On a Winter’s Day

December can be a grim month. The many hours of darkness between sunset at 4pm and sunrise at 8am can wear down the best of us, and me in particular. What is one to do then on a cold, drizzly Saturday in winter to lift one’s spirits? Visit a railway museum, of course. I don’t remember how I first heard about the East Anglian Railway Museum, but it cannot have been long since I moved to Cambridge in October. I thus decided to seize the day and make my way to the village of Wakes Colne, where the museum is located.

Fortunately, one can reach it by train. It is not that convenient, however, and we will soon learn why. Although Wakes Colne is only about 40 miles away from Cambridge, it takes nearly two and a half hours, and four different trains, to reach it. I didn’t mind this though, since I was new to the region and thus very keen to use as many different lines as possible. After changing at Ipswich and Colchester, I reached Marks Tey, where the branch line to Sudbury starts and terminates. This is an especially cute line, since there is a single carriage train that goes back and forth between Marks Tey and Sudbury, via Chappel and Wakes Colne and Bures (the latter has only very recently, after I visited, been made a request stop). The very last train of each day goes all the way back to Colchester, in order to go to sleep in the depot.

Just for the sake of completing this line, I didn’t alight at Chappel and Wakes Colne first, but stayed on the train until Sudbury and then got out when the train was on its way back to Marks Tey. One notable feature of this line is the Chappel Viaduct, of which stunning pictures can be found on Twitter. One less good feature of this viaduct, however, is that it is on a completely straight stretch of track, so that it is not possible to observe its beauty while on the train. In this respect, the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Scottish Highlands is much preferable, since it is on a curve:

Be that as it may, after all this travelling I had finally arrived at the actual museum, and could enjoy the sight of even more trains:

The museum is not big, but has everything one would expect: Locomotives and carriages, sheds and and a signal box, model trains, lots of signs and other railway memorabilia. At the far end of the premises are some unspectacular looking buildings, and a sign informs me that they used to be army barracks, which were donated to the museum some years back. Here a small exhibition about the history of railways in East Anglia is housed, and this brings us back to the topic of how arduous the journey from Cambridge to Chappel and Wakes Colne is nowadays.

As it turns out, there used to be a direct line, the so-called Stour Valley railway. Here are the former stations from Sudbury onwards:

Sadly, this stretch was closed in 1967, and since then only the short branch line from Sudbury to Marks Tey remains. Remarkably, someone made a film of the last train from Cambridge to Haverhill, which in the meantime found its way to YouTube:

It is regrettable for many reasons that this line is no more. For once, it would have been much easier for me to get to the museum if it were still in operation. Furthermore, it would make visiting the village of Linton more convenient, which is famously the home of Linton Travel Tavern – equidistant between London and Norwich!

I started to mourn the closure of the Stour Valley railway even more when, a couple of month after this trip, I learned about the TV series Lovejoywhich portrays the adventures of an East Anglian antique dealer. Many episodes of this show, which apparently “put East Anglia on the map”, are set and were filmed in and around the attractive-looking villages of Long Melford and Lavenham. This naturally made me curious and I would like to explore this area, but nowadays it is quite difficult to get there by public transport, so I haven’t been able to make the trip yet. (Now that I have a bike this has become more feasible though).

Having wandered through the ground and the exhibition of the museum to my satisfaction,  I went to have coffee and cake, which can be consumed in a comfortable old railway carriage:

Pleased with the trip, I then went to the platform to wait for the first of many trains that would bring me back to Cambridge.  One surprising fact that I only learned about after I returned is that the britpop band Blur – which I really like –  played their first concert in 1989 in the goods shed of the Railway Museum! There is even a plaque to remember this important event, which I failed to spot on my visit. (They also came back for a concert in 2009). One should keep in mind that Blur are from nearby Colchester though, so this coincidence is not quite as strange as it may seem at first.

A Trip to the Seaside

I sometimes ask people whether they want to join me on a trip, but usually no one wants to come. I was therefore very happy when my friend T. agreed to accompany me on a trip to Great Yarmouth in May. The plan was as follows: First we take the train to Norwich, then change to the Yarmouth-train to get off at Berney Arms, a tiny railway station that is known for being in the middle of nowhere. Then we would walk from Berney Arms to Great Yarmouth, through the Norfolk Broads along the river Yare, and have a nice time at the seaside. And that is precisely what we did.

