What I learnt about UK rail fares

My blog posts from our Britain and Belgium trip continue, but it wouldn’t be one of my holidays if I didn’t geek out on transport-related stuff.

So here’s a post on the vagaries of rail fares in Britain… or at least, what you need to know as a tourist.

Buying rail tickets at home in Victoria is easy. For most trips you don’t even buy a separate ticket, you just use a Myki card for any trip in Melbourne and as far out as the “commuter belt” cities of Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and Traralgon, and local buses and trams are included in the price.

Further afield you book a ticket with V/Line. There are some exceptions: a fare on the XPT has to be bought from NSW Trainlink, though V/Line can sell you a ticket on Great Southern Rail’s Overland for a trip within Victoria. For most of the longer trips, there’s peak and off-peak, that’s it. First Class applies on some trips, as a simple surcharge on top of the regular fare.

Britain: a bigger, more complex network

As we found during our holiday, the UK has a lot more rail operators, and a lot more ticket types.

But then, it is a much more complex and extensive network. The UK rail system is made up of dozens of operators right across the country, branded collectively as National Rail, and using the old British Rail logo, first devised in 1965.

(Urban rail systems such as London Underground and others are separate, though there is some fare integration, as some of the National Rail services double as commuter/local lines within London and other cities.)

Salisbury station - next train to...

Shared infrastructure

The many operators share tracks in many cases, as well as stations – each station has a single operator managing it on behalf of the various operators serving it.

They also share a common ticketing system (with distinctive orange tickets with magnetic stripes), and fare gates, which are installed at most stations of any significant size. (If the Brits were running V/Line, they’d have fare gates installed at all the busiest regional stations.)

The fares are a bit confusing at first.

I studied the options, as I’d shelled out for not-very-cheap airfares. (Australian school holidays + European summer = A$2500 each Melbourne to London and return, and this is unintentionally turning into a big-spending year. So I was feeling pretty budget-conscious.)

Fare pricing is set by the individual operators, and initially it seems a bit like airline pricing, though in fact it’s not quite as complicated.

On routes run by multiple operators, the main one (“the lead operator“) sets the prices, which then applies to all other trains on the same route.

Night Riviera train at Paddington Station

Britrail passes

Overseas tourists visiting Britain can get Britrail passes, covering various areas or the whole country.

The passes are not cheap though, and I worked out that based on our plans, we wouldn’t save any money (and it might be more expensive) over buying individual tickets, provided most of our trips were off-peak.

Three types of tickets

The marvellous Seat61 website has a lot of detail, but it comes down to three basic types of fares:

Anytime – in other words, including peak times. Very expensive in some cases. Some commuter routes get so busy that they’ll charge through the nose to try and convince you to get other services. (Regular commuters tend to buy season tickets covering these trips.)

Off-peak – pretty self-explanatory. Flexible in terms of which train you can catch, provided it’s outside peak times. (Some operators have another tier called Super Off-peak, which is any train at specific times. As we found out, on some routes, this doesn’t automatically mean the trains aren’t busy.)

Advance – bought before the day of travel. Discounted, but inflexible, as you’re tied to a specific train (which also means a specific operator), and you can’t get a refund or even change it after you’ve booked. Not necessarily available for all trains – unlike the other types of fare, it’s up to the individual operator to decide how many tickets to make available, and at what price.

Some routes offer first class seating, for which you’ll obviously pay a higher fare. We didn’t opt for this. Standard Class was pretty good. The only exception was a couple of trains that were very crowded, but they were shorter trains that didn’t have first class seats anyway.

Example pricing from Taunton to Penzance:

  • Anytime single £70.50
  • Off-peak single £47.30
  • Open (off-peak) return £59.10
  • Advance single £19.50 to £31.70, depending on the train
  • First Class anytime single £163.00

For most journeys during our holiday, it made no sense to buy Advance tickets. In most cases we knew where we’d want to be going, and which day, but I didn’t want us to be tied to a specific train. That’s a path to a no-fun holiday, especially remembering that most trains on the lines we were using are every half-hour, or even more frequent. “No, we can’t catch that one. We have to sit here for another 30 minutes until our train comes.”

