Friday, 12 August 2022

Going Round The Back

For reasons far too dull to go into here, I nipped over to Liverpool today.  Heading for the lift at James Street I noticed there was only one in use; not ideal, but not unusual.  The lifts at James Street are large and aging and get a hell of a hammering - it's rare to see all four functioning.  Going back to the Wirral, I passed through the ticket barriers, and was waiting for the lift when a man appeared behind me and the small group waiting.  "Do you want to come this way instead?"

We were lead across the ticket hall and into the goods lift, a lift I had never before noticed even existed.  It was a little grimier than the usual ones, not quite so well kept, but larger, and comfortably took the dozen or so passengers and suitcases and pushchairs that squeezed in with it.  The Merseyrail man pulled the cage doors closed, pushed the button, and we descended.

Then, much like a theme park, we got the chat.  It seems the Merseyrail man had a spiel, a little monologue he'd prepped, and for the entire descent into the bowels of the earth he talked merrily.  They'd opened up this lift because three were out of action to accommodate the passengers, it's all perfectly safe, couple of little gags for the kids, a whole one man show.  Bless him, he loved his moment in the sun.  And he fell the right side of charming too - not one of those excruciating speeches that make you die inside.  I did video it, but then it occurred to me that it's kind of rude to post someone on the internet without their knowledge (plus there were a load of kids in the video and parents don't like that) so you'll have to take my word for it.

We got down to the concourse below, welcomed by another member of staff, and directed off to our platforms ("Wirral to the right of me, Liverpool to the left").  I tottered off to my platform, pleased to see a side to a station I'd never seen before.

Friday, 29 July 2022


I hate it when people do posts about why they haven't been blogging.  Nobody cares.  You're not Charles Dickens.  People aren't gathering on the docks at New York to welcome your latest missive.  You're just a twat with a laptop.

However, it occurred to me that it's nearly two months since I posted on here, and I wanted to clarify why.  It comes down to a few things.

1) I went on holiday.  Italy, very nice ta, visited Matera where they filmed No Time To Die, didn't do anything train related so didn't bother writing about it.

2) I got Covid.  Probably from being on EasyJet.  Nothing bad, just a bit of weariness, but it did mean I was trapped inside for a fortnight.

3) The strikes.  I'd like to make it clear that I absolutely support the right of the railway workers - and any other workers - to withdraw their labour in search of better pay and conditions.  It's the only recourse some employees have to achieve action and we'd be well to remember that before we start getting in scabs or banning strikes or sacking people for attending picket lines.  However, it does mean that I've been loath to book a train because I'm afraid it's all going to get cancelled and I'll lose my money.

4) The Commonwealth Games.  I really don't fancy heading to the West Midlands while they're at the centre of an international sporting celebration.  There will be too many people, too many events, New Street will be a nightmare, and there will be loads of railway amateurs standing vacantly around the concourses and platforms not knowing how stuff works.  

5) The Skelmersdale extension being cancelled by the Government.  I was going to write a bit about that but it was so fucking depressing I couldn't bring myself to bother.

So basically I'm probably taking the summer off, unless something exciting happens, or I get a mad urge to dash out.  This does happen now and then.  All being well, I'll be back being annoying in September.  After all, Birmingham's got some glam new stations for the Games, and I'd like to check them out when they're free of tourists.

P.S. Thank you to the people who have continued to contribute to my Ko-Fi even though I haven't written anything.  You are treasures.

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Second Time Lucky


Regular readers (hello you!) will remember that a couple of months ago I had a whole day out planned but it was waylaid by a lineside fire.  I didn't want to put all that effort and spreadsheet work to waste - sometimes co-ordinating timetables is complex, folks - so I decided to have another stab at visiting Wilnecote.  I left home around nine am and by lunchtime I finally got there.  This is one of the problems with visiting the West Midlands Railway map; there's an awful lot of travelling you have to do before you ever actually get anywhere.

I got off to a Royal welcome; a lady in a wheelchair excitedly greeted the train with a wave of a Union Jack flag.  I got an insight into what it must be like to be Prince William - a little bit embarrassing.  I made my way up to the street as a boy and girl sauntered down.  They had the studied, lethargic cool of teenagers, totally relaxed, totally unbothered - until they realised they had actually missed their train, and there wouldn't be another one for an hour, at which point they looked panicky and confused.  I passed them with the smugness of age and took the sign pic.

