Go West Life is peaceful there

Three weekends gallivanting around London for The Boroughers hasn’t exactly made me yearn for a break from the capital. Nonetheless, that’s what the diary has in store for January’s last hurrah. Helen and I have developed a habit - an excellent one, if I say so myself - of buying one another a mystery weekend away for Christmas, and as with last year I am treated to an early escape from the rat race. The downside is there’s no flights; the upside is, there’s no easyjet flights. We’re off to Cornwall.

We started with a ludicrously early train. I mean, there really was no good reason to leave Surbiton at 9am for a midday departure from Paddington. Still, it meant we’d have plenty of time for breakfast. After emerging from the tube we took stock and picked the Cabin Bar, next to Leon on the mezzanine/terrace layer. A padded lift took us up and Helen’s attempt to order food from the bar was rebuffed: go sit down, I’ll come to you! Well, OK then.


Two “cabin breakfasts”, each with beans swapped for black pudding, and a mocha/green tea. There’s an apology for the kitchen being out of both tomatoes and mushrooms, which becomes confusing a few minutes later when our breakfasts arrive with both items present. Not only that, the mushroom was actually very nice; shame the same could not be said about most of the rest of the plate. It wasn’t horrible, it was just ... meh.

During our stay here we broke out the two travel games Helen recently purchased. Thinking we could play one on the forthcoming 3hr ride down to Plymouth, we consulted the rules for “Backpackers”. A simple game, there are two sets of rules: the beginners guide says “if you’ve never played before, consult the full rules”. The full rules say “if you’ve never played before, consult the beginners guide”. Failing that, find someone who already knows how to play.

Both these sheets are double-sided

Fearing I might break down in Agricola-esque tears (I once suffered a very traumatic evening playing a game so complex I almost broke down) I was glad we were forced to put this all away. My phone alerts me to an imminent meeting at work, which is bullshit considering I can never get the bloody thing to remind me about meetings when I’m actually in the office.

With only a mere 90 minutes left to kill before our train we popped outside numerous times for Helen to vape, interspersed with a trip to Boots, food purchases from M&S, books from WH Smith, and some stuff about a bear.

We wait about 10 minutes to get a posed shot, hindered by the kind of people who take photos and then stay put while they pore over the pictures, ignorant to anyone else who might be patiently waiting to take a snap. Grargh.

With 50 minutes to go we’d even run out of chores we could invent, so fuck it, let’s go to the pub. There’s a branch of The Beer House, the Waterloo branch of which I am sadly familiar. It’s shit. Well, the Paddington one is even worse. An array of dull beers, three fruit machines, and “hey, we do take out Foster’s, Stella and Strongbow!” signage. The saucer used for tips is the saddest I’ve ever seen, containing just 1p. The best thing here is the cheesy rock, which stumbled over the border into non-cheesy with AC/DC’s Rock ‘n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution just as we set off.

One last vape and then there’s a platform announced. Ticket barriers are forming a barrier, even harder to get through when “seek assistance” attracts only a stubborn refusal to seek assistance by those ahead of us. And, er, Helen, albeit only one extra attempt unlike the 3 or 4 we’d been stuck behind.

Anyway. Here we are, coach D, couple of table seats on a busy Great Western Railway service to Plymouth. The seats opposite are briefly occupied, then the couple decide they wanna go eat in the Pullman dining car. They don’t reappear for about 2 hours and 50 minutes, which means we get to use the whole table to ourselves. Good job too, considering how much we’ve got going on.

The sun came out as we left London. Some of the outdoors looks quite pretty, if you like fields.

The other travel card game is Trivial Pursuit: Steal. It’s much less complicated than Backpackers, though not the greatest game for only two players. Glossing over the details of it being card based, the idea is predictably to earn all 6 wedges. At 3-all we take a pause to crack open the train beers I’d been lugging with all day; my stouts are nice, Helen’s sour is so fucking sour it takes two hours to get through.

