used being Italian, that being its destination. The coaches having corridors - not travelled in these since I was a kid, soon after the war. Luckily this was the only train we used having these, not being the best for viewing scenery. Not important as it turned out, there being no alternative return route. Plus in our compartment was a most interesting travelling companion. He turned out to be a retired Professor of Dairy Science, on his way from Zurich to his country abode somewhere mear Locarno. He was a much travelled man, so interesting conversation.

Amongst snowfall, our train had to do several loops to gain height for the passage through the Alps, once through though, completely different weather, as our companion remarked: "it is always the same". On his advice, we did not continue to Chiasso - we did this later, but got off our train at Lugano. No snow here, in fact I doubt there ever is, alongside a beautiful lake, the shore lined with wonderful flower beds, and sheltered by palm trees. That afternoon, we walked out of town to the termini of a funicular that carried us to the top of a local mountain, great views all around. We could remark again on the geographical differences in the small country, travelling the same route back, north of the Alps, it was no longer snowing, but a different world to the south.

The train from Appenzell to Gais runs through the streets!  This is the termini at Wasserauen - a small hotel, and a couple of houses. Thats it!

After spending four nights at the Ibis in Zug Baar, we moved our baggage to Chur - pronounced 'koor'. This is where the standard gauge lines terminate, and narrow (metre) gauge lines continue to work this south eastern area of Switzerland. After obtaining accommodation, that afternoons trip was up to Arosa and back. The next days travel was up the line to Landquart, by metre gauge this time, these run alongside the mainline rails. This train continued to Klosters which has two stations, we got off at the first, and walked onto the second, thus getting a good view of this area. One photograph I took was of a manure heap amongst the houses - wonder if Charles Windsor and his sons when had been here the previous week appreciated this, it should have toned with the fathers organic views, even if they did not appreciate the pung! Quite a small town yet it was surprising the number of trains running the line in the short time we were there.

We then caught a train to Saglains, this journey was not worth it for the scenery! Almost immediately we plunged into a tunnel, which our train took 18 minutes to pass through. This one had only recently been opened, and rare a tunnel of this length for a narrow gauge - the track was in fact dual. We walked into the town at Scuol Tarasp, and had a good look round the base of this formerly remote valley of Switzerland. Then a train to Pontresina, where we had tea. Back then to Chur.

We returned the same line the next day to St Moritz, obviously taking a good jaunt through this famous town of the "jet set". From here a really interesting ride took us over snow covered country to inside the Italian border at Tirano, we were glad we had brought some euros with us, as these were used to pay for tea, plus some spare batteries for my camera. The journey from here back to Chur was long, over four hours. But really exceptionally interesting, both from a scenic point of view, but perhaps more so, the rail engineering factor. In one stretch the line
has to alter it level 800 metres in twelve kilometres. As the map above shows, one method it uses to achieve this is to loop itself round so that in a short area the gradient can be  managed without the use of racks. These are of course used on other lines, but do markedly slow the train down.

A couple of pictures taken on the remarkable metre gauge line between Chur and St Moritz.

We covered all the lines in this area, apart from that between Filisurs and Davos, to do this would have entailed repeating one section a fourth time. We thought it time to move on again. This journey commenced using most of the rest of the route taken on the famous "Glacier Express" run - Chur to Brig, changing here for the train to Domodossola in Italy - this we caught very much by the skin of our teeth, much the closest connection we had on our journeying. Reaching our destination, I was intrigued to note that we were amongst only four that got off, yet this train terminated here - a taxi would have been much cheaper!

After a short look round - these border towns at the extremes of countries intrigue me, our next ride was not my most enjoyable, the scenery was - as remarked in the guides, worth it, But the way this narrow gauge train dragged itself itself twisting and screeching round the bends above hair raising drops, was not one that I was over keen to return on. The Locarno termini, disembarked us in an underground station. This was the end of journeying that day, so walking through the town with our baggage, we found an intriguing little private hotel to spend the night, run by a nice old couple, matching the character of the place. Locarno is of course well known internationally. Like its near neighbour Lugano, it lies by the side of a lake - though a different one to that. Well worth visiting, but we only stayed the one night.

