Friday 29 April 2022

Lincoln is Becoming a Habit!

To Lincoln by train again

Before I retired I often travelled to Lincoln on one sort of church business or another and tried to travel by rail whenever it was convenient. Then I could work on the way there and back, it was generally cheaper than car mileage (even when I needed a taxi to get to the meeting from the station) and, of course, was much better environmentally. In those days, though, trains were fewer and less frequent and were often inadequate and overcrowded, and about half the time I had to give in and travel by car.

Now it is much better and I can almost always use the train. LNER provide five direct, fast services via Newark between Peterborough and Lincoln as well as some needing a change at Newark, and East Midlands Railway now provides a roughly hourly service of direct trains throughout the whole day between Peterborough and Lincoln via Sleaford and Spalding. The only fly in the ointment at present is that the Cross Country service between Stamford and Peterborough still has a temporary Covid timetable with fewer trains operating to give me the connections into and out of the much better Lincoln services at Peterborough. 

On Monday I went to Lincoln for the day, arriving on time at 09:50 and taking a taxi for an 10:00 start at Edward King House, by the cathedral; this was by the direct East Midlands Railway service from Peterborough into which I made a neat connection from Stamford before the service gap began. That bit worked like a dream. My day finished on time at 15:00 and I was at the station in good time to board the 15:27 fast LNER train to Peterborough which would allow me to catch a connection to Stamford ... which is missing from the current timetable. The following East Midlands train would give me a 55 minute wait for the next connection, or I could take this LNER train and have an even longer wait for the same connection ... what to do? I took the LNER train ("a bird in the hand," and all that) and on arrival at Peterborough telephoned my wife who happened to be in the city with our car, and she was able to adjust her schedule and pick me up from the station. This involved some waiting about (which I'd have had to do anyway for the train), a slower ride than the train and me going along with what she was doing on the way home. I still got home earlier than I would have by waiting for the next train, but nowhere near as early as I should have done if the full timetable had been running.

There is no doubt that the train, if running, would have been the best option, but it wasn't. The railways are doing a lot to promote travel at present: advertising to remind us that travel is a goof thing to do and that the train is a good way to do it, half fares, even, to encourage us to try it, but we cannot travel on trains that don't run: give us our trains and we'll use them. No amount of posters or even cheap fares will work if we find "connections" of over an hour when we try to get home! All the trains I did use were on time, clean and comfortable and apart from the timetable gap I had a great trip. I look forward to it all being more normal, hopefully from mid-May when the next timetable revision takes place.

Wednesday 27 April 2022

London Transport Museum Depot, Acton

 A day out by train, seeing historic trains, buses and equipment

Knowing that we have quite enough possessions (apart from model railway kit, that is: no-one can ever have enough of that), my kind family tends to buy me either consumables (wine, chocolate and whisky being favourites) or experiences as gifts. This year for my birthday my son Ed in London took me on a day visit to one of the London Transport Museum Depot's open days: it was some weeks after my actual birthday, but the invitation came in time. Included were a brunch before the visit and pint afterwards, and very good weather was thrown in as well!

My day began with a walk down to Stamford station for the 09:03 Cross Country train for Peterborough, dressed in a shirt and jacket, no jumper or coat but a scarf and gloves against the coolness of an April morning. The idea was that I could stow the scarf and gloves when I was in London, with the expected warm, sunny weather, and they would be available if needed when I came home. For a trip like this my only luggage would normally be my camera bag, but the trip was complicated (as mine so often are!), this time with a basket of Easter gifts for the family and a birthday present for my granddaughter. I was quite pleased with keeping hold of all this stuff through the change of trains at Peterborough (smooth and on time) and alighting at London Kings Cross. Having had plenty of notice I travelled First Class from Peterborough with LNER and had to remind myself not to indulge in too much of the complimentary breakfast on board as I would be treated to brunch at the German Gymnasium on arrival in London. Coffee, orange juice and a pain-au-chocolat did nicely on the train. 

I arrived at Kings Cross a few minutes before Ed and waited in the glorious sunshine between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. This really is a very pleasant place now, totally different from the cramped and dirty place it used to be. It is still busy, of course, and there is still a building site adjacent to Kings Cross station, but there is plenty of space to sit and enjoy the space. There are even trees!