Wilnecote station is on Watling Street, the actual Roman road from London to Wales, and as such is surrounded by a confusing mix of buildings.  This has been a main road for 2000 years so life has gravitated towards it.  There were tiny industrial units, cottages, a chip shop that looked like it had once been a transport café; a world of people strung along the highway.  Further out it gave way to a bland new build estate - my first destination.

Even though my next station was Tamworth to the north, I wanted to make a little detour to a network of cul-de-sacs built in the 90s.  This had once been a factory - a car factory in fact, the home of Reliant cars, the legendary three-wheelers.  Now the BF's family were the proud owners of Reliant cars when he was growing up, so he's instructed me to be very nice about them, and not recourse to lazy gags about Del Boy.  I will say that they are what we shall call an acquired taste and that personally I don't understand why you'd buy a car with three wheels when millions of years of human innovation have taught us that four wheels are the perfect number to use.

The Reliant motor company was founded in Tamworth and built the cars for seventy years before finally dying in the early 21st century.  The factory here had closed before that, but it's still marked by the streetnames; the main route through the estate is Tom Williams Way, after the founder, and the closes off to the side are named after Reliant models - Regal Close, Fox Close, and, of course, most famously, Robin Close.

Normally I'd walk right through and out the other end, but this is one of those paranoid, designed to drive out crime developments, so it's a dead end.  I'd walked into it and the only way out was to go back the way I came, enabling all the curtain twitchers and paranoid types to make a note of my general appearance so they could grass me up on NextDoor.  Fat middle aged man spotted taking photographs, lunchtime Friday - probably a pervert - keep your kids indoors.

I walked back to the turn into town and was somewhat surprised to see Melvyn Hayes smirking at me over the top of a double glazing showroom.  It seemed that the firm on the corner were deeply respectful of British history and particularly Our Brave Lads and commemorated this was a mural on the side of the building; it wasn't Melvyn Hayes in It Ain't Half Hot Mum at all, simply a Brave Tommy.  The mural continued on the side wall, with a stretch of local landmarks - a Reliant Robin, the local church, a pair of Tamworth pigs - then a stretch with the Queen and a particularly emaciated looking Churchill.  I couldn't work out why he'd turned up looking so bad, but checking out the same location on Google Streetview from last October, it appears it used to be Captain Sir Tom.  They've painted out the "Thank you NHS" - rude - and made it black and white and removed the caption saying who it is, presumably because the Captain Tom Foundation slapped a claim on them for stealing their copyrighted image.  (Also that Queen has a vague air of Eric Idle, but it's still better than anything I could draw).

The Tamworth Road was much as you'd expect - worker's cottages, the odd takeaway, a school.  I crossed over at a pelican and got a bit of a shock as I spotted a newsagent with a canopy sponsored by The Sun.  You know you've gone full native on Merseyside when you're shocked to see people admitting to reading The Scum.  It was like seeing the owner stick his gross sexual predilections on the front of his shop - James's Newsagent In Association With Dog Fucker Magazine.  

After a roundabout the main road turned away and I was left in a leafier, more suburban route, the houses screened from the traffic by a length of trees and a grass verge.  A van did a three point turn, en route to laying a new driveway, while there was the gentle hum of a lawnmower somewhere in the distance.  The road ended abruptly with a footbridge.

The M42 passes to the east of Tamworth, while the A38 between Birmingham and Derby - and later, the M6 Toll - pass to the west.  Watling Street used to connect the two but that was inadequate for the traffic so a bypass was built in the 90s, effectively severing Tamworth proper from its southern suburbs.  To get people across the dual carriageway they built a footbridge.  I suppose they thought it would help.  They failed to take into account that some of us - i.e. me - do not like footbridges one bit.

I steeled myself.  I took off my glasses, in case the wind ripped them off and hurled them into the traffic (this is a strange paranoia I have which is not based on any actual experience).  Squinting, I mounted the ramps, walking well within the centre of the footpath, trying not to think about the absolute certain death just metres below my feet.  I pushed across the middle, moaning with terror slightly, and finally, blessedly, reaching the other side where I could descend a set of stairs.  It was there that I noticed the old lady who'd crossed ahead of me without any trouble or hesitation.  Bitch.

Back on safe ground I passed the Tamworth Cruising Club, proudly flying its union flag and its purple platinum jubilee flag, and then crossed the canal by a footbridge.  A boat chugged along towards me, and the driver raised his hand in a friendly wave.

