Friday 17 May 2024

A Lovely Day for a Train Ride

It was "one of those days,*" as they say

It was one of those mornings, anyway!  I had a meeting to attend in Southwark and had booked my train travel in advance, taking advantage of the cheaper tickets to travel First Class between Peterborough and London Kings Cross. A Standard Class Day Return would get me to and from Peterborough at the beginning and end go the day, and my Oyster, linked to my Senior Railcard, would do for the local travel in London.

There had been a lot of rainy and cold weather but it improved a few days before the trip, and although showers were forecast at home in Stamford, it was still warm and the weather in London was forecast to be sunny and dry. It looked like being a lovely day for travel and I dressed in T-shirt and a very light, unlined jacket, although I did pack a foldable-up umbrella in my shoulder bag! 

As I waited in very light drizzle at Stamford railway station for the 07:56 departure towards Stansted Airport the train was indicated to be on time, and my LNER app assured me that my connecting train at Peterborough was also on time. 

Everything was looking great. The train came in and along with a host of other people (many of them commuters to Peterborough or Cambridge at this time of the day) I boarded and took a seat for the short ride to Peterborough. As soon as everyone was aboard the Train Manager announced that a broken-down freight train ahead of us was blocking the line and that we would wait at the platform in Stamford until that train had been rescued ... several updates later the "Thunderbird" locomotive moved the stricken train onwards and we were free to go, some 50 minutes late. Needless to say, I had missed my connection to London, but I consulted the LNER app and found that there was an alternative connection a few minutes after our likely arrival at Peterborough. It says something about the general reliability of our trains, contrary to popular belief, that I had never before been in the position of missing a train for which I had a train-specific Advance ticket, so I put the system to the test on arriving at Peterborough. I went straight to the customer service desk by the ticket barriers and explained my position, and the helpful person at the desk wrote me a note, stamped with the LNER stamp showing the date and time, allowing me to use my ticket on the next train. Simple! And I would be only about 40 minutes late into London, which was within the "slack" time that I had allowed, so I could relax and enjoy the rest of the day ...

Railway-wise the rest of the day went pretty well. Although I had no seat reservation on the train I caught there was no shortage of available single First Class seats, and the train was a British Rail InterCity 225 set, one of my favourite trains, of which there are very few still operating. Sitting back in comfort I was offered breakfast, choosing the bacon roll to supplement the cereal I had had before leaving home. Orange juice and coffee accompanied this nicely. By now the drizzle had stopped and the sun was shining: it really was now a lovely day for a train ride. The journey was punctuated by a series of phone calls (themselves occasionally punctuated by passing through the tunnels north of London) from my wife about the breakdown of our washing machine. It was one of those mornings, after all. One thing led to another in respect of the washing machine and I don't want to bore myself typing it out, nor to bore you reading it! Suffice it to say that our conversations did not entirely solve the problem.

Last time I attended one of these meetings I walked from Kings Cross to the venue in Southwark, but my health condition this time meant that this was not such a good idea, and in any case the delay to the journey would have left insufficient time for that anyway. I popped over to St Pancras International station to buy my packed lunch from Marks & Spencer  and to buy a refill pack of St Pancras Blend tea from Fortnum & Mason - our favourite tea, which had run out. I was pleased to note that F&M were now using sustainable compostable bags instead of the heavy plastic ones they used to use.

Sub-tropical Southwark!
So, not wanting to walk so much this time I took the Underground Northern Line direct to the Borough station from Kings Cross St Pancras and walked the short distance from there to my meeting. In days gone by I'd have used an A to Z Atlas for this walk, but nowadays the Maps app on my iPhone does the job, and with the walk set up on that my Apple Watch prompts me at every turn. It really is brilliant. And the weather remained sunny and warm, a lovely day for a trip.

It is as well that I enjoyed the trip, because although the travel was now going well, we had not yet finished with "one of those mornings", for when I arrived it transpired that our convenor who was going to chair the meeting and had the agenda was unable to be present: she had injured herself in a fall and was not well enough to travel. Enough of us had enough information between us to have a worthwhile meeting, but not quite as worthwhile as we had been hoping. Our last meeting had been remote on Zoom, so it was in any case good to be together and we did accomplish enough to justify being there. I declined the coffee and biscuits, having had coffee and a bacon roll already. We had our packed lunches together as planned while continuing our discussion, but once this was over and our brief report agreed we felt that it was time to disperse, about an hour earlier than we had planned. I was glad to have the extra time because it had been going to be a bit tight to catch my train home and now I would be able to take it much easier.

I walked back to the Borough station; it is one of those few Underground stations to have lifts rather than escalators, and just as on my outward journey the lift was very quick and efficient: no hanging around waiting. There were some delays on the Northern Line but a train came soon enough, the delays showing more in crowded trains than in longer journeys, but after a couple of stops I found a seat. Sometimes the sunflower lanyard gets you a seat, sometimes it doesn't.

