Tag Archives: Resilience Plan

From Somerset to Germany by train

In the chilly Spring, following the late snowfall, a Continental holiday sounded like a good alternative to the usual wet British summer.  On impulse, I decided on a visit to Regensburg.  Our fellow tourists in China had been a group of Bavarians, and they’d recommended this city.

I have to say, I’d endorse that.  For the atmosphere of Old Europe – the cobbles, the tiny alleyways leading to the river, the baroque architecture – it’d be hard to beat, though I admit my experience is limited.  Night life looks cheerful and varied too; mainly around the theme of beer!

I booked a hostel for a few days in July, and considered the journey.  It didn’t seem enough of a challenge to fly; I wanted to see some of Europe from ground level.  I’d never been on the Eurostar – I decided to get the train.

Booking the trip was difficult.  Our upload speed here is so poor that security checks time out before completion, so I have to pay for orders by phone.  None of the budget train companies have an effective phone line for this; you’re routed around in a circle back to their website.

Eurostar did eventually answer their phone after a long wait and confirmed that they did take payment on that line.  However, I had to check the rest of the travel first, so I called Deutschbahn.  I expected yet another recorded information line, but was pleasantly surprised when the phone was answered after two rings by a helpful lady who spoke perfect English.

I bought a ticket, including the Eurostar, for about £200 return.  There were a couple of seat reservations – which turned out to be important – and exchange fees in there too.  The tickets arrived within the week, carrying a stern admonition not to lose them.

It’s always useful, or at least comforting, to carry photocopies of important travel documents like these.  Your travel insurance may be able to help if there’s a problem.

Somerset is a bit disconnected with public transport, as well as the internet.  The most chancy part of any journey is the bus from the end of my road to Bristol, where international travel begins, so I never cut it fine with timing.  Booking on the 6.13am Eurostar had saved me nearly enough money for a cheap hotel in St Pancras, allowing the trip to London to be made in a leisurely fashion.

This time, however, it wasn’t the 376 bus which let me down, but Great Western railway.  I was warned the previous day, by email, that trains would be disrupted and it would be good if I went another day.

temple meads train timetable trouble

I had to go to Bristol tiresomely early, and got on a very crowded train to London Paddington.   However, as part of the research for my adventure, I’d read ‘Infrastructure‘ by Brian Hayes, and was soon diverted by observing the complicated arrangements of wires, poles and boxes whose functions I was learning.

railway infrastructure

Navigating the oppressively hot Tube to St Pancras, I arrived an hour early for check in at the European Hotel in Argyle Square, a couple of minutes walk from the station when you went the right way.  I had lunch under the shade of the trees in the little dusty park opposite while I waited.

Once I’d left my luggage in the tiny room, I walked to the British Museum, not far away.  There was an interesting exhibition of ethnic art, mainly from sea-going communities, but the place was packed and the air conditioning inadequate.   The streets were depressingly litter-strewn as well, and the bins not emptied often enough.  For a major tourist destination, London could do with some work!

st Pancras International July 18

It was much cooler the next morning at 5 o’clock when I headed for St Pancras International.  The check in for the Eurostar resembles that for air travel; you’re advised to start the process an hour before departure.  Although manual check-in was quiet at this time of day, it had been quite crowded the previous afternoon.

With Deutschbahn, the ticket is a Fahrkarte.  The other official bits of paper are only the Reservierung, reservation slips – make sure you have the right one ready!

The Departure lounge had only one cafe-bar, and probably not enough seating for busy periods.   Boarding begins about 20 minutes before the train leaves, when there is a terrific rush for the right platform – pointless as all seats are reserved!

Eurostar destination board

It was difficult to find the right coach, as their numbers were shown on a digital display which one needed to be looking directly at.  From the side, it seemed to be a plain metal insert of some kind.

The train was quiet at this early hour, speeding through the waking countryside.  A brief glimpse of the sea, then we plunged into a dark and featureless tunnel.  Emerging into daylight, it was difficult to believe that this was France.  The pylons were a different shape, and the sea was behind us.

