Category Archives: Travel

Dunkirk little ships and the Reading Festival

Reading festival fans queue for boats

It is August bank holiday weekend and in Reading that means Reading Festival ( Festival goers started arriving in dribs and drabs on Wednesday but yesterday (Thursday) the main invasion started. The stages and campsites are upstream from Reading town centre and most of the fans arrive by train. A few walk to the campsite, many pile onto the extra buses laid on by Reading Buses, but it appears that the majority use what has become, over the last few years, the traditional means of transport – boats.

Every year boats ferry people to and from the festival site and among them are usually a couple of Dunkirk little ships. The emergency evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France took place between 27 May and 4 June 1940. What were needed for the evacuation were boats with shallow draught, and hundreds of pleasure boats, private yachts and launches on the Thames and estuaries along the South and East coasts were involved in the evacuation.

Devon Belle
Devon Belle

Some of the “little ships”, as they came to be called, are still around and last year I saw the Princess Freda and Devon Belle at work over the festival weekend. I’ve already seen Devon Belle (pictured left) this year.

The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) was founded in 1966 following the 1965 25th anniversary commemoration of the Dunkirk evacuation. The ADLS web site ( has a section that lists the specifications and history of the surviving little ships. The entry for Devon Belle, previously Seymour Castle, can be found at It does not yet record the purchase of the boat by Thames Rivercruise (

Check the ADLS database next time you go on a river trip. You may be cruising on a piece of history.

Google Flight Search takes off in Europe

Google’s Flight Search has launched in parts of Europe. It has been available in the US since September 2011 and can now be accessed by travellers in the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. You have to use your local Google to get to the appropriate version of Flight Search, for example if you are in the UK or if you are in France.

There is a warning on the search page that Ryanair, Easyjet, Aer Lingus, Thomas Cook and Lufthansa are not included. That is a substantial number of flights and two of the major budget airlines missing from the search. Selecting departure and destination airports and dates is straightforward and there are additional options for selecting non-stop flights, airline, maximum price, duration and slider bars for specifying departure or arrival time.

Google Flights search option
Google Flights search options


Confusingly, flights from some of the airlines that are not covered by Flight Search do sometimes appear in the results but, in most cases, without prices. I entered dates for a round trip from London to Munich. There was one option for Lufthansa that specified a price (£178) whilst the others from were “unknown”.

Google Flights search London to Munich
Google Flights search London to Munich

If you select a priced option you can then book the flight via BudgetAir. If you choose an “unknown” you see an option to check the price on the airline’s own website but you then have to enter your search from scratch.

So far, I am not impressed. There are far too many airlines that are not included and Flight Search does not offer anything over and above other comparison sites. I am not sure how many people will actually use it. You have to know the URL as searching on, for example, London Munich flights does not bring up a link to Flight Search. There is no perfect flight comparison site and I always use a combination of services such as Opodo and direct searches on the airlines’ own sites. There is nothing here to tempt me to add Google to the list.

Fed up with buses vanishing from the timetable? Go to FixMyTransport


FixMyTransport ( is a new web site run by those excellent people at MySociety. MySociety also runs TheyWorkForYou (, which tells you what your MP and Parliament is up to, FixMyStreet ( for reporting local problems to councils, and WhatDoTheyKnow ( for Freedom of Information requests. There is a full list at mySociety – our projects (

Subtitled “Euston, we have a problem” FixMyTransport was built to help resolve common public transport problems and is aimed at smaller problems such as “persistently broken ticket machines, buses that always leave early, or silly rules that appear to do nothing but create inconvenience for travellers.” Sound familiar? Want to do something about it other than moan? Use FixMyTransport to report a problem and they will send it to the relevant company or authority. Any reports or messages you send will be public and you cannot use this site to directly apply for compensation for cancelled or severely delayed trains.

Each train company has its own Passenger’s Charter and levels of compensation for delays and the quickest way to apply is to download and use the train company’s form, which of course is usually well hidden. You could report the delay via FixMyTransport but the train company will probably reply that you need to use their form. Bear in mind that you have to apply within 28 days if your claim is to have any chance of success so going direct is the best way to ensure you submit your claim on time. A Google search may bring up the information you need but you might have to resort to an advanced ‘site:’ search on the train company’s web site, for example delays compensation. A list of train operating companies is available on There is also a list of Passenger’s Charters at “Train delays and cancellations – your complete guide to refunds and compensation” ( but this is now out of date and four of the links no longer work.

FixMyTransport is still in beta and they welcome feedback on how you think it could be improved. If you use public transport in the UK, bookmark and use this site.