At this point, we had pretty well covered the greater majority of the main network of Swiss railways, so I decided to return to the south west to explore some of the branches missed on our stay there almost a fortnight previous. Aigle looked to be the best place to centre ourselves, but the journey there from Locarno was a bit longer than I'd anticipated. After a trip along the branch line to Bellinzona we traversed for the third time the main line up to Goscheren. From here a short intriguing link to Andermatt - these two stations very high up in the Alps, not very attractive to live and work at I imagine, most likely for those that do, railways provide the major means of employment. The difficult terrain of this area obviously also accounted in part for the slower journey times than I'd anticipated. One reaching Brig however, we changed back to standard gauge, so normal Swiss rail speeds were resumed.

The evening sun falls over Locarno.                                              The high station of Andermatt.

Our first full days travelling from Aigle commenced with a trip down the line to Martigny, from here we travelled up the branch to Chamonix. This trip was in two stages, it being necessary to change trains at the French border - unlike the procedure as regards Italy, were trains travel over. Neither train ride could be said to be smooth, with the French one the worst. Chamonix is right underneath Mont Blanc, this I had hoped to get a clear view of, but the weather was as on our visit to the high mountains from Interlaken, not perfect  for viewing mountain scenery, though not bad otherwise, indeed for most of the period of our Swiss rail travels we could make no complaint, most days it was perfect.

Outside the mainline station of Aigle is a 'substation' from which a network of local trains or trams radiate from. We had not the time nor inclination to sample all, but thought the one out to Les Diablerets looked the most interesting. So it proved. Initially, the train travelled through the streets, but then veered off the roads and into the countryside. Once here, it started looping the hillside outside the town to gain height. Really from here on, the scenery was a delight. The same remark should also be used to describe Les Diablerets itself. Skiing was still going on here, in fact the place could be thought of as being similar to,
but a rather better version of Klosters.

The following
day was the last full one on our Swiss Rail Pass, if judged by the number of trains sampled on that day, then we sure made full use of it, we reckoned as the final count at the days end as being nine, but figure did not include what are  termed as being trams, though by length and the tracks they run on, those in Basel might also be called a 'train'. Yverdon was the first change off the express route to the north. Here we caught a local train to Payerne, and then from there on up to change at Lyss. Here to Biel. Then to Olten, and from here to Basel. This we reached around midday, time enough we had hoped to locate accommodation, for we were aware that there was to be a large scale watch and jewellery trade fair at this period, putting pressure on this, we had considered pre booking while there a fortnight previous, but risked it. Perhaps as well not, as even at that time most rooms had been booked, so this could have worried us. Anyway, calling at the towns tourist office, they indicated they knew one room that was spare when they checked some minutes previous - they 'phoned up again, so we took it.

The problem was that as they said, it was a twenty minute tram ride outside the town. That for us, was no problem. But finding the actual house certainly did prove to be. It was not marked on the town map, being outside the limit. So though we were told which stop to alight at, finding the actual property proved to be a real pain in the neck. The first group of fellows we enquired sent us off in completely the wrong direction. Then the second person we inquired of, did not speak a single word of English - she was in fact unique in our own experience, for every other person who we had reason to converse with in that country was almost or very fluent in English. In spite of this, and ignoring the fact that we were carrying heavy baggage, she decided to drag along to the local post office - even further away from our eventual abode, here, she enquired of the address we wanted. To give her credit, she must have had some understanding of a map, for she dragged us all back again, pass our original tram get off point, to eventually indicate roughly where our intended house was. This lady meant well, but though thanking her, we did curse her to ourselves!

Once we had refreshed ourselves at this very nice Guest House, I thought it might not be to late to try one further trip. This time an hours journey to Zurich. Catching the tram back to the town again, I knew the time a train was to leave, but as our tram was well outside the station at the time this was to happen, felt sure it would have left. Amazing, it was still in the station, moreover was at the platform nearest the entrance. The conductor saw us rushing down the stairs, opened the doors, and we were on! In spite of the Swiss rails famed punctuality, trains are occasionally late, lucky for some when they are. The fact that we were considering a trip that evening to Zurich certainly surprised our landlady, yet in spite of the time scale we did manage to spend a full hour and a half ambling round that well known city. Returning to the famed station mentioned earlier, we found a most interesting market still in progress, usually these over by midday, but this was evening time. Thus ended what we both considered by far and away the most enjoyable 'jaunt' we had had in all the years since giving up full time work.