The journey to Norwich went smoothly, and we caught the required train. There are two railway lines to Great Yarmouth, and Berney Arms is on the one which is less frequently used, so it was important to get this particular connection. It is also a request stop, so the conductor had to be informed about our wish to disembark. Although our train was by no means very long – only two carriages – the platform at Berney Arms is so short that only the very first door can be used! A surprisingly large crowd got out there as well, about 5-6 people.

Even T., who is not exactly a railway enthusiast, was duly impressed by the smallness and remoteness of the station, and pictures were taken accordingly. The footpath from the station leads to a windmill, and there also used to be a pub called Berney Arms. Unfortunately that has been closed for a few years; in this video the previous owners are interviewed, which amazingly moved there from Birmingham. Since going to a pub is more appropriate at the end of a walk rather than its beginning, the closure of the pub was no great inconvenience to us though.

T. and I made out way towards Great Yarmouth along the Wherryman’s Way, which is a distance of about 6 miles. (If you walk into the other direction you get to Reedham, which has a swinging bridge). The terrain is Norfolk at its finest and flattest, we could see the windmill we started at until the very end of the walk. Since we were close to the sea it was also quite breezy, and given that there were no hills or trees T., whose ears are sensitive to cold wind, suffered a bit. This could easily have been prevented by the presence of a cap or a hat, but neither of us had brought one.

We passed some more windmills, and Great Yarmouth, which is stretched out along the coast, started to look bigger and bigger. Our way met the railway line again, near the junction where the two lines to Yarmouth join. Here another train highlight could be observed: Two class 37 locomotives moving three carriages, which Greater Anglia uses on some lines:

It is astonishing how noisy these locomotives are; the sound could leads one to believe that an invisible helicopter is starting somewhere! (This is captured well here).

After arriving in Great Yarmouth we looked for some well-deserved lunch. We opted for fish and chips, and found a nice-looking place, where we were at first slightly overwhelmed by the many choices required: Beans or peas? – If peas, mushy or garden? – Luckily we did thoroughly enjoy the meal we eventually managed to order.

As is usual in seaside towns, many seagulls were around, although here they were relatively harmless, and did not attempt to steal our food. T. didn’t seem to be familiar with seagulls, which might appear strange for someone who has been living on an island for some years. It is explained by the fact that he is from the south of Germany, where the seaside is far away and people tend to prefer mountains anyway.

As a town, Great Yarmouth is certainly quite different in character than Cambridge. There are plenty of opportunities for entertainment, for instance this endlessly vomiting man:

Our attention was caught by the various amusement arcades, and in particular the penny pushers:

I am a big fan of these ever since I first encountered them on a school trip to Clacton-on-Sea – which in retrospect strikes me as a strange place to go to for a school in the West of Germany – where I spent quite a lot of time and money in the local arcade. (If you are not familiar with these machines, this clip can give you an idea). Since then I have learned a lot, and as far as I can see the crucial trick needed to win is not to put in one coin slowly after the other, but to insert a couple of coins in quick bursts. T. and I applied this strategy, and it worked – although I cannot remember now what kind of prize we won exactly, and we didn’t take a picture of our triumph.

[UPDATE: Pictures were taken after all! We won a little solider action figure, and also a plastic ball containing a toy. Thanks to T. for the correction.]

Later we walked around on the beach, where it was quite busy since it was a sunny day. Having done that, we decided to drink a beer at the bar on the pier before heading back to Cambridge again, which gave the day a nice sense of closure.

Full closure was not achieved, however. By coincidence, our train back to Norwich took the less common route via Berney Arms again, and hence I have yet to see the more standard route via Acle, which runs parallel to an unusually straight road. To see it I will thus have to visit Great Yarmouth again – a journey I’m looking forward to.