Packed train at Bath

The only exception, where booking in advance and reserving a spot was useful for us, was the sleeper train from Penzance to London – because we knew which night we were catching it, and there was only one train to choose from, and it guaranteed a berth.

(We also booked in advance for Eurostar, but that’s a different kettle of fish entirely, more like booking airline tickets.)

So, did avoiding Advance tickets mean we missed out on the cheapest fares? Actually, mostly not. Because we were travelling always in a group of four, and almost all our trips were on Great Western Railway, we were able to make use of GWR’s GroupSave discount… not all operators have it, but on those that do, for groups of 3-9 people, it reduces prices by a third, bringing normal Off-Peak fares down to about the same price as Advance fares.

Train ticket from Cardiff to Bath, and a water bottle from home

Single vs Return

Return tickets (including “open return”, where you come back on a different day) are usually only a bit more expensive than a single fare. The return trip isn’t tied to a specific train, though it may exclude peak times.

For our trip it was almost all single fares, but it’s useful if you’re doing some backtracking.

Multi-operator trips

While all train operators sell tickets for all the other operators, and they share ticketing infrastructure so that for instance all tickets work in all fare gates, the fares themselves are often not integrated.

If your journey includes two “lead” operators, it appears you’ll pay the cost of the two individual legs, simply added together. This makes it more expensive than if both legs were on one operator. As with local buses, I would expect this is a disincentive to use the trains for some trips.

Speaking of buses, there is some fare integration, with a scheme called PlusBus which gets you a discounted local bus pass with your train ticket. For trips to London you can also get a discounted London Travelcard. Both of these only apply on the same day as your train trip.

Trains at Paddington Station

How to buy

Buying fares online is possible, and you can then collect the tickets at a vending machine – a good option for tourists. One limitation of this is won’t let you buy online less than an hour before the train is due.

All the train operator web sites will sell you a ticket, including for any other operator. There are other web sites that have extra smarts for looking for cheap deals, but some of them also add small surcharges.

You can also buy tickets at the vending machines of course. A downside of this is that most of the machines can’t handle the GroupSave deal.

So in most cases I ended up buying tickets just before travel, from the booking office – which is something you’d think they’d want to discourage, but for us it was the easiest way. (To be fair, they’re upgrading the vending machines to handle GroupSave.)

To their credit, the operators of the stations involved always seemed to have plenty of staff in the booking offices. I never waited more than a couple of minutes, and the people on duty were all very helpful – and knew about the GroupSave discount, even at Cardiff Station which is run by a different Train Operating Company (Arriva) than the one we were booking for (GWR), though Arriva have a similar deal with a different name (Small Group Day Ticket).

One side effect of GroupSave only being valid on certain operators: in some cases you can only catch a train run by that operator. We did a trip from Bath to Taunton (via Bristol Temple Meads). The discount was only valid on GWR trains, not other trains on that route run by CrossCountry.

Salisbury station

A to B, B to C

Still reading? Okay. Finally, here’s a neat moneysaver.

Seat61 notes that in some cases it’s cheaper to buy two tickets for a single trip. It’s a quirk of the pricing system.

In most cases I didn’t look into this option, but I did check for one trip from Taunton to Penzance, which involved changing trains along the way at either Par or Exeter St David’s. It turned out to be quite a bit cheaper to buy separate tickets for each leg of the trip.

This we did by exiting the station at Exeter, buying fresh tickets and then going back in again. But if you have bought the tickets in advance, there’s no need to even do that. In fact you don’t even need to hop off the train; you just need to be on a train that stops at the relevant station.

