Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A London Triangle

or a grandparental adventure

In November two grandchildren were born, a boy to our daughter in Orpington (see The Leafy Suburbs), and a few days later a girl to our son in Shepherd's Bush. My wife had to pop down to the latter at short notice to look after the big sister-to-be (births are always short notice even though you have nine months to get ready for them!) and found the Thameslink service there and LNER back very satisfactory. It was a straightforward birth and she met the new child at under a day old and then returned.

We had both met our new grandson a few days previously but that left me not having met the new little girl, so a visit to Shepherd's Bush was arranged, this time with a few days to prepare! As we had done for the other parents, we look food with us to cook for them and all had lunch together, but we then moved on to visit the other part of the family in Orpington as well, a three-cornered trip. It was all remarkably easy to do, if a little tiring. The main line section between Stamford and London was booked in our usual way, with a Standard Class day return between Stamford and Peterborough and then LNER First Class singles between Peterborough and London - First Class was especially welcome (and especially cheap!) on the way back when we were tired, and supplied us with a good light supper. It was a bit expensive on the way there and it was fares at just a few days' notice that determined which train we took.

The rest was all done on our Oyster Cards, and with family advice we found a simple route between the two homes: Hammersmith & City Line to Baker Street, then Jubilee Line to London Bridge where we caught the next fast train to Orpington. These trains are about every ten minutes and Orpington is their first stop: it really could not be much quicker. From Orpington station we tried the bus service to get to their house: there are three possible routes and we took the first bus that came along which dropped us right at the end of their street, about 100 metres from the house: almost as close as the taxi would get, but we did have to stand in the cold for a few minutes to wait for it - substantially cheaper, though! We did call for a minicab back to the station, with it being dark, late, cold and with a train to catch. Must get in the swing of doing this by bus, though, which will be even cheaper when my concessionary pass arrives next spring! And so to London Bridge, Thameslink to St Pancras, wait in the First Class lounge at Kings Cross, train home via a change at Peterborough. And bed. A great day!

Monday, 19 November 2018

The Leafy Suburbs

Through London by train to the edge of Kent

I have now been to see the new, spacious London Bridge station and finally, years after my daughter moved to Orpington, been there by train. Every previous trip has needed me to take the car for one reason or another but this time, to meet our new grandson, we could go by rail. And it was really rather simple! And, once out of London, a lot more scenic than the Thames estuary which we pass on the road trip.

The route is straightforward enough: up (or is it "down"?) to London the usual way, then across London to London Bridge station for one of the frequent fast trains to Orpington; returning the same way and trying to get a decent connection to Stamford and home.

Tickets are the issue here: with only a vague idea of the timing of the birth (as ever) we could not buy tickets far in advance, and so we had to choose our trains carefully to get decent fares. Mercifully the best train back had cheap First Class seats left, and we were able to find one there that was not too bad. Once in London we used our Oysters, which are linked with our Senior Railcards, to get about, taking us all the rest of the way to Orpington and back - with the daily fare cap. This is far cheaper than buying through return tickets all the way, although it does not include First Class on the trains in London, of course.

We took a mid-morning train from Stamford to Peterborough and then had just a few minutes' connection there for our LNER train to London. Although our seats were reserved in coach L, we moved on to coach M where there were many empty seats (and less smell of other people's delicious breakfasts!). We were served coffee, fruit juice and toast for this short inter-city trip and on arrival at Kings Cross made our way across the road to St Pancras International - we did not go straight to our next train, though, but called first of all at Fortnum and Mason where we replenished our stock of St Pancras Blend tea, available only from their St Pancras shop. We rather like it and every time we have a cup of tea we are reminded of our travels - especially as the teapot was bought at the Tate St Ives art gallery on one of our early rail tours!

And so to the "cellar" platforms for the Thameslink train to London Bridge. This was my first trip on the new Thameslink trains which are a standard twelve coaches long, so at this time of the day there is plenty of space. They are reputed to have rather too-firm seats but I have to say that it felt all right to me. Whether I would still say that if I were travelling all the way to Brighton on one I cannot say, of course. It is now possible to get a Thameslink train through from Peterborough to London Bridge without having to change, and the standard class off-peak fare is very cheap, but it is much slower than LNER, stopping frequently, and carries no catering: as so often, you get what you pay for. 

