Tuesday 26 November 2013

Parish Pilgrimage to Lincoln

When a group from All Saints' travelled to Ely earlier in the year for our first tentative rail adventure there was much enthusiasm for further trips and I resolved to try to do two per year: a shortish one in the autumn or winter and a longer one in the spring or summer. So for this year's autumn trip I arranged a visit to our own cathedral at Lincoln on 16th November, the eve of St Hugh's Day, St Hugh being the Bishop who had the cathedral built after the Norman original was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake. I was graciously allowed to preside at the 12:30 celebration of the Eucharist at St Hugh's Shrine, and the trip was organised around this pivotal event.

We began with the 08:01 train from Stamford to Peterborough where we connected with the 08:33 direct to Lincoln via Spalding and Sleaford. Good views across the fens were had once we were clear of Peterborough: across to Crowland Abbey between Deeping and Spalding, and the enormous bulk of the Bass Maltings as we approached Sleaford. North of Sleaford the train stops at two very small stations opened in the 1970s and now very popular with people going into Lincoln and into Sleaford for shopping and other purposes. As we drew near to Lincoln the view of the cathedral towering over the city was awesome, even through the November mists. Arrival was on time at about 10:00 - not a fast trip but an interesting one.

All of us managed the walk up the hill to Exchequergate and through to the cathedral where we were warmly greeted. Most opted for a guided tour while I sought out a verger to make the arrangments for the service. No-one seemed quite sure whom they were expecting because I had just been written into the diary as "Dean of Stamford" which did not mean a lot to most of the staff! I had time for a quick look around to ensure that the plans for a later walk would not be affected by road works or similar and thenit was time to worship. Although I had often taken part in services at the cathedral I had never led one before and this was quite as experience: no two churches ever do things quite the same way and I had to keep my wits about me (it was gratifying to be approached at the station several hours later by a stranger who had been there and thanked me for the service, so I must have got it about right!).

After the Eucharist we had lunch at the cathedral's refectory and then set off on a brief tour of one quarter of the Roman city wall. There is not much of it left and most is only foundations, but the section from the east gate, by the exit from the refectory, to the north gate is easy to follow and there are information boards here and there. Regrettably the north gate is having some substantial repairs done and is covered in hoardings so we did not see much of it, the only Roman arch in the country still in use by road traffic.

We then walked back towards the cathedral and castle along Bailgate, stopping to look at the well in the Roman forum area and the site of St Paul's Church, probably founded by St Paulinus on his way to York to become the first Bishop there. we all went our separate ways, meeting again at the station for the next part of the adventure. Some of us had coincided near a city centre pub in the meantime and had a swift half together before strolling down to the station.

The return journey was via a different route, for a the direct service between Lincoln and Peterborough does not operate in the evenings and in any case, real adventures shouldn't go the same way back. We travelled to Newark castle on a Nottingham-bound train and walked along the street to Zizzi's restaurant where our supper table had been booked. They were aware that we had a train to catch and despite being very busy managed to feed us comfortably in time and we were able to walk through the town to Newark Northgate station with no haste to get our next train, a London-bound East Coast express for Peterborough where we changed for our train home to Stamford. All the return journey was in the dark, of course, so there was little to see but trains ...

If you live near Stamford, Oakham or Peterborough and are interested in joining me on some of these day trips, please see the "Come with me!" Page.

Monday 11 November 2013

To business!

Back in the 1970s when some of us first became aware of environmental degradation and the impending shortage of fossil fuels it seemed like an impossible task to get politicians interested in anything but more and more cars as far as transport was concerned. I was ridiculed at a public meeting by the then head of Planning at Lincolnshire County Council for suggesting that efforts be made to encourage cycling ("It'll be skateboards next," he jeered - many a true word ...). This is all over now and "green" has become trendy, but so often it is lip-service. I once attended a meeting in a town hall about bus services and was the only person there who had actually arrived by bus! When planning the diocesan clergy conference I was anxious that clergy from around the diocese should know how to get to the venue by train and bus and not assume that they had to drive - which meant telling them to ignore the advice on the venue's own literature which was out-of-date and misleading! We get lots of advice about "shrinking the footprint" and all that, but we have a long way to go to get back to he days when it was assumed that some, at least, would routinely take the train. We use the excuse that Lincolnshire is a rural county, and it is, but it still has a fair number of rail stations and a lot of people live in the populated bits (oddly!) where the stations are located, and a lot can be driven to those stations instead of driving themselves all the way to wherever a conference is being held, or can get a bus to them: for most it is an excuse, not a reason! We can switch off our lights and reuse our envelopes, but until we stop thinking "travel = car" (or, worse, "travel = 'plane") we are not really being "green". It is hard to manage completely without a car, and I do have one, but it is not hard to get our mileage down by several thousand per year if we want to do it.