I had never been to the German Gymnasium before, but I had read about the conservation of the building and had seen that it had become a German-themed restaurant. The name pre-dated the use, the building having indeed been a gymnasium used by German sportsmen and been rescued as part of the St Pancras International rebuilding works a few years ago. I had the GG Breakfast from the menu, with sausages, of course. Packed with calories (now compulsorily printed on restaurant menus!) it would keep me going all day - or at least until a snack at tea time. As the weather was so good and the outdoor seating was on the sunny side of the building we sat outside and enjoyed our meal in the sunshine.

We took the Underground and just had time to drop off the Easter and birthday gifts at the family's home before we travelled on to Acton Town for the Museum Depot. For travel within London (apart from buses which I now get free of charge with my pensioners' pass!) i use an Oyster Card. Although it is now possible to use any contactless charge card to pay for travel in London (as in many other places) and TfL will still cap your fare at the daily Travelcard rate, for Senior Railcard holders an Oyster is still valuable as it can be linked to the railcard and give a reduction on TfL fares as well as railway fares.

We arrived at Acton Town and followed the signs to cross the road and enter the Museum Depot. This is where exhibits are kept which are not currently in the Museum itself, which is in Covent Garden, and where exhibits come for repair and servicing, but it is spacious enough to cope with visitors and open days are held from time to time. There was even an extensive gift shop, a second-hand model shop and an opportunity to volunteer to help at the museum, and most of the many people on duty there were volunteers.

We saw Underground trains, trams, buses and trolleybuses of various vintages and explored the development of transport in London. On a mezzanine level is a huge collection of signage of all sorts, mostly from the Underground railway, and below it a display of station and signalling equipment. Much was reminiscent of how I remember things from the last sixty years, and much was even older.

We took a break for tea and cake and then returned for an introduction to the enormous poster collection upstairs. Apparently specific day tours of the poster collection are held from time to time, and perhaps this may have to be a future trip objective. Finally we visited the gift shop and I came away with a London Transport puzzle book which I thought would keep us entertained on some of our longer continental train rides or if life at home ever became boring!

And so back to the real Underground for a train to Hammersmith - this is only one stop on the fast Piccadilly Line trains from Acton Town - and we repaired to a very pleasant pub there for a pint or two of (Cornish) ale, again, sitting out in the sunshine. This is one thing I hope will be a "Covid keep," outside tables and seating at pubs, restaurants and cafés. Ed and I both have a keen interest, only academic in my case, in urban development and we spent some time agreeing with each other about it over our drinks ... After a brief visit to the family home it was time for me to take the Underground one last time and make my way home. When I arrived at Kings Cross I had a few minutes to spare and waited in the First Class Lounge until the train was ready. I was surprised to find it was one of the remaining "Electra" sets of Mk4 coaches rather than the new "Azuma" trains; I rather think this was a change of plan because the seat reservations were not shown, which is a sign that a different type of train is in use than the one expected when the seats were allocated.

I allowed myself a final glass of wine and a wrap on the way back to Peterborough, followed by a chocolate pot, but there was not time for coffee. I had timed the trip home so that at Peterborough I would be able to make the connection into the one East Midlands Railway service per day that travels via Stamford. this reduced my connection time to about twenty minutes (and the train was already there and loading so I did not have to wait on the platform or in a chilly waiting room), and in the event that my train from London had been late (which is was not), there was the back up of the next Cross Country train a bit later. And so to home, my luggage now consisting only of the puzzle book, scarf and gloves along with my camera bag. A great day out, and lot of gratitude to my son for the treat! The London Transport Museum Depot is somewhere I had vaguely been thinking of visiting "one day," but having the visit planned and paid for had made me bring it forward to the top of the list. One very happy Dad!

Monday 18 April 2022

An Irony

By train to Cambridge, but with an ironic backstory

I have for many years been a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis (hereinafter called the SSF!), and a part of my personal rule of life has always been that I shall walk, cycle or use public transport rather than drive whenever practical, and as regular readers will know I have tried diligently to keep this rule. Indeed I have probably kept it better than most other sections of my rule, although part of the point of the Third Order is that we live in the world, marry (at least some of us do) and have normal jobs (well, mine was as a parish priest so some bits of Franciscan life were a bit easier for me), and so the keeping of a rule is tempered by the demands of employment, family etc, unlike for a friar or sister of the First or Second Orders.

The irony is that with a dispersed Order like this one, the purpose for which I have most often needed to use my car is for attending meetings of the Order! Members live in all sorts of places and in my own locality every place I need to go is hard to reach by train or bus and too far to cycle. I did manage public transport once, but it took nearly all day for a two-hour meeting about forty miles away, and I cannot always afford that.