Back at Kings Cross St Pancras with time in hand, and tea already bought, I decided to take a little time taking photographs and video of St Pancras International station which I could file and use to illustrate my blog posts describing international train journeys when I quite often find myself not in a position to take good pictures. Then I made my way across to Kings Cross and ... at first I felt it was still "one of those days" when I saw the entrance from the concourse to the First Class lounge was barricaded, but I thought it might be worth trying the entrance off the bridge across to the platforms and yes, that was available. I presume the lift from the concourse must have been out of order, but there was no notice advising of the alternative entrance, or, at least, not one I noticed. Relaxing with a cold drink I waited for my train to be announced, the 15:30, the one through train per day to Glasgow, which was surprisingly uncrowded, in First Class at least. Now I was expecting a decent dinner at home later, so I was fairly abstemious with the on-board catering and just ordered the crumpets - these would have been great with tea but the hot drinks are not served until later (too late, indeed, for those leaving the train at Peterborough) so I took the offered cold drink, rosé wine on this lovely warm sunny day. It was all very good. Incidentally, when booking my seat for this train journey I chose a seat towards the rear (the London end) of the First Class section, for that is where the at-seat service begins on an Azuma and if my journey is short it does help to be among the first to be served so that I am not still eating when leaving the train! Avoid Seat 1, where it still exists, if you want a view; Seat 2 is great.

And so to the change of train at Peterborough. It was no longer a lovely day for travelling, for there it was raining steadily and quite hard at times. I sat in the platforms 6/7 waiting room and did a few online jobs that needed attention. The train to Stamford, like the one from London, was on time and I shared my location with my wife who kindly came to meet me at Stamford rail station to drive me home. By then the rain had stopped, but with my recent health issues I was glad to have a ride home.

In spite of all the issues it had a been a great day. I have not been out much lately, and to take a train ride on such a lovely day (south of Stevenage, anyway!) was good in itself. To have met my friends was also good in itself in spite of the absence of some, including our convenor. There are more short train trips to come soon, to Lincoln and to Nottingham, but then the next big one, to Interlaken! Hopefully they will happen on a lovely day for a train ride ...

* "when nothing seems to go right"

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Travel Plans for 2024, at last!

More Railway Adventures Await

Well, the King and the Princess of Wales have both told the world about their cancer diagnosis, and so perhaps it’s time I admitted to my own as an explanation of why it has been so quiet on this weblog recently. I am just coming to the end of four weeks of radical radiotherapy during which time I have not been able to travel and have not liked to make many plans in case the side effects prevented me from going. Now, as I am in the last couple of days with side effects not too bad, my head is full of possibilities for when the weather improves! Coinciding with the season of Lent has meant that the dietary deprivations have not affected me as much as they would have at Easter, and the rainy weather has reduced the annoyance at not being able to travel.

Meanwhile there are two exciting plans that I do already have for some train travel this year: a Great Rail Jouneys escorted tour to Switzerland, including the new Golden Pass Express, which was booked before I had the diagnosis and is well after the side effects should have disappeared, and an independent trip to Venice, returning as far as Paris on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, booked recently but with confidence that I should be fit by then. In anticipation of the Venice trip, I was given not one but two Lego Orient Express kits for my birthday! I shall be able to make up a train with four coaches instead of the standard two … And building it is something I can be doing on those afternoons when the post-radiotherapy fatigue sets in. I hope that on the Swiss trip I shall be able to visit Meiringen and the Reichenbach Falls, still on “the list” at present.

We have also been invited to visit our friends in Chichester for a theatre evening, so although the train tickets are not yet booked that is definitely another adventure to look forward to. And I can now begin planning a few more! There are so many possibilities that have been put off by one issue or another, and it’s also time I saw some of my family: where to start is going to be the difficult decision!

Thursday 15 February 2024

Don't Drink and Drive!

A Christmas Party by Bus

Each winter holiday some friends come and stay with us for a few of the twelve days of Christmas, arriving soon after Boxing Day and returning on or soon after New Year's Day. The last couple of years we have all travelled together to a relative's home in Helpston, a village between Peterborough and our home in Stamford. (The Helpston which was the home of the poet John Clare, very popular in these parts.)

We go for lunch which is a drawn out affair with plenty of fun ... and no-one wants to be "Des," the designated driver, but that is fine because there happens to be a bus service between Stamford and Peterborough which serves Helpston, and, indeed, stops very close to the end of the road where our relative lives (not so close to our house, but that is not a problem because we do need exercise with all the feasting that happens at that time of the year). Indeed, I have long maintained that one of the big advantages of using public transport is the incidental exercise you get compared with the "door-to-door" service expected of car travel: I do not need to spend time and money on gym membership!

This year our local bus company, Delaine Buses, has slightly improved its Saturday timetable by adding one more service at the end of the day to match the weekday service, which made a difference to us because on those days between Christmas and New Year the Saturday timetable was being used every day on our route and so we were able to return home an hour later than we have done in previous years. As I have often remarked concerning service changes: if a bus or train runs we shall use it; if it doesn't we can't! Our bus out to Helpston was pretty busy (well, five of us helped!), and the last bus back was fairly well loaded, too. This is a popular route linking several villages to Peterborough and to Stamford, and a pleasant ride, too, during daylight. (I am sure it could stand an even better service, with later buses and peak-time frequency enhancements, but this is something that Delaine do not seem to do.)

We had a great time and we returned home happy and content - with no-one concerned about their driving and without having to cram five of us into the confines of our car. Four of us travelled free of charge on passes of various kinds, too, which was a bonus.