Brussels Zuid and Midi

I’d been a bit worried when planning my journey that trains to Germany left from Brussel-Zuid, while the Eurostar arrives at Brussel-Midi.  They’re right next to each other.  Exit the Eurostar platform towards ‘Correspondances’ and that takes you to the Brussel-Zuid end of the station.

Find your train on the departure board.  It’s useful to know the train number, which should be on your ticket.

destination board at Brussels Zuid

I headed for Platform 5, but this soon became so crowded with passengers and trains for Paris Nord, that the Frankfurt train was relocated to Platform 3.  Luckily I’d been chatting to a Belgian lass, who tipped me off, as I wouldn’t have known from the announcements.  Keep a close eye on those destination boards for last minute changes!

Platform train info Brussels Zuid

Your train vanishing from this helpful platform display may be another clue that it’s not coming!

There was more trouble in store for me at Frankfurt, where I accidentally got off at the Frankfurt Main (Airport) stop.  A main station in Germany is, of course, a Hauptbanhof; ‘Main’ in this case was referring to the river, as I realised much later.  However, everybody else was leaving the train, so I followed.

By the time I had worked out what was going on, it was getting late.  Hastily buying a ticket for a regional train which would take me to Frankfurt Haubtbahnhof and my connection to Regensburg, I raced to the platform.  We all dashed over the bridge to another platform when the train arrived there instead (this seems to be a popular sport!), then there was a painfully slow journey as it stopped very thoroughly at a number of stations on the way.

I arrived three minutes before my train left, found its number on the destination board, identified the platform and ran down a very long concourse to arrive with seconds to spare!  It was some time before I could catch my breath enough to look for a seat!

Someone had mine; the conductor found me another one when the train got busy, and people were sitting in the corridor.  I discovered the reservations were marked on more of those obscure digital displays beside each seat.  I had wondered how people identified free seats.

more railway infrastructure

Despite the difficulties, most of the trip was relaxing, and I did get a good view of the changing countryside.  Deciduous forests changed to conifers and back; there were fields of solar panels, and grape terraces.  Clusters of whitewashed houses stood among pasture; sometimes we effortlessly outpaced motorway traffic to a backdrop of clean white factories.

I arrived in Regensburg at 5.30 pm.  Head straight for the exit at the station – don’t get drawn into Retail Hell, from which it can be hard to extract yourself!

Regensburg station July 2018

The number 17 bus to the hostel was not every 6 minutes as Google had suggested, but more like once every hour.  I managed to navigate to the Microverse using my printed-out map, and asking locals in my rudimentary German; it was only about twenty minutes walk.

Once at their office in Arnulfsplatz, I picked up one of those splendid town maps which are torn from a huge pad, and appear at hostels all over Europe.  Bus stops, street names and tourist attractions were all ready for a few days’ exploring!

 

Your travel insurance may help if you miss a connection due to a delay or other problem with the trains.  Try and get someone to sign something for you.  

If you miss it through stupidity, you could well be on your own!  Luckily, buying a train ticket just before departure seems to be the same price as advance tickets in Germany.  A valid credit card provides a useful contingency plan.

 

Advertisements

The 67 Bus

Even though the whole globe has been mapped out and uploaded, adventure can still be found in the details. The Somerset Levels are best explored by cycle or on foot, but there is one bus which crosses them. The number 67, from Wells to Burnham-on-Sea via Wedmore, takes the intrepid traveller right through this iconic countryside to enjoy a couple of hours at the seaside.

A distinctly rural minibus pulls up at Wells Bus Station, down the platform from its sleek, Bristol-bound brethren, and we are off on the ancient trackway to Wedmore. The modern B3139 follows this intricate path, connecting two projections of higher land separating broad expanses of marshland. Building space was limited on this dry ridge; the hamlets are strung along this narrow, twisting country lane, almost submerged in greenery at this time of year.

wookey cottage garden

Exuberant hedges are covered in flowers; creamy elder, clouds of pink-blushed hawthorn, spikes of lilac and chestnut, curves of honeysuckle. Gaps in the foliage reveal little orchards, families of black sheep, contented donkeys. We pass through Yarley, Bleadney and Theale, past ivy-draped stone walls, verges scattered with the white flowers of cow parsley, fields decorated with buttercups, and into Wedmore.