Apart from buying the second lot of tickets, we were also able to use the 20ish minutes at Exeter to buy some lunch, though we didn’t venture out of the station as it was pouring with rain at the time.

How much did we save?

  • Taunton to Penzance is £31.20 each, if you include the GroupSave discount (change at Par or Exeter St David’s. Some combinations of trains were up to £47.30 each)
  • Taunton to Exeter St David’s £7.75 each + Exeter St David’s to Penzance £13.85 each = total £21.60 (includes the GroupSave discount)

So in our case, booking the full trip for the four of us would have been £124.80 total including GroupSave. Buying it in two parts ended up costing us £86.40 total. A saving of £38.40, or about A$62, about 30% of the fare. And we got to step outside the station gates and buy sandwiches, which I believe we technically couldn’t have done if making the trip on one ticket.

Worth our while.

Cardiff station sign

Would we want this complexity here?

You can see some advantages to the British way of doing things. Cheap advance discount fares encourages patronage and gives the operators some certainty over who will turn up. GroupSave and other discount schemes make it more affordable for groups to use public transport.

But it is quite complicated for passengers to understand. And return tickets only being slightly more expensive than singles, well that’s a bit odd given it costs a rail company twice as much to carry you on two trips.

And UK pricing is completely illogical in some cases — in part thanks to the myriad of operators all applying their own commercial decisions to their pricing.

We’ve got our quirks too of course, but the key is keeping it simple for passengers, and ensuring that there’s a good return to operators (and government) as extra services are added, to encourage further investment.

I’m back!

Just back (yesterday) from a three week trip to the UK and Belgium.

Apart from seeing family, we visited Cardiff, Bath, Penzance, Brussels and London.

In summary? Had a great time!

As you can see, I’m really delighted to be back:

Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff

Expect lots of overly-detailed blog posts in the next few weeks…

Use this link to see them all in chronological order*, or start here:

*When reading posts in chronological (that is, forwards) order, you counter-intuitively click the “Older Posts” link for the next page, which in fact is newer posts.

Heading to the wild, wild west (Cornwall)

(Backdated. Posted 16/8/2017)

We bade our farewells to the family and my uncle K gave us a lift to Taunton station.

First step to our next destination was a train to Exeter, or to be precise, Exeter St Davids. As with Bath a few days earlier, Exeter is served by multiple railway stations, originally built by different railway companies.

Exeter Central is, as the name would suggest, more central, but it’s Exeter St Davids that opened first, and is now the busier main station. (Some people complain that Melbourne Central Station isn’t the main/central station. It seems that situation isn’t unique.)

We had to change trains at Exeter, but first we peered outside (pouring with rain, pretty much the first rain we’d encountered on the trip) and bought some sandwiches to eat on the way.

Our next train was heading for our destination: Penzance. It was the grandly named Cornish Riviera Express. Apparently this name has been used since 1904. It was mentioned on the station displays, though I didn’t notice any specific branding on the train itself, which was a standard High Speed Train (Intercity 125) set.

The train to Penzance, from Exeter St Davids

Grey and green, somewhere in Devon

We zoomed along through Devon, with some great scenery despite the grey skies.

Due to the hilly countryside, there are a large number of railway viaducts providing views over towns such as Plymouth. This is the view from the Keyham Viaduct – apparently it’s 27 metres up in the air. (Here’s what it looks like from below.)

Plymouth: rail viaduct over St Levan Road

Yet another grand bridge built by Brunel carried us across the River Tamar and into Cornwall. In fact we passed over numerous bridges, with some very impressive views along the way. Of course you can’t really see the bridges when you’re in the train, though in this case we got a good view of the parallel road bridge.

And then… we stopped at St Erth, one station short of Penzance, about 10 kilometres away.

For a while we didn’t move. My spidey sense detected something wrong. Then the announcement.

A truck (sorry, a lorry) had struck a bridge up ahead. The conductor, sorry train manager (fair enough, these HST trains are pretty long, and they actually have quite a few staff) got on the PA and apologised profusely, but we’d need to hop off the train here and wait for replacement buses.