So it was with great joy that I was invited to a meeting in Cambridge recently, a one-hour through train ride from my home in Stamford! Not just possible by public transport, but actually easier than driving! The venue, a church on the south side of the city centre, was a short and pleasant walk from the station, and I have plenty of time to walk there and to walk back to the station. There was a certain amount of hanging about, especially after the meeting because of Cross Country Trains' "temporary" timetable with gaps in it, but it was a pleasant, sunny day and I had a great time. My colleague from the local area drove from Kettering, although he would have preferred the train but for him it would have involved the great time and expense of going via London. So I think I was the only one who came by train. One local person cycled, but I think all the others went by car.

My inclusion of sustainable travel in my rule of life is not arbitrary - an important aspect of Franciscan life is care for the created world, and it seems to me that personal transport is a significant part of our environmental impact. I also happened to think that car use is inherently anti-social and that God wills us to be social. If I walk or take the bus or the train I can speak to people, smile at people, try to make someone's day a bit better, whereas if I drive I am more likely simply to get in their way or clutter their street.

A follow-up meeting has been arranged, so I'll be doing that trip again before much longer. And there's a day in London coming up, too, for all of us: I hope many of us will be able to use the train for that: I have been asked to look at the fares for members from their local stations, which I shall be glad to do.

Saturday 9 April 2022

Looking Forward Again, At Last

Once more I have several trips booked!

After two years of hardly having any trips booked in advance, and not many trips booked last-minute, either, I am finally getting some bookings sorted for the coming year and I look forward to being able to write some more interesting articles than I have been able to do for some time. Two years ago I was claiming so many refunds for both travel and hotels that my wife and I were able to invest in electrically-assisted bicycles to get about for our exercise (you do still have to pedal them: they are not mopeds!) during lockdown. So, what is coming up?

There is a very short trip to Llandudno quite soon, then a few days in Stratford-upon-Avon which we've never visited together in spite of it being not very far away (or maybe because of that!). Sometimes the East Midlands and the West Midlands seem a very long way apart, with the railways linking them being thin on the ground and not very fast - until the A14 was built the same applied to roads, too. I am looking forward to seeing Stratford for the first time in over 45 years.

I have then booked six days in Switzerland a few weeks later, staying for a couple of nights in Le Locle, where we have been before, and the rest of the time in Neuchâtel which we've only seen briefly before. This time we hope to see Lac des Brenets with more water in it and the Doubs falls actually running with water. We are spending a night in Paris on the way and I am very excited at having booked dinner at Le Train Bleu restaurant that evening, a great start I hope to a great week.

In the summer we have our usual week on the south coast of England booked. Nothing new for us this year: a few days in Chichester with a day trip to the Isle of Wight scheduled for one day, then a few days at Studland Bay in Dorset including a day at Swanage.

In the autumn we return to Italy, to Rome and then the Amalfi Coast this time, with days at Herculaneum and Pompeii. I still hope to fit in more UK trips and possibly Germany again, but our own itinerary rather than of the escorted tour we did last year.

There is still the lurking fear that some things may be cancelled or that travel will be forbidden, and there are still precautions to be observed, varying between countries, although at present things are heading towards fewer and fewer restrictions, and Eurostar's timetable is gradually building up.

One annoying issue is that Cross Country Trains still has not resumed its normal timetable as most inter-city train operating companies have done, and Advance tickets are not available, well, in advance, so it's not possible to book their trains until shortly before travel and there are fewer departures available. Living where I do, everything has to start and finish with a Cross Country train' so I cannot be sure what connections I can make with other companies, or even with another Cross Country route. But I am working on the principle that it must get better soon ... and we do have buses to and from Peterborough in the day time and taxis if we get desperate, but these are not viable options for journeys going via Birmingham.

A new feature now is that for most UK trips I no longer have little card tickets but have them delivered electronically to my iPhone, and if I do print them out they are great big paper things. Interestingly the continental tickets (French ones, anyway) are required to be printed - showing them on an electronic device is forbidden! In the UK it is now normal to use electronic tickets. I just wait to see what, if any, Covid documents will be required beside my ticket and my passport. 

Having arranged all this, it is probably time now to start planning a group outing or two, so if you live reasonably local to me in Stamford, Lincs, do pop over to and sign up to receive details of what I am planning.