…and then the wireless vanished, and we were left alone with nothing to do as night fell but sing to the sea and the sheep.
Unfortunately, we couldn't remember the words of many trad. songs about the sea, or sheep for that matter, so our choice of ditties was perhaps a little light. We stood with our trousers rolled up to our knees in the surf and ended up bellowing out a few choruses of Drunken Sailor and Yellow Submarine before we stubbed our gritty toes back up the beach. It was nice.
But the best bit was getting there.
Not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I love trains. Not overwhelmingly or obsessively, you understand, but I think they are about my favorite means of transport. Somehow, going on holiday by train feels right. Going off for a weekend at the seaside by train is even more right.
This weekend, after the hard-core commuter line from Euston, followed by the usual hideous bank holiday mess around the Midlands there was the utter glory of a local service that ambled through North Wales, lurching between scenic splendours and industrial car parks. Periodically, after a flurry of engine shunting and frantic racing by confused passengers to the front or back two cars (as appropriate), carriage segments would break off to escape along branch lines to the sea.
My own fun-filled journey went something like this:
Euston. Fellow traveller missed train. Angry commuter line in shiny, yet souless Pendolino service to Wolverhampton. Had seat. Meanwhile, fellow traveller gets on another train. Goes wrong way.
Hellish bank holiday confusion/cancellation/delays at Birmingham New St. information desk. No seat, much waving of small pieces of paper.
Depressed local commuter line from Birmingham to Liverpool Lime St., descending at Wolverhampton. Had seat. Pieces of paper jettisoned.
Sit on Wolverhampton platform, looking anxiously at delay updates for train from Birmingham New St. that might-or-might-not be cancelled. Check clock. Fellow traveller has turned around and arrived in Telford by mysterious means. Check clock. An hour passes.
Train for Aberystwyth. It's the only one going anywhere Welsh-wards. Everyone else in Wolverhampton agrees and gets on the train. No seat. No carriage. Stand in loo. DUE TO THE CANCELLATION OF THE 18:42 SERVICE FROM BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET, PASSENGERS FOR ALL STATION**FRSTZZ** TO LL**-DDY*-*AOWFRSPZZ**DR SHOULD NOT CHANGE AT DOVEY JUNCTION BUT REMAIN ON THE SAME TRAIN AND F**PSS*8RR**--**RSTZ UP THE PLATFORM.
Move to behind the buffet car for the line to Pwllheli. PASSENGERS FOR ALL DESTINATIONS ON THE 19:27 TRAIN TO YSF*--ZZST--** SHOULD IMMEDIATELY BR::RSF**ARRGGHH--YZSZ--SZT***ting*** FOR THE LAST TRAIN TO LLF**R--SZZ_SHUN*GGK.
Train pulls out of the station the same way it came in. Seat is now backwards and disconcerts me. Night falls. Man from Birmingham with tent and beer produces map of North Wales and attempts to chart the course of his journey. THERE IS A TROLLEY SERVICE ON THIS TRAIN UNTIL BZZZST** Pencil line drawn by man from Birmingham with tent and beer falls into the Irish sea.
PASSENGERS ARE NOT PERMITTED TO MOVE BETWEEN CARRIAGES WHILE THEY ARE BEING DETATCHED. Run up the platform to the front two carriages at Machynlleth. Curse book-buying spree. Crash into fellow commuter, who has lost phone. Train turns around.THE TROLLEY SERVICE HAS NOW ENDED.
Train carriage is now devoid of life apart from selves, sleeping man from Birmingham with tent and no beer, and a family all speaking in Welsh. They wear shirts saying, "I support Wales and everyone playing the English." I hide behind book and fellow traveller tries to look Australian.
PASSENGERS ARE REQUESTED TO ADVISE THE CONDUCTOR IMMEDIATELY OF THEIR REQUIRED DESTINATION. THIS IS A REQUEST STOP SERVICE CALLING AT STATIONS TO F%RSZ*-*KKZT-WYD. THERE IS NO TROLLEY SERVICE ON THIS TRAIN. I advise conductor of our requested destination and she writes it on a little notepad.
Phone rings. Friend with car who is picking us up asks that we get off at another station, which is the second-stop-with-the-same-name-on-the-line. Tells us this three times. I advise conductor of our revised destination only once.
Once is enough. She sniffs. "You'll need to get off from the middle doors here." THERE IS NO TROLLEY SERV-- I am too afraid to confirm if she has decided to drop us at the first or second-station-with-the-same-name-on-the-line.
The platform is the size of a bus shelter, and we have to go through a cattle gate to leave the station. According to the rail timetable footnotes, at request stops marked with "x" , passengers desiring to join the train are advised to make themselves clearly visible to the train driver from the platform. Shades of "The Railway Children", methinks.