This time of year normally involves a trip to Chester to see Shakespeare at the open air theatre, so I suppose it is no surprise that Heather and I found ourselves heading that way. This year, as well as Chester, there was a cross-country journey to York to see some trains.
We set off from Euston, arriving there in good time for our train which was noted as “preparing” for what seemed an age (we decided they must be trying to convince it that it could make the journey). Once we were on board the journey was pretty uneventful, depositing us in a sunny Chester. It was over the road to the Town Crier as usual, for some lunch in their garden, before the stroll up the road to the usual guest house (under new management again—we were met by a very exuberant manager, speaking with a heavy accent, to show us to our room).
There Were Two Gentlemen
Settled into the room we headed off for the evening’s entertainment. Rather worryingly, given the open air nature of the venue, the rain decided to come heavily down. It had eased by the time we reached Tesco to pick out picnic items but returned even heavier as we left, and by the time we reached Grosvenor Park the staff were desperately brushing water from the benches. Still, the guy who told me it would stop at seven turned out to be remarkably accurate as, almost on the dot, the rain eased just in time for the start of the play.
Unlike my last complaint about changing of settings in Shakespeare the temporal transformation here was at least more obvious. It also turned out to be great fun, as Proteus leaves the seaside (!) town of Verona and his best friend Valentine. The romp that follows really does feel like Shakespeare finding his feet, throwing many of his familiar themes of love, cross-dressing identity farce, banishment and demanding fathers into a busy mix that not even the brief return of the rain could dampen. The cast attacked it with refreshing vigour, and at one point proved that Shakespeare as modern pop music might just work. It’s not often one emerges from highbrow theatre looking as if coming out of a festival, but Heather managed it!
The rain held off as we made our way back to the guest house, calling first at old friend The Lock Keeper and then the delightful jewel of Kash Taprooms, which I can easily see us visiting again in the future.
The morning found us picked up by Richard as the plan was to spend the day somewhere nice with him, Caroline and Joseph. We called first at their new house, having a quick tour. There’s a hall, and we found poor pregnant Caroline on her knees painting the soon to be nursery. We were soon piling into a car though to head for the difficult to find Greenacres Animal Park
The Animal Park
The park itself has something of a farm feel, with animal feed for the pigs, chickens, goats, and ducks on sale at the entrance. As such there is a mixed feel to the place, some areas being fine but a general feeling of tiredness that comes with such small venues. As someone who finds zoos a bit disturbing some of the animal enclosures did leave an easy feelings, and the apparently left to rust brightly painted farming equipment next to the children’s playground raised some eyebrows. That said the staff obviously care for the animals in their charge and there were no signs at all of neglect. Those animals cover a range from the aforementioned farm staples to donkeys, rabbits, reptiles, some owls, raccoons, and zebu, among others.
First business of the visit was lunch for some though, in the small but effective cafe (it might have struggled had it been much busier though). The human animals fed we headed out around the grounds, having fun chasing ducks around the lake when not feeding them. The layout of the park seems to follow little logical order, with animals located seemingly at random. In the sunshine it was all good fun though, even if a turkey did try and attack my camera!
As well as the fields of larger animals such as the zebu and of so sweet deer there is a farmyard like area of smaller animals. Here we found meerkats and a tortoise (which seemed determined to make an escape from its enclosure) alongside the more usual pigs and goats. In the centre of the yard is a large circular hut in which we gathered for “feeding time”. A collection of staff then arrived to duly lead out a sequence of baby goats to be bottle fed by all (mainly the children, including a never shy Joseph, but Heather inevitably joined in).
After feeding the goats a variety of animals were brought out by the friendly staff for a closer look, the appearance of a beautiful owl pleasing Heather even further. There followed an extremely fluffy chicken and a little rabbit (they were selling baby rabbits), along with a not smelly at all skunk.
