Wednesday 30 October 2019

Carry on cruising

On Friday Mrs PBT’s and I are embarking on our first ever cruise. It’s billed as a “taster cruise” and, as the name suggests, is designed to give novice, “cruise virgins” like us, the chance to experience life afloat, combined with that touch of luxury that seems to be an essential part of the whole package.

We’ll be accompanied on the voyage, by’s Eileen’s sister and her husband, who are both cruise veterans. They have offered to act as our guides, although I suspect their real reason is the desire to enjoy a short break, as what can be a depressing time of year.
Without wishing to appear smug, or ungrateful, neither of us really need “guiding,” as surely part of the fun is finding things out for oneself, but having said that,  my sister and brother-in-law obviously know the ropes, and it will be with the little things where their experience will undoubtedly come to the fore.

This being our first cruise, we are pushing the boat out, if you’ll excuse the pun, and will be sailing from Southampton on the Queen Elizabeth; Cunard’s newest ocean liner. If we enjoy it, there’s the possibility of a longer cruise next year, with the Norwegian fjords being my voyage of choice.
Mrs PBT’s still doesn’t feel up to being herded around at airports, even though assisted boarding is available at most locations, so the idea of a cruise, where we can just drive down to Southampton, hand over the car keys, and leave the vehicle to be parked, whilst our cases are delivered direct to our cabin, obviously appeals. I did tell her that isn’t an excuse to pack everything but the proverbial kitchen sink!

 I’ve had to pack rather more than I would normally take, and certainly quite a bit more than I took on my recent visit to Krakow, where I crammed everything into  a medium-sized rucksack in order to fly with just cabin baggage. That certainly beats queuing at check-in and waiting at baggage reclaim.

Back to the point, dinner on board the Queen Elizabeth is a formal affair – not quite DJ’s and dickey-bows, but smart attire nevertheless, including a jacket which would not travel well crumpled inside a rucksack.

Our destination is the Belgian port of Zeebrugge; a town once again in the news for all the wrong reasons. Our ship will dock there for a day, and there are several shore excursions to take advantage of. These are not cheap, and are undoubtedly an easy way for cruise lines to bump up their profits.

Destinations for these excursions include trips to Bruges, Ghent or the First World War Commonwealth cemeteries. All involve a fair amount of walking, which neither of the ladies feel up to, so we’ve agreed to forsake the coach trips, and spend time ashore at Zeebrugge.

I’ve been to Bruges several times, so am not overly concerned at not seeing the place again, but I would have liked to visit Ghent. Also, a trip to the war graves would have been particularly poignant this time of year, but with several operators offering tailor-made guided tours, that is something that can wait for another time.

So with packing well on the way to completion, and then a drive down to Southampton for an overnight stay, tomorrow morning, there’s just one last thing for me to say.

I was being economical with the truth at the beginning of this post, as I am not a “cruise virgin.” Instead I am the person who, at the tender age of 16, undertook a two week “educational cruise” as a member of a party from my school, along with similar groups of pupils from schools all over Kent.

The “SS Nevassa,” a converted troop ship operated by the now defunct British India Line, acted as our home for a fortnight, as we cruised around the mid-Atlantic, visiting Portugal, the Canaries, Madeira and the Azores. Being “educational” there were lectures, films and slideshows about the places we would be calling at, and there was also plenty to keep a boatful of lively teenagers amused, (no alcohol though, for obvious reasons).

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially as it was my first time abroad, and have fond memories of life on-board ship. I even found a few old photo’s, taken on my Kodak Brownie camera. (For those who might be interested, I'm the one in the back row with the scruffy haircut, third from the left).

This time though, I’ll be swapping a rather spartan dormitory for a balcony stateroom, and an equally basic ship’s mess-room for fine dining. I will, of course, keep people posted, but not whilst at sea.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Greene King Heritage Chevallier Series

We take a short interlude from tales of visits to Canterbury, Krakow, London, Norwich and even Tonbridge, and take a brief look at an unusual beer I picked up the other day. The beer in question is Heritage Vintage Fine Ale (6.5%); a limited edition premium beer from Greene King.

I saw this beer on sale at Tesco for much of last year and kept meaning to grab a bottle. There are actually two beers in this series, but the second one - Heritage Suffolk Pale Ale (5%), was not available when I finally decided I ought to give these beers a try. Typical, but this is what happens when you procrastinate.

