A word of advice for anyone considering travelling from Ellesmere Port to Stretton by public transport. Don't. Go to Timbuktu instead. By elephant. It will be easier.
Of course, as the Irishman said when asked for directions, I wouldn't start from here. And we hadn't planned to start from there either, but from Chester. Fourteen quid, one change, and you're in Penkridge, a short cab ride away from the car waiting at Stretton. However, we'd decided that we didn't fancy leaving the boat in Chester - the towpath where we were moored was quiet enough, but 48 hours, and over the other side, where we'd been told was the best place, was right by a building site and a pub, and, we were told, shallow and full of rubbish as well. As we arrived in Chester, we met Laura and Peter on Stanton, and they were about to leave for Ellesmere Port that day, Wednesday. So we decided that we would follow on Thursday.
This gave us a day to explore Chester on increasingly aching feet. First impressions of Chester was that it was a deeply odd place, rather disconcerting. I have never seen so much Victorian Mediaeval in one place before. In fact, I've never knowingly seen any, but Chester's full of it. And where it isn't Victorian ersatz, it's bland contemporary clone-vernacular. We walked down the Dee Branch to the heavily silted lock onto the river, and there saw the most shoddily built flats I think I have ever seen. The town centre is full of expensive shops and tasteful cobbles; bit of a fur coat and no knickers sort of place. I didn't like it.
My favourite building was the Westminster [something I've forgotten] and Motor Car Company, which is now Chester Library, a glorious bit of (at a guess) early twentieth century glazed and embossed brickwork. We also took a long evening stroll to find the Albion pub on the other side of town, as it sounded interesting. It was; it was a bit like sitting in a museum or at least a 1916 timewarp. The place is full of WW1 memorabilia, but I didn't find it oppressive as some reviewers suggested. There were lots of enamel signs and old adverts, and it wasn't too emetically mawkish. Beautiful wall paper and subdued lighting made it feel a bit like sitting in your old granny's parlour. The landlord clearly prides himself on being very grumpy, with a big sign outside telling people not to bring stag or hen parties in in no uncertain terms, and apparently, previously, one saying 'this is a family-hostile pub'. A blackboard on the bar advertised this week's guest lager as 'I Can't Believe It's Not Piss' which would have been funny if they'd had more than two beers (Adnam's Bitter and Rudgate Viking) on, both under 4% (Jim reckoned the landlord didn't allow people anything stronger during the week), and hadn't been serving Carlsberg.
Anyway, I digress. On Thursday morning we duly made our way (after inadvertantly attending the grand opening of Chester's brand new Poundland in search of Fray Bentos pies) through the not very interesting landscape towards Ellesmere Port where we locked down into the lower basin and ties up to Stanton. Then the fun started. Carrying two bags apiece, we made our way to the station, through a very run down landscape and across a couple of busy roads. Once there, we discovered there was no ticket office, no helpful cheery railway employee to advise us on how best to make the journey. There was an interactive touch screen information display but it couldn't find its own website. So we pressed a button which caused a phone to ring, and a man at the other end looked it up on the National Rail website, and told us to get the next train to Liverpool Lime Street and change there for Penkridge, so having got that sorted, we settled down to wait for the train. Just as it rolled in, I realised we hadn't bought tickets! So dashed over to the machine, bashed in the destination, and was offered the choice of 'Any Permitted Route' or 'Via Chaster'. Hmm. Any Permitted then, if we're going via Liverpool. £28.10 each!!! Scream. OK then, what is it via Chester? £17 each. That's more like it. But how do we do it? Back to the man on the end of the phone, who can't understand why we would want to take such a convoluted route, but when we explained, got his colleague to discover that we had to change at Hooton for Chester, and then go from Chester to Crewe, and pick up the train from Liverpool there. Amazingly, we would still get to Penkridge at the same time. So this is what we did, and it involved more time waiting at Chester and then at Crewe than it did actually travelling. Jim rang for a taxi to meet the train, and was told that they didn't have one available until ten minutes later; OK, we accepted that. It actually turned up thirty five minutes later, driven by a lunatic who played awful music. It's the first time I've ever paid a taxi driver without tipping.
After that four hour odyssey, it was a simple matter to get in the trusty Volvo and set a new record of just over three hours for the journey home, to arrive after eleven. So next time we want to come home from Ellesmere Port, we'll start from Chester.
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