It should have been obvious, really. We should have realised sooner that with our train’s departure – heralded by the age-old guard’s whistle and the clunk of a semaphore signal at the platform end – this was to be a journey unlike any other.
My two companions and I slid into our seats on the 08:11, and as we slipped away from the chattering platforms of Shrewsbury station we were momentarily distracted by a long brick building standing sentry.
This is Shrewsbury Severn Junction Signal Box, and it is the largest mechanical signal box left in the world, dontchaknow. We rounded the junction and picked up the pace. We were bound for Cardiff.
We three had chosen to pay extra for seats in the Business Class carriage: not a cheap option, but an extraordinarily good value one. This is part of the service known as locally as “Gerald of Wales” (“Y Gerallt Gymro”) launched a few years ago by the train operating company, Arriva Trains Wales. Gerallt’s namesake was a 12th Century clergyman and historian who roamed far and wide: the Arriva Trains Wales service does just that.
This service, with Business Class and Standard Class carriages, starts at Holyhead every weekday at 05:11, winds across North Wales to Chester at 07:15, via Shrewsbury at 08:11 and then down through the hills to Hereford and into Cardiff Central at 09:56. The identical return northbound journey from Cardiff departs every weekday at 17:16.
But that’s also a return journey perfectly timed for two meals – and that is exactly what makes the Arriva Trains Wales Business Class service really very special indeed.
For within two minutes of us joining the train, the delightfully smiley Cheryl had popped over to say hello and to take our breakfast order. We sped along to the smell of sizzling bacon and coffee.
The best cooked breakfast I’ve ever had on a train – anywhere – arrived as the sun rose over the Shropshire Hills. Dawn rays flickered through woods and tripped across fields as we zoomed south along the borderlands of Wales and England.
By now I was fully awake, and whilst my travel companions slouched in their massive seats, full of Full English (or was it Full Welsh) I wandered off to have a chat with Cheryl the on-train hostess and Tony, the chef.
We arrived in Cardiff Central at 09:56, right on time, with Cheryl and Tony quite literally waving us and our fellow passengers off the train. Perhaps the team needed time to prep the evening meal for the northbound service, or perhaps they were just glad to have a well-earned break from my incessant questioning.
We were wisely instructed to lunch lightly in Cardiff to allow room for the evening meal, and were welcomed back on board for the 17:16 by the same, now-familiar, crew.
Read more about the return leg of my journey from Cardiff to Shrewsbury here