First, some background. Both beers are brewed using East Anglian Chevallier malted barley. Originally developed in the 1820’s, Chevallier barley was once the predominant strain of malt, but was discontinued due to its low attenuation rate. This meant that whilst it added lots of body to the beer, it was difficult to ferment right out, and as the demand increased for lighter beers, Chevallier’s popularity declined, in favour of more modern varieties.  

We are talking here about a timescale of around 100 years. As an experiment, Crisp Malting Group, sowed five preserved Chevallier seeds, which were then re-sown and harvested to create sufficient volume to brew a batch of beer.

Crisp's partners in this exercise were Greene King, and the remit was to try and replicate a traditional GK ale from the 1800s. As mentioned above, the brewery produced two ales, both  of which are bottle-conditioned and packaged in 568ml bottles – Imperial pints. To complete the historical touch, the bottles are embossed with an old-fashioned GK logo.

Both beers are inspired by recipes from the brewery archives, and are said to be typical of the types of ales consumed in rural Suffolk in the early 1800s. So by using just five barley seeds, recipes from their brewing archives plus lots of patience and expertise, Greene King have created what it describes as its "Heritage Series."

Speaking last year, at the launch of the Heritage Chevallier Series, Greene King's Director of  Brewing & Brands, said, “These ales are an exciting addition to our stable of beers as they are a wonderful representation of Suffolk ales long thought to be extinct. Working alongside Crisp Malt who has carefully re-introduced the rare Chevallier malt and using our own extensive archive and brewing experience, we have been able to produce these two ales with traditional Suffolk roots.”

I really enjoyed my bottle of Vintage Fine Ale, the other evening, finding it a rich, flavoursome beer, with plenty of biscuit-like malt flavours, off-set by a soft fruity and floral bitterness, from classic English hop varieties - Fuggles, Bramling Cross and Goldings.

The GK website added that the beer included a proportion of Amber malt, which adds a hint of caramel, giving a beer that really lives up to its promise.

For the record, here’s what the brewery has to say about the other Heritage beer - Suffolk Pale Ale. Brewed from Chevallier malt, and bittered using Saaz and Strisselspalt hops (these don’t sound very traditional), to give the brew a refreshing flavour.  Herbal, citrus, floral and spicy notes add to the sweet malt taste, creating an easy drinking “heritage” ale.

I’m keeping a look out for the Suffolk Pale Ale, and wouldn’t be averse to a few more bottles of the Vintage Fine Ale. If you come across either of these, I can certainly recommend giving them a try, especially if you want to sample a little bit of history. 

Friday 25 October 2019

Saturday afternoon & evening in London

The boy and I were in London on Saturday afternoon, along with a million or so other like minded individuals, expressing our solidarity with the "People's Vote" campaign. We arrived a little late to join the march itself which, as with previous demonstrations, ran from Park Lane to the Houses of Parliament, so we sneaked our way along the Embankment and slowly wormed our way through the crowds that had gathered in Parliament Square.

We listened to some rousing speeches as speakers from the world of politics, entertainment as well as ordinary folk, addressed the crowd warning of the dangers associated with Britain’s departure from the European Union, whilst campaigning to give the electorate the final say on any deal the government might come up with.

After standing still for an hour and a half, wedged in amongst the mass of  demonstrators, we decided it was high time to break free and head off for a drink and a bite to eat. I had several places in mind, but wanted to get away from the crowds that were milling around Parliament and Whitehall. 

We headed off in the opposite direction, past Westminster Abbey and towards St James’ Park underground station. We were making for a pub which is an old favourite of mine, but one that I hadn’t visited for many years. The pub in question was the Star Tavern, tucked away in a back-street mews just off  Belgrave Square.

We exited the underground at South Kensington, due to what looked like an over-crowding issue on the Piccadilly Line, and took the bus instead. We alighted at Knightsbridge, opposite Harrods, and then made our way in foot to Belgravia.  We passed through what was obviously a moneyed area, with Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys seemingly ten to the dozen. Matt noticed in one estate agent’s window, an apartment advertised for rent, at the unbelievable rate of £33,500 pcm!

