I’d love to be able to tell you that this is a ride report as well as a brief report of a very enjoyable weekend away, but the bike stayed firmly in the garage while Sue and I travelled to York by car.
Over the past few years we have traditionally had a few days away in North Wales between Christmas and New Year, but this year we both fancied a change and after some research on the interweb, Sue found a good deal at the Marriott Hotel in York and booked it through Superbreak.
The hotel deservedly has 4 stars, and offers newly refurbished leisure facilities overlooking York racecourse, and is a mere 5 minutes drive from the city walls. We took our swimming things, although it turned out that we didn’t use them, but the pool looked inviting each time we passed it o the way to somewhere else.
Our weekend started with a laid-back drive on Saturday morning to York that included a stop over at Ferrybridge Motorway Services. The coffee there was OK, if a little expensive, but this merely set the tone for the weekend. Our first stop in York itself was the National Railway Museum.
I have not been to the NRM for very many years and I was blown away with the place. We spent four hours there and only saw about half of it. I would have stayed longer, but Sue was justifiably tired and after I had a bit of a grump, I agreed that we had to go back again sometime soon – so maybe there will be a ride report about this during 2009?
Quite a lot of our time there was spent in the Great Hall where most of the exhibits are British steam era locomotives, although I also enjoyed seeing the gigantic steam locomotive that had been built in the UK for Chinese railways and had been repatriated after a lifetime’s service. I also loved the Japanese Shinkansen Bullet train. That’s not to say that I didn’t hover for a while around Lode Star, the last remaining member of the Great Western Class. We also spent some time with Ellerman Line, the Southern Bullied pacific locomotive that has been cut away to show how a steam engine worked. I must admit to feeling sad at this act of butchery, for if any locomotive there is effectively lost to any future restoration, it has to be this one.
I also remember reading a very thoughtful article in one of railway magazines a while ago that explored the dilemma between preservation of the history and originality of these historic engines against the desire of enthusiasts and the public to see, hear and smell steam locomotives in operation. The museum and its staff have a difficult task in finding that balance and I believe that they have done this very well in deciding that some of its charges are too valuable to be restored and used, while others, such City of Truro and Leander should be seen in action.
However, the undisputed highlight of our visit to the NRM for both Sue and I was the area of the museum known as the Warehouse.
This area is being used to show a large number of items in the museum’s collection that would otherwise be stored somewhere inaccessible to the public. There were racks, pallets and piles of small to medium sized objects that ranged from stained glass window panels to wheelchairs, from models of locos and ships to station signs. It is an Aladdin’s cave of goodies with discoveries and memories at every turn. I remember seeing some of those model ships and locos in station booking halls and waiting rooms as a child.
We were also able to watch a demonstration of traditional block signalling on a model that used to be used to teach signalmen that is now in the Warehouse area.
I also enjoyed the exhibition about the Flying Scotsman. This famous brand name is actually three different things, the route, the train and locomotive . We saw the real loco, or at least its frames, in the museum’s workshop undergoing major restoration. However, the exhibition was also about the LNER and Eastern Region’s named train as well.
We also spent some time watching the museum’s other O-gauge model railway layout in action before we decided to head for the hotel and check in.
At the hotel, we were allocated Room 164, a first floor room at the end of a very long corridor. This was not really a problem, though, and when I realised that our room was very quiet, the walk became much more worth while. Indeed, an encounter with a young family along that corridor gave Sue and I a big smile that lasted for most of the weekend when a young girl, who could only have been four or five years old danced past us singing “I’m a mulberry bush”.
OK, it doesn’t look much in print on the screen, but it tickled us.
After walking round the museum, we were both tired, so decided to sleep for an hour or so on the massive, and very comfortable bed in our room. This became something of a theme of our weekend and there is no doubt that we used our time away to catch up on some of the sleep that we had been lacking during the very busy month that has just passed.
Dinner in the hotel was also included in our Superbreak package deal for our first night there and we had booked our table for 7pm. After a pre-dinner drink (Magers Cider), we arrived at the restaurant at the appointed hour and were shown to a lovely table in a corner, next to the window overlooking the hotel’s expansive gardens. We splashed out on a bottle of wine to accompany our three course meal. Both Sue and I agreed that our meals were outstanding, both from the quality of the food itself to the friendly and professional service. I commented at one point to Sue that I would be very good at being seriously rich!
During our meal we watched five rabbits enjoying their own evening meal on the floodlit lawn.
After dinner, we retired to our room where I started to read a book, “The Appeal” by John Grisham. I am a real fan of John Grisham’s writing and read two thirds of the book in one go before finally settling down to sleep in the early hours.
Sunday saw a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel of fruit and yoghurt followed by egg, bacon, sausage, hash brown, beans and mushrooms. This set us up for the day and we set out toward Pickering and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
In Part 2, I’ll write about our visit to the railway, mention another food highlight of our trip and introduce you to a fantastic Italian restaurant in York.