Wednesday 5 August 2020

Back on Track at Last

Chichester and the "Costa Geriatrica"

Travel finally got back under way this month, with my annual short break in Chichester by rail. I was quite nervous about booking it, with different Train Operating Companies applying varying rules to keep staff and passengers safe from Covid-19, as well as being out of practice with buying tickets - besides the issue of reduced services and short-notice changes to them.

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport in England

I booked using Cross Country’s train tickets iPhone app but was not offered an electronic ticket, presumably because Thameslink and Southern cannot cope with them, so I had to collect paper tickets at Stamford station. The hotel, the same as last year’s, had been booked for many months and I had called to check that all was well with that before I started buying tickets. I had feared I might have to drive and I had not been looking forward to competing for road space with everyone else taking holidays in England this summer, but the railways were beginning cautiously to welcome people back and we gave it a go.

I decided just to go to Chichester this year for the few days we had already booked at the Chichester Harbour Hotel and not take the originally-planned few days on the Isle of Wight first; when I was booking, the ferries to the island were still uncertain and I did not want to end up needing to drive in order to get to an operating ferry. The simpler, the better. All ready to go, packing for the first time in ages and struggling to remember what I normally take, I woke on the morning of the trip to discover that a problem on Thameslink’s line through central London was causing major problems and we may have to cross London between termini by Underground, whereas we’d booked through London by Thameslink to minimise changes and avoid the crowds. By the time we boarded our first train at Stamford, wearing our face coverings, the problem had been fixed and Thameslink trains were running through London again but many trains and many staff were out of position and so we were over an hour late leaving Peterborough, having had to wait for a driver.

Some of this time was clawed back by our train missing out some stops north of London and we made our connection fairly smoothly at East Croydon as advised when I booked the tickets, but an hour late. It did not really affect our plans, and we still had time to unpack and have a cup of tea in our hotel room before setting off to meet our friends, socially-distanced in a pub, our first visit to a pub since February. I was impressed by the lengths to which the landlord had gone to keep customers safe and keep vital transmission to a minimum, but I don’t know whether he’s making a living from the number of customers he is getting.

Dinner was at the hotel restaurant in the first week of the government-sponsored half-price eating-out offer. It was nice to have money off the bill, but service was a bit slow as the poor waitress struggled to keep up with all the people she had to serve with just one barman for help.

The following day we went by bus (again, our first for many months) to East Wittering to join friends on their beach holiday as we always do. The morning was warm and sunny, the afternoon, spent on the beach, less so, and windy, so shorts were exchanged for jeans, and jackets added! A Spitfire flew past a few times, and a Chinook helicopter seemed to be engaged in some sort of exercise on the Solent which was interesting to watch. After dinner we returned to Chichester and our second night at our hotel. Social distancing was not quite so easy that day, but we had exclusive use of a towel for washing, were outside as much as possible and touched no-one. Tough, but we are becoming used to it now.

A drafty afternoon on the beach!

Before we left home I had sent a message to my scattered family to tell them we’d be away in Chichester for these few days, and one son wrote beck to say that he his family were in Worthing and could we meet up. This fitted rather well because the theatre trip originally planned for the third evening had been cancelled and we had been contemplating a trip along the coast with Worthing the most likely destination! Some things were meant to be, so to Worthing (well, West Worthing, actually) we went, had coffee on the seafront and then joined family for lunch at their Air B&B, which was wonderful, and then we all went to the beach together, with no need to wrap up warm this time! I must admit I quite liked Worthing, and not really in spite of its "retirement home" image, either, but rather, now that I am retired myself, because of it! There is a lovely new block of retirement apartments near the beach with all the usual shops, a café and a pub nearby and on a bus route .... but I digress! We travelled to Worthing and back by Southern Railway and the trips went well both ways. There was just enough space on the trains for us to keep a decent distance from other travellers, and plenty of space on stations, but we needed, as the government advises, to stay alert.

Returning to Chichester we bought snacks in town to have in our room for supper, having eaten so well at the family barbecue at lunchtime.

On our final morning we made sure we had a substantial breakfast, with the intention of not taking lunch with us on the train but waiting until we arrived at home to eat. The journey is really quite quick, but there is no catering on Thameslink trains even in normal times and with no substantial break in the journey there is no opportunity to buy anything once we start. I do think Thameslink are missing an opportunity here with such a long route, although perhaps not at present. The train never really filled up even on the London section, and I was shocked at how few cars were in the station car park at Peterborough: we are a very long way from being back to normal yet.

All three of our trains were on time on the return journey and both changes went very slickly, at Crawley and at Peterborough. The weather was beginning to warm up, with temperatures well over thirty degrees forecast for the next couple of days, and as well as preparing dinner, watering the garden was a priority for the evening when we reached home!

We enjoyed our break but I am really looking forward to the day we can stop wearing face-coverings on buses and trains. And it was not improved by the phone call from Great Rail Journeys while we were on the beach informing us that our escorted tour of Italy in October has had to be cancelled as so many others had dropped out. That means that all of my trips managed by others have now been cancelled and the only ones still taking place are ones I have arranged myself. Interesting ... perhaps it is time to plan another group outing! And meanwhile I need to claim Delay Repay for compensation for the late arrival on the outward journey.

1 comment:

  1. Update: I have now received my Delay Repay compensation for the outward journey: the full price of the tickets for that leg of the journey was refunded into my bank account by Thameslink as it was their train that was delayed.