We approached the Star from the north with a real sense of anticipation, as many years had passed since my last visit. The lad was hungry; I just wanted to sit down and take the weight off my feet. I was delighted to discover that nothing much had changed at the Star over the past couple of decades and even better, the pub wasn’t heaving. Following the previous demo, back in March,  I’d visited the Anglesea Arms, in Kensington, and found place absolutely rammed. I had difficulty in just getting a drink, and there was no chance of sitting down anywhere, let alone enjoying a meal.

The Star was the complete opposite and every bit as good as I remembered it. There was plenty of room and also several spare tables. The choice of beers in this longstanding Fuller’s pub and perennial GBG entry, were Pride, ESB and Seafarers. I decided to live dangerously and go for the ESB, although I have to point out, I am not a fan of the chalice-like glass it was served in. The beer was good, but perhaps a little lacking in condition. This was why I only scored it at NBSS 3.0.

I was relieved to see menus on the tables and the pub still serving food. Father and son both opted for the Chalcroft Farm beef burger and triple-cooked chips –  does that make them three times as scrumptious? The burgers were good, and sufficient to satisfy the poor hungry 27 year old, who “Hadn’t eaten since breakfast!”

I would have been quite happy to remain at the Star for the rest of the evening, but the lad was getting itchy feet. I treated self to a further half of ESB, and took a look at my phone, before deciding to head for the rather upmarket Alfred Tennyson, gourmet pub. This was listed as stocking Pilsner Urquell on draught, so we thought we’d give it a try, but on arrival, and debating whether to step inside or not, I noticed the next road was Kinnerton Street, a road which rang a bell in my “pubs I have known” memory.

This tucked-away, narrow mews is home to the Nags Head, a tiny and unspoilt two bar free house. I visited the pub many years ago, and have been racking my brains to try and think when and, more importantly, what prompted my visit. I recall visiting another unspoilt pub called the Antelope, but looking at a map, this establishment is to the south of Belgrave Square.

Whatever the reason I was glad I remembered the Nags Head, which was just a short walk away from the Alfred Tennyson. We entered the upper, front bar, noticing a separate bar at a lower level. There was plenty of room where we were, so we stayed put, taking note of the set of  attractive, pink ceramic hand-pull, mounted on a pewter plinth. It is claimed that the bar counter is the lowest in London.

The walls are decorated with a motley collection of paintings and photos, together with a collection of assorted memorabilia. The latter includes a “What the butler saw” machine. The whole place really was like stepping back in time. There were five Adnam’s beers available, including their “Dry Hopped Lager.” I wasn’t aware that the latter was a cask ale, but Matt decided to give it a go, whilst I stuck with the Southwold Bitter. I scored this as another 3.0 NBSS.

I took a few photos, as discreetly as I could, given the prominent notice
displayed next to the bar, announcing that mobile phones were banned - shades of Sir Humphrey Smith (see below). After the young couple sitting next to the fireplace left, we had the bar to ourselves. There seemed quite a few people in the lower bar, but after finishing our pints, we decided it was time to make tracks.

We walked along to Hyde Park Corner tube station, and took the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square. This deposited us conveniently close to Charing Cross station and also to our final pub of the evening.

The Chandos needs little in the way of introduction, but this Sam Smith’s pub is probably too convenient for the train home, and consequently I have taken advantage of its proximity on numerous trips to the capital. It was busy on Saturday, but despite this we still managed to find a couple of seats.

Matt ordered a pint of Pure Brewed Lager, but it had ran out. He was offered the slightly weaker Taddy Lager instead, describing it as very good. I of course, went for the Old Brewery Bitter, and can report it was excellent. It was by far the best pint of the evening, bright, well-conditioned and topped with a thick creamy head. It was definitely worthy of a 4.0 NBSS.

As mentioned, the pub was busy, but I saw plenty of people using their mobile phones in direct contravention of Sir Humphrey’s ban on electronic devices. For all I know, one or two of them might even have been swearing, thereby contravening another edict, but with no sign of the reclusive brewery boss to catch them out, they obviously got away with this.

After finishing our drinks, we walked over to Charing Cross and caught the 21.30 train back to Tonbridge, after an interesting day out in the capital, and some equally interesting, classic London pubs.