Last October I was going to The Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick, Derbyshire, for the National Conference on the Deanery, and for one person travelling alone it is considerably cheaper on expenses, as well as kinder to the environment - and more fun for that person, in my opinion - to travel by train and bus. Now, from Peterborough (and indeed from Grantham) it is a through train ride to Alfreton from where there is a bus every fifteen minutes to the gates of the conference centre, but because of the way the connection times work, this is not the quickest way to get there from Stamford! Never one to take the easy way out when an adventure (which is also quicker) is in the offing, I went the recommended way, from Stamford to Leicester, then Nottingham and Alfreton - the bit between Nottingham and Alfreton is on a train which has called at Peterborough but too early for the one from Stamford to have connected, so going this way saves almost an hour! Although I had to change twice, each leg was still long enough to get some useful work done between changes, a little reading of things in preparation for the conference, but mostly devising and typing up a draft Mission Area Plan document for the Deanery Synod . This planning process required quite a lot concentration and was best done away from the telephone (and internet!) at home anyway. As with so many "business" trips, the train in this case is not actually quicker than driving, but it is time that can be used rather than time wasted driving.

I left Stamford at 14:05 on a Friday afternoon on a Birmingham-bound train and after about 40 miuntes' work was ready to change trains at Leicester . The through tickets had naturally been bought in advance but were not for a specific train, and by buying them through East Coast's website I had earned some points towards my next free trip on their trains, too. My train to Nottingham was a main line East Midlands "Meridian" express from London St Pancras and was very comfortable for this part of the journey and I was soon able to get back to my index-of-deprivation calculations for the parishes of the deanery until Nottingham Castle came into view and I knew it was time to change again for Alfreton. This was quite an interesting change: although the train was a through service from Norwich to Liverpool, the section of route between Nottingham and Liverpool is much busier than the section south and east of Nottingham, so two additional coaches are added at Nottingham to the westbound trains, being taken off again from eastbound trains. When the train came in from Norwich (via Peterborough and Grantham), it buffered up to the two empty coaches waiting at the platform and the gangway between the two units was opened up, and so a four-car set departed for Liverpool via Sheffield and Manchester. My own journey on this train was a fairly short hop to Alfreton where I walked up to the road and waited for a Barton bus to Swanwick. Those who've lived in Stamford long enough will remember Barton's as the local transport provider here as well: it has changed a bit since those days and the bus served me well: it does fiddle around a bit in Alfreton but it gets there soon enough. One of these days I'll see if I'm quick enough to walk across Alfreton to catch an earlier bus the other side!

My return trip was on the Sunday afternoon. Sunday travel used to fraught with difficulty, but it is not so bad now. True, that is still the day when there can be disruption due to engineering work, but now it is taken into account when your journey is planned, so your travel advice applies on the day you travel, and there are still some lines which do not have services on Sundays, but there are not many now, and those that do generally start later but then run a decent service. Thus my journey back, which was not affected by works so far as I know, was much the same as my journey there - except that by now I had made a number of new friends and we travelled back some of the way together! Four of us gathered at Alfreton station and travelled to Nottingham and then three on to Leicester together, where I said farewell to my London colleagues and awaited my train to Stamford. So I did much less of the deanery plan on the way back, but continued to learn from the experiences of lay people from other deaneries in other dioceses. This is the other great feature of travelling this way: you do actually get to meet other people, and life is much less insular than sitting in ones own car listening to ones own CD collection and looking at the world as an observer rather than a participant.

This trip is one which would not have been possible in the 1970s, for the station at Alfreton was not there then and the hourly Norwich-Liverpool service did not exist. The "great car economy," as a later prime minister was to call it, was in full swing and it was assumed that railways woud continue to wind down and that buses were the last refuge for those who could not properly participate in society. Mercifully, the trend has reversed and railways are now carrying more passengers than ever and the opening or reopening of stations and even lines is gaining momentum: it is more complicated since privatisation but the pressure is relentless. (Meanwhile facilities for cyclists are growing and the rebuilt skatepark is about to open. Who looks ridiculous now?)

Saturday 2 November 2013

St Hugh's Eve Pilgrimage to Lincoln

Meanwhile the next planned All Saints' parish outing is now just two weeks away, to Lincoln Cathedral on the eve of St Hugh's Day. The party will travel out via Peterborough, Spalding and Sleaford in the morning, with great views of the Lincolnshire fens. After worship at the Cathedral and as much of a visit as each person desires, there will be some time to look at other things in Lincoln and the party will return via Newark (where there will be a stop for supper), Grantham and Peterborough.

Those not on the trip will be able to follow progress at @SaintsOnline