Meeting so many animals is exciting work, so we had to calm down with an ice cream. Judging from the state of his face (and speed of consumption) Joe certainly enjoyed his chocolate variety, while I quite liked my toffee fudge (two scoops!). Then it was off to the playground and the swings. Joseph started out on the children’s swings, with demands of “faster” with each push. When a couple of adults decided to have a go at the full size swings though he joined us there, hardly diminishing the demands. Not bad for a barely three-year-old! Tired of the swings he went climbing over the colourful tyres, growing in confidence with each trip round. Meanwhile, Heather found a slide big enough to let her be a little kid.
All that playground activity was quite tiring so after a goodbye to the animals we headed for dinner in a pub before heading back to Richard & Caroline’s.
I’m Not Lying
After an episode of Paw Patrol saw Joe off to bed the adults settled down to an evening of fun. As all the board games had been left in Joe’s room we resorted to the Xbox and a silly collection of interactive games from Jackbox Games. This involved deviantly lying (or at least, comically lying), and terrible drawing, though it turns out I’m not bad at recognising which ridiculous facts are true or not. There was lost of laughter until finally the time to head back to the guest house and bed came.
A Walk Around
Sunday morning started with a stroll into town, and a gentle walk in the warm weather along the canal. Remembering it from last time we called into The Artichoke for a rest and drink before continuing along the canal a little further than we’d been before. We didn’t want to end up heading out of Chester though so turned for town and double backed to Grosvenor Park.
The sunshine was a contrast to the heavy rain we’d seen it in on the Friday night, and we enjoyed a slow walk through, pausing to take in the ducks on the little pond and watch the miniature railway run round. Coming out the other side we stopped off briefly for another look at the slightly eerie ruined parts of St John the Baptist before heading up to the cathedral.
Transported In Lego
The main reason for visiting the cathedral was to see a Lego “Bricks in Motion” exhibition. This took a tour of Lego models built by the clever people at Bright Bricks, arranged roughly in historical order. We started out with Egyptian chariots, moving through steam locomotives (including a lovely model of the Mallard and, foreshadowing our later activities, the Flying Scotsman) and early cars and bikes. The grid of F1 cars through the ages impressed, and there were trucks and farm scenes. Transport also included boats (Turbinia!) and a ballooning Montgolfier brothers. The set piece of the show was a large scale model of Titanic, though for some reason this impressed me less than some of the other models on display. It was still well worth the entrance fee, even if small enough it didn’t take too long to look round. That was just as well though, for soon we were meeting Richard, Caroline, and Joe again, outside at the falconry.
Lazy Vultures and Hungry Owls
The falconry is located on the field beside the cathedral, bounded by the old city walls. The falconry is quite a new addition and it’s good to see the field being used for something (last time we walked around that part of the walls there was nothing there), especially as the falconry is fantastic value—highly recommended.
Before we got to the birds Joe and Heather met a snake, which was a bit unexpected given it might be lunch for the other residents! Indeed, the snake was taken into hiding as a knowledgeable member of staff emerged to call us together to see the first bird, the world’s laziest vulture.
Said vulture parading across the ground in front of us, steadfastly refusing to hop up onto the hand for food. Whilst encouraging the bird its handler give an informative talk, telling us all about its habitat, habits and the like. The opportunity arose to hold the vulture, if it could be persuaded up to the hand, and of course Heather had to have a go. Joseph also got in on the act (with Daddy’s help), fearlessly holding the bird half his size. The buzzard then further demonstrated his laziness by refusing to chase the young boy running away across the field with food, having learned that eventually whoever does that will come back!
We moved on from the vulture to a more energetic owl. This was happy to fly from person to person, which gave Heather another chance to hold a bird. As reward the owl got to enjoy a dinner of mouse (already dead), all the while with informative commentary from the friendly handler.
At the end of the show we hung around until we could wander through the full range of birds resting outside the aviaries. Heather managed to talk her way into holding a third bird of the day (a red tailed buzzard). We had to go eventually though (if nothing else, to stop Heather stealing a bird!) and headed back to the cathedral only to find it closing, which meant we didn’t get a chance to add to its giant Lego model of itself (having done Durham we thought we should—ah well, next time).
