diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's sale time at Roys of Wroxham. That's the top store in Hoveton, except nobody outside the Norfolk Broads has heard of Hoveton, so Wroxham it is. All of the car parks in town are full, or getting that way, as the good folk of Broadland and beyond arrive in search of bargains. Christmas decorations are half price in the department store, if you like shiny silver things, which it seems many do. Stuff a basketful, take them home and bedeck your house in them next year, that's the plan. A lot of kitchenware doesn't seem to have sold for Christmas. Most of the the mugs and frying pans emblazoned with Jamie Oliver's name, those in particular, and still not flying off the shelves even today. Colour-changing kettles are £10 off, slightly more interest there, and ornaments for non-metropolitan sideboards too. Someone at Roys has bought a job lot of 2012 diaries, black cover, slightly scratchy paper, reduced to 99p in pre-New Year desperation. More staff are called to the tills, where the trio of silver-haired ladies are joined by a cross-section of local youth who could easily be their grandsons. Across the road the independent Food Hall is sort-of busy. You'll not find a Tesco or Sainsburys here, because Roys is Wroxham's monopoly. Roys Children's World, Roys DIY Centre, Roys Toys - the latter still with a mothballed Santa's Grotto at the rear. And out front, one lonely bloke in a red hat tries to sell copies of The Big Issue to shoppers with bulging white plastic bags. He'll still be here in the summer, I fear, when the streets are filled with tourists and boat owners. But the half price Christmas decorations will have gone by then, so act now while stocks last.

It's Mince Pie Special week on the Bure Valley Railway. Buy a return ticket between Wroxham and Aylsham and get a free pie from the Whistlestop Cafe, so long as you remember to ask. At nine miles long this is Norfolk's longest Narrow Gauge Steam Railway, which quite frankly isn't a difficult-to-attain accolade. The car park is rather less busy than Roys up the road, but that just means more space in the carriages for every traveller. They're only small, room for a family of four in each mini-compartment, or maybe a big bloke and two dogs. Dogs travel for £3.50 return - that's for a Rover ticket, of course. Today's locomotive is called Blickling Hall, a crimson beauty of 1994 vintage, undergoing a pre-trip oiling from a crouching gentleman in a cap. It belches steam in a miniature narrow gauge way, then toots and heads off at a few miles an hour in the general direction of upstream. There are no broads to view along the way, just a succession of rolling fields, a disused RAF base and the occasional minor settlement. In summer it'd be a riot of green, but in winter you can see through the trees and gain a better sense of place. A footpath/cycleway runs the length of the single track railway, taking the place of the track that's no longer there, so walkers and bikers get to cross all the bridges alongside the trains. Everybody waves as the train goes by. The lady and her kids living in the old station at Buxton, they wave. The anglers on the Bure in their Barbours and green wellies, they wave. The shooting party unloading their guns from the back of a lorry by a clearing, they wave too (but thankfully very carefully, and not with their shooting arm). Along the way are three intermediate halts, all of them minor, all of them request stops, but usually nobody requests. Just before Aylsham is the only operational rail tunnel in Norfolk, which is unexpected, although it's only a 20 second dip beneath a bypass so it's nothing special. All the unused rolling stock is stored in sheds at Aylsham, where various enthusiasts have given up their bank holiday to rub grease into axles and shunt engines up and down. Best collect your mince pie while you remember.

The town of Aylsham is mostly closed. That's what happens when you visit a Norfolk market town on a bank holiday, which is something I appear to have done far too often this year. Everywhere is shut, with the exception of a couple of supermarkets and the Mrs Potts tearooms in Red Lion Street. There are some lovely medieval streets, and a big old Norfolk church, but a quick ten minute circuit and the town is "done". A few local youths are hanging around in the cobbled square, which I soon discover is because they're waiting for the hourly bus to whisk them away somewhere livelier. The only decent place to take refuge, somewhat unexpectedly, is the corner of Budgens. A new Cocoa Cafe opened here last month courtesy of Caley's of Norwich, the esteemed chocolateers, no doubt spotting a gap in Starbucks and Costa's nationwide caffeine coverage. Business is sluggish, not because of the quality of the bacon rolls (yum) but because today is a midwinter bank holiday in a Norfolk market town. The second and final train of the day leaves imminently. An entire coachload of Midlands pensioners are aboard, enjoying Day 4 of their Christmas in Norfolk package holiday. They've already enjoyed several hotel lunches and the local pantomime, and now they're seeing the sights of the countryside from the rear three carriages of a miniature train. At the far end of the journey they all file out of the station without a single person stepping up to inspect the locomotive, keen only to get back to the hotel and one last meal together. That's what £679 gets you for Christmas these days, that and a coach bedecked in tinsel. Wish you were here?

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