And what a countryside it is. That stretch along the rugged spine of the Malverns all the way to Ledbury never fails to please. It is a quietly dramatic journey, as the hills rise up beside the tracks, looking dark and inhospitable, with abandoned quarries, dark woods, hill forts and tree-less top. At the same time, you can see into the back gardens of houses nearby, catching the briefest glimpse of someone hanging washing out with more hope than expectation, or a person spooning breakfast into their mechanically working mouth, sleep still hanging over them like a fog.
Is there anything more guaranteed to raise a smile and feeling of contentment than the side of a tree-lined stream, meandering through a meadow, completely undisturbed by housing or roads? No. And you can only see them from the train. It's like being let into a big lovely secret.
There is also that exciting moment when the train whooshes under the hills and into a long tunnel. I never fail to be awed by the feat of engineering that this kind of endeavour is. It's not merely a case of blasting through the hill: the resulting space has to be chiselled smooth, propped up, tracks laid, the safety of the whole darned thing has to be guaranteed every single day.
But I am going to stop there because I am not, and never will be, an engineering nerd. Nor do I collect train numbers. I am content to remain impressed as I whizz along. I do not need to know the minutiae of how it was achieved.
Even on a dark gloomy day, like today, train journeys are incredibly soothing. I'd got coffee, crochet and a book to occupy me, but mostly I stared out of the window and let my thoughts drift by with the view. I should do this every week.
Ledbury itself is as picturesque as it ever was. I used to come here a lot in a former life (and a former marriage) as we had friends living here. There are some cracking shops selling things that are placed Just So, where I walked carefully, holding my breath so I didn't know anything over, or pollute it with my me-ness. The restaurant where I first ate a crab linguine (unfortunately the same night I developed tonsillitis and was seriously ill the next day), is still there, as is the wonderful Maps and Books shop. Fewer maps than there used to be, but still a great book selection. That place has been there so long, it's practically an institution.
There are some seriously quaint buildings too, all along the Homend (the main street) and into the winding, cobbled Church Street, including the place I was going to visit. Crooked frames, sloping roofs, big timbers and low wooden doorways you have to duck to get through. If someone was going to design a model village, this would be the kind of place they imagined.
That said, it must be deathly dull here for teenagers. No amount of poetry festival (Elizabeth Barratt Browning lived nearby with her weird father) or fictional links (John Masefield likewise, although without the father issue) or tasteful deli is going to make up for the fact there is, as is often the problem with small towns, Nothing To Do.
A fact borne in on me when I saw a pop up sign for an holistic spa where the picture of a smiling, relaxed, utterly middle-class person had had a speech bubble added by marker pen and the words "What A Dump" drawn on.
Which made me laugh. I remember all too well that weighty, bone-deep boredom of being 15 in a place where there was nothing to do and you were welcome nowhere. I almost wanted to add "don't worry, you'll be out of here soon".
But I didn't because I'd already graffitied a copy of the Metro on the train (see below). Instead, I broke my No-Shopping-January by venturing into a couple of charity shops and coming out again with 2 books and 3 tops. Charity shop shopping doesn't really count as shopping, does it? It's really more of a donation. My good deed for the day.
Later today, I shall be going to look at ART at the evening preview of a new exhibition at the local art gallery. Yes, I am going to be that kind of fancy. I asked the friend I'm meeting how long we'd be there and was informed that it would be for "as long as you want to consume free wine for." As I'm in No-Booze-January, I fully expect to be back home after 5 minutes.
Have a super weekend, whatever it finds you doing. I'm planning to write, visit friends for a scrabble night, allotment and eat delicious things what are good for me. With the occasional thing that is not because, you know, life.