Tuesday : Wembley Breakfast, 4 Trains to Get to Stratford-upon-Avon and the YHA

I haven’t stayed at Travelodge Wembley before and I thought it was all entirely satisfactory, it’s certainly at the cheaper end of the pricing range even for Travelodge. That’s perhaps because it’s not the most accessible, it’s a 25 minute walk into Wembley although I was aware of that in advance unlike a fair few reviewers who booked it because they wanted easy access to Wembley Stadium and then grumpily realised that they weren’t nearby. Car parking is £8 per day which is of no relevance to me, but I suspect they make a chunk of their money from that. The hotel is cheap and cheerful, but not particularly well reviewed.

To get to Wembley I had a lovely walk through an industrial estate which I can’t say was particularly inspirational. This little set-up was moderately scary, as bear in mind I took this photo whilst already standing on the top of a railway bridge crossing that I had just trekked up. There’s then another railway crossing bridge which is even higher ahead, although that gave beautiful panoramic views of the industrial estate. I was so astounded with the beauty of these metal buildings glistening in the rain that I forgot to take a photo of them.

When the railways came to this part of London, I think it’s fair to say that they divided communities somewhat.

I had around 90 minutes before my train, so I popped into the Wetherspoons, JJ Moons, at Wembley. It’s evident that they were very keen on beans, but everything was at it should be on the plate. I didn’t have any complaints about the service, but if I was the manager, I wouldn’t enter the pub for the chain’s customer service awards if I’m being honest. One thing that Wetherspoons have managed to get right is that they offer cheap breakfasts with unlimited coffee with very few rivals, no other national chain has really even got close to matching this.

Arriving at Wembley Stadium Station, my rail journey was a little ridiculous, it was:

10:53 – 11:20 : Wembley Stadium to Gerrards Cross (Chiltern Railways)

11:32 – 11:45 : Gerrards Cross to High Wycombe (Chiltern Railways)

12:00 – 13:16 : High Wycombe to Dorridge (Chiltern Railways)

13:21 – 13:41 : Dorridge to Stratford-upon-Avon (West Midlands Trains)

As a spoiler, I arrived into Stratford-upon-Avon at 13:41, so everything went to plan, even though I had slight hopes of a delay repay kicking in as it only needed one misconnect. It was a little less risky than it looked though, the first three trains were all on the same line, it’s just they don’t stop at every railway station, so they’d either all be late or all on time. The connection at Dorridge was tight if there were even the slightest of delays, but absolutely nothing went wrong time-wise. So no delay repay this time.

This is Wembley Stadium and, yes, I’m going to take my dedicated reader(s) through all four rail journeys.

No tables, a little like the bloody Stansted Express trains that Greater Anglia keep operating between Norwich and London. I might have mentioned that before….

A statue of a Victorian railway navvy at Gerrards Cross, who are perhaps often forgotten when travelling on the network, but the amount of work that they did without sophisticated tools was quite staggering. Rail projects take years today with huge drilling machines and expensive civil engineering bits of kit, but back then there were mostly shovels.

The train coming in to take me to High Wycombe.

I couldn’t take a photo of the carriage as there were children nearby, but this train had a little table which was better than nothing. I’ve written about this London to Birmingham line before, or the Chiltern Main Line, and I find it a reliable route to travel on, with the prices often being towards the lower end of the scale.

At High Wycombe, I can’t remember seeing a pedestrian and road crossing over a railway track with such an increase in gradient. It always feels just a little bit odd actually to be so near a town centre that I haven’t visited before, with all of its culture, pubs and heritage, but not being able to go and see any of it. My ticket didn’t allow a break in journey and although I could have haggled with the gate guard to let me out of the railway station briefly, it would have been a very brief visit as my next train was due fifteen minutes later. I don’t know much about High Wycombe, but I feel that it deserves more than fifteen minutes of anyone’s time.

This was the train that I needed to be on time to make it to Stratford-upon-Avon on time, and it arrived into High Wycombe one minute early. I didn’t have the tiresome problem of having to almost fight to get on the train due to the number of customers, there were only ever a handful of passengers at every railway station that we stopped at.

This was the longest part of my journey, into Dorridge, and the train was fairly empty and I was pleased to see power sockets at the tables. Although that was the limit of it, none of the power sockets actually worked, but it’s the thought that counts from rail companies.