Crickhowel in South Wales was a rather close stopover on 14th May, this was so that we could attend a meeting in Abergaveny that evening. The following day we drove on up to Ludlow for another meeting that
morning. The night was spent in one of our old haunts - the 'Compass' at Wigmore. The 20th and 21st we stayed at our friends house close to the centre of Cheltenham.

We used the high speed ferry from Weymouth for our journey to France early on the morning of May 24th - handy we only live 26 miles from there. Though we had to change vessels at Guernsey, we managed to arrive in St Malo early PM. Then an easy sixty odd mile drive to our cottage. Highlights of this visit was a reconnoitre in the area of events in June 1944. Two trips - the first to Lorient, the second a two night stay at an 'Ibis' in Quimper, during which we visited the area of the Raz Point.

CCS (Map Society) meeting in Dublin in the same week of our return from France, so with a days gap, to Ireland off we went. Nice journey to Fishguard via the A40. We were very intrigued by the Golden Chain growing 'wild' in hedges alongside the B4333 before Newcastle Emlyn, we might have been a week late for the best show of it though. Though an afternoon ferry, we reached our friends house south of Dublin in time for a nice meal our host had prepared for us. One night there, then the next three nights at the Dublin Ibis just outside the M50. Apart from the CCS meetings, we did have time for other visits, for example to the Fry Model Railway museum out at Malahide. Sunday morning - a further visit into 'town', then that afternoon, around three, we drove north, and crossed into NI. After driving beside Logh Neagh, we had to turn away to eventually find a room in a lovely Guest House in the town of Magherafelt - very pleasant young couple owning it too.

We continued northwards the next morning, reaching the coast at Portrush. We then drove west, and turned down the side road to Magilligan Point, here we found a car ferry which had only commenced a couple of years previous, for the great sum of 5 this took us across Lough Foyle to Greencastle - worth a look because of the fishing boats. Then down to Derry, where we found a very high quality Travelodge to stay. The town itself could be very attractive, located as it is beside the water, and with excellent museums. What a pity though, the centre
shops after they have closed, have to be so shuttered up. Later the next morning, we travelled on, into Donegal, to call at a place we'd stayed previously - Arnolds Hotel at Dunfanaghy. By our standards, this is very high class, four star quality one could say. The price they offered though was bearable, so we took a room - amazingly, it was the very same one we had had on our previous visit, in the front, with a beautiful view over the sea inlet toward Horn Head - lovely large room, excellent hotel, plenty of 'class', while the cost was a little more than usual, most certainly worth what we paid.

We took a trip round Horn Head later on, good weather needed for the views out over the seas almost all around, in this case we were lucky, could not have wished for better. Not so for the next day however. The main reason for coming to this area again was to visit Tory Island, nine miles off the coast, but the small ferry takes an hour for the journey. This turned out to be very rough indeed! Even worse on the return some hours later. I asked a crew what he reckoned the wind force to be - he said around six. In reply to the next question - no, they would not sail on force seven to eight! The fact that our boat was so small accentuated the sea conditions, sometimes rolling at least thirty degrees or more. The island itself was very sparse, just a few sheep and a small patch of potatoes was the only 'farming' to be seen. I most certainly would not wish to live on it. Quite a few do though, including children - there is a school. I gather the population to be around two hundred. No visible means of employment could I see, apart from the little the one hotel might give.

On the mainland again, we drove round the Bloody Foreland and headed south, spending the night at the Nesbit Arms Hotel, Ardara. We called in at Killybegs the next morning - a major fishing port, always worth a visit. After another stop in Donegal town, the two following nights, we stayed with friends in County Leitrim, touring into County Mayo for the day between. A further couple of nights with a friend in Enniskerry, plus a night at Kathleen and Seans in Wexford, it was back to England and some work!

