Michèle Roberts dsiscovers the perfect railway caff

On my way to Wales, I discover an oasis in the desert of railway catering

Running away from home at the age of nine, I took care to pack my bag with food. I took a couple of slabs of cake filched from the larder: my mother's teacake, made with sultanas soaked in tea, the slices thickly buttered. By the time I got to the local park I was hungry, so I sat on my bench and ate my cake. Then, my supplies having run out, I returned ignominiously home. The lesson: always travel with plenty to eat, to make sure you get as far as you wish to go.

I can remember when English people boarded trains with bulging packets of home-made sandwiches, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and drank tea from their own Thermoses. Journeys were slow and arduous and robust snacks were needed. The moment people got on they unwrapped their food, even if they had only just had breakfast, and offered it round. Nowadays you go to the on-board buffet and get overpriced dull sandwiches, designer crisps with silly names, and really bad coffee, and people chat less because they are plugged into machines. I travel a lot by train, commuting between countries and counties. I carry dried apricots and cashew nuts, just in case. Nothing worse than boarding the last train home to London from Norwich, having had no time for dinner, and hearing the announcement: no buffet on this train.

I spent last weekend going by train between France, England and Wales. On the Eurostar I drank white wine as an aperitif, accompanied by roasted, smoked almonds, and then ate an excellent sandwich of brown organic bread, smoked salmon and egg mayonnaise. Nothing could have been simpler or more delicious. Going up to Wales took the biscuit, however. I changed at Llandudno Junction and, having time to spare, wandered along the platform, intrigued by a tub of evergreen plants flanking a sign that read "Going Loco".

This proved to be a café-cum-shop, the walls painted yellow, the windows hung with floral curtains in pale blue. Second-hand books were offered for sale. Above the counter hung a display of decorated ceramic plates. You could eat the all-day full Welsh breakfast (the same as a full English) or buy cakes, jams, marmalades and chutneys to take away. Everything was home-made. The cakes on offer were Victoria sponge, lemon, chocolate, coconut, pecan and ginger, fruit, and bara brith. They cost £4 each. This delightful oasis in the desert of railway catering was completed by a large squashy sofa covered with a purple throw - just right for that brief encounter in between trains. I did not want to go any further; I wanted just to lounge on the sofa, reading my way gently through a pile of novels, sipping tea from a proper cup. The café owners had provided a visitors' book. It was filled with scrawled cries of gratitude.

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