A Relaxed Evening
Richard et al. departed and we headed for a favourite Chester pub in the Pied Bull. After a relaxing drink there we went in search of some dinner. Unfortunately the Church weren’t serving food by the time we got there so we went round the corner to Piccolino, which served us some decent Italian food with either too attentive or too inattentive service.
We walked off dinner with a stroll around the walls, as we hadn’t done that for a while, before finding ourselves back in the Pied Bull. From there it was into town and The Boot Inn before a good night’s sleep to be ready to change cities in the morning!
We’d deliberately picked an early morning train so we could have breakfast (well, Heather could) and stroll down to the station without having to find something to do with bags. As it happened there were train troubles and the one we ended up on for the first leg of the journey Manchester was delayed and very crowded. That meant we spent the time in the vestibule, but not too uncomfortably. At least the signalmen seemed sensible enough to give us the road so we still made our connection. That was a much smoother journey into my old haunt of York.
To recover from the journey we called into the Duke of York at the station. It’s a pity they seemed to be having a delivery problem, restricting what was available (and that not too great—though I wonder if theirs a general decline from the York Tap pulling discerning custom away). It did for a while anyway until we made our way along the road to our hotel.
Heather was a bit tired out by the journey so I left her in the hotel for a bit of a rest while I had a quick walk around the city. Not much has changed since our last visit. I strolled round the walls from Micklegate Bar and past Clifford’s Tower, basically enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Passing through town and round to the minster I had to call in the Wonkey Donkey for old time’s sake. After that a walk up Micklegate brought me back to the hotel to collect a rested Heather.
We headed into the town centre, enjoying the scenic city. There was a family of swans by Ouse Bridge before we found our way up the Shambles, its buildings leaning over us, and round past the Minster until we finally came to the Yorkshire Terrior (one of the things I miss most about living in York is York Brewery beers). There we contemplated where to go for dinner.
Dinner and Goodnight
We tried wandering down to The Star Inn The City (not to be confused with Ye Olde Starre Inne), staring at its menu in uncertainty before, almost inevitably, climbing back up the hill to Cafe Concerto. They didn’t disappoint (as if they could) and send us off towards bed happy and full.
On the way back to the hotel we found a line of ducks passing under Skeldergate Bridge. Perhaps they were drunk and only one of them knew the way home. We ourselves called in at the Punch Bowl (not to be confused with the Punch Bowl) for a nightcap before bed.
Convent Breakfast and Mass Exodus
In the morning we headed to our favourite place for breakfast in York, the Bar Convent. There’s a hidden little garden within where one can sit with teacake and coffee and could be a million miles from the busy road without. It’s also conveniently a short walk up to the station, which was good for us for we were catching a train a bit further north. We first headed to Darlington and then joined a large throng of people overloading the poor little local train heading to Shildon.
The masses had decended on Shildon for the Shildon Shed Bash celebrating the return to steam of the one and only Flying Scotsman. Even more excitingly (well, for me!) the Scotsman was joined by the in steam A4 Union of South Africa.
As we made our way with the hoards along the trackside to Shildon’s main building we were treated to the sight of the Scotsman sat gently steaming nearby. After admiring that we made our way into the collection building to pick up tickets for a ride behind. Back outside in truth I was probably more excited to see the wonderful A4 than Scotsman. A magnificent sight beside the (sadly out of steam) Green Arrow and in light steam 63395, down from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
When it came time for our turn behind the Scotsman we found a short row of rustic coaches (a peculiar choice really, given the quality of the loco, but perhaps there wasn’t really room for a nice Pullman coach, and it made getting people on and off quickly easier I suppose) onto which we crowded. We gently pulled away and trundled along the short length of track available at Shildon, the A3 barely breaking sweat. It’s a bit of a shame there isn’t a longer run available to really see what the powerful loco could do. The train was actually hauled on the way back by the little tank engine Joem, which handled the short stretch just as well!