We all got off the train in the drizzle and sheltered in the undercover part of the platform. The train manager and her colleagues were on their two-way radios trying to find out about replacement buses and/or whether the train would continue on once engineers had checked the safety of the bridge.

After a few minutes they said that due to the delay, the train would be short-shunting and heading back to London.

One of the rail staff suggested, given there was no ETA on trains resuming, that people exit the station and try their luck with the local buses. I checked Google Maps for buses – they ran about every 20 minutes from here to Penzance. I also checked the Uber app. Nothing nearby. So in light drizzle, we joined a queue of the braver passengers at the bus stop on the main road.

St Erth station, Cornwall

Bustituted on the way to Penzance

A bus arrived and a rail staffer hopped on first to check with the driver about them accepting rail tickets. The bus driver, who in fact is from the same parent company, seemed more concerned with just keeping to his schedule, and let everybody aboard gratis, so we squeezed on with our luggage and had a slightly more lurchy, cramped arrival in Penzance than expected.

We’d come halfway around the world and we’d been short-shunted and bustituted.

The train had been due in Penzance at 3:11pm. The line was shut until about an hour after that, but the bus got us there about the same time the line re-opened, so we probably ended up saving some time. As it was, the Train Manager had said we should be able to claim a refund on our tickets, so a few days later, I did just that. I haven’t actually had a response yet. (I don’t know how it works when the incident is outside the train company’s control.)

GWR web site: Trains delayed

From the bus station, we walked to hotel, just off the main drag, which curiously is called Market Jew Street. Apparently the name is a derivation of the Cornish Marghas Yow meaning Thursday Market.

The bloke on the hotel front desk asked “Where from Oz are you?” Melbourne – “Ah! I had a working holiday there, lived in Hawthorn for a while.” Small world.

(Few people in Australia say “Oz”, by the way. It appears to be particularly British slang for Australia.)

Across from the hotel was a shop full of various secondhand goods, and a Dalek in the window. Nice. (Weeks later, regular Doctor Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss would spot it too, and if you Google for Penzance Dalek, it looks like everyone who’s been through town has seen it.)

Nearby was a house marked with a non-blue plaque noting that the aunt and mother of the Brontë sisters had once lived there. History.

We headed down towards the sea to explore.

Chapel Street, Penzance

Letter box by Penzance Harbour

It wasn’t cold and it wasn’t raining, but the weather was more than a bit breezy. Powerful waves were hitting the coastline.

I was keen to look closely, but keener still to keep my feet dry, as in an attempt to pack light, I’d only brought one pair of shoes on the trip. As you may be able to hear from my exclamation, this was not entirely successful.

Western Promenad, Penzance

No pirates were obvious, but they wouldn’t be, would they?

Trivia from Wikipedia on The Pirates Of Penzance: The work’s title is a multi-layered joke. On the one hand, Penzance was a docile seaside resort in 1879, and not the place where one would expect to encounter pirates. On the other hand, the title was also a jab at the theatrical “pirates” who had staged unlicensed productions of H.M.S. Pinafore in America.

Apparently the lack of international copyright had caused problems for Pinafore.

Nowadays the locals seem enamoured of Poldark, which is filmed and set around Cornwall.

Other sights included a drydock, ship in situ, and various other shippy infrastructure which indicated it’s very much a working harbour.

Drydock, Penzance

Penzance Ship Repairers

Penzance Harbour

The Dolphin Tavern, Penzance

After a long walk around, we ended up back in the middle of town, and decided to eat dinner at a pub we’d spotted – The Dolphin, by the water. Most delicious.

Then some more walking around before we headed back to the hotel.

Family reunion time, and the mystery of the Bath toastie

(Backdated. Posted 15/8/2017)

Sunday, and today was the day we were scheduled to meet all the English relatives – aged from 2 to 92 – this was one of the primary reasons for the trip.

