Taxi Noir: All Jabbed Up but Nowhere to Go
Over the years I’ve built up a programme of regular annual events. When the weather starts to get warmer it’s a joy to start planning. I’m all vaccinated and ready to go, but like most people, my spring and summer activities have been disrupted. With things opening up I can once again look forward to planning some days out and weekends away:
Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway. A tourist attraction yards from my home, and one of many little train lines run by enthusiasts around the country. The Ale Trail is our traditional curtain-raiser to “The Season”. It’s a beer festival held in the engine shed, on the site at the other end of the line; and on the train yourself, if you want to swig beer from a plastic pint glass.
Steam-heads marvel at the old locos and little wooden carriages, and families take a short, but very slow, ride from one end of Leighton Buzzard to another. It’s a small town, and the ride isn’t very exciting unless you’re a train enthusiast. Still, each May my wife and I find it interesting to peer into people’s back gardens and see parts of town that we never visit.
*the proper train station is three miles away in another corner of town and offers up the bright lights of London Euston in thirty minutes.
Northampton Beer Festival also normally takes place in May. It was put back last year, then finally cancelled. It was then re-scheduled for this June, so I’m hopeful it’ll happen.
It’s a large open-air festival held in a park. Beers, ciders and country wines are sold in marquees. Burgers, hot dogs, and other beeerfest staples sizzle away in other tents. There’s some seating in the marquees, but most people sit on the grass; or on chairs on the grass if you get there in good time. Drinking beer sat on a lawn is something I’ve done a lot of over the past year. It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday, but I’m comfortable in the role. Live bands play, and there’s always a good atmosphere.
Eastbourne. A trip to the coast has become a bit of a tradition in recent years. Unfortunately, living in Bedfordshire I’m about as far as I can be from the sea, so it’s a major undertaking getting there. I don’t drive to the south coast because London’s in the way, so it’s two train rides.
Brighton had traditionally been the default seaside destination, but a few years ago I tried Eastbourne for a change. I liked its relaxed feel and local beauty spots (Brighton is more like London-on-Sea in comparison). My wife and I have found our favourite pubs and restaurants, and a routine to optimise time on a limited stay. We stay overnight in a guest house and take a bus along the coast to beautiful and dramatic Beachy Head to peer over the famous white cliffs near the lighthouse. The beach in Eastbourne is good – if you don’t mind stones – and there’s a decent pier.
Oxford. We always stay overnight at the Malmaison Hotel, built on the old Oxford Prison. Plush and atmospheric, and still recognisable as a prison with walkways kept intact. You can stay in a room converted out of three cells, and you can pop into a cell left as it was when the prison closed in 1996.
Oxford needs no introduction as one of Britain’s premier tourist cities. You could spend a week going from pub to pub in this walkable small city – or admiring the architecture and peering into college grounds, if that’s more your thing. It’s a working city too, and you can have the place to yourself when the tourist coaches have left early evening. There are more pubs and restaurants than you can shake a stick at, plus lost of river walks. Oxford’s a city of ancient university colleges and this adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.
York proved to be a great destination for an overnighter last Halloween. It’s a beautiful city, full of history and atmosphere. Like Oxford, the commercial centre is small enough to cover on foot but is large enough to keep the interest up for a long weekend. York has become our Halloween city of choice and I’m about to book up for this year.
Recreation for the remainder of the year, and in between these landmark events, will be pub and restaurant visits. Things are sadly disrupted until May 17 at least, so here’s to a fantastic late-Spring and a glorious summer!