Friday 31 January 2020

First Class from Lincoln

I do not travel to Lincoln as often as I used to do before I retired, but I have kept some interests there and occasionally have to attend meetings in the city. When I had to go this week I booked my tickets in advance so that I could use LNER’s new service between Peterborough and Lincoln, and I even managed to book First Class for the return leg, still saving money on the route I normally used to use via Spalding with East Midlands Railway. Not quite as quick, but I was hoping for rather more comfort than the single-car trains with insufficient legroom used on the other route.

On the way top Lincoln I was travelling Standard Class on one of LNER's legacy electric trains and I bought some lunch at Peterborough station while awaiting my connection. I had to change trains at Newark Northgate on this leg of the journey, so one more change that I used to have to make going the other way: through trains to and from Lincoln by LNER's route are only two-hourly, whereas the little East Midlands trains are slow but hourly. I was pleased at Newark to see that the connecting train to Lincoln, also provided by East Midlands Railway, now had two coaches and consequently was not overcrowded as they often used to be. As this train was going forward from Lincoln to provide the next service towards Peterborough via Spalding I could see that the shortage of coaches on that route was at last being addressed. I need no longer worry on that score if I chose in future to travel by that route.

My train arrived just a little early into Lincoln, as they often do, and I walked across to the bus station to ride up to the Cathedral and then walk round to my meeting, arriving nicely in time.

Early evening  at Lincoln Central
When my meetings were over and it was time to come home I walked down the hill to the station, having plenty of time before my LNER through train to Peterborough. Lincoln station was very busy with people going home from work, college and shopping, with a variety of local and regional trains going to all sorts of places, and not a single-car train in sight! Nor a "Pacer" unit with four-wheeled coaches; every train had improved beyond what we used to see here just a few weeks ago, and then, to cap it all, in came my train to Peterborough, a London-bound LNER "Azuma".

This was a brand-new class 800 5-car set operating a route which has been beefed-up from just once a day to five times, and I had a First Class ticket this time! The train cruised smoothly away from Lincoln station and into the night and I began catching up on email etc which had not received attention during my meetings, and before I knew it the train was stopping at Newark. I had been able to choose my seat reservation when I booked, and I had a single seat with table towards the end of a coach, very peaceful and convenient for the entrance, the luggage rack (which on this trip I did not actually need) and the toilet.

At Newark the diesel engines were switched off as the train was transferring to electric power for the rest of its run to London. On leaving Newark the at-seat catering trolley made its way through first class and I was served sandwiches and white wine - I was to dine at home later so I did not need any more than that, but I do hope the cooked meal was available for those going all the way to London (and I have no reason to believe it was not).

Although Azumas are no faster than the older electric trains in terms of top speed (both are capable of 140mph and restricted to 125 mph by line speed limits), the acceleration is far superior and departures are always quite a thrill; further, any delays are normally made up with very little difficulty and early arrivals are common, until the entire fleet has been updated and the timetable is rewritten to take the better performance into account, that is!

It was a good run and well worth the effort of booking in advance to grab the First Class journey home for less money than I usually pay for Standard! With East Midlands Railway promising a better timetable for its Lincolnshire services from December 2020 and the possibility of one or two more LNER services to Lincoln as well, the county is finally getting something approaching a decent train service. There will still be scope for more improvements, of course, with better trains to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes badly needed, but whether anything can be done about the east Lincolnshire coast and Boston is another matter.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Exploring Cambridge

Day out by train with friends

Our friends who stay at New Year most years were able to stay a little longer than usual this time, and we were glad to have the extra time together. What to do with the extra day? I thought a day out on New Year's Eve, home in time to get ready to see in 2020 would be the best way forward and suggested a day in Cambridge: it is just over an hour away by through train so it is well-suited to a short day out and while we have not been there for a while (other than hospital appointments, but that is hardly the sort of adventure we like to plan!), our friends do not know it well at all. The suggestion was eagerly accepted and off we went mid-morning on 31st December.

We all had Senior Railcards so I had to gather us all together at the ticket office to buy the tickets. The others all needed PlusBus tickets, too, since a bus ride is almost essential in Cambridge to get from the station to most of the places we'd need to go - I have a Senior Citizen's concessionary pass and do not need to pay for my bus travel. Our outlay was reduced a bit by a rail travel voucher I had been sent in compensation for a delayed train earlier in the year, which was nice.

Our train to Cambridge turned up just about on time but was only two coaches. We did not all manage to sit together for the whole journey but we were able to sit as couples, and once passengers thinned out a bit at an intermediate stop we were able to sit around a table together - had we planned the trip a day in advance we could have reserved our seats, but even then it is a matter of whether four together would still have been available.

Arriving at Cambridge we made our way to the bus stops where a fast (i.e. non-stop; they're still subject to Cambridge's traffic queues!) service was about to leave, and we were soon at Emmanuel Street in the heart of the city. By now it was certainly time for coffee, possibly time for lunch, and we began by making our way through the Grand Arcade shopping centre towards the Michaelhouse café where we have enjoyed refreshments before. At this time of the year it was not especially busy and we did decide to have lunch in the interesting surrounds of an ancient church which is now 90% restaurant with just a small area set aside for prayer. As always the food was excellent and the prices reasonable.

We then set off to visit places which would interest our friends, mostly colleges and churches. There were, not surprisingly given the day of the year, some disappointments with places that were closed, but there was quiet a lot we did see, too, and we took a walk behind Trinity College and along The Backs. After visiting Little St Mary's church we made our way to The Eagle public house (once, like a pub we have visited in Oxford, called The Eagle and Child; interesting ...) famous for being the watering hole of those who discovered the structure of DNA.

Cambridge is one of those towns, Like Bath, Stamford, York and (of course) London, where it is a joy simply to be there and walk around the streets. And so we did! And eventually it was time to take a bus back to the station to await our train home Being New Year's Eve the service ended early, but that was fine by us; we wanted to be home to get ready to see in the new year, and in any case it is tiring visiting a city in this way. We caught a train which on most working days would have been packed but was not so bad on such a day and we all managed to sit together around a table for the whole of the trip home. It had been a great day out and the Champagne, kindly provided by our friends, was waiting in the fridge ready to toast 2020 while we watched the London fireworks on TV.

What might 2020 bring in terms of our travels? Well, we have a trip to Italy booked with Great Rail Journeys, and a tour of Scotland with Belmond Royal Scotsman (a bit extravagant, that, celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary; we all not be spending that amount on a short break again), and so far our south coast summer holiday consists of a hotel booking in Chichester and nothing else! There is much more to plan yet, but proposed alterations to our house will keep us grounded for a few weeks. You'll just have to subscribe to this blog to follow where we go next!

Happy new year!