At London Bridge we left the platform by lift down to the new concourse which now links all of the platforms, enabling much easier changes of train. This used to be such a difficult and worn-out place but is now quite a pleasant, although still busy, station. We found a train whose first stop was Orpington and which was due to leave in one minute - we dashed to the platform just a tad too late to see the doors closing as the train dispatcher sent it on its way. The next, though, was on the adjacent platform in only ten minutes' time, so it was not a big deal. I have to say that when we were there every train was on time: off-peak this is often the case, but in busy times it only takes one small thing to go wrong and everything soon fouls up. Simply taking too long to get everyone on the train can cause multiple delays in places like this.

The ride to Orpington was great: views of the rooftops of east London, with distant views of the City and of Canary Wharf, to begin with, and then out into the suburbs the bigger houses and trees. Thousands upon thousands of trees, and this is autumn so the colours were gorgeous - two weeks earlier would have been better, but they were still good now. At one point we could see nothing but trees either side! Come winter there will be houses among them, but for now just the tree canopy.

We left Orpington station on the side where the taxis wait and took a cab to the family's home. We had a shopping trolley with us (yes, really! No, not the sort supermarkets have, the two-wheeled sort for taking things home.) because we were taking Lincolnshire sausages, potatoes and vegetables to cook lunch for our sleep-deprived daughter and son-in-law as well as gifts for the new grandchild from various Lincolnshire and Peterborough family members. We asked the cabbie for his business card and then called him when it was time to leave, walking back onto the station just as a train for London Bridge was arriving at the platform - brilliant! 

Darkness was falling now and we could see little. At London Bridge we made our way to the Thameslink platform for a train back to St Pancras and met someone we knew from Stamford. She was waiting for one of the through stopping trains direct to Peterborough which left several minutes after the one we took, so we said our farewells after a few minutes' chat and then we had a little time to wait at Kings Cross in the First Class Lounge before our train. I find the Lounge a rather depressing place, actually, although it does beat standing on the concourse. There are free nibbles and (non-alcoholic) drinks but there is no variety from visit to visit and the d├ęcor is "Virgin" red which is not as restful as you might expect a lounge to be.

Soon our train was indicated and we made our way to the platform, this time our reserved seats were fine and we settled in the for the trip home. This time we were served sandwiches, crisps and cake with beer and wine as well as hot drinks. The train made a very neat connection with East Midlands Trains' extra little service to Stamford, noisier and less spacious than the usual Cross Country Turbostar, but if we were to be late and miss it, the next Cross Country one is only about twenty minutes later, very handy. But we were not late and did catch it and then took another taxi home from Stamford station. A great family day, and a great train ride, too, partly on a route new to us.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Forthcoming Holidays and Trips

Next year's programme of train trips in the UK and Europe takes shape

Already booked for next year are one holiday in Switzerland with Great Rail Journeys and one short break with Statesman Rail, with a handful of other short breaks under consideration and a plan coming together for a west country holiday, together with our usual few days in Sussex in the summer. How can I manage all this time off, you might ask; today I announced that at the end of January next year I shall be retiring and so for now, at least, we shall travel a bit. I need, I think, to make "the list" a real physical item and not just something vaguely washing about in my head.

In addition am currently planning another little outing for local people this December. Details of these group outings can be found by choosing the "Come with me" tab to the top right of this pane, and the plan this time is to travel to Birmingham for Christmas shopping, during the time of the Birmingham German Market, the largest in the UK. If you live in or near Stamford and are interested in coming on any of these little outings, do have a look at the "Come with me" page and sign up to the mailing list so that I can keep you informed about plans. I intend to do at least another two of these in 2019, possibly more.

Meanwhile trips to London are proliferating now that two more grandchildren have been born there. So we are kept on the move!