But first – breakfast!

We hit the streets of Bath in search of food, discovering yet again that before 8am, almost nothing in this tourist town is open. Worse, being a Sunday, that cafe from the day before with the great cooked breakfast wasn’t going to open at all.

Another prospect we’d spotted the day before was also closed. We kept walking in vain trying to find a decent breakfast place. As we walked, we got hungrier, and we (or at least I) started to get quite cranky.

Toastiegate

I spotted a Pret, a sandwich chain well known in the UK. It said in the window that they sell toasties.

“Right!”, I declared, desperate for some sustenance. “I’m going into Pret, and I’m buying a toastie!”

The bloke behind the counter said, with surety in his voice, that they don’t sell toasties.

Suddenly I had self-doubt. Had I really seen it in the window? He pointed me to a cabinet full of things I didn’t want. I walked out.

I looked again at the window. No, it definitely says toasties. WTF?

Pret in Bath. They denied they sell toasties. Their window says otherwise.

We eventually found some “all day breakfast baguettes” at another fine establishment. Greasy spoon breakfast wrapped in bread. Yum. Washed down with an appalling cup of tea. Double yum.

Via a deliberately circuitous route (we were exploring, not lost), we went back to the hotel, packed up our stuff and checked-out, arranging to leave our bags until later.

By the riverbank, Bath

Water Is Best statue, Bath

Parade Gardens, Bath

Cousin time

Time to meet the cousins! Outside the Roman Baths we met up with cousin S and husband N and toddler A. They’d come from their village about an hour from Bath.

We decided to head to the nearby Parade Gardens. It’s a park by the river which charges for entry, but consequently is very well kept. Entry is 1.50, but it applies all day.

The gardens have deck chairs, and we sat in them and chatted for ages, while A ran around and burned off some energy. I’d met S before, but that was last century, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

Lunchtime was approaching, and we started exploring the streets looking for options. N remembered a place he’d been to about a decade before. To his surprise, it was still there, away from the maddening crowds of the warm weekend, and they still served his favourite meal.

After lunch we wandered around for a bit longer and found some ice-creams and milkshakes, and back to the park for a sit on the grass and more of a chat.

Bye bye Bath

Eventually it was time to head off, so we picked up our luggage from the hotel and headed to the station, heading for Taunton via Bristol.

The first train to Bristol was a short train, and packed, but it was only a short ten minute hop. (Its destination was Cardiff; it was the reverse of the train we’d caught two days before.)

Our second train rolled in, happily on the same platform, and had plenty of space.

We rolled southwest through Somerset, admiring the scenery and making liberal use of the WiFi.

I couldn’t help notice quite a few houses with PV solar panels. Clearly solar power is not just limited to places like Australia that have lots of sun.

Solar panels on houses, Somerset, England

Worle Station, England

A bunch of towns passed by that I’d never heard of (Yatton? Worle?) though we also rolled through Weston-super-Mare, which I know was where John Cleese was born. At some the Train Manager cheerfully reminded us to be at the front of the train, as the train was longer than some of the platforms.

At Taunton, where the platforms are longer than the trains, we were met by Uncle K, who drove us to stay with my other Uncle H for a couple of days. We had a nice evening catching up with some family members we haven’t seen in years, and meeting others we hadn’t met before at all.

Taunton, Somerset

Monday 10th July

Monday was spent with family. The morning was taken up seeing my grandfather and setting up some group photos, and looking at old ones.

Here’s me with a portrait of my great grandfather. We got wondering if the Bowens all have high foreheads?
Me and my great grandfather

A memory from when I was a kid, and I don’t know where it came from, are these two lines from “Up from Somerset“:

Oh, we’m come up from Somerset,
Where the cider apples grow

As it happens, one of the nearby highlights is Perry’s Cider Mill, so we headed there for lunch, followed by a walk in the surrounding area, a village called Dowlish Wake.