Monday 21 October 2019

Oktoberfest Tonbridge

The Saturday before last, Tonbridge held its own Oktoberfest, in a large marquee attached to the town’s football ground, at Longmead. We first became aware of this event through one of the building firms that Mrs PBT’s does accountancy work for. The company’s yard and office are adjacent to the Tonbridge Angels ground, so they often have first hand knowledge as to what’s going on at the club.

It was Mrs PBT’s boss who tipped us off about the event, although I do recall seeing some early advanced publicity for it, but the thing that really sparked my interest was the event’s sponsor.  This was the people behind Hofmeister Helles, the re-vamped 1980’s lager brand. The beer is now an authentic German Helles, brewed by a small brewery in the heart of Bavaria, and very tasty it is too.

Tonbridge Oktoberfest was as a “ticket only” event, with the option of pre-booking a table. As well as Hofmeister Helles, there was food in the form of Bratwurst and pulled pork, supplied by local butchers Hayward’s, plus classic Oktoberfest entertainment provided by the London Oompah Band.

Sponsor, Richard Longhurst, one of the two people behind the re-launch of Hofmeister, said: “I love Oktoberfest and I am so excited that Hofmeister can sponsor the very first Oktoberfest in Tonbridge. It will be a true Bavarian experience and Hofmeister Helles is the perfect beer sponsor for this – a truly authentic Bavarian beer.”

Mrs PBT’s boss booked a table for 10 people, which included the Bailey family. Included in the ticket price was the first beer of the evening, along with a complimentary “Stein.” Now anyone who has been to Bavaria will know, that the large, glass one-litre drinking vessels are known as a Maβ Krug, rather than a Stein; the latter word, of course, being German for "stone."

Stein can be used to describe a ceramic, stoneware drinking vessel, but leaving semantics aside, the drinking vessels at Tonbridge Oktoberfest were made of non-breakable polycarbonate, no doubt for safety reasons. They were CE marked as two pints, so were slightly larger than the traditional Munich one litre Maβ Krugs.

The beer was token only, and if I did my maths correctly, the beer worked out at £7.50 for a full two-pint refill. The polycarbonate drinking vessels were returnable; Matthew kept his but I exchanged mine for a charity donation at the end of the evening.  The food was also token only, which I thought rather unnecessary.

Once you’ve experienced the real thing any attempt to replicate Munich’s world famous Oktoberfest is bound to end up leaving one wanting more, so the thing to remember about these “copy-cat” events is to not even attempt a comparison with the real deal. Instead treat them as something enjoyable in their own rights and then just go with the flow.

Mrs PBT’s and I wore the pointed felt hats we’d purchase at Oktoberfest 2017,  but there were a surprisingly large amount of people who went several stages further and turned up in traditional Bavarian costume. There were a lot more Lederhosen and braces being worn than Dirndl’s, whereas in Munich, the split is much more 50:50.

If truth be known, the event didn’t really compare with the real one, but on the plus side, the beer was very drinkable, being brewed to a much more sensible strength than the 6% plus Festbier, served at Oktoberfest Munich. The London Oompah Band were good, and helped get people in the mood, but the timing of their set was too early in the evening,

The DJ set that followed was far too loud, making conversation impossible, but it did get people up on their feet and dancing. As at the real Oktoberfest, dancing on the tables was not permitted; although several people did get carried away. Mrs PBT’s boss was amongst them, and had to be helped/persuaded down by security. He ended up falling off the table, but apparently can remember nothing about the event!

I was quite restrained, in comparison, sticking to two x 2 pint mugs, plus another one which I shared with Matthew. We also enjoyed a pulled pork roll each, along with a Bratwurst – two in Matthew’s case!

To sum up, Tonbridge Oktoberfest was a reasonable attempt to replicate the Munich event, even though it doesn’t really compare with the real thing. My main criticism, apart from the music being too loud, was the rows of tables and benches were too tightly packed together. I suppose it comes down to “bums on seats,” but I ended up getting beer poured down my back on a couple of occasions, as people attempted to squeeze past me.

Will we go next year? It depends really on what else is on, but if we do we might have to go the whole hog and don traditional Bavarian attire; just for the sheer hell of it!

Thursday 17 October 2019

Renewing my acquaintance with Norwich

I’ve got to know and love Norwich over the years, although admittedly it’s taken rather a long time. The fault lies very much with me though, rather than with the city itself, but last Friday, I renewed my acquaintance with the city, on my way back from seeing dad.