She wins the first, and only, game we play, despite at one point crowing about stealing a point off me when in fact she’d read me a question from the wrong damn category. The train stops at Reading as she starts reading; I shove my headphones on and listen to a wrestling podcast while Berkshire and Wiltshire and Somerset go past.

Eventually we decide to converse again. Devon’s got water, both river and sea. We very much like the stretch down Dawlish way that got almost destroyed in the winter storms a few years ago.

As well as stare out of the window, jealous of the people walking between the Atlantic and the railway, we briefly discuss our options for the evening ahead. I also start working on potential puns for this and subsequent posts.

I’m glad we’re by the water because there’s less to be annoyed about. Specifically, throughout Wiltshire and Somerset I was wondering where all the henges are at. Isn’t that the land of the henge? Why aren’t they next to the railway lines?

Its kind of a shame we’re not staying a bit further east. Let me burn a few obvious puns that you’ve all heard before anyway:

  • Devon (must be missing an angel)
  • Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth? Ooh, Devon is a place on earth
  • Whoa-oh-oh, SHOW ME DEVON

I’m holding off on Slayer for when I’m further south. But anyway, we’re going to Cornwall which is a much less fruitful rhyme, so I stick with the word ‘west’ as my muse.

On schedule, we are in Plymouth. We’ve an annoying 50-odd minute changeover here, meaning there’s time to do fuck all. The station is not in the town centre, and there’s basically nothing here.

Well, not quite nothing. There’s a cafe with a terrible font, a Spar in which we buy flapjacks and Heineken, and another cafe. Outside there’s a couple of welcomes.

This one is quite nice.
This one, less so. Bremen hauptbahnhof this ain’t.

Inside there are a ton of leaflets for tourist attractions throughout Devon, which makes me think it’s aimed entirely at people from Cornwall. I mean, anyone else here has already gone through basically the whole bloody county before reaching Plymouth.

And then this happens. Just fantastic. Well played, Plymouth. Well played.

I am fucking staggered by the idea of a direct service from Plymouth (or even Penzance??) to Glasgow - no, wait, fucking hell you can go all the way to Dundee. 10 hours! You’d die of something!

Back inside and we’re on platform 5 for the 1557 to Penzance. So are lots of other people, most of them old and/or not particularly mobile. There’s also a train, because it starts here, but with still 20-odd minutes to go the doors aren’t open. Just before they let us on a ton of sixth form students arrive and our hope of a nice quiet tail end to our journey dissipates somewhat.

Onboard and setting off, the hopes are dashed completely when the tannoy says “we’re expecting a lot of schoolchildren at the next station”. Lo and behold, about 200 loud young teenagers get on and it’s horrible. Blargh! Go away, the lot of you! Also stop confusing me by living in one county but going to school in another. How does that work? Reasonably sure BACK IN MY DAY I couldn’t even go to school in a neighbouring borough, let alone county.

Anyway. There’s some history and tourism here. We’re going over Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s big fuck-off bridge across the Tamar, eh. No-one else appreciates it, and our view is sub-optimal due to the carriage’s windows being utterly filthy. Also Helen feels a bit nervous going over it, for no reason I can really discern. It’s this fantastic feat of engineering, not the bridge over the River Kwai, I say. “I’ve been over that!” comes the response. For fucks sake!

Lots of open air

At Saltash, “Cornwall’s first town” or something, quite a large chunk of people get on but they’re replaced by adults taking up almost as much room. The next stop is St Germans, which is us.

For the first time ever, I’m on a muddy train station platform. Crossing the bridge, we spot a rail van in a garden next to the eastbound platform. That’ll be our accommodation then.

Yep. Helen’s mystery travel present to me for Christmas 2017 is to stay in a converted old railway luggage van. It looks fantastic, but starts with moderate confusion. Like, we don’t actually know how to check in.

The old station building has someone inside who spots us. “Hi, we’re staying in the Old Luggage Van for 3 nights” “OK....” “Well, ... “ “OK you should go speak to Dave, here he comes”.