Looking very serious at Perry's Cider Mill, Somerset

Post box in hedge, Somerset

The New Inn, Somerset

We walked past a pub called The New Inn. Apparently despite its name it’s about 350 years old. (I guess it’s like The New Forest, which is almost 1000 years old.)

Then a drive down narrow lanes to nearby town Crewkerne, and a walk around there. For its size, it’s a very busy town, or at least, some pretty bad traffic congestion. The local buses running only once every 90 minutes probably doesn’t help.

Traffic jam in Crewkerne, Somerset

In an antique shop in Crewkerne, I noticed this old railway promotion (below)…

I wonder if it provided any inspiration for the Victorian Spirit Of Progress? Rocket was 1829, so this might have been 1929. Spirit of Progress started in 1937. But perhaps it was a semi-common phrase at the time.

Old railway promotional material: Spirit Of Progress

We finished up Monday with a big family dinner, featuring two uncles, two aunts by marriage, four cousins, and the four of us visitors.

On Tuesday we’d be on the move again, heading even further west.

Canals and cathedrals

(Backdated. Posted 10/8/2017.)

The hotel, being a cheapie, didn’t offer breakfast, so we sprung out around 7:30 looking for food… and discovered that almost nowhere in Bath is open before 8am, at least not on a Saturday.

Eventually (eg at 8am, or just before) we found a great cafe near Bath Abbey just opening up, which made a delicious cooked breakfast.

We made a note to come back here the next day. (Spoiler alert: this plan totally failed, as they are closed on Sundays.)

I find this slightly amazing for a tourist town. Someone with the nous and energy to open up early every day and serve good quality food could clean up… though perhaps every hotel other than ours serves breakfast?

Then out to explore the riverside walk. I’d taken a quick look the evening before, and this time we followed it further, snapping photos along the way. It was quieter than the streets, quite tranquil, but no less scenic. (Mind you, at one spot we did notice a number of shopping trolleys deep in the water below.)

River Avon, Bath, England

River Avon, Bath, England

River Avon, Bath, England

Canal boat, Bath, England

A mile or so up, we found a lock, and a narrowboat was on its way through, so we (and others) stopped to watch the watery action.

There are still vast numbers of canals around Britain, now made largely redundant for shipping by railways and roads. Our accommodation in Cardiff was right next to former industrial canals, and this one in Bath connected into the River Avon.

While travelling the countryside by train, along the waterways we’d seen numerous canal narrowboats. They can be rented out as a floating caravan, which would be a pretty relaxing (if perhaps cramped) way to get around. Slow too, but that would be part of the appeal.

We followed the river back to the railway station, noting the turrets on the local version of skyrail.

Skyrail in Bath, UK

Next to the railway station, the main shopping centre was less busy (and less picturesque) than the more touristy parts of town around the Abbey.

They seem to have found creative ways to use the old telephone boxes, which presumably don’t get a lot of use as telephones anymore.

Telephone box, Bath, England

Telephone box, Bath, England

Bath, England

M decided she’d like to go and look in the Jane Austen museum. Without wanting to make any comments based on gender stereotypes, the rest of us decided this wasn’t our cup of Regency era tea, and we kept exploring.

In fact I had a goal: I needed to find a camera SD card, as mine had filled up, partly because I’d left the camera set to RAW (which I don’t normally use while sightseeing).

One of the things I remember from my youth, reading computer magazines from afar, sometimes you’d see ads for shops you’d never encountered personally. Watford Electronics was one, very prominent in BBC Micro circles. Another you’d hear about was Maplin Electronics, and unlike Australian electronics chains such as Dick Smith and Tandy, Maplin is still around, and we found one of their branches in Bath and had a browse. I couldn’t help noticing they don’t seem to have descended to selling kettles and toasters.

Mind you, the prices didn’t seem too good at Maplin, so I ended up buying an SD card across the street at a stationer’s shop.

