Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Here and There for Easter

Getting Around Without the Car

St Mildred's, Addiscombe, partly prepared for
the commemoration of Jesus' last supper
on Maundy Thursday
My first Easter since retiring as a parish priest presented an immediate challenge and an opportunity - and it was hard to know what do with our first chance to go away for Easter for forty years! Ironically the last time we did go away for Easter it was probably to the place where we now live, to visit my parents. We looked around at which cathedrals might be offering the sort of services we would like to attend and had eventually settled on York. I had got as far as choosing a hotel and noting when the train tickets would be available, but plans were changed when our friends invited us to stay with them "some time in the Easter Holiday", and with the late date this year the best time seemed to be the Easter weekend itself, and is he is a priest that solved the "where do we worship" question, too.

We planned to travel on Maundy Thursday, attend their church that evening and on Good Friday, spend Saturday with our daughter who lives nearby, Sunday with them (including the Easter Day church service) and leave on Monday via our eldest grandchild's birthday party. It happened that we saw all of our children and grandchildren somehow last weekend as well as our best friends. But this is a travel blog, and how we got to all these places during one of the busiest times of the year for leisure travel is what I need to write about here.

Our original plan, with Easter eggs and birthday presents to carry as well as four nights' luggage, had been to drive down but the more we thought about the practicalities of driving to west London on Easter Monday and crossing the Thames on Maundy Thursday the harder I worked on a method of packing the gifts for travel by rail! It the event it worked well: I simply took the small suitcase which slides over the handle of my wheeled case for some of the gifts, and we had a shopping bag for the rest. The very warm, dry weather helped a lot, eliminating the need for thick sweaters and waterproofs. By the time all this decision-making was done, it was getting a bit late to buy Advance tickets, but on the other hand we need not be too fussy about when we travelled, so I was still able to get First Class singles each way at a very decent price. All we needed was tickets to and from London: our travel around the capital was by Oyster card.

As usual, I booked standard class singles between our local station and Peterborough from where we travelled First Class to Kings Cross. We travelled over lunchtime and were plied with the usual included sandwiches, fruit and cake with wine and coffee on our way there.

Our friends are in Addiscombe, Croydon, and so from Kings Cross we walked across to St Pancras - there was a little bit of shopping to do there - this station is a great shopping centre in itself - before getting the Thameslink train down to East Croydon. The new twelve-coach trains on that route are so spacious and we have never struggled for a seat; they even have displays showing how busy each coach is, so that no-one needs stand if there is room somewhere. Some say the seats are uncomfortable, but I found them very comfortable - but perhaps I like seats a bit harder than some. The central stretch of Thameslink through central London is never fast, but one does get to see some great sights, especially from Blackfriars station, then the train moves on quickly from London Bridge to its next stop at East Croydon where we left it to make its way down to Gatwick and Brighton.


The view of the City from our train at Blackfriars
At East Croydon we discovered that the tram service was disrupted by work on the tracks but the trams were operating as far as Addiscombe, so we were able to arrive in good time by the expected route. When we left the tram, staff were there at Addiscombe tramstop to advise through passengers on where to go for their replacement bus for the rest of their journeys. I was able to ask about what we should do on Saturday, when we were due to take the tram to Beckenham Junction en route to Orpington to visit family. You can read the solution in a following paragraph. The trip to Orpington became a bit of an adventure, but Transport for London arrange these things so well that it all ran very smoothly.

Worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday was suitably moving and evocative, preparing the way for the celebration on Sunday, and apart from that we did little but enjoy our friends' company. On Saturday we were due to have lunch with the family in Orpington with a restaurant table booked for 12:30, and with a replacement bus to catch it was hard to predict how long the journey would take, so we left with plenty of time in hand, just to be safe. The bus arrived fairly soon after we arrived at the stop and although it called close to every tramstop on the route it stopped nowhere else and made quite good time - not as fast as a tram but not too bad, and it interesting to see from the top deck so many streets we'd only seen from our car before. The bus took us as far as Birkbeck where we transferred to the tram for the last short stretch of the journey to Beckenham Junction. I had checked the timetable in advance, and at the station checked that the trains were all running to time, so I knew that we now had over twenty minutes before the train to Orpington, so we took a little walk around the town centre at Beckenham. We had driven through here so many times and thought it looked nice, and now we were able to see it properly - it was good to have had the time to do that: there is more to travel than just arriving quickly.

We were soon on our way again through the leafy outer suburbs and arrived at Orpington with plenty of time for morning coffee (at 12:00 noon!) at Caffe Primo in the High Street after the walk from the station before we met the others for lunch at the brilliant A Mano Italian restaurant, a little way along the street.

While we were there a little extra trip was slipped into the day's schedule involving a bus to the edge-of-town shopping centre to the north of the town. The great thing about cities, and especially London, is that we can get anywhere without needing our car, even when the trip is a last-minute idea. So convenient was the bus service that after a very brief wait we were taken to the shops and then afterwards were able to take another bus from there to our daughter's home for the exchange of Easter presents - we were transporting several of the rest of the family whom we would be seeing on Monday.

So far, so good. By train, tram and bus we had taken all the trips were needed and things were going really well. From the stop near the house we took a bus straight to the station and boarded a train back to Beckenham Junction to begin the "interesting" trip back to Addiscombe. When we walked over to the tramstop at Beckenham Junction, however, the trip began to look even more of an interesting adventure, for the service was suspended because of damage to the overhead electric supply. As ever, TfL managed the matter very well and staff at the tramstop advised us to take a train to Birkbeck from where the replacement bus was still running. We went back to the rail station to find a train about to leave: touching-in with our Oysters we dashed onto the train and I think we were probably at Birkbeck quite a bit sooner than the tram would have been! Once there the rest of the trip went much the same as the way out - and we were there in time for the Easter Eve service which we had not been sure we would be.

The empty tomb of Easter morning
Easter Sunday was Easter Sunday: church and chocolate, Champagne and sunshine; and not much more. We did complete the jigsaw puzzle that had been on the go since before our arrival!

And so home on Easter Monday via the fourth birthday party in west London ... we were given a lift by car to East Croydon station, although we did notice that the tram service had begun running again, so we could have gone that way if we had chosen to. There was a train to London Victoria due within a couple of minutes and our idea was to take the District Line Underground from there to Hammersmith, which was near where we needed to be. Unfortunately I had omitted to check the status of the Underground lines and discovered that the District Line was suspended in that section for Bank Holiday engineering work, so we had to go via two of the deep-level tube lines, changing at Green Park, which has some long walks. Had I realised we could have gone a different way. Still, it was yet another adventure!

After the party there was a short family gathering and then we made our way home the usual way via the Hammersmith and City Line, which was working normally, and LNER from Kings Cross. There was a weekend menu in First Class, so no wine with our sandwiches, but that was just as well healthwise, given the weekend we'd just had! The train was a little late getting to Peterborough - signalled in behind a stopping train through Huntingdon - so we missed our intended connection to Stamford, but fortunately there was a another less than half an hour later. I am discussing this matter with Network Rail because that train from London is so frequently delayed that I do wonder about the practicality of the timetable. We'll see how that goes, but in any case we had a great time with family and friends and some enjoyable rides by train, tram and bus. We felt no temptation to try the car in London again, for delays and disruptions are no less likely to occur with the car.

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