The Kettlebrook Road had been turned into a cul-de-sac by the bypass and now it carried a slight air of desolation.  The units here were grimier, dustier; there were adverts for Champion sparkplugs and Ferodo brakes, two companies that used to have posters everywhere but seem to have vanished completely from sight.  Across the road, two young men on bikes hovered on a street corner, watching me walk by with dark eyes.  I'm sure they were training for a triathlon or something.  I passed a blue plaque commemorating the building where they'd built the first Reliant car then reached The Egg.

The Egg is the nickname for a complex of roads to the south of the town centre.  In effect, it's a circular dual carriageway, with roundabouts where other roads meet it - basically one huge two-way roundabout with smaller roundabouts on it.  It's raised on bridges at some points, it has the river Anker passing underneath it, and it has a railway slicing across to one side; it's a marvel of engineering.

Unless you're a pedestrian, in which case it's a massive pain to get across.  The designers put in underpasses to get you from one side of the road to the other.  I mean, at least it's not a footbridge, right?  Unfortunately, underpasses beneath dual carriageways generally look like this:

Then, when you get to the other side, there's a lot of green space and fields and reeds.  It's lovely, really; you can convince yourself you're in countryside rather than basically at the centre of a big roundabout.  I would not, however, use it after about eight o'clock at night, and probably never if I was a woman on my own.  It felt unsafe.  Even in the early afternoon, there were two men sat on the back of a bench, their feet on the seat, working their way through cans of cider from a plastic bag.  Humans are fragile, and cars are not.  Put the cars in the underpasses and tunnels and let the people see sky and safety.

Still, on a warm May day, it was undeniably pleasant to walk alongside a river with the sun beating down on you.  I passed under another dual carriageway and the island grasses merged into parkland.  A funfair had set up there ahead of the four day Jubilee weekend, already advertising its special rates, and a little further on was an adventure playground absolutely heaving with excited children.  I could hear their laughter and excited screams even from a distance.  The benches around the park café were filled with walkers and pensioners, while across the water, Tamworth castle appeared from behind the trees.

I knew absolutely nothing about Tamworth before I knew I was headed there.  It was a railway station, that was all.  I was fascinated to learn - admittedly mainly from Wikipedia so if this is all bollocks, I'm very sorry, I'm a terrible researcher - that the town was once astonishingly important to this island.  The Anglo-Saxons settled here first, and then it became a royal town for the kings of Mercia.  As time went on, they became more settled, and Tamworth approached capital status for the ancient nation.  A few kings and queens who all seemed to have names beginning with Æ ruled from here until the Vikings turned up and plundered the town.  After that, it became less relevant, though the Normans built a castle here after they invaded, and it was captured during the Civil War, but to a large extent it was a market town that turned industrial in the 19th century.

I threaded my way through a school trip in high-vis jackets assembling under the castle, and wondered whether to book a ticket for the Here and Now: Best of the 80s concert in August (Belinda Carlisle, The Fizz, and Katrina "of the Waves").  I passed through over the castle moat and through a well-preserved gateway into the town's market square.  

The town is unsurprisingly proud to have been the home of Robert Peel, who lived at Drayton Manor nearby (now better known as a theme park of course).  They've put up a nice statue to him and there were a couple of pubs named after him.  The White Lion, on the other hand, was not named after him, but it did have a banner hanging advertising that it was a proud sponsor of Tamworth Pride, a nice little reminder that even in small towns things can get better.  (It's July 16th, by the way, if you're passing).  

I wandered down another back street and by the time I stumbled on the church of St Editha I was smitten.  Look, I know Tamworth will never be the location for a romantic mini-break, or a big tourist draw.  But I spent a perfectly pleasant couple of hours wandering around a pretty town centre.  It was a lot more charming to me than some places with a much better reputation.

I took a moment to pause in an old churchyard for a drink of Coke, then headed out along Albert Road, which seems to be some kind of medical row.  There were so many dental surgeries here, making me wonder if Tamworth has refused to fluoridate its water or something.  Every other building was a dentist's.  I'd not noticed the residents had particularly rotten teeth but maybe that's because they have such easy access to oral hygiene.  At the end of the road was a roundabout with a statue of Queen Æthelflæd (see what I mean about those Æs?) and beyond that, the station.

As the spot where the Birmingham to Derby Line crosses the West Coast Main Line, Tamworth is an important passenger interchange, though that's not translated into especially memorable architecture.  Electrification in the 1960s saw the old Victorian buildings demolished and a more practical building constructed, one that boils down to a set of staircases and lifts to get you from one platform to the other.  It's not doing anything ambitious.  It's also been horribly blighted by a big cheap multi-storey car park to one side.

