Penzance – Plymouth – Bristol Parkway – Swansea – Cardiff Central – Birmingham New Street – Stone
For the last day of the second trip I’d decided to use one of the two domestic travel days allowed with the Interrail pass. Penzance to Stone is a long journey at the best of times, but I’d found an interesting route that took me down several lines I’d never seen before. I’d checked before leaving my hotel that everything was still running (you can cancel the pass up to the departure time of the first train, and I’d already worked out that I could do a reasonably cheap split ticket home and save the pass if I needed to go direct.)
Rising early meant a great view of the sunrise across the bay.
I’ve never done anything west of Bristol Parkway or south of Shrewsbury so there was lots of new stuff to see by taking a route via Llanelli. This is how it looked:
To start, it all went well. The sun was in the sky, the views from the window were great, and we were running on time. GWR were evidently determined to ply their First Class passengers with as many drinks and snacks as they could. Rarely did more than a few minutes pass without the offer of refreshment, my cups of tea former accompanied by unrequested biscuits or crisps. There were only two other people in the carriage so maybe they have an allocation of what they need to give away.
The change at Plymouth went fine, as did Bristol Parkway. I miss changing trains at Bristol Temple Meads. I don’t even remember when I last set foot on a platform there. The new place is soulless, as all parkway stations are.
I was disappointed by the South Wales line. There is very little of interest through this whole section. Cardiff Station looked like it had kept some of its original features but in a 2 minute stop there wasn’t time to digest it through the window. The rest is unremarkable countryside or post-industrial sprawl.
We were paused in Swansea station, where the train splits in two, when I got a text from Tim, who had been looking at my route home. The connecting service at Llanelli had just been cancelled. A later departure from Llanelli would mean not getting home via the original route. Any other option, whatever it was, would therefore need to involve a return to Swansea, that was for sure. I threw my stuff into my rucksack and managed to get off the train before the doors were locked. The train manager asked if everything was OK, and I explained what I’d just found out.
It was immediately apparent that the alternatives from Swansea to Shrewsbury were also cancelled. I spoke to a member of staff who said there were issues in the Shrewsbury area, but that staff shortages over the Bank Holiday weekend weren’t helping.
The only option now was to go back to Cardiff and find a new route north. I had ideas of routes via Derby, Reading, even London, but due to the planned works in two places on the West Coast Main Line, the only option was to go to Birmingham and directly home from there. it was too late in the day for anything else.
At least I got the chance to explore Cardiff Station a little. It’s not the biggest of places, but there are remnants of what was clearly a lovely station in its (real) GWR heyday.
One consolation to being turned back that the new route now took me up another line I’ve not done before, along the west bank of the Severn. The service was understandably busy given the number of people looking for new ways to their destination, so I wasn’t able to get a proper look at Chepstow or Lydney as we passed, but it was nice to see bits of the Severn and the bridges from a new angle. I very briefly got sight of the Dean Forest Railway at Lydney Junction and was reminded that I really must visit them some time. I’ve explored bits of the line by car and it looks super.
At New Street, it looked like there might be one last curveball. A set of points had failed at the exit to the station so we couldn’t leave in the usual direction. A rather unusual circular route was found via Perry Barr and Soho, not one I’ve used before. Again there were people on the train looking to get to Shrewsbury (via Wolverhampton) and I felt sorry for the man from Cross Country Trains who was on his way home after work (and on a West Midlands Train) but was good humouredly using his phone apps to suggest options for those around him, when they spotted his badge.
For a change, I knew exactly where I was going and how I would get there as barring a breakdown, this was to be my last train of the day. We arrived in Stone 8 minutes late, at 20:19. I took a couple of photos before the service left, and walked back home.