First some background. I was 19 years old when I first set foot in Norwich, and that was on a weekend visit to catch up with an old school friend. My pal was studying at UEA, whose campus is on the edge of the city. I was enrolled at Salford University, and being a typical, hard-up student, I hitch-hiked all the way from Greater Manchester, to Norwich.

The journey took me the best part of a day, but the look on my friend’s face when I knocked on his door and burst into his room, was priceless. We enjoyed a good weekend together, but it didn’t involve much pub going. Unlike me, my friend was more into wacky-baccy than beer, but I did persuade him to accompany me on a visit to the Wild Man.

This was a Tolly Cobbold pub (remember them?), and was recorded in CAMRA’s first Good Beer Guide (1974), as “The last Tolly house in Norwich, serving beer by traditional methods.” It was also the city’s only entry in that first GBG. After 44 years, I don’t remember much about the place, apart from it seeming pretty basic, but I’m pleased to record that the Wild Man is still trading, although looking at the entry in WhatPub, it has gone rather upmarket.

Fast forward 20 years to the early 1990’s, when my parents had retired up to Norfolk, and the older of my two sisters was living fairly close-by with her American husband. My brother-in-law was serving in the US Airforce, and during his time in the UK had developed quite a taste for English ale.

Amongst the places he’d discovered was a brew-pub called the Reindeer, sited on the Dereham Road on the main route west out of Norwich, so I joined him there, for a couple of sessions, whilst staying at my parents’ house.

After he and my sister emigrated to the United States, there wasn’t much opportunity for a beer in Norwich. Mrs PBT’s was never keen on Norfolk, dismissing the county as being “too rural.” This prejudice probably extends from the days when we would  stay at my parents’ place,  as a cheap holiday option, although I did keep telling her she might change her mind, if she gave Norwich a try.

I never pressed her on this, especially as a trip into Norwich meant me driving, which negated having much more than just a single pint, but six years ago I spent five days in the county town, as a delegate at CAMRA’s 2013 AGM. My stay allowed me to discover many of the Norwich’s finest pubs, and I also got to know the city centre quite well.

However, but the concentric layout of the streets, as they radiate away from the Castle Mound, still disorientates me as much today, as it did six years ago, so last Friday I had to keep checking the map on my phone, so as not to get lost. It was mid-afternoon and I had a couple of hours free before my train was due to depart. The bus from Dereham had dropped me off at the city’s bus station, and I fancied a pint, plus a bite to eat.
But where to drink in a city which now offers a choice of decent beer and decent pubs, that would have been unimaginable on that first visit 44 years ago?  I’d carried out some online research during the outward train journey, and thought about St Andrew’s Brewhouse, which Matt and I had visited a few years previously. I also considered the Rumsey Wells, an interesting looking Adnam’s tied pub, that I’d noticed before. I particularly fancied a pint of Adnam’s Old, although it was probably too early on for this seasonal dark ale.

There was the nearby Belgian Monk as well, along with the Plough, which belongs to Grain Brewery. I’d squeezed  my way into the latter on a busy Friday night, back in 2013, so this was another possibility, along with the Brew Dog outlet that has opened in the city, but in the end I found myself gravitating towards the Gardener’s Arms, more commonly known as the “Murderer’s.”

I’d spotted the pub from the bus, on the outward  journey towards Dereham. It was in the general direction of the route that would lead me back towards the station, and I knew there would be a good choice of beers there. More to the point, I’d drunk in the Murderer’s several times before, including one occasion with Matt.

I therefore walked along from the bus station and saw the Murderer’s beckoning, up on a sight hill, in a pedestrianised side street. The pub was relatively quiet as I entered, and the upper bar at the right of the building was closed. This was perhaps not surprising for mid-afternoon, even on a Friday. I noticed a good selection of beers and opted for the Fresh Hop, a 4.3% “Amber Ale” from Moon Gazer.

It was billed as a “limited edition,” and reading between the lines it may have been a “Green Hop” beer. After sitting down, facing the entrance, on a wooden settle, I scored the beer at 3.5 NBSS. It was a nice and refreshing pint, which was just what I needed. I sat there enjoying the beer and just taking in the moment, pleased that I’d chosen the Murderer’s for my mid-afternoon refreshment stop.