A train had just come in as I arrived so I loitered on the forecourt to wait for the crowds to thin out a little.  It seemed like a young crowd, boisterous teenagers probably returning from college in Birmingham or Derby.  Some of them were younger, fresh from their last day of school, their white shirts covered in signatures.  

I do not fit in with this youthful vibe.

There are two pluses to Tamworth's important railway position.  The first is that it's got some great passenger facilities.  I easily found a seat in a comfortable waiting room that had a vending machine and plenty of information.  

Secondly, Tamworth is an absolute mecca for Gentlemen Who Like Trains.  I'd spotted a somewhat anxious man while I sat in the waiting room, constantly walking in and out, checking a tiny book.  I'd thought he was perhaps a tourist who was lost, but then I saw him come to life as a train came in.  Suddenly he was scratching away in his notepad, while further down the platform, a gaggle of older men took photographs and wrote in books of their own.  The train was the one you can see above and, once again, I like the stations, not the trains, so I can't tell you why this train was so exciting.  They hovered some more, but when my CrossCountry train came in, they barely looked up; clearly it didn't meet their exacting standards.

Willington doesn't get much of a service.  It's a village that has the misfortune to be between Burton-on-Trent and Derby on a major rail line; as such it gets a train every couple of hours so it doesn't slow the main route down too much.  Indeed, for a time they took the station away entirely, closing it in 1968, only to have to open it again in 1994 when someone at British Rail realised that serving a town of a few thousand people is kind of a good idea.  A sign on the platform welcomed me on behalf of Willington's Women's Institute, who it seemed had adopted the station, and which had a vague air of "if you muck this place up, we'll come for you."

The sign was perhaps aimed at Willington's most famous neighbours, the pupils of Repton School, a grammar and boarding school that's existed since the 16th century; indeed, for a long time it was called Repton & Willington, with a sign advising you to alight here for the school.  Repton's alumni include Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Clarkson, Roald Dahl and Christopher Isherwood, though it should be noted that not many of them seem to have enjoyed it (Clarkson was in fact expelled) and since the Wikipedia page has an entire section for Controversies I perhaps wouldn't put your kid's name down yet.  

Unsurprisingly, given its somewhat grand surroundings, Willington was going all in on the Jubilee, another thing that was alien to an adopted Scouser.  The event was marked up here on Merseyside with a grand total of sod all, with even some of the posher bits of the Wirral being entirely bunting-free; I saw more red Liverpool flags in one street in the run up to the Champions League Final than I saw Union Jacks over that whole weekend.  Here in Willington though, the notice board plugged tea parties, picnics, and a "sports extravaganza" (football, tennis, tug-of-war and bowls - nothing too vulgar).  There were prizes for "Best Dressed House" and "Best Dressed Street" and the lampposts were covered in purple flags.  I ducked down to the canal, away from the pretty centre, and watched the boats for a bit.

I had a couple of hours to kill until the train south so I wandered round the block for a bit.  Willington seemed perfectly nice but a bit boring.  I felt like I'd seen every interesting element of it in just a brief stroll.  What could I do?

Reader, I'm going to ask you to take a breath before I tell you this next part.  That pint of lager cost me five British pounds and forty pence.  That's right.  More than a fiver for a pint of fizzy wee.  Ok, it was nice fizzy wee, not Carling rubbish, but still: five pounds forty.  I know Londoners are dying to swarm the comments with "WE PAY £5.40 FOR TAP WATER DOWN HERE!!!" but I'm used to Northern prices.  Although I did once pay £5.65 for a pint in the All Bar One in Derby Square, Liverpool, I think; I can't quite remember because I blacked out.  Yes, it was a nice pint, and yes, it was a nice pub (there was a very strident lesbian informing her wet Tory friends that actually Boris Johnson's lockdown parties were a very big deal) but have a word with yourself.  

I reeled out onto the street, simultaneously punch- and actual-drunk, and waited for a train back into Birmingham.  Of course there were delays which meant I'd miss my connection back to Liverpool, but after the last time I'd tried to visit this part of the world, I'd learned my lesson and bought an open return.  But I didn't mind, because I had more important things to think about.  Five pounds forty.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Holiday Snaps


As internationally renowned philosopher Madonna once opined:

If we took a holiday

Took some time to celebrate

Just one day out of life

It would be, it would be so nice

The BF persuaded me that a break in the countryside would be nice after all these months of virtual house arrest, so we booked a little cottage on the edge of the Cotswolds.  Was I more amenable when I spotted the location was near the bottom of the West Midlands Railway map?  That's an appalling accusation, how dare you, please don't tell him.

