Monday, 25 August 2014

An Evening in the City

For a Lincolnshire town, Stamford has an excellent rail service. We have hourly reliable, comfortable trains to and from useful places like Leicester, Birmingham, Cambridge and Stansted Airport as well as Peterborough where we can change for London and the north. One real drawback is that although the train service starts quite early in the morning it does not continue very late into the evening, so trips to London or Birmingham cannot go on beyond about 8.30pm. (There is a campaign to get this shortcoming fixed, and to have the service beefed up to half-hourly, an online petition to Parliament just having closed.)

So, when I was invited to attend the induction and institution of a friend as Vicar of a parish in the City of London I could only accept if I could find accommodation in London for the evening. Having other friends already in London I arranged to stay with them, always a nice thing to do anyway, and set about shifting my day off and arranging a trip to London including a visit to the London Transport Museum (for which I had an annual ticket, bought when passing through on my way to Paris last autumn!), lunch with the friend with whom I would be staying in the evening, some photography around London and the church service at St Michael's, Cornhill followed by the trip out to Croydon for my overnight stay. I would be back in time for my first meeting at half past noon the following day.

My camera bag on my table; cyclists beyond!
Tickets were bought via the East Coast website, earning some Reward Points towards my next free trip (just booked: first class to Newcastle for a short break - will be blogged in due course!), standard class singles to and from Peterborough with first class singles each way between Peterborough and London Kings Cross. I was glad I had booked early. Both trains on the way there were busy because a stage of the Tour de France was starting from Cambridge that day and was to end in London! Some on my train for Peterborough were on their way to the start, and many on the London train were on their way to see the finish, and conversation on the London train was about bicycles almost all the way ... but I had my individual table seat and spent my time doing my own things - sorting photographs and writing entries for this blog, I think! As usual with East Coast complimentary light refreshments were served, beginning with coffee as soon as I had sat down - full meals are not available south of Peterborough or on short journeys, but at 10.15am who wants a meal anyway?

As always in London I used my Oyster card to travel onward to Covent Garden where I would visit the London Transport Museum and meet my friend for lunch. Oyster guarantees the cheapest fares available and applies a daily cap equivalent to the day Travelcard price. I have arranged for mine to be automatically topped-up from a credit card account so that I neither have to visit shops to buy credit for the Oyster account nor risk the money being taken from my bank account unexpectedly if the balance is low. It makes travel in London so simple.

I had all the time I wanted at the museum and in its gift shop, and took some "street" photographs around the former Covent Garden Market, now a shopping and restaurant area. There was a conjuror out on the street near the Opera House, and another in one of the courtyard-style restaurants in the former market building.



We were meeting for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien and sat outside under a parasol on a baking hot sunny lunchtime. After eating we decided to go for a stroll by the river and have a drink at a bar which my friend knew near London Bridge ... this was how we encountered the crowds trying to see the end of the Tour de France stage. As the race was taking place along a large stretch of the north bank of the Thames, getting anywhere near the river was not easy through the crowds, but we did manage. The sun went in. Then the rain started. People were nevertheless pouring out of their offices to try to find a place to watch the race, and then the rain became heavier. We sheltered in an office doorway and watched other people fail to see the Tour de France which eventually swept past at an incredible speed - we simply heard the cheers rise and fall as the riders soared past! the rain stopped and people drifted back to their offices and we resumed our search for The Oyster Shed, our target bar. Soon we heard loudspeakers requesting everyone to clear the race route for more cyclists were about to pass. With their motor-car escort with sirens and flashing lights two tail-end cyclists streaked past too fast to see them properly and that was the end of the Tour de France for today!

Not far now to our pint, with a view across the Thames to Southwark Cathedral, The Shard (and the Old Thameside Inn on the south bank where we'd often met before).











We parted company until the evening and after another short time taking photographs I made my way to Cornhill and sat awaiting the start of my other friend's induction service, at which the Bishop of London was to officiate and preach. St Michael's, Cornhill, is one of those churches in the City of London with a parish with virtually zero resident population but a lunchtime ministry to the office workers and bankers during the week and a Sunday congregation drawn from around London who like its so-called "Book of Common Prayer" worship style, although frankly it just looked old-fashioned to me rather than real prayer book, but perhaps that's not a topic for a travel blog!

The church was absolutely packed and the service most encouraging and uplifting. It took me ages to get through the crowd to the exit at the end and I could not get anywhere near the refreshments, but I was still going strong from the lunch so perhaps that was OK and I made my way through the fascinating narrow streets of the City to London Bridge and the train to East Croydon for my overnight stay. Many trains run fairly fast from London to East Croydon and it did not take long to find the one I wanted. Indeed, there was one about to depart and I ran to the platform and boarded just as it was about to go. From East Croydon station I took a tram three stops to where my hosts for my overnight stay live - all covered by my pay-as-you-go Oyster card. A pleasant evening spent with friends and a good night's sleep and breakfast and I'm back on the tram in the morning to travel back to Stamford. I had never caught a train into London from East Croydon in the morning peak before. I had expected a train to St Pancras from where I'd walk to Kings Cross for my train home - I needed to catch a specific train from Kings Cross because I was travelling on an Advance ticket, but I had plenty of time in hand. Just as well: the train I caught was a very slow one going a long way round and stopping at lots of places! A peak-only route, I think. It would have been quicker to catch a fast to London Bridge or Victoria and get the Underground from there, but in hot weather I try to avoid the Underground if I can. No matter, I arrived at St Pancras with ample time to await my train to Peterborough.

East Coast's 10:08 departure whisked me to Peterborough in 51 minutes, light refreshments included, and I waited for the connecting Cross Country train for Stamford, and here encountered the other, less significant shortcoming of our train service: trains every 60 minutes often leave us waiting for over half an hour for the connection, and if we had a half-hourly service we'd be home 30 minutes earlier. Somehow the tremendous speed with which we get to Peterborough seems a bit of a waste if the time gained is then spent sitting around at Peterborough station instead of in Stamford. I just have to remind myself, though, that it is all very much better than driving in so many ways and with my Senior Railcard (or Two Together Railcard when travelling with my wife) and advance booking I can almost always afford first class for the main section of the trip. While it is not always completely hassle-free we have very seldom had any real problems and nearly all our journeys have been on time (or even several minutes early), whereas the roads are becoming more and more congested and each improvement to then generates more traffic which then requires more road works to improve it again. The railways are not immune from closure for engineering works (hence the postponement of a parish trip to Canterbury a few months ago) but at least we find out about it in time and at least it does result in a lasting improvement when it is done.


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