Here, there are elegant town houses, stone built cottages with purple flowers pouring over garden walls, and foxgloves in full bloom. Wedmore, founded by the Saxons, was a busy market town in medieval times. The Market Cross dates back to the 14th century, and there are some other building of historic interest. Wedmore is the home of the infamous Turnip Prize for modern art, and an annual Real Ale festival.

You could plan a few hours wandering around this pleasant area and return to Wells, but we are changing here for Burnham-on-Sea.

bus transfer at Wedmore
Changing buses at Wedmore; the blue one returns to Wells

Our next driver was a trainee, learning the invisible stops on the route. The passengers cheered when she edged past a horse box on a lane where ‘single track road’ would be a generous designation.

The countryside is more open as we approach the sea, crossing the old tidal marshes on our rocky ridge. Black and white dairy cows, familiar to Glastonbury Festival followers, graze in the summer pastures. Swans resting by willow-hung streams are a reminder that these fields are the domain of waterfowl in winter time.

Another set of villages is linked by this slender road, like beads on a wire. We pass quaint churches, pubs, an aquafarm and an Aikido centre. The bus begins to fill up, mainly with elderly local residents. Sit at the back if you can, as many passengers have walking frames or shopping trollies. There isn’t a bell to ring; call out if you need to get off before the terminus. The other passengers join in until the driver responds!

The gentle rural lane ended at the A38, the main coast road, lined with caravan parks. We detoured through Highbridge and arrived opposite the Old Pier Tavern in Burnham.

old pier tavern at burnham on sea

It’s a short walk – about two minutes – to the sea front. There’s a typical British seaside sort of building there, housing the Bay View Cafe, a remarkably well stocked Tourist Information centre, and public toilets.

Bay View Cafe Burnham on sea May 2018

I picked up a leaflet for the Heritage Trail in Burnham, found the main street easily, past the bucket-and-spade shop. There was a Farmers’ Market going on, and the second hand shops were worth a visit; there were coffee shops and cashpoints, icecreams, seaside rock in strange and wonderful flavours, chips and amusement arcades. Everyone was excited about the Food Festival on Saturday; unfortunately the 67 bus doesn’t run at weekends.

pier amusements Burnham on sea may18

Back at the seafront, there was a good view of the Low Lighthouse, Burnham’s iconic landmark. This was built in 1832, and is still operational; the remains of the previous lighthouse are now part of a hotel.

Round Tower and church tower Burnham on sea May 2018

The abandoned jetty speaks of a busier past. Steamships from Wales would arrive here, connecting with the railway service whose tracks used to run right out to the dock; now even the station has gone.

jetty Burnham on sea May 2018

The seawall is high and curved, there are storms in winter. The tide was out, exposing the mudflats. Rippled channels of water were almost invisible on the gleaming surface, swiftly filling up the flat expanse, bringing the sea back to the sandcastles.

Curved sea wall Burnham on sea may2018

Gulls loitered in the seaweed crusted dampness  under the pier; it was a quiet day at the beach.

burnham pier may18

A short one too; the last bus leaves Burnham at one o’clock. Still, I had a good couple of hours at the seaside and a relaxing journey through beautiful countryside – just like being on holiday!

 

This service got dumped by First Bus, since it wasn’t profitable, and has had to be patched back together by the town and parish councils along its route. It’s the only public transport for the outlying villages. Taking journeys like this is good training for using local buses in unfamiliar countries.

Some key points need to be considered wherever you are.

  • Timetables may be out of date. Check your return journey, or connections, with the driver before the bus abandons you in the middle of nowhere. Have some useful phrases printed or practised if you’re in a foreign country.
  • Buses may be early. A rural bus with no passengers waiting is bound to be ahead of schedule at some points on its route. Arrive at the stop in good time.
  • The bus may be full. A popular journey, such as the last bus back, may be crowded. Have a Plan B; an alternate way of getting back. Plot another bus route if possible, or check local taxi services before leaving.

Testing your personal resilience with small, accessible challenges is a great way to build up your self confidence.

