Brian & Katherine's Trans Mongolian trip 2013 travel blog

Arriving at Milton Keynes station.

With our hosts in Olney.

Down at the local rugby club, established in 1877.

The allotment.

With the scarecrow.

The grave of John Newton.

A picture of the start of the 1951 race (it was hanging...

At the finish line of the Great Pancake Race with Sue, winner...

Advertising next year's race.

Northampton train station.

Would you believe it! Only in England....

Olney. Along our travels we had received an invite from friends we had known since our days in PNG to extend our trip and spend some time with them in Olney. Now Olney is an historic village of some 6,000 souls approximately 97 kms north of London. It lies on the River Great Ouse, very close to the borders with Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and equidistant from Northampton, Bedford and Milton Keynes. It is a popular tourist destination perhaps best known for the Olney Pancake Race and for the Olney Hymns by William Cowper and John Newton. Naturally we were delighted to accept their offer and headed north after our stay in London.

We caught the train from Euston to Milton Keynes and were met at the station by Tom. Rather than heading straight to Olney, Tom decided to show us some of the local sights. First stop was the bike shop at Newport Pagnell. Now this was of no architectural interest whatsoever but Tom needed to pick up a new inner tube for his bike. Along the way however, we passed the oldest iron bridge in the world in constant use (since 1810 no less). Absolutely riveting!

Next stop was the shopping centre in Milton Keynes. The building itself is a great example of Miesian modernist minimalism in glass and steel. It's notable for being on a single level and at the time of it's opening, in 1979, it was the biggest shopping centre in the British Isles. In 1993, the building was extended to a length of 720 metres following which it was documented in the 1997 Guinness Book of Records to contain the longest shopping mall in the world. Our real reason for going there however, was to pick up something for dinner. It was home to the local Tesco's where they do these amazing meals for two for a tenner. Two courses plus a bottle of wine. Great value.

After that it was back to Olney and unpack, again. I think it was the twenty eighth time we had had to unpack, not including those times we had overnighted on trains or spent on the grasslands in Mongolia. We're getting really good at it now!

Olney's main claim to fame however is as home to "The Great Pancake Race". Since 1445, a pancake race has been run in the town on Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday to you heathens). Tradition records that back in 1445, on Shrove Tuesday the "Shriving Bell" rang out to signal the start of the Shriving church service. On hearing the bell a local housewife, who had been busy cooking pancakes in anticipation of the beginning of Lent, ran to the church, frying pan still in hand, still in her apron and headscarf. And so started the oldest pancake race in the world.

These days, the women of Olney recreate this race every Shrove Tuesday by running from the market place to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a distance of about 380 metres. The traditional prize is a kiss from the verger. In modern times, Olney competes with the town of Liberal, Kansas in the United States for the fastest time in either town and winner of the "International Pancake Race". We had the honour of staying with Sue, the winner of the 1992 race.

In between seeing the amazing sights of Olney, we visited "the allotment". It is good to see this quaint English tradition is alive and thriving. The only drawback was that it was located at the opposite end of the village and was a bit far to walk to. For those interested, I recommend this site on allotment history for your delectation:

Olney is also where the Olney Hymns were written (pretty obvious really). John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace, was curate of Olney and is buried here. His guest was William Cowper (Jane Austin's favourite poet and hymnodist) and the town hosts the Cowper and Newton Museum dedicated to them. The museum was William Cowper's actual house, and was given to the town in 1905 by the publisher William Hill Collingridge (who had been born in the house himself). Newton was succeeded as curate here by the biblical commentator Thomas Scott (1747–1821). Fascinating.

We actually went to visit the museum but declined when we learnt there was an admission fee of five pounds. Imagine, entry to the British Museum in London is free but you have to pay a fiver to enter an old house in Olney. Shows you where the real culture lies!

Olney also has the 5th widest High Street in the land (as a result of the convergence of 2 streams running down the middle before running into the river Great Ouse) and was the site of the battle of Olney Bridge between Cavaliers & Roundheads during the English Civil war in 1643. I could go on extolling the virtues of Olney but don't want to bore you. Instead, make sure you visit Olney on your next trip to the UK. In fact, don't bother with London, head straight for Milton Keynes. If you're really lucky you might get to see the MK Dons in action.

Being anxious to get to Ireland, we decided not to stay longer but we will be back! After all, we still have Clifton Reynes, Newton Blossomville and Weston Underwood to see!!!!!! We had thought of flying to Ireland but after our overland adventure, that seemed too easy. Instead we decided to take the train to Fishguard and then the ferry to Rosslare. It seemed like a good idea at the time, however in retrospect......

Tom was good enough to give us a lift to Northampton where we were to take a train via Birmingham, Bristol Parkway, Swansea and then finally Fishguard. Four trips of between 1 and 1.5 hours each, with an average halh hour wait between trains amd then a 3 and a half hour ferry trip. All up, a twelve hour trip of stop/start travel. We've done it now but I won't be repeating it in a hurry.

At the station, I asked for two tickets to Fishguard. That'll be £173 I was told (£86.50 each). Before printing the tickets, the attendant casually asked if I was going on to Rosslare. After confirming we were, he asked if I wanted to buy the ferry tickets at the same time (they were £26 each). I said why not, it'll save time later on. Okay he said, that's £86. Thinking I had misheard I asked him to repeat the price. £86 he repeated. It was a Rail & Sail deal where if you combined the two tickets, you got a special deal. I wasn't complaining as it worked out less than half price with the ferry tickets thrown in for free. Must have been an economist who thought that one up.

Anyway, tickets in hand we ventured out onto the platform to find........ chaos! After having travelled half way around the world by train, with absolutely no problems, what did we find? South bound trains cancelled and north bound delayed due to: animals on the track! Not what I was expecting in sunny England. Maybe in eastern Europe or Mongolia or somewhere but not in England. Total confusion reigned and no one seemed to know quite what was happening. Finally a train was announced heading to Birmingham (some ten minutes late) so we hopped on and hoped that we would make our connecting train.

Anyway, we were on our way on what was our last leg of the journey by train. The main problem was that with all the short trips and even shorter waiting time between trains, there was no time, or place, to sleep. When we finally got to Fishguard about 2.00am, we were a little tired. Another hour to wait before we boarded, found a quiet corner and had a nap.

We arrived at Rosslare on time a little after 6.00am and went looking for the brother. We found him waiting with the limo but I'll leave that update for later. Until then, take care and keep on having fun.


Brian & Katherine

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