Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Toddington is more than just motorway services.

Back in the days when I was an impoverished student I used to hitchhike up and down the M1 between Hemel Hempstead and Sheffield. The chances of picking up one lift which would go all the way were minimal - I only did it once in all my time thumbing lifts.  It seems strange now to remember that the motorway was often silent for minutes at a time during the night and the motorway services resembled the land of the living dead. They were gloomy and drab and depressing... but we loved 'em because we had never seen a place that stayed open all night.

Toddington services were the first you met going northwards and it was a pretty poor show if your first lift dumped you there. You knew that you were in for a long journey. Next came Newport Pagnell which at one time entered the Guinness Book of Records for having TWELVE petrol pumps. Then came Watford Gap where you had to make sure that your driver was not branching off down the M45 to Birmingham. And so on to Leicester Forest then next stop, the Tinsley Viaduct exit for Sheffield. My quickest journey door to door was four hours, my longest, twenty four hours.
Toddington is a pretty village,
not a motorway service station.

And Toddington? Well, until yesterday when I gave a lecture there, I had never actually been to the village of Toddington. 

You know, it's quite a pretty place.

Mind you, I am not sure of their provocative suggestion that we should offer violence to oculists.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Tea and Talk in Tewkesbury

Yesterday I gave a lecture in Tewkesbury. On my previous visit to the town I was thirteen years old and interested only in trains so I don't think the environment made any impression on me.

I had time for a quick look around the town this time. I loved the alleyways and ancient doorways giving glimpses of life behind the street front.

Alleyways of Tewkesbury.
And we enjoyed a terrific scone and tea in the Abbey Tea Rooms in Church Street. This is a must visit for anybody. The strawberry which came as a charming decoration with the scone was the sweetest, tastiest strawberry I have eaten all year.

Our table is in there somewhere.

The tea room serves full meals as well as cream teas or even just a cup of coffee if you wish. 

Several customers were tucking into a full roast dinner which looked very appetising.

The walls are covered with
1950s & 1960s memorabilia.

If we ever return to Tewkesbury, and I hope we will, I shall make a beeline for for the Abbey Tea Rooms. 

Hilton Puckrup Hall -- could do better.

I recently stayed at the Hilton Puckrup Hall hotel. It is an impressive old country house set in extensive grounds a few miles north of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. The staff were pleasant and helpful but I feel were let down by the infrastructure.

First of all, the room we were given was throbbing. I could not locate the source of the noise and neither could the receptionist but he agreed that it made the room uninhabitable and moved us to a quiet room. Full marks for the staff, zero for the building.

Secondly, a coach party were eating dinner in the dining room so we were served dinner in the ante-room.  THE ROOM WAS FREEZING. The staff tried to turn off the air conditioning but nothing happened. I was sitting in a blast of cold air. Why do we need air conditioning on in October? I was so uncomfortable that I had to go to my room and collect my overcoat. The guest on the table next to me immediately got up and returned wearing his coat.

Thirdly, when I arose in time to enjoy a swim before breakfast I was told that the pool was unavailable because of a technical problem which had occurred overnight. This was a pity because I really did need a swim that morning.

So, an uninhabitable bedroom, a freezing dining room and a non-functioning pool. I feel the Hilton Puckrup Hall hotel could do better.

And whatever happened to soap?

Pretentious or what?

Friday, 10 October 2014

Haywards Heath is the limit.

I have just given a talk at Burgess Hill. To get there I chose to drive through Haywards Heath. I like the A 272 - the traffic always seems to be flowing in the opposite direction when I am on it but the stretches where the national speed limit applies are becoming fewer and shorter and the frequent changes between speed limits can sorely test a driver's powers of observation.

Make-your-mind-up time in Haywards Heath.

But I think that Haywards Heath is the absolute limit.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Hanging Bridge and Sticking Up Stud

We are at the Hotel Puente Colgante in the Portugalete suburb of Bilbao. It is called the 'Hanging Bridge' because it is situated right next to the transporter bridge which crosses the River Nervion from Portugalete to Las Arenas.

The Puente Colgante at Portugalete. You can see
the pod crossing above the level of the river.

A transporter bridge is a pod which is suspended by wires from a truck which crosses the river on a very high level girder, the ends of which are supported on pylons erected on each bank. Vehicles and pedestrians are loaded onto the pod and they are carried across the river without touching the water.

The advantage of a transporter bridge is that it does not obstruct the maritime traffic. If a high-masted vessel wants to pass up the river the pod just waits until it has passed before moving across.

Our hotel is the pale yellow building situated next to the left pylon in the above photograph.

The photograph left is the view from our balcony upriver towards Bilbao.

And the photograph right is the front of our hotel and the transporter bridge.

You've seen the hanging bridge, now what about the sticking up stud?

Whoever designed the bathrooms in the Hotel Puente Colgante had a cruel sense of humour.

This is me, getting out of the bath.

And this is what I am about to put my bare foot on.

Don't laugh. It could be you next time.