Sunday 27 October 2019

London Never Ceases to Amaze

It started as a short visit to daughter and grandson in Orpington, although we did take a slightly different route by way of a change, but on the way back we popped in on an exhibition at ExCel and that's where it became amazing, as I shall explain shortly!

For a year now Thameslink have operated weekday half-hourly through trains between Peterborough and destinations in Surrey and Sussex, using a new tunnel to reach their subterranean platforms at St Pancras International inserted of terminating at Kings Cross. The trains go on to the usual Thameslink central London stations including London Bridge, which is the station from which we depart for Orpington. They stop at several stations between Peterborough and London, so they are not for those in a hurry, but it does mean there is less fuss crossing London,  with just one change of train.

We booked the tickets just a day in advance, Super Off-peak Day Single, standard class, a reasonable price. Catching the 14:00 train from Stamford to Peterborough we had plenty of time at Peterborough to go across to platform 1 where the London train was already waiting - the Thameslink trains start and end their journey here. There was plenty of space on the train: they are twelve coaches long and it was easy to find a seat where we could keep an eye on our luggage and enjoy the ride. The seats are firm but comfortable, similar to a good bus seat. We had plenty to read and the trip soon passed. We barely noticed the station stops until we got to London and had to get ourselves ready to leave the train at London Bridge.

We were going to use our Oyster Cards for the rest of the trip to Orpington, so we had to go out through the ticket barriers using our tickets to London, and then come back through again using our Oysters to ensure that we paid the correct fare for the journey. That took just a few seconds and we caught the very next train to Orpington, just a few moments after our arrival at London Bridge. Orpington was the train's first stop, so it was a quick and easy journey, then we walked down to the Premier Inn where we had a room booked for the two nights we were staying. All three trains were on time and our room was ready for us, and after unpacking we walked to our daughter's home for our little grandson's bedtime and our dinner. We spent the next day together and the third day, Saturday, it was time to leave. We had the day to ourselves and the plan was to speak some time in London. It so happened that there was an exhibition at ExCel (with a convention for those who wanted it) for those interested in family history research, RootsTech, and we had obtained free tickets for the exhibition only by email before leaving home. We were unsure how interesting it might be, but in fact it took my wife all the time we had to spare, while I stayed for some of the time as well.

So it was that on our return trip we alighted at London Bridge as usual but then took the Jubilee Line Underground to Canning Town where we were to change to the Docklands Light Railway to get to the ExCel Centre. The Underground train was packed, even though we had let the first one from London Bridge go without us (just one minute before) as it was so full. Some other passengers were in interesting costumes although the only one I recognised was a Jedi knight. Was there something on at ExCel, people were pondering, but I did not think RootsTech would draw such crowds, nor in such interesting clothes, although in London you can never be sure ... As we changed trains at Canning Town, people were being guided, in their hundreds, to the platforms for the DLR for what sounded like "Commicon", and several of them were interestingly attired. We began to realise that there was indeed something else on at ExCel - not a surprise as it is a big place and quite capable of mounting several events at the same time. The DLR train we boarded was an extra added to the schedule to help with the crowds, terminating at Prince Regent station for Comic Con, for so the comic convention was really called. Leaving the train at Prince Regent we were greeted by a Stars Wars fanfare from the public address system and herded off the station, urged not to take the time to touch out our Oysters as it would cause congestion. At the entrance to the exhibition centre, as the Comic Con visitors went their way to another door, there stood meeters and greeters in RootsTech t-shirts and we found ourselves in the right place. I have a feeling I would have been equally happy at either event, to be honest, possibly even finding more of interest at the other (it being so much bigger and more varied), and would not have been out-of-place in ordinary clothes for by no means everyone was dressed up, probably about half.

At the end of the day we made our way by the Docklands Light Railway to Bank station where we walked through to Monument station for the District Line to Kings Cross for our train home. This is probably not the quickest way to go but we had plenty of time in hand and the District Line is so much more pleasant to use than the Northern Line tube, especially at the Kings Cross end. We actually went via the shops at St Pancras for we had run out of Fortnum & Mason's St Pancras Blend tea and visited their shop to buy some more - they only sell it at their St Pancras shop! For the return trip we were booked on a fast LNER train with Advance First Class tickets as far as Peterborough, so at Kings Cross we were able to use the First Class Lounge to await its departure, with a very welcome cup of tea. The train left just a touch late and was quite full. We were served the usual light refreshments: sandwich, drinks (not alcohol at weekends), crisps, cake, biscuits.

At Peterborough we had to take a rail replacement bus service to Stamford because the railway line was closed for maintenance work, but I had known this when booking the tickets and had taken it into account when planning the journey. Not as quick and simple as the usual train, but it was a very comfortable coach rather than an actual bus and gave us a smooth ride to the station in Stamford where those going further would be able to take the waiting train to Birmingham while we we set off across the Meadows on our walk home.

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