Read the Resilience Handbook for more information, or just go straight to the free resilience assessment to see how good you are already!

 

The Men’s Shed

In my father’s day, few men in the newly created suburbia lacked a garden shed. The sharp tools and poisonous chemicals, which were still part of everyday life, allowed a ban on children entering. The shed was a haven of orderly peace.

The men justified its existence by repairing household goods and DIY projects. They could indulge hobbies; many people were still quite skilled at craft work. The consumer culture disposed of the first two functions. Dispirited, the lure of the TV replaced the last. When the neglected shed finally collapsed, decking took its place.

Television, though entertaining, is not much company. Once out of the workplace, retired men find few opportunities to socialise and their health is often affected by loneliness and boredom. Inspired to address this issue, the Men’s Shed movement began in Australia just over ten years ago

Essentially, these are community workshops where a group of people meet up to work on their own projects. Rather than an actual shed, which might not be large enough, many are housed in portacabins or empty buildings. Most members, but not all, are retired men.

Street Mens Shed outside apr18
Street Men’s Shed Open Day

The UK Men’s Shed Association was founded in 2013, to provide an umbrella group for the thirty sheds already established. Today, there are over 400 in operation, with another 100 in the planning stages.

The Sheds mainly provide workshop space and tea. They host a wide variety of crafts – wood and metal working, electronics, model-making. Other community organisations soon learned that they could ask for tools to be fixed, or equipment made. Often adapted for disabled access, the Sheds are providing a valuable resource for care services.

Street Mens shed inside apr18

The Association’s website has a map showing your nearest UK Shed, and a resource library to help you start one. Street Men’s Shed in Somerset, who hosted the remarkably well attended AGM in the pictures above, take their information stand to local events. Shed days welcome drop-in visitors, though you may need to be a member to use the facilities; there will be a small charge.

The Reskilling section of the Resilience Handbook outlines the importance of keeping craft skills alive. If you’re following the Resilience Plan, you can see how becoming involved with this group will cover everything you need to know in this section and a great deal of the Community section too. Achieving a useful level of resilience isn’t hard – it just requires the sort of gentle steady progress so unfashionable these days.

A community, town or nation which values resilience doesn’t need public campaigns to live a sustainable lifestyle. Everybody understands where their resources come from, and that payment isn’t always to do with money.

The true goal of a resilient community – and this is a long way off – is to be able to survive on its own, with no imports of goods and no exports of waste, for a year. Once you begin working out how this could be possible, it’s clear that we need to start progress to a smaller population. It’s not so hard to keep a form of internet going, even in a low-technology situation.

Perhaps we could finally depart from the city-state model, which always ends in environmental degradation and the obliteration of a once-proud culture.

…Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away”

 

 

 

 

 

The 21st Century Instruction Manual

The global situation seems a little tense just now, and there’s been a lot of interest in the Resilience Handbook. Don’t be shy. It’s not another point-of-view book telling you how wrong you are. It’s not scary like ‘Protect and Survive’ civil defence textbooks. It’s the tale of how you can be part of a positive change, how you’re already contributing, how you could have fun and save money by doing more.

The Resilience Handbook is an instruction manual. It’s a book designed for the digital age. Densely packed with information, it’s a series of notes for you to expand on through internet searching, and through your own experience of trying out the suggested actions.

It’s also a briefing document, condensing basic knowledge about each topic so you can participate in an informed discussion with others. That’s why I included a ‘resilience exam’ in the project. There’s no assessment for sustainability, no means of weighing contributions to a debate. Resilience has much clearer goals and heads in the same direction. There are certain things you need to be aware of, to have actually done, to know how to use. These can be identified and listed.

Read more about the test in the ‘Learning Resilience’ tab. Download and print the free resources. What’s your score? Where are the gaps in your knowledge? Create a resilience plan, start doing things you don’t normally do. Take your time, enjoy it!

What do you achieve by this? The actions and research I suggest are carefully thought through. They’re based on decades of experience. Once you’ve worked through the plan, I expect you to be more confident in an emergency. More aware of your environment, what you eat, who you are.

A wheel can’t move unless it’s balanced.

the resilience wheel