Beer and Horses

I recently bought a bicycle. As such this is quite unremarkable, since nearly everyone in Cambridge has a bike. In my own case it was unusual though, since for months I had been saying that I don’t need or want a bike, yet a few weeks ago I suddenly woke up with the urge to buy one myself. Some days later I actually acted on this new wish, which doesn’t usually happen either. I proceeded pretty much like the character played by Robert Webb in this sketch: I went to a bike shop, named a price range, and just bought the first bike I was shown. It seems to be working well, the wheels, gears and the chain all do their job.

Having got the bike I naturally wanted to go on a proper cycling trip. I was unsure, however, how long a long cycling trip should be, so I asked C. for advice. She said that it should be at least 30-40 kilometres, and I planned accordingly. I then decided to take the National Cycle Route 51 from Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds, via Newmarket. With somewhat more than 30 miles this was the required length, and I was also keen to visit both Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds, which I hadn’t been to before. A particularly interesting attraction of Bury is the Pillar of Salt, Britain’s first internally illuminated road sign, which can be seen in the header image. (Unfortunately, I only saw it during the day, when there was no illumination.)

The cycling route is straightforward to follow, and until Newmarket the ride was pretty easy since the terrain is very flat. There were plenty of small quaint villages on the way, with names such as Swaffham Bulbeck and Swaffham Prior (I really like it when villages come in pairs). In the latter I saw a strange building which struck me as quite mysterious and creepy. It reminded me of the black tower in this short film, but luckily it did not haunt me in the end.

Eventually I reached Newmarket, the town of horses. It actually smells of horses, apart from Exning Road, where when I cycled down into the town everybody seemed to use their Saturday to do laundry. I parked my bike in the centre and walked around a bit, with the aim of eventually eating some lunch. I wanted nothing more than a sandwich, but it was surprisingly hard to find a standard supermarket in the town centre – there was a big Marks & Spencer, which however was closing down for good that very day, and so all the sandwiches were already gone!

In the end I found food, walked around the town some more (not to where the racecourses are though, so horses were only smelled but not seen), and then decided to continue to Bury. The terrain is much hillier from here on, starting with the Long Hill from which one has a good view of Newmarket.

I was not actually able to cycle up most of these hills, but had to get off and push the bike, which is arguably less impressive than cycling. Nevertheless, cycling down the other side of the respective hills is enjoyable. I took a short break in the village Moulton, which has a very nice stone bridge:

In general I found the Suffolk countryside very scenic, I should have taken more pictures but unfortunately didn’t. Finally I reached Bury St Edmunds, which smells of beer, due to the presence of the Greene King brewery. After visiting the aforementioned illuminated road sign and the nearby Abbey Ruins I had a look at the brewery. Unsurprisingly, there is a Greene King pub immediately opposite, which I would have expected to be just called Greene King (surely there must be one where Greene King is not merely the subtitle?).  In fact, however, the name of the Greene King pub closest to the Greene King brewery is Dog and Partridge:

Overall, I’d say that Bury St Edmunds is well worth visiting, and probably more interesting than Newmarket unless one is into horse racing. I was very satisfied with my first proper cycling trip, and, quite exhausted, took the train back to Cambridge.

Welcome!

Welcome to Adventures in East Anglia! My name is Benjamin, I recently moved to Cambridge, and in my spare time I like to go on day trips, which usually involve walking, cycling, or taking trains in some way. Many of these trips lead me to explore Cambridgeshire, Norfolk or Suffolk; the three counties known as East Anglia (although the extent of East Anglia is somewhat controversial). I thought it might be fun to write about some of these expeditions, and thus will try to do so on this blog. Despite the title I don’t plan to strictly restrict myself to the three counties mentioned before, but will probably also write about trips to other parts of the world – Essex and Hertfordshire, for instance, but also more exotic locations.

What is the point of this? Firstly, I quite enjoy reading travel reports myself, and hence am interested to see whether I am able to do some travel writing myself. Secondly, I think East Anglia is often underrated: East Anglia, a. k. a. the Wales of the East, seems to be primarily known for being flat (Cambridgeshire has been called the “billiard table of England“), and flatness is in turn associated with boringness. True, a picture of you climbing a massive rock which guarantees plenty of likes on social media will be hard to come by when walking in Norfolk. Nevertheless, I think East Anglia is scenic and interesting in less obvious ways, and I want to embrace the flatness in the posts on this blog. Let the experiment begin.