Dave arrives and seems equally perplexed that we’re wanting to talk to people. “Right, well, it should be open already...” is his opening response. But then he seems to realise giving us a bit of an introduction might be good, so he shows us little details like how to use the shower and where the wood for the stove is. Then he fucks off, and so do we.

By our reckoning there’s about 40 minutes of light left, and since there’s some blue sky we want - OK, I want - to go look at a bridge. St Germans doesn’t have much, but it does have this big fucking aqueduct we crossed on the train and I think we can go have a look as the day fades. This is meant to be the only time it won’t be raining all weekend anyway.

Our first glimpse of the bridge comes when we stop to chat to a horse.

Further down the hill, round the corner, following the public footpath signs into the private sailing club quay and, oh, hello aqueduct.

“Fuck me, what an aqueduct!”

A few hours later, while writing the stuff above, I get this nagging feeling that I’m repeatedly using the wrong term - probably because it’s a fucking viaduct, not aqueduct. I even wrote “viaduct” in my pad. Sort it out, Darren.

So, that’s that done. I make a half-hearted attempt at suggesting we should follow the bloke walking his unruly dog, but instead we retrace our steps. For this we are rewarded with the presence and attention of numerous local cats.

Straight past the van and beyond, into St Germans, as we still have light and it’s dry we want to get our bearings. This village has one shop, only open for 6 or 7 hours a day in two stints, it shuts at 6pm. There is also only one pub, though to my surprise we go past a restaurant/wine bar called Scholars. Suspiciously, it is closed during the day for precisely the 3 hours when the shop is open for its afternoon shift. I’m starting to suggest everything is run by the same few people.

The village smells, because apparently everyone (in these admittedly lovely old houses) still uses non-smokeless fuel in their chimneys to warm their living rooms. After a wander past the other bit of tourism here, the Eliot estate and church and stuff, we reach the shop and pub.

Now, I know I’m a mollycoddled city boy, from the nation’s bustling capital, which is why I cannot fathom how villages like this work. The logistics seem impossible. This shop, which shuts no later than 6pm any day of the week, is tiny, yet stocks such a wide range of produce that it cannot possibly hold enough of any single item to satisfy the whole village’s demand. I just don’t get it. We buy 2 cans of beer from the 8 or so they have, plus some Cornish brie and a bit of bread. The signs behind the till warn customers that it’s staffed by volunteers so don’t expect a polished service. That may explain why we’re not asked if we need a bag.

The pub next door has a “buy 5 pints, get one free” promotion going on.

But, we’re not going to the pub. We think we’ll eat in Scholars, when it opens, but first return to the van and actually get ourselves acquainted. Frankly, it’s awesome. It really is a converted old luggage van, and Helen is tickled pink by the actual luggage rack still present above the seats. We hang blinds over the windows, but not all of them, because we want to watch the trains come and go right outside our window.

There is all kinds of train related stuff going on here: train timetables, train books, model trains, trains trains trains. I love it, Helen loves it even more, and I wonder if Mike, Mark, or t’other Mark would love it yet more than any of us. I also wonder why all my trainspotter mates have names starting with M.

Once everything is in its place, including our by now much too large stash of booze in the fridge, we sit down and crack open a drink. Cheers!

We’re not hungry yet. I crack open my second beer, which is a free bottle of Cornish blonde ale left for us on the counter as a welcome gift. Having been transported so rigorously from counter to fridge, and then fridge to chair, it’s fizzed up so much that it explodes all over my jeans and I swear loudly.

With freeview on the TV and me in my spare trousers, we can’t be bothered with Scholars. Cheese sandwiches and shortbread will do for dinner, washed down with Heineken or Guinness or some weirdo discount M&S alcohol Helen brought. It’s a strange enough drink that it has ingredients listed, which no booze ever has, does it?

Trains go past regularly, fast and slow. They’re a bit noisy, as some people have mentioned in the guestbook as if it was a surprise. Consulting the timetable we discover they will go past, at seemingly random intervals, all the way until midnight. So I guess that’s when we’ll close our eyes.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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