Saturday 7 March 2020

An Interesting Exhibition ... and an Interesting Way Home

Rail Excursion to a Unique Exhibition

We travelled to London a couple of weekends ago on "grandparent duty," looking after two of our granddaughters while their parents went away for a night. It was unfortunate that it was a weekend when Kings Cross station was closed for some of the upgrade work on the East Coast Main Line, so we had to find a different way home - getting there on Friday was normal, but returning on Saturday evening was another matter. Although we did not need to be there on Friday before the end of school, we took the opportunity to visit the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery while we were in London, so we set off during the morning with the 09:00 to Peterborough, where we had time for our complimentary hot chocolate at the Great Northen Hotel coffee lounge before taking a LNER train to Kings Cross, on which we enjoyed our coffee and biscuits before arrival in London.

Before going on to Chelsea for the exhibition, I had one little task at Kings Cross, which was to connect my new Senior Railcard with my Oyster Card, so that my discount would apply to my travel in London (for the three year's of the railcard's validity) as well as my travel to and from London. It took a few moments to find a free member of staff to do that for me, and then we were on our way to Sloane Square. There we had our lunch in the top-floor restaurant at Peter Jones department store and then walked to the Saatchi Gallery, about four minutes away along the Kings Road. We had timed tickets and arrived well within the half-hour "window" of our ticket time and had to queue (in the rain!) for the security check. Security was tight, for this exhibition was of some of the striking artefacts from within the tomb of King Tutankhamun, being shown for the last time outside Egypt where a new museum is being built to hold them in perpetuity. The gallery was very firm about limiting what we could take in and we had to have minimal weekend luggage in what I think of as handbags (including gifts for the children!), but it did mean that we were pretty swift in getting about! Just as well, not only did it take us a while to get into the exhibition, but there was a lot of it and it was fascinating. I learnt a lot about the politics of ancient Egypt and about the twentieth-century search for the tomb. The exhibition is well worth seeing, whether your interest is in art, ancient religion, history, geography, or just seeing something amazing that you may never see again!

Leaving the exhibition we made our way to Hammersmith, met one granddaughter from school and one from nursery and spent the evening and next day with them, hampered by weather from time to time but very happy to have the chance to spend time with these two, whom we cannot get to see all that often.

Saturday evening came and with it our son and his wife and relief from our duties, and we set off for home, a journey that would be taking an hour or so longer than usual: an adventure on a line we had never used before!

We began with the usual Hammersmith & City Underground train to Kings Cross St Pancras but this time instead of turning right for Kings Cross main line station we turned left for St Pancras. We had First Class Advance tickets for a Nottingham train and were travelling as far as Leicester where we were to change trains for the last connection to Stamford. We arrived in good time because we have to allow time for delays on the Underground but there were none and we had time on our hands - fine, we thought, we'll go the the First Class lounge as we normally do at Kings Cross, but we discovered that East Midlands Railway does not open its lounge at weekends like LNER does next door. We were already beginning to get an idea of how much less we were likely to get for our money on this route ... and we went to look around the shops. I had looked in advance at what the included catering would be and so we bought some salads from M&S at St Pancras to ensure that we would have something for supper, and then we saw that our train was boarding and made our way to the platform.

Since the big rebuild of St Pancras station, only the international trains now use the original, famous train shed; South Eastern and East Midlands trains only penetrate as far as the half-way point where the main entrance now is, under the new flat-roof extension, and East Midlands Railway seems to marshall its trains with the First Class accommodation at the north end of the train, so having walked a long way to the platform we now set off to the far end of the platform for our coach. We did wonder whether there might be crowds using these trains with the adjacent main line being closed for the weekend, but it was OK. In the coach with our reserved seats there was a little spare space, but the next coach was almost empty and so we decided to sit there instead and as soon as we were under way I went to the buffet counter to collect our refreshments, having found out from the website that at weekends there is no trolley service but we could show our tickets at the counter for our included refreshments, which turned out to be tea or coffee and biscuits, and a bottle of water, served with a smile by a very friendly bar host. The train itself was comfortable, smooth and swift, a classic British Rail High Speed Train.

The use of a different route home would have been really interesting in the summer when we could watch a different slice of the world sliding past our window, but now, in the winter darkness, there was nothing to see! Even the station names could not be read at the speed we were travelling (not up to East Coast Main Line speeds, but still pretty fast) and we only stopped once before Leicester so progress was hard to gauge, too. Soon enough we arrived on time at Leicester where we waited half an hour for our connection to Stamford for our home. Amusingly there were announcements about trains to and from London being busier than usual because of the closure of Kings Cross, but, of course, so would trains towards Peterborough be busier, but no-one mentioned that! And Leeds, and York, and Doncaster .... Our train came, we boarded it (Standard Class this time) and went home to Stamford. An unremarkable, and not too crowded, journey with Cross Country Trains and we were soon taking our familiar walk homewards across The Meadows at Stamford, with the steeple of All Saints' Church floodlit before us and welcoming us home.

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