When the time came for another beer,  I went for the 4.9% Chocolate Porter from 3 Piers Brewery. I’d over-heard a group of students ordering the beer, so having missed it when I first surveyed the two banks of hand pulls, decided to give it a try. I was glad I did, as the beer certainly lived up to the chocolate in its name. It was satisfying, full-bodied and worthy of another 3.5 NBSS.

Good as it was, I decided to make that beer my last. I was feeling peckish and also felt I should be heading back towards the station. After accessing the pub Wi-Fi, I checked for the quickest route back, and also for the location of the nearest pasty shop. I didn’t fancy a full-blown meal, as I’d had a subway-style roll in Gregg’s, earlier in the day, but I did have a real craving for a proper Cornish pasty. I envisaged myself biting into the thick ridge of crimped short-crust pastry and then savouring the beef and turnip filling inside.

Google showed there was branch of the West Cornwall Pasty Co nearby, so bidding farewell to the friendly and helpful young barman, I set off in search of sustenance. The shop was nearer than I thought, and once inside I discovered they were operating a “meal deal.” For £4.95, shoppers could purchase any medium size pasty, alongside a packet of crisps and a bottle of water. In keeping with the shop’s Cornish ethos, the crisps and the water were sourced from Cornwall.

I was asked if I wanted to eat in, but I decided it would be wiser to head for the station. I walked round the base of the castle mound, where every bus in Norwich seemed to park up, before heading off down Prince of Wales Road. It was all very different from the last time I’d walked that route, as the road is at the centre of Norwich’s nightlife and club district. This time, the scantily clad and slightly worse for drink young ladies, were nowhere to be seen, but I reckoned they would be out in force in another six or seven hours time!

I reached the station in plenty of time and sat on a bench to enjoy my pasty. It was still piping hot, and every bit as good as anticipated, proving a fitting end to my afternoon. My train was in, so I boarded and found a seat next to the window. I made a start on this article by writing up some rough notes, although it’s taken me a week now to finish the post and get it up on the site.

Sunday 13 October 2019

Gressenhall, Norfolk by train and bus

Beer and travel are the main themes of this blog, but this particular post is solely about the latter. Give its title it could have been written for bus and train anoraks  public transport enthusiasts, and as I count myself amongst the latter category, perhaps I should not be so disparaging to the former.

Those who have followed  this blog over the years will know I am a regular visitor to Norfolk. This came about following the decision of my parents to retire to the county, about a quarter of a century ago. So there were regular visits to see them, and cheap holidays as well, especially when our son was small, but during the course of the last half dozen or so years, the trips became more and more fraught.

This was due to the deteriorating health of both parents; mum’s problem was physical, whilst dad’s was/is mental – specifically advancing Alzheimer’s. After mum’s passing in 2015, my sisters and I took the difficult decision to move dad into a care home, and after inspecting several without being overly impressed, we found him a place in a small and pleasant home, with high standards of care. The home is in the small village of Gressenhall, just a few miles to the north of Dereham and not too many miles from Swanton Morley; the village where mum and dad originally retired to.

I’ve found over the years, and certainly since my parent’s health started to decline, that a visit to Norfolk was best combined with an overnight stay. It is of course, quite possible to drive there and back in a day, from my home in west Kent, but even on a good run I’ve never managed the journey in less than two and three quarter hours, and that’s with the recent improvements to the A11.

So whilst it is dual carriageway all the way from Tonbridge, it's a tiring drive, which seems to get worse as the volume of traffic on our roads, continues to increase. I also find the journey repetitive and boring, as over the years I know exactly what lane I need to be in, the location of all the roundabouts and also which diversions to take, should the road get too busy or become blocked.

Public transport is the other option, and with fast and frequent trains between London and Norwich, completing the journey in under two hours, the train is increasingly the way to go. With cheap, “Saver” tickets, book-able in advance, the train is also competitive when you factor in the cost of fuel, plus wear and tear on the car. Getting to London from Tonbridge is also easy, with around three trains an hour, which just leaves the section at the other end i.e. getting from Norwich to Gressenhall.

