Bristol Temple Meads is the major train station where I switch to the small local that goes on to Weston Super Mare. WSM is, as far as I can tell, the coldest, wettest, windiest, grayest town in England bar none, so of course that's where my dad and his wife decided to settle, presumably on the idea that it would prevent people from visiting them. For awhile, their strategy worked, but for a couple of years, I managed to visit my darling dad in his damp stone house in the dank town that everyone once went to for disappointing childhood seaside holidays with the family.
But I digress. The glory of the Bristol Temple Mead station isn't their enormous number of pigeons or the wind that whistles through your ears when you wait outside the bar for your train: it is the heavenly scent of The Pasty Shop, a scent made up of equal parts of pastry, sauces and sage. Located in the warm, lower section of the station, The Pasty Shop not only provides jaded commuters with a tasty, filling meal for about 5 British pounds, the air, which is free, makes one think longingly of home.
For a US born commuter, the fragrance wafting from the wall-built oven, rich with overtones of sausage, chicken and onions, sage and basil, is reminiscent of Thanksgiving, which in US parlance is the essence of home, even to those whose homes have been demolished by familial distress, aging, relocation. Thanksgiving, and all it carries in our national consciousness is a celebration of home the way it should be--even when it wasn't. So, passing through the Bristol Temple Mead station not only engenders nostalgia, but literally feeds it--if you have enough time between trains.
The Pasty was invented (the story goes) so that coal miners could have an all-in-one meal, portable, satisfying and easy to eat in one hand. It is usually meat in a thick gravy, thick enough to stay inside its short pastry crust. It's a meal, all right, and tasty enough to be, as the British say, "more-ish." (But if you try to eat two, you'd better be a rugby player, or you'll explode.)
The Pasty shop also has pasty made with cheese, basil and tomato, but my fave is the chicken. (Truth to tell, I haven't tried many others, not being much of a carnivore. But I have been truly tempted!)
There are few things more delightful than starting a long train ride accompanied by a hot pasty, a cold drink , a good book and room to look out the window at the glorious English countryside rolling past, filled with sheep and castles, canals and swans-- and the greenest of green grass, miles of bright yellow fields alive with mustard in bloom.
The Pasty Shop is a chain, and I've been to a couple of other locations, but the one at BTM is the best by far. I can't wait to go back and maybe next time, try a new flavor.