Bath, England

Cheese Shop, Bath, England

Time for some lunch. Later on in the trip we’d be heading to Cornwall. As a taster, lunch was at the Cornish Pasty Company, a chain of fastish food restaurants selling… you guessed it… pasties. With mushy peas.

Now, what to do for the afternoon?

Plan A: I’d been trying to get organised to meet up with my dad’s cousin, who lives not too far away from Bath, near Salisbury. After some missed messages, we finally reached each other on on the phone. Alas, she and her husband were busy that day, but we had a good chat and promised to catch up next time I was in the UK, or more likely, when they were in Australia.

Plan B: There are bus tours from Bath to Stonehenge, about an hour away. We worked out that tickets are sold from the tourist information office, and went to find out if any were spots available for the day. Nope, sold out.

Plan C: How about we hop on a train to Salisbury (roughly an hour), and check out the town and the cathedral there, which has the tallest church spire in the UK, and also the oldest clock in the world, as well as having a copy of the Magna Carta.

So we walked back to the station, bought tickets and hopped on a train.

Scenery from the train near Bath

Salisbury Cathedral, England

It’s a pleasant walk from Salisbury station to the cathedral, but by the time we got there, we’d just missed out on the last tower tour of the day. Damn.

Instead we looked around the cathedral, and the Magna Carta.

I’d seen a Magna Carta a long time ago, at Brisbane World Expo in 1988. I remember long queues… not so this time – no queue at all when we looked. Apparently this is the best of the four surviving original 1215 copies left.

That is, there are four copies from the year 1215. Not 1,215 copies.

Salisbury Cathedral, England

Salisbury Cathedral, England

Salisbury, England

A drink and a snack in the cafe, then we strolled around the town a bit more, and headed back to station.

A little while to wait for the train. Perhaps we should have stopped for a drink in the Railway Tavern next door?

Railway Tavern, Salisbury, England

The platform seemed quite crowded, and the hourly train was late. It became apparent that the service before it had been cancelled, and when it finally arrived, it was packed. (The signs indicated another later train had been cancelled too. Great Western Railway was not having a good day.)

Notably on some of the stations we passed, the Passenger Information Displays (or whatever they call them in the UK) included text to say the train was “Service reported full and standing”, to warn passengers ahead of the crowding. Good to know.

Packed train at Salisbury

Packed train Salisbury to Bath

The crowd were grumbling but resigned to their sardine-like fate.

A father and son quietly sat in their seats with their gunzel t-shirts, no doubt acutely embarrassed on behalf of their preferred transport mode.

Gunzel t-shirts on a packed train

Packed train at Bath

We got back to Bath before too long. It could have been worse – signage indicated some trains were being bustituted that weekend.

Bustitution in Bath

I ducked into a department store to buy a hat. When packing I’d brought one too many jackets, and had left my sun hat behind. And it had been sunny every day since we’d arrived, and I was getting concerned about sunburn.

Next we headed for the Roman Baths. I was hoping the crowds would have died down, and this proved to be the case. It’s also a bit cheaper after 5:30pm, no doubt to encourage people to visit outside peak times.

We followed the audio tour, which as a bonus includes interjections from Bill Bryson, for a slightly less serious and straight description of some of the features.

They’ve really done a good job at presenting the history of the place, and the context of Roman Britain.

Roman Baths, Bath, England

Roman Baths, Bath, England

That said, you wouldn’t want to be dipping your hand in the water, let alone bathing in it.

Then we searched for a pub for dinner which we found in a place where the music a bit too loud (oh well, it was Saturday night), but food was delicious.

I tried unsuccessfully to order a Lemon, Lime And Bitters. The lady behind the bar couldn’t figure this out. “Lemon, Lime and Beers?” Apparently this is not known in Britain.

No matter. After dinner we headed back to the hotel – the next day we’d be on the move again.