I had an interesting day out on Friday which, although at one stage seemed to be going awry, worked out fine in the end. It involved a trip up to Norfolk, to visit my father. I mentioned it briefly in my last post, but I thought I’d elaborate more and use this piece as yet another “filler”, as I’m still working on that much longer article I keep promising to publish.
Regular readers will know that I’ve been visiting Norfolk, on a regular basis, for the last 25 years. My parents moved there, from Kent, following my father’s retirement; the idea being to downsize and release a bit of the equity, locked up in the former family home.
Mum and dad settled in a mid-Norfolk village and enjoyed a happy retirement which lasted nearly a quarter of a century but in 2015, my mother sadly passed away. Nine months later my sisters and I made the sad, but necessary decision, to move dad into a care home. The Alzheimer’s he was suffering from was getting progressively worse, and for everyone’s sake, but especially dad’s, we were left with little choice but to transfer him to somewhere he would be safe and receive the proper care and attention he needed.
Over the years, on numerous occasions, I have made the journey to Norfolk, sometimes with the family or, more often than not, on my own. I feel sometimes that I know every motorway junction, every roundabout and almost every bump in the road of the 150 mile trip, and whilst journey times have improved with the opening a few years ago of the last dual-carriageway section of the A11 (Barton Mills to Thetford), it is still a tiring drive.
This time then I decided to let someone else do the driving and, following a little online research, opted to make the entire journey to visit dad, by public transport. There is a fast Inter-City train service operating on a half-hourly basis (weekdays), between London and Norwich, and I was also aware of an express bus running from Norwich to Dereham.
The final leg of the journey, is the three mile section from Dereham to Gressenhall; the small village where dad’s care home is situated, and a little more research followed by a phone call, revealed that local taxi firm, Dereham Taxis, would be able to transport me to Gressenhall.
By booking in advance, online with The Trainline, I procured a return train ticket between Tonbridge and Norwich for the bargain price of £32.10, and this included travelling in First Class accommodation on the return journey from Norwich. Konect Bus who provide services in this part of Norfolk, operate an express bus between Norwich rail station and Dereham on a half hourly basis, and what’s more their timetable shows which trains each service connects with! Two UK public transport operators actually offering an integrated service; how’s that for joined up thinking?
I booked Friday off from work, and with all that’s going on there at the moment, I was really glad to get away from the place. From Tonbridge I jumped on the first available London bound train and alighted at London Bridge. The completely rebuilt station is something to behold, especially for those of us who remember its cramped and over-crowded predecessor.
It was a fine morning so I decided to walk across the Thames via London Bridge, and up to Liverpool Street. I have done this several times in the past, finding it far preferable to the hot, dirty and over-crowded Underground. Also, given the lengthy passageways down to the Northern Line at London Bridge, and then the labyrinthine inter-change onto the Central Line at Bank station, I don’t think there’s that much extra walking involved. It’s certainly far more pleasant being out in the open, strolling along and observing life, as all the city workers, rush to their offices.
So a nice comfortable Inter-City train to Norwich awaited me at Liverpool Street, and a nice fast journey through East London and then into Essex. As the railway crossed the River Stour, just before the river broadens out into the wide estuary, I could see the massive cranes of Felixstowe docks, standing out on the horizon, and as the train pulled into Ipswich station, I knew we were less than an hour away from Norwich.
Or so we should have been, except the train didn’t move off. I’d already noticed the conductor walking along the platform, talking on her two-way radio, so when her voice came over the PA system I wasn’t too surprised. Apparently a passenger had been taken ill on the train, but as soon as the situation had been sorted, we would be underway.
Unfortunately the next announcement was request for anyone with medical knowledge to make their way to the First Class coaches at the rear of the train, followed by an instruction asking us all to disembark and remain on the platform, as the service was being terminated.
Things were a little chaotic, shall we say, as we had to cross via the stairs, to the opposite platform, only to then re-cross back to where we were originally, due to a fault which developed on a London-bound train, which prevented its departure. It’s a good job I’m fit, and was travelling light, but the long and the short of it was by the time the next train for Norwich arrived, I was running around 40 minutes behind schedule.
A quick call to the taxi company allowed me to adjust my pick-up time in Dereham, but I was only able to move the return journey back by 20 minutes. This was because, like many taxi operators, the company had all its available vehicles committed to the school run. Really? We had to walk in my day, none of this cosseting and being ferried around in taxis, for us!
Moving swiftly on, the No. 8 Konect Bus appeared roughly on time, at the side of the station, I bought a return ticket for the bargain sum of £5.50, and after a brief additional pick-up at the newly refurbished Norwich Bus Station, we headed out of town and were soon speeding along the A47 towards Dereham.
The bus dropped me in the centre of town, where my taxi was waiting. I arrived at dad’s care-home shortly after 2pm. Dad was looking a lot better than on my last visit. On that occasion he was asleep for much of the time, but on Friday he was alert and quite chatty. He had put back on most of the weight that he’d lost earlier in the year, when he was laid up with a chest infection.
It was really good to see him, and although I was only able to spend an hour with him, I’m pretty certain he appreciated my coming to see him. I had a brief chat with the home’s deputy manager, who said they were pleased with his progress, and that he was now back to something approaching his old self.
The journey back to Norwich was the reverse of the outward one, and I arrived back in the city at 16.10. My original plan had been to stop for a pint in the city centre, but with my train departing at 17.30, I decided to stay on the bus and get off at the station.
So where to stop for a pint? I now have this year’s Good Beer Guide available as an App on my phone, but even without this I knew there was a paucity of decent pubs in the vicinity of the station. I was aware of the Compleat Angler, next to the River Wensum, but it has always seemed rather down at heel, and the link to WhatPub didn’t provide much that was complimentary either.
You can see quite a bit from the upper deck of a bus though, and as the bus waited at traffic lights, I noticed a sign indicating it had recently changed management/ownership. It was definitely worth a try, and as I walked over the bridge, the sight of punters enjoying a pint on the outside terrace, overlooking the river, was sufficient to gladden the heart of this very thirsty drinker.
The Compleat Angler is now a Greene King managed house (it may always have been so, but what the heck?). A sign by the entrance advised there were up to 10 ales available (Martin beware), so after stepping inside I carried out a quick scan of the hand pumps, along both sections of the bar, before deciding to ask the bar staff for their recommendation.
The two girls in charge seemed pretty knowledgeable, and after a bit of discussion as to whether I wanted something light or dark, hoppy or malty, I opted for a pint of Lupus Lupus from Wolf Brewery, who are an old favourite of mine. I was glad I did, as this well-hopped, blonde ale was just what I required, cool, bright and packed full of flavour. I scored it at 3.5 NBSS.
The interior of the Compleat Angler has been stripped back to basics, with bare wooden floors and lots of other dark wood. With the 2018 FIFA World Cup underway, one of the first matches was being shown on a wide screen. I didn’t pay much attention, although I did notice that Iran were one of the teams playing.
I headed out to the riverside terrace, and sat there enjoying my pint and updating my social media account. I was tempted to go for another pint, but it would have meant rushing; something I don’t do anymore, unless I absolutely have to. The pub was a very pleasant place in which to finish my brief visit to Norfolk, and I will keep it in mind for next time.
There almost certainly will be a “next time”, as having now “test-driven” the public transport option, I will use it again. I know it’s perfectly feasible to drive from Kent up to Norfolk and back in a day, but it is very tiring, and whilst my total spend exceeded what it would have cost me in diesel, I didn’t have to factor in the cost of my usual overnight stay.