Monthly Archives: October 2011

The love-birds trail leads to Anglesey

Stuff Paris or Rome for Valentine’s Day next year. You should be heading to Anglesey, North Wales.

No, really.

Llanddwyn Island, a remote headland stretching out into the Irish Sea from southwest Anglesey, is a hotbed for Welsh romance. A place resonating with frissons of ancient spirituality and Celtic lust.

There will be more people getting down on one knee on Llanddwyn Beach this January than there are randy pensioners in Poundshops across North Wales.

I recently spent a weekend there, researching a story for the Sunday Telegraph.

The piece will be out around January 25, St Dwynwen’s Day, Wales’ answer to Valentine’s Day.

Make your own love pilgrimage this January. After all, it’s good enough for Kate and William.

Entrance to Llanddwyn Island

Celtic cross by ruins of Dwynwen's Church

Wood-carved effigy of St Dwynwen

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Eurostar is on the wrong track – again

* Update 27/10. Eurostar have now been in touch to discuss compensation. Anyone else resolved this issue? Please post your update below.

* Update: Tues, 25/10. It’s one week on now from the great Eurostar PR disaster. In the aftermath, I was promised an official response to this blog from Eurostar. I was also told that customer relations would be in touch to discuss.

But so far: nothing. Is this yet another example of Eurostar handling the situation badly? Has anyone else had a follow up from the Eurostar team?

Or does Eurostar simply not give a %^& about its customers?

Please post your comments below.

Original post: 18/10/11

It happens to us all. The travel-chaos nightmare when flights/trains/boats are delayed or cancelled, leaving you feeling drained, bewildered and frustrated.

It happened to me last night aboard the 17.04 Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi. It was hell.

Major delays

Short version: a ten-minute delay just outside the tunnel past Ashford, Kent, turned into a three-hour delay.

During this time, in coach eight we were offered water and biscuits.

We were eventually sent back to London, arriving around 11pm – some six hours after setting out.

The queue for Eurostar customer services to request hotels and taxis and looked like this:

Radio silence

The most frustrating thing about this experience – apart from the disruption and loosing work due to blown meetings – was the lack of information from Eurostar staff.

Passengers became increasingly irate as we were kept in the dark about the situation.

Should we cancel meetings? Arrange new connections? Contact loved ones? Nobody would tell us anything.

I turned to Twitter for information (check my increasingly irate feed from last night).

We soon established that it was a suicide on the line, all trains were cancelled and a Burger King in Kings Cross was far more likely than moules frites in Ghent that night.

But where was the official source? Eurostar communications only posted info on the website at 20.00 UK time; the incident was reported to have occurred at 17.50pm.

And where is the emergency action plan? After all, this isn’t the first time there’s been a major incident on the high-speed line to Europe. Remember last Christmas?

Have Eurostar learnt nothing from all this? Seems not.

Lucky me

I was one of the lucky ones. I was traveling on tickets booked through Railbookers and, while Eurostar floundered, their representative swung into action, booking me a hotel for the night.

I dropped off my bag by 11.30pm and walked across the road to a late-night bar.

I saw families with huge bags and small kids spilling out of the Eurostar terminal, trudging down the Euston Road to find hotels. They looked ashen.

I thanked my lucky stars my two daughters were tucked up safely in bed at home and steadied my nerves with a pint of Guinness.

Learning points

So what do we take away from this sorry scenario?

Of course, force-majeure events happen to anyone who travels regularly and it was simply my turn (again, after the ash cloud).

But why is Eurostar not learning from its mistakes. Surely it could have avoided yet another PR disaster?

For me, the lesson is clear: book tickets through a specialist operator or agent, not Eurostar direct.

The former are the ones to keep their heads while all around are loosing theirs.

And that matters.

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Looking at Durham in a new light

I hadn’t been to Durham in years. I’ve been twice now in the space of a couple of months.

But why Durham? Newcastle gets all the cultural headlines – the Turner Prize exhibition opens at Baltic from October 21. Alnwick Castle gets all the film fans; Lindisfarne the pilgrims.

But Durham? Well, it’s a bit like my home town of Chester: historic, picturesque but, ultimately, a bit staid. Isn’t it?

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson

Lighten up

Actually, no. Durham hosts the UK’s biggest light festival, Lumiere, from November 17 to 20.

The four-day public-art installation brings some 30-plus installations, created by artists from across the globe (including the UK’s Tracy Emin), to public spaces around the city.

One of the highlights this year is a repeat of Crown of Light, projecting the story of the Lindisfarne Gospels (returning to Durham in 2013) against the 11th-century stone canvas of Durham Cathedral.

Wise words

There’s more public art across the city. My favourite was tucked away on a walking trail from the historic centre to Durham University’s Botanic Garden.

Amongst the autumn-turning leaves of maple, oak and cherry, the tranquil grounds reveal the Kindersley Engraving, a stanza of verse by the Newcastle-born modernist poet Basil Bunting.

The Kindersley Engraving, featuring words by Basil Bunting

His advice?

Words! Pens are too light. Take a chisel to write.

Black gold

The man from the Telegraph was around Durham recently, too, talking a bit too much about coal and not enough about change.

From my visit, exploring the past to reflect the future was the key to appreciating Durham in a new light.

It’s like Jacki Winstanley of open-air museum Beamish told me: “We need to know where we came from to understand where we’re going.”

Read my story in the Express in November.

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