Ticket bought, camera charged, train timetables at the ready and plenty of destinations in mind - yes, Rail Rover Week has arrived once more. This annual extravaganza has become a cherished mainstay of my exploration calendar, so where would five frenetic days take me this year?
Monday 16th April: How to begin a week of adventures? Well, I reckon some of the best scenery anywhere on the Heart of England railway network has to be along the Derwent Valley line between Derby and Matlock. I pitch up at the delightful Cromford Station where the historic waiting room has been brought back to life as a holiday cottage. Arkwright's Mill and the Cromford Canal add to the attractions, with the canal forming the basis of my walk from Whatstandwell to Ambergate. I finish off by browsing Burton on Trent where the plethora of pubs bears testimony to the town's brewing heritage - I didn't have a drink but I certainly got plenty of photos!
- Cromford Station -
Tuesday 17th April: Tradition dictates that Shropshire should be my Tuesday destination on Rail Rover Week, a custom I wasn't about to break this time around. I therefore took the chance to revisit Wem and Whitchurch, two small market towns that epitomise the relaxed charm of the whole county - I love weaving amongst the compact streets wondering what I might find around the next corner. I had to try a pub or two today, hence sampling Joules' Slumbering Monk in the Castle Inn, Wem whilst Whitchurch contributed half of Nettle Thrasher in the Old Town Hall Vaults, a building that was the birthplace of the composer Edward German. I just have enough spare time to squeeze in a bit of medieval Shrewsbury on the way home - wonderful!
- Whitchurch, High Street & St. Alkmund's Church -
Wednesday 18th April: The middle of the week and I have one eye very much on the weather because the forecast is less than promising. Luckily I manage to dodge the worst downpours during my morning visit to Hinckley, adding Leicestershire to my range with some views of Castle Street and the Market Place. The afternoon starts off dry as I enjoy lunch in Riversley Park, Nuneaton but the onset of the showers sends me scampering for the shelter of the Crown, a real ale pub but a stone's throw from Nuneaton Station - very handy to know for future reference.
- Riversley Park, Nuneaton -
Thursday 19th April: How's about a bit of Worcestershire? After tracking down the Lea & Perrins factory - the home of Worcestershire Sauce - near Shrub Hill Station, I'm tempted down the Cotswold Line by the prospect of Evesham and Pershore. Evesham was enchanting, especially the timber-framed merchants house (now NatWest bank) in the Market Place, and the Abbey bell tower pealing out a magical midday rendition of 'Morning Has Broken'. Pershore is equally enjoyable even though it is a fair old walk from the train station to the town centre - I can recommend the Brandy Cask, a homebrew pub on Bridge Street where I enjoyed an excellent pint of Brandysnapper.
- Abbey Park, Evesham -
Friday 20th April: and finally, a Warwickshire flourish to round things off. Taking the Chiltern Railways link out of Birmingham Moor Street, I land at Leamington Spa for a walk along the Grand Union Canal towards Sydenham Drive. The Jug & Jester Wetherspoon's helps me escape from a hailstorm, and the afternoon takes me to Lapworth where the Grand Union crosses paths with the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
- Lapworth Station -
And in the blink of an eye, the five days is over. It has been an absolute whirlwind of a week, with Rail Rover once more living up to its star billing in providing excellent value as I zigzagged back and forth across the Heart of England. There are still so many places I have yet to visit, so many photographs I have yet to take, so I guess the planning will soon start in earnest ready for when I do it all over again in 2013.