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Seaside Special - In the land of the mangelwurzel: Somerset

I've done enough of these trips to give a fair impression that when it comes to public transport, I know what I’m doing. It’s an illusion. In Taunton I jumped aboard a service bus and asked for a return to Watchet. 'To where?' said the driver with more than a hint of fake bemusement, I thought. 'Watchet', I repeated firmly. Trying not to make it sound like a threat, I quickly added 'on the road to Minehead?'   'I know where it is, matey. You need a 28. This is a 2A.’ Oh. Easy mistake to make when you're squinting at the front of an on-coming vehicle and simply following the crowd at the bus stop. Baaaa.   'There's one now.' He gestured at the double-decker overtaking us. I sheepishly stepped down and out to wait another hour. Once settled on the correct service, the journey up to Watchet was a swinging, pitching ride around the foothills of the Quantocks. I admired stout, often steep slopes tufted with moorland bracken and receding heat

Seaside Special - Poets' Corner: North Devon

Departing Exeter St David’s railway station I continue to bump in to the legacy of that man Paul Theroux on these trips. Back in 1982 on his ‘The Kingdom by the Sea’ round-Britain yomp, our mentor took the Exeter To Barnstaple branch line, where conversations with passengers were about the Falklands War. The conflict is still the topic of discussion today as we mark forty years since HMS Invincible sailed down The Solent accompanied by a flotilla of support vessels and a ticket to save Thatcher’s premiership. Without over-stretching the history-repeating-itself observation, the Russian-Ukrainian war is currently doing the same for Boris Johnson.   Theroux seemed to enjoy his journey between Exeter and Barnstaple, but was far from optimistic about the line’s chances of survival. I’m chuffed to say (as if in some way I’m responsible) that it is still open and busy with regular services, despite his doom-laden predictions.  The railway infrastructure has changed so much since the last qua

Seaside Special - The Atlantic Highway: North Cornwall

The magnificently monikered Atlantic Highway invites almost as many Grand Tour images as last chapter’s The Night Riviera . The best section of the A39 – as it is known in everyday terms – creates a north-east/south-west axis between Blue Anchor Bay in Somerset and some of the more remote bits of Cornwall down to its junction with the A30 near Newquay. The route became the spine of an excellent trip last Summer to North Cornwall, as well as both the north Devon and Somerset episodes that follows this one.  The Cornwall trip started off with a tightly-wound five-leg public transport journey that merely emphasises the inaccessibility of that part of the country. When my 07.30am departure from Berko became hamstrung at Harrow and Wealdstone, I sensed that the area might remain inaccessible to me a little longer. A last-second decision saw me abandon the Euston-bound train there to jump the adjacent Bakerloo line by the width of a sliding door. We crawled through suburban north and west Lo

Seaside Special - The Night Riviera: South West Cornwall

The Night Riviera. Sounds seductive doesn’t it? A gloriously titled sleeper service that evokes flashes of the golden era of rail travel. When block-art posters depicting speeding, streamlined express trains skirting palm-fringed bays promised a rendezvous with steamers docking from somewhere exotic. The reality? Well, this pre-Covid service did hang on to some semblance of adventure. But only if you booked a cabin. Travelling overnight in the seats is a mistake. As my trip to Perth later on in these missives will make abundantly clear. (Although that journey was earlier in actual time, these being clockwise rather than chronological chronicles. If you see what I mean.) Turning up in the First Class lounge adjacent to Platform 1 at Paddington gave me a brief moment of Imposter Syndrome. (‘Free coffee? Wow, thank you!’) The train arrived hauled by an olive green GWR loco and I betrayed the same First Class rookie keen-ness by jumping into the lounge car on the train with sidelong gl