We visited yet another "Ibis" for two nights at the end of July - this one being at Crawley, just south of Gatwick airport. Usual high standard and value for money. Several NT houses and gardens for us to visit. We also took a tour round Penshust Place - we had actually called in here earlier in the year, and 'booked it' as being worth a visit. So it proved. Owned and lived in by Viscount De L'Isle, both the house as well as the gardens were worth the view. This is only a few miles from Tunbridge Wells, so we did spend an hour or so exploring the large shopping areas - better than Bath we thought. At the lower end is the famous "Pantilles", we had visited these previously, but had not realized their closeness to a much larger area of shopping streets. Later we drove south, calling at the small town of Lewes for some tea, then drove up to Ditchling Beacon. Here we could just get a taste of the outstanding views out over the English Channel that are available on 'good' days - unfortunately this was not one of those. It was cooler up there though, a pleasant change from the 'close' weather which rather detracted from the rest of the weekend.

Llanelli in South West Wales is not generally noted as a base for touring, but it was central for an area we'd not previously explored, so two nights was spent at this town in the middle weekend of August. The Gower occupied all of our full day, with a very pleasurable few hours walking and relaxing near the Worms Head.
The next day we first drove to Ferryside, then onto the new Welsh Botanic Gardens, really good they proved to be, a great pity if they are forced to close - of which there is talk.

There is now a dedicated page for French visits - go to it from here:- France

It must be seven or eight years since we last visited 'Shap' - The Shap Wells Hotel, situated in the wilds of Cumbria, off the A6 south of Penrith, but in late October Steve Simpson its manager, was once again hosting a weekend for fellow CCS members. Excellent it proved to be too. Not only did we enjoy the pleasure of discoursing with others on a variety of subjects - not all regarding maps by any means! The two talks given by fellow members Chris Board and David Watt proved to be quite outstanding, the latter stood in front of us for well over three hours. That man must be the worlds expert on Continental maps and mapping. Chock full of facts and figures - how I wish I could remember it all! How lucky we are to enjoy such education from a fellow member.

After listening to a couple more talks on Sunday morning, we drove north to Penrith, later spending an hour or so at a NT property at Temple Sowerby. Then driving high over the pass on the A686, the night was spent in what has been called 'England's highest town' Alston in County Durham. Next morning driving down into Yorkshire through Teesdale to stop at Barnard Castle, the purpose of which being to visit Bowes Museum, This we found was a vast specially built property rather like a French Chateau. Anyone with even a passing interest in works of art should endeavour to look round once in a lifetime i feel. After over two hours, we were quite glad to sit in our car for a drive through the very middle of the Pennines to find a room at the Royal Oak Hotel, Settle, North Yorkshire. On this journey crossing both Swaledale and Wensleydale, also viewing the famous Ribblehead Viaduct.

 The first week in November we again took a trip to Paignton - three nights in a very acceptable flat costing just 54. Our first full day we spent visiting the far south of Devon, this was our first time at Prawle Point - for myself, I'd like to return, but Muriel was not keen on the narrow lanes we had to use in order to reach the place. Interesting to spend a few hours there, specially viewing passing ships from inside the now voluntary manned former Coastguard Station. Our other full day was spent at Brixham.

Just a few days later we travelled north, we'd bought a Rail Rover ticket which enabled us free reign to ride the rails of Northern England. Leeds was our base for three days - or rather Shipley a near by town which has an Ibis Hotel. Our first trip was to
Scarborough were we had time for a short exploration, then on the train again via Bridlington to Hull. After another walk it was getting too dark to view much scenery on our journey back to Leeds. Next day to Whitby, then down to York, eating here before back to base. Leaving this the next morning, we travelled via Newcastle to our next base at Carlisle, fitting in a diversion down the North East coast to Middlesborough and back to Newcastle again.

The following day a Sunday we travelled the well known Settle line, spending a little time looking round the centre of Bradford, then returning on the same line - justified this, because we could concentrate on the side of the line not viewed going down. The line round the Cumbrian coast was our first journey on our final full day, unfortunately missing what should have been a connection at Barrow, so forced to spend a little time here. Then around Morecombe Bay - very interesting - and down to Blackpool. Plenty of time to explore this unatractive place, the station layout itself not very welcoming either. A highlight of Carlisle was finding - next door to our hotel, as it happened - was an outstanding and unfortunately uncommon - wish they were not - eating place. Called "Shanghai Shandai" it was buffet style, with a claimed 80 different items. Help yourself and come again, eat yourself full. Do hope they expand!

Tuesday we returned
  to Bath, so that I could spend the following day at the Ordnance Survey in Southampton.