Just a five minute connection in Dorridge and I had been Googling what there was to see there if I missed that connection for any reason. I think it’s fair to say that there wasn’t a great deal, it seems to be mostly residential and it looked like there are some grand properties there. Not that it mattered, I caught my connection. Someone decided to ask me, as opposed to the man in the ticket office five metres away, if I knew where I could get a taxi from. He looked disappointed at my entirely unuseful reply and then walked off without asking the man in the ticket office who I’d have guessed might have been more knowledgeable than me. Although, there’s always the possibility that he’d already asked there, but I didn’t let this situation overly concern me for long.

And the fourth and final train sweeping majestically into Dorridge.

This one was also nearly empty. I note that they haven’t tried to cram in too many seats here, there’s a 2*2 seating set-up and there was plenty of leg room between the seats.

Safely into Stratford-upon-Avon on time and as expected, which did surprise me slightly given the tight connections. Also, my ticket wasn’t checked at any stage, there were no barriers at my start or end railway station and I didn’t see any guards on any train. The railway station here was first built in 1861 and serves the North Warwickshire line to Birmingham and the Leamington-Stratford line to, well, Leamington Spa. There was another railway station in the town, the Stratford Old Railway Station, but that closed to passengers in 1952, a relatively early closure.

Unusually for an old town, Stratford-upon-Avon was actually laid out on a grid plan when it was created in the medieval period, with that still being evident today.

A lovely warm tree.

The views over the River Avon, this looks much better in the summer months, although it still has a charm in the overcast days of early March.

I started to walk towards the YHA where I was staying, which was about a 40 minute walk, passing by some rather decadent housing. I can’t imagine that housing on the street comes cheaply, but it’s a nice area in which to live.

Walking through the village of Tiddington and this is where the Romans had a little settlement, rather than where Stratford-upon-Avon stands today. There’s clearly a fair chunk of money around here and the village has several amenities including a pub, village shop and a tapas bar which opens at weekends.

I walked by on a Tuesday, which was the only day of the week that the village’s pub, The Crown, was closed.

The YHA certainly have some grand buildings, this is Hemmingford House which they’ve occupied since 1947, having moved here from other premises in the town. The house was built as a residential property in 1784 but it was commandeered by the British Iron and Steel Corporation during the Second World War and then purchased by the YHA for £15,000 with money that they received from grants and donations.

The private en-suite room cost £23 per night, which it’s fair to say is the cheapest accommodation that I could find in the town, so this left me entirely happy. Small, but I hardly need much space, and the windows opened and there was a radiator as well as a heater to control the temperature. That’s the demands that I have really, windows and a door. That means that if a hotel annoys me, it’s doing quite well, although IHG hotels with no opening windows, I’m thinking of you.

I don’t normally eat at the YHA itself, but I thought that I’d just inspect their national menu to see what it was like, especially given that there was nothing much else in the area. There were a range of bottled beers and cans, including real ales, although they were a little aggressively priced. But, they’ve made an effort in this regards and I’m pleased that their demographic is one that keeps ordering beer.

The chilli con carne which actually had some heat to it, as they can sometimes be a little bland. Well presented and everything was cooked well, the meal was basic but tasted fine. The surroundings were clean and comfortable, with the staff members being particularly engaging and conversational. There was certainly no absence of welcome here, it all felt inviting.

This leads me on to some more of my random musings, this time about the YHA. They remain all over the place in their marketing, they’re trying to appeal to families, school parties, walkers, stag groups and everything in between. This has meant that their hostels are a complete mess of competing needs and requirements, with the prices usually too expensive, it’s only at the moment where dorm rooms have been taken out of use that prices have come down to very low levels.

I’m not sure that they can easily fix this situation, some of their hostels are in city centres and have completely different set-ups to those in rural areas. What they’re doing badly is making rooms available to walkers or cyclists at short-notice, they’re booking these venues up way in advance on cheap deals, so they’re getting more tradespeople using them as a cheap room. There’s nothing wrong with that, but then they’re in competition with Travelodge and Premier Inn, which they’re going to struggle to compete with in the medium-term.

Which all means that the atmosphere in youth hostels is more erratic than eclectic, the staff are trying to create a common theme for everyone, but most people going are already in their own group set-up. They’re trying to create a safe place for younger people and do that with some success with school groups, but then they’re also trying to run some of their locations as near party venues, a concept which is in complete opposition to that.

In short, I’ll use the YHA when their rooms are cheap, but there’s no other factor that makes me want to return, and there’s probably much more that they could be doing to encourage people to see them as a unique offering, rather than their current lowest common denominator set-up. Anyway, that’s my random meanderings over…..

That was that for the day, I had to plan for the following day, which was my pubs of Stratford-upon-Avon day.