France 14.4.00-16.4.00 <  >

Not my usual sort of destination. I’d been wanting to do the Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme for some time but for years the timetable made it difficult to fit it in a day, and also to do the whole system with steam. Accordingly a friend and I decided to go to their ‘steam gala’ which is held every two or three years. We didn’t bargain for Eurostar… This was a video only venture - see the end of this page for a small 'taster' of the results!

Friday 14.4.00

What proved to be a long day started on a ‘full and standing’ (I got the standing) 158 on the Aberystwyth - Telford (0754) - Stansted Airport. Fortunately the 0819 Euston was still standing at Wolverhampton so I decanted myself on to that and travelled in relative comfort to Coventry where a tea break was taken. Resuming on 0937 Coventry - Euston on which my Virgin Value Eurostar Add-on (or something) was booked I arrived on time at 1054 at Euston. The trip to Waterloo, walk back over Hungerford Bridge and a bit of sightseeing occupied me until 1205 when I arrived at the Ship & Shovell for a pint of Tanglefoot, to find JH already in residence.

Suitably refreshed we arrived at Waterloo at about 1320 and checked in for the 1353 to Paris. The terminal was very crowded. The 1323 wasn’t loaded. Time passed. Then ‘due to an earlier incident in the Channel Tunnel all Eurostar services will be delayed by 90 minutes. More time passed. I enquired of Mr Nice Polite Eurostarman when the 1353 might go. ‘You heard the announcement. 90 minutes.’, quoth he in his Nice Polite Way. The 1323 went at around 1510. (I make that 107 minutes). The delay announced grew to ‘at least 2 hours’. Only at about 1530 were there any sensible announcements, e.g. ‘the incoming train for service 9xxx to y is at z and will be here at whenever’. To cut the story short, the 1353 eventually left at 1650, sat for 10 minutes or so, used the eastern bore of the tunnel and arrived in Paris at 2050 local time.

M. Eurostar offered us our money back and gave us a card with which to apply, which was constructive and better than the offensive attitude of the London individual.

By the time we had collected Avis’ Renault Twingo and JH’s ticket to München it was 2130 and a horrendous journey was had to Amiens in heavy traffic, darkness and pouring rain in a car with virtually useless headlights. [The engine wasn’t much use, either]. Eventual arrival at Amiens was around 2340, the Ibis proving difficult to find, though easy to park with the meters only effective 0900 to 1900.

Saturday 15.4.00

A night’s sleep and a very reasonable breakfast fully restored morale and we set off in the Twingo (easier when you can see) just before 9. Arrival at St Valery was about 1000, much steam being in evidence. Trains turned out to be running from St Valery Port, a short and excellent quayside branch. JH fortunately was intelligent enough to work this out and drag me down there protesting.

The first trip was to Cayeux (normally diesel only) where there is a smart new square in front of the station. Catering tents were in evidence but didn’t seem to have the required mindset to deal with the sudden influx. Still, I did manage to get what passes in France for a beer. The rain was coming on nicely.

Back at St Valery there was an enforced break of 1½ hours which we occupied by getting very wet, finding somewhere for JH to buy a film, and having lunch (barely tolerable caff, would only go there again if tortured).

On to Noyelles (reverse) where there was much activity, and then to Le Crotoy where it was raining pretty hard but I managed to video the excellent horse tram. The day’s gricing was completed by returning to Noyelles and St Valery.

We then retired to video the 1645 St V to Cayeux on the bank west of St Valery. Freexing cold, near gale and pouring rain intervened but fortunately the rain stopped just as the train was approaching and the shot was got!

En route back to Amiens we stopped at Noyelles and got cold and wet again filming the goings on. A very weird and wonderful replica loco was present with what appeared to be a large fan in the tender to provide the draught.

Back at Amiens we searched unsuccessfully for three recommended pubs (one closed, two not found) but found a pub and a restaurant both of which sold draught Affligem Tripel. A good evening was had and it had finally stopped raining, though very cold.

Sunday 16.4.00

The day dawned cloudless, of course. Leaving Amiens at 0845 we arrived at Paris Nord at about 1035 with plenty of time to return the ‘car’ and have a ‘beer’ before the 1219 Eurostar. The Paris E* terminal is far more salubrious than Waterloo, naturellement.

The Eurostar left on time (and without JH who’d set off for München) but was crawling within a few minutes, then stopped for a while, then crawled some more. Animals on the line, said The Man. Eventually we set off properly then stopped again. Technical problem, said The Man. We were put into a loop. Technical problem with the locomotive, said The Man. Time passed. Technical problem with the locomotive, our staff are doing what is necessary to fix it, said The Man. More time passed. Sorry, we can’t fix it, another train will be provided, please get off the train, said The Man. 700 people and all their luggage piled out on to the ‘platform’ which was at rail level. Quite entertaining really. The set went away under its own power at about 1410 and another one appeared at about 1420. We eventually set sail at 1437, stopping for a crew change at Lille at 1518, about 2 hours late.

A good effort was made to Calais, but once in England the rot set in with a slowing at Tonbridge, a stop at Orpington and a very slow run in to Waterloo. Arrival was at 1630 instead of 1423. Mr Eurostar again said he’d give us our money back, but this being England we had to go and collect our ‘sorry’/refund cards from a desk instead of the staff bothering to get off their posteriors and hand out cards as had been done at Paris. Much the same attitude as Mr Nice Polite on Friday.

The Tube was seething with homegoing London Marathon crowds, most of whom piled in at Charing Cross. At Warren Street after a lengthy pause the guard announced that someone had been taken ill on a preceding train and until they were removed we would stay in the platform. It being almost 1700 I decamped to the Victoria Line and made the 1715 Euston - Wolverhampton (wedged with Marathoners and football supporters from Stoke City v somebody, at Wembley) with comparative ease. A very combative driver made New Street early despite a long stop outside Rugby. Mercifully the remainder of the journey to Telford was uneventful with an on time arrival of a packed 156 at 2025.

[The cumulative delay of over 5 hours on E* was a real pain, but in fairness to them I did get my fare back (in cash sadly, as it was a ‘Times’ special offer - I’d rather have had the usual free ticket). None of it was due to any particular ineptitude and it didn’t spoil our plans, so but for the obnoxious attitude of the London staff it wasn’t really any sort of a problem. All in all, and even with the bad weather I enjoyed the trip enough to go back (in the Turbo Tractor - the Twingo was absolutely pathetic) for the 2003 event. There's a sample of the resulting video below].

 

To view the video, click on the image. A control panel will appear. Press play, and move your mouse below the control panel to make it disappear.

Meanwhile, there were yet more ex-DR branches to do in Germany. As a bonus there was a steam tour running from Leipzig the following week over one that I'd missed previously due to an ad-hoc cancellation on 30.4.98. In the mean time the line had closed, so this was not to be missed...

 

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