The cottage was in a place called Armscote, and the nearest town was Stratford-Upon-Avon, somewhere neither of us had ever visited and which demanded a day trip.  We'd driven down there initially.  I say "we"; I don't drive any more, because I'm pathetic, but the BF loves it and is happy to plough his way through motorways and back roads while I doze in the seat next to him.  I suggested that rather than driving into town and trying to park, we instead take the train in.  

I'd briefly been to Stratford-Upon-Avon Parkway before; when I'd visited Claverdon station I'd worked out that if I jumped off the train here and ran to the opposite platform I could get an earlier train home.  It is exactly what you'd expect from a Parkway station.  Accessed from a bypass, on the edge of a new estate.  Two platforms, a lot of ramps, acres of tarmac for cars.  It shares its facilities with the council's bus park and ride.  

Having a second person present meant the sign shot contains a bit less nose hair than usual.

We'd timed it just right, arriving at the platform moments before a West Midlands Railway train came into the platform.  The BF was impressed by the train, for the record.  

A quick scoot down the line and we terminated at Stratford-Upon-Avon itself.  Again, I'd changed trains here before, but I'd deliberately kept my head down; I didn't want it spoiled for me.  I was pleased that a Ye Olde Chocolate Box town like Stratford had a proper Ye Olde Chocolate Box station; Victorian ticket office, wooden awnings, GWR ironwork on the benches.

Indeed, they actually had signage boasting it was a heritage station with a fake British Railways lozenge.  

I was also delighted to spot some preserved light fittings.

There was a toilet, which I took advantage of, and a ticket office with a big picture of Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter in it.  I'm not entirely sure why.  It was, famously, filmed at Carnforth station in the north of England, and it was set in the London suburbs.  Neither actor was from Stratford either.  Perhaps it's there to get the American tourists excited - for some reason, Shakespeare didn't write much about the railways.  He missed a trick.

Outside, I pressganged the BF into taking the sign pic, and here's where things started to fall down.  I'm used to doing things my way on train trips.  It's just me, snapping away, doing what I've done a thousand times before.  Once you introduce another person it becomes complex.  Which is why the first picture he took of me didn't even have the sign in it.  As they say, you had one job, etc.  He finally managed to take one that managed to fit in both the lengthy station sign and my massive stomach and we headed into town.

This is where we hit another disadvantage of me being accompanied.  If I'm on my own on a train trip, it's me and my thoughts.  From the first minute I'm effectively writing the blog post.  That's interesting.  That's unusual.  Listen to what those people are saying.  It's all filed away in my head and then it comes flooding out again when I'm sat at my keyboard.

When there's someone else present, though, it becomes less clear.  Suddenly I'm chatting and laughing and sharing the experience.  I'm distracted.  My memory retains things rather than "amusing graffiti on a bridge".  As a result this is a blog post about Stratford Upon Avon that will be a lot less structured than usual.  It's less a geographic procession - a passage from one place to another - and more a sense of the town.

I will apologise to Stratford right up front.  I'd braced myself for the worst.  After all, it's a town famous for producing the greatest playwright in history, and attracting tourists from all across the world for centuries.  I expected it to be a tacky nightmare, slathered with Shakespeare, a constant stream of Othello Pick And Mix and Titus Andronicus Stationery Supplies and The Coriolanus Dance Club and Supper Bar.  I thought it would be like Oxford Street, or, a little closer to home, Mathew Street in Liverpool; gewgaws and tat, people grabbing at you as you pass to get you into their overpriced café, hawkers and dodgy types.

It wasn't entirely free of those distractions - there was an eatery called The Food of Love opposite Shakespeare's Birthplace, and it plays host to a branch of my retail nemesis, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill - but in the main it was simply a small Warwickshire town that happened to have an astonishingly famous son.  They're proud of him, they exploit him to a certain extent, but in the main Shakespeare is just one of the great things about the town.  I fully acknowledge that this may be a very different experience on a Saturday in August.

