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 décor 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.