Now this is where the real, bus geek stuff comes in, as Konect bus operate an express service from Norwich to Dereham, with buses every 20 minutes in both directions. I used this service last year, but it still left me the short journey from Dereham to Gressenhall. There is a busy B road which head north out of Dereham, but being narrow in places, and with fast moving traffic, they are not the sort of roads I wish to be walking on; even though the distance is only three miles.

 I solved the problem last year, by pre-booking a taxi from Dereham, but this plan nearly came unstuck after my train was delayed for three quarters of an hour at Ipswich. So determined not to be faced with a similar problem I conducted a little more research and found that Konect bus also operate a convenient service between Dereham and Gressenhall.

Last Friday I put this combination train and bus route to the test, and set off to visit dad in his Gressenhall care home. I’d timed the various stages of my journey to include sufficient slack, so that if there were delays on the trains, they would not impact on the overall itinerary. The critical part was the buses to and from Gressenhall, as there was only one viable outward service coupled with a final return service at 14.21.

I therefore opted for a train which would get me to Norwich shortly before 10.30, plus one which would depart for London at 17.30. So, sounding even more like an anorak, I bought two "Advanced Singles" – one in either direction, which would fit in with the above times. What I hadn’t realised is that not only do these tickets specify which Inter-City services to take between London and Norwich; a situation which is exactly what one would expect, they also specified the times of trains to and from London Bridge.

This was a new one on me, and unfortunately it did add unwanted and unnecessary inflexibility to my journey. What was worse was no-one bothered to check my ticket on either of those local, South Eastern trains. The other strange thing was my outward ticket to Norwich was designated from Stratford, rather than Liverpool Street.

Stratford wasn’t difficult to reach from London Bridge - 7 stops on the Jubilee Line, but the station itself took a bit of getting use to. I entered the wrong platform to begin with; why have a 10a when your platform numbers run up to 12? But with sufficient time to correct my mistake I boarded the 08.38 Greater Anglia service to Norwich, and settled down to enjoy the journey.

There were no disruptions on this occasion, and I passed the journey either reading or listening to some downloaded music on my phone. I also enjoyed the scenery, especially the section where the line crosses the River Stour, close to Manningtree and just before the river widens to become an estuary. Looking out the window, it was possible to see the towering cranes of Harwich Port, in the distance, some twelve miles away.

My train was a few minutes early getting into Norwich, which allowed me to catch the 10.37 No. 8 Konect bus to Dereham - £5.60 return. In Dereham, I had time for a ham and egg salad roll, plus a flat white in Gregg’s, before finding the correct bus stop for the 12.30 No. 21 Konect service to Fakenham - £5.40 return, also calling at Gressenhall. This was a small single- deck bus; don’t ask me what type as I am not a bus anorak, even though I am starting to sound like one!

I had around an hour and a quarter to spend at the care home, with dad. He was finishing off his dinner when I arrived, and whilst he wasn’t looking too bad, he wasn’t very communicative, hardly opening his eyes. There was no real acknowledgement of my presence, and if truth be told I don’t think he knew who I was.  

Alzheimer’s is a cruel and debilitating condition, which not only robs sufferers of their memories, but also leaves them increasingly isolated form the outside world. It’s heart-breaking to think back at how intelligent and witty dad was in his prime, but as I’ve mentioned before he is being well cared for and doesn’t appear to be in any stress.

The 14.21 return bus to Dereham was running a little late, which gave me time to gaze forlornly at Gressenhall’s sole pub; the now sadly closed Swan. It was a pub I’d wanted to take dad to, before his illness became too crippling, but in all honesty by the time he entered the care home, he wouldn’t really have been up to it.

The No. 21 bus dropped me in Dereham town centre, allowing me to hop smartly cross the road and onto the 14.38 express service back to Norwich. I alighted at the city’s bus station, as I wanted to take a look around and also visit a pub or two.

I will describe in a separate post, what I got up to in Norwich, but I had ample time to do what I wanted before catching the 17.30 Greater Anglia service back to London Liverpool Street. The train was a lot more crowded than it had been on the outward journey, but this wasn’t surprising for a Friday evening.

After waiting at London Bridge, for my timed connection back to Tonbridge, I was picked up at the station by son Matthew, who was waiting in his car. The entire journey ran like clockwork and cost a total of £43.45, probably not much more than the cost of diesel, and significantly less when combined with the price of a overnight stay.