After the excitement of the ride we had time to look around the Shildon collection, taking in most of the same locos we’d seen on our last visit. Then it was on to lunch from the little vending stalls which had been set up to take advantage of the crowds (and crowded Shildon was!) A (very small) group of funfair attractions were sitting on the car park beyond, including a sideshow with live goldfish in a bag (didn’t think that was legal anymore) and the rarest of things—a carousel Heather didn’t enjoy (admittedly, it lacked even music).
We were soon cheered by the sight of the locos again though, returning to the yard just after Union moved off as she swapped places with Scotsman. We stood and watched the two locos manoeuvring around until Scotsman came backing past us within easy touching distance.
A short while later we were piling onto the carriages again, this time to be pulled behind Union of South Africa. Again the poor thing was well within itself on the short journey up the tracks, but it was still thrilling to be behind the majesty of that Gresley A4. Joem once again took us back and that was about time to leave, via the little shop of course.
There was the magnificent sight of the A4 steaming past as we made our way the short walk back down to Shildon Station to catch the train back to York. Quite coincidentaly we ended up behind another notable loco from Darlington to York, the Class 91 Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is actually holds the UK speed record for a locomotive (as opposed to a electric multiple unit)!
After the excitement of the trains we had a bit of a rest in the York Tap at the station, but we weren’t done yet. Across the footbridge we went to the main branch of the National Railway Museum, for further railway history.
We wandered around the station hall, with its rows of royal trains, and quickly poked around outside where there sadly wasn’t much of interest. It always does feel a little like saving the best till last though, putting off going into the great hall. There one is now greeted by a Class 373 Eurostar power car, looking very sleek near the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train. Somewhat sadly to me the move a few years ago for the great gathering means poor Mallard is still relegated in position to the hoards around the turntable. There she does at least join a group reflecting the sleekness of the welcoming locos, those Gresley A4 lines we’d just enjoyed watching in action at Shildon joined by the streamlined Duchess of Hamilton and the peculiar GWR Diesel Railcar Number 4.
Having circulated the turntable—including taking in the rather interesting if in need of better labelling sectioned steam locomotive—a trip through the works found yet another sister of Mallard and Union of South Africa in Sir Nigel Gresley, though only the name plate propped on the frame was giving that away. Poor Sir Nigel is undergoing quite an overhaul and was pretty much in pieces!
After so much wandering around steam trains we needed a bit of a rest before heading out for the evening. We took some dinner in the Windmill before heading around the corner to Fibbers (in my head that’s still in the old location—the move hasn’t exactly made it much bigger, just confused me). After making our way past the merchandise store and bar first up for our entertainment were Tax The Heat, who surprised me by being more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. We were really there to see the marvellous Ash, who had impressed us so much last time that we took the opportunity to see them again. They didn’t seem to catch the mood quite so well this time but were still kick arse rocking, enough that, after a brief call back to the Windmill, it was sleepy bedtime.
Shops—And More Owls
We were running out of time in lovely York, so after leaving bags with the hotel it was time for one last breakfast in the Bar Convent, then onto some of our favourite shops. We just had to call in The Cat Gallery and then a quick walk down the Shambles to first Roly’s Fudge and the glass shop (where we got a viking!) The Golden Fleece offered a relaxing beer garden for a break before making our way to the eclectic and always interesting Give The Dog A Bone.
Then it was up to Museum Gardens, because there we could find yet more animals, in the form of a group of owls from Owl Adventures. That meant Heather got the chance to hold another two owls in the lovely setting of the gardens.
After all that there was only time left for a bit of dinner, The Hole In The Wall supplying me that most York of things in a giant Yorkshire pudding. It was time to go though, a stroll taking us back to the bags and then the station. The York Tap again gave a rest stop before the train back down to London.
The journey south was uneventful enough, and there was a nice reminder of the steam locos at Kings Cross, with a recently unvielded statue of Sir Nigel Gresley himself. As is tradition, the pub served to keep the holiday going for as much time as we could manage, though this time it was the Parcel Yard on extension duties. Finally, it was to home and memories.
These things always produce many more photos!