So yes, there's Shakespeare's Birthplace, in the centre of a charming pedestrianised high street.  Foreign tourists gathered with their camera phones, smirking in front of the half timbers, no doubt dropped off at the delightfully bathetic Shakespeare's Birthplace Coach Museum up the road.  I took some photos of course, but I was slightly distracted: walking down the street was a man in a gimp costume.  Nobody else paid him any attention.  I mean, why would you: it was a man in head to toe rubber in a country town.  The Americans probably thought he was a street entertainer and tried to chuck him a quid.

The BF managed to drag himself away from a shop that sold Christmas decorations 365 days of the year - my actual hell - so that we could walk down to Bridge Street and, from there, the river.  We passed a statue of Shakespeare on the way.  This is where they've gone a bit overboard in Stratford: the statues.  We'd already seen one of Laurence Olivier dressed as Henry V on the bypass, and there was a jester at the top of the road.  Later we'd encounter one of Young Shakespeare, raising the idea that they'll do one for every stage of his life, with proposals for another of Baby Shakespeare and one of Shakespeare's Dad With A Bit Of A Twinkle.  

We passed a shop called Much A Shoe About Nothing - ok, I like that one - and reached the canal basin at the bottom of the street.  Barges were moored to sell ice creams and beers to passing tourists, while the banks had been laid out in long lawns leading up to the Royal Shakespeare Company's theatre.  It was warm and bright and delightful.  In the water, a pair of swans had brought their cygnets for the children to feed.  It occurred to me that those baby swans would be so well supplied with food they'd never learn how to do it for themselves and they'd fly off to start their own families and starve because there weren't any passers by chucking them grain.

We watched a barge come through the lock then walked into the RSC for a look.  I'm not an especially huge fan of Shakespeare - I appreciate the plays as a whole, and I acknowledge they're great, but I wouldn't break my neck to see The Winter's Tale or anything - so the idea of seeing a play wasn't really appealing.  Instead we poked around the gift shop, a mass of tea towels, mugs and coasters slathered with every possible quote you could think of.  

Beyond we followed a narrow street that shadowed the river, past The Other Place - the RSC's smaller, artsier brother - and past cottages that were almost too picturesque to be real, like they'd been constructed for a theme park.  There was a series of old fashioned lampposts on the street, and about halfway along we realised they'd been donated by cities around the country.  Obviously we hunted out the Liverpool one.

It was early afternoon, time for lunch, so we walked back towards the town, past a school that Shakespeare himself had attended.  His schoolroom was open as a museum after eleven, as they had classes in there before that, and imagine the pressure of having an English lesson in that classroom.  You'd hesitate before you handed in your creative writing in case Bill's ghost popped up to tell you it was rubbish.

If I'd been on my own, I'd have got a sandwich from the Boots meal deal and eaten it on a bench, but there were two of us so we went into Edward Moons brasserie for a filling and incredibly rich lunch.  We were on holiday, and it's widely known that calories consumed while you're on holiday don't count.

Yes, I was the one who was on the beer.  The combination of that and the duck leg with dauphinoise potatoes left us feeling stuffed and lazy and so we meandered back into town slowly,  popping into a shop here and there, snapping photos.  

We decided not to pop into a pub for a pint of Shakesbeer, as advertised on the blackboard outside, and instead headed for the station.  I'd come up with a suggestion.  The station after Stratford Upon Avon Parkway, Wilmcote, had always been a bit of a problem for me.  It was in the middle of nowhere, basically, accessible via roads without pavements, and a bit inconvenient to walk to or from.  My idea was that the BF would get off at Parkway, pick up the car, then collect me from Wilmcote - enabling me to do the three stations at the bottom of the Shakespeare Line.  He agreed, after first making sure he knew where he was going.  I paused outside Stratford station to take a proper sign pic:

...and then we were on our way.

Wilmcote turned out to be delightful, a proper old-fashioned station that had been preserved but not too much.  It still felt like a working station, not a museum exhibit.  The signs on the platform informed me that this was the home of Mary Arden's Farm; Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother, and it's maintained as a traditional farm for tourists to visit.

Can I say that, while I applaud West Midlands Railway putting attractions on the platform signs, it doesn't exactly leap out at you?  Merseyrail does two metre long Attractive Local Feature boards with a big coloured illustration that practically beg you to jump off and explore.  These are more "hey, have a look, but we totally understand if you're here for something else."

I walked up to the street and waited for the BF to arrive; the train had easily beaten him.  The bottom of the line was now completed on the map, which was satisfying, but more than that I'd had a nice day out in a lovely town.  Now I needed a little nap.