Tuesday 21 March 2023

An Afternoon on Tyneside

Lincoln Cathedral, one of the symbols of the
cities served by LNER, appears on the cans of
Hop On Board ale served on the trains!
By Train to Newcastle Upon Tyne,

in First Class with LNER

I needed to buy a new cassock, the long dress-like garment that Church of England clergy wear. I have always worn black and my old robes are wearing rather thin, but although I estimated that they might see out my active ministry, I had recently been appointed as a non-residentiary Canon of Lincoln Cathedral and the cathedral Canons traditionally wear a shade of blue, as do the Choir and the Vergers, so this was my opportunity to replace my old black cassock with a new blue one. It would be nice not to have holes in the pockets and fraying button-holes for the rest of my ministry!

The cathedral provides the fabric, and the new Canon pays for the cassock to be made, and although I could go to a number of clerical outfitters, there is one, J&M Sewing, which keeps a stock of the blue fabric in order to make the choir robes, so it is simpler to go there for clergy robes as well. The snag is that it is in Newcastle Upon Tyne, a great city but a long way from anywhere else! I needed to act fairly quickly as my installation at the cathedral was only a few weeks away and I knew it would take a while to have my cassock made, so I did not book train tickets ages in advance but went for the least expensive I could reasonably find on the next day when I had enough time to spare, having arranged to visit J&M Sewing at noon on the appointed day. It was a long time since I had been north by rail, and I decided to travel First Class in order to enjoy a leisurely meal on the train home rather than the rushed affair involved in travelling the short hop to and from London. Given Cross Country Trains' tendency still to cancel our local trains at a moment's notice, I decided on this occasion to drive to Peterborough and start the train journey there. Cold weather, and some snow, was anticipated so I knew there was some risk to timekeeping whether by rail or by road. Although the cost of parking at Peterborough station is many times more expensive than the rail fare from and to Stamford, it is still less than the taxi would have cost in the event of a train cancellation, and I wanted to avoid hanging around Peterborough station for an extended period in the cold.

My wife travelled with me (for company, but also to ensure that I ordered something sensible!), and we travelled north on the 09:48 departure from Peterborough, one of the services that stops only twice, at York and Darlington, on the way to Newcastle, taking just a touch over two hours so that we would arrive just neatly in time for my noon appointment - the premises of the company being a short walk from Newcastle Central station. We were served coffee on the train and I resumed my breakfast with one of LNER's delicious bacon rolls, and we each had a yogurt. These refreshments are all within the ticket price. Here and there on the way we saw traces of fallen snow, but the weather in Newcastle when we arrived there was sunny and, for early March, quite warm: the cold and snowy weather we had left behind at home, and it was at its coldest and wintriest in London and the south-east: one does not often go to the north-east for the warm, sunny weather, but we had done well that day.

After choosing the wool/terylene mix over the pure wool, and being measured and choosing my options and placing the order (14 weeks expected delivery, so I would not in any case have it for my installation), we walked into the shopping streets of the city centre to find some lunch and to buy some black jeans to replace my worn-out ones (not all my clothes are wearing out at once, just these two items!). We found both at John Lewis - although I could not help wondering if a large lunch was the thing before dinner on the train ... 

Although we have stopped drinking alcohol on weekdays in Lent, we broke our Lenten fast this day because it was the feast day of Edward King, Bishop, a very important feast day in the diocese of Lincoln, and how appropriate it was that I had ordered my Lincoln blue cassock on such a great day! So it was wine with lunch: I'd have to go easy at dinner, feast or no feast, because I'd be driving home from Peterborough station.

We had a short walk around the city centre, gradually making our way back to Newcastle Central station, where we waited in the First Class lounge for the 16:26 train back to Peterborough. This train had been chosen for the affordability of its First Class Advance tickets rather than anything else, and was slower than the one on which we had come north, stopping at quite a few more stations on the way. One of the advantages of First Class which is not often considered is that there is a lot less disturbance at intermediate stations, for several reasons: there are fewer people in the carriage overall, and most people are travelling longer distances (since most of us will be happy with Standard Class on short trips); there is more space in which to move and wider aisles so it is easier to pass people. The catering staff in First Class are kept busy even so, keeping track of who has been served, though, as people get on and off!

In due course we were offered our meal, from the intermediate "Dish" menu, and I chose a vegetable curry which went well with a can of Hop On Board ale. This was plenty, given the early hour and the large Caesar Salad I'd had for lunch! The crisps and biscuits went home for later ... Taking the first opportunity to eat meant that the ale would be safe to drink, being well before I would have to drive.

The Hop On Board can carries pictograms of famous landmarks on LNER's routes, including Lincoln Cathedral, which was nice in the circumstances! 

Arriving on time in Peterborough we encountered a wintry shower and met someone we knew from Stamford who was looking for a lift home because the next train, which had been late, had just been cancelled owing to a fault, so we squeezed him in our car (which had the grandchildren's child seats in it!) while I cleared the snow off the car ready to drive home, carefully, though the snow. We were glad that we had brought the car, much as I love walking home from the station across the meadows at Stamford, but the idea of waiting over an hour for a train at a cold and snowy Peterborough and then walking home through the snow did not have quite the normal appeal. The walk in the snow would have been OK if the scheduled train had been running, but it turned out that we were right not to trust them. We dropped our acquaintance at his home and drove home to ours. Job done. Now I wait for my new robe to arrive, and soon, a visit to Lincoln for my installation ceremony!

Thinking about the trip, it has occurred to me that starting earlier and finishing later it would be quite feasible to arrange a day trip to Newcastle to enjoy some of what the city has to offer. Keep a look out for it on my "Come with me" page as soon as travel becomes more reliable!

Thursday 9 March 2023

You Walked?!!!

By Train and on Foot in London

I wrote some time ago about travelling by train to a meeting in Cambridge, but although that venue for a meeting was very handy for me, for most people attending it involved a lengthy car journey, so to make it easier for most, the venue was moved for the most recent meeting to London, which everyone could more or less easily reach by train. For me it was less convenient, but for most it was much more convenient, so I could hardly complain. It was in Southwark where there was a handy Franciscan house at which we could meet, and we were advised that Southwark was the nearest Underground station.

A trip to London with a little time to spare was handy for me because I had just renewed my Senior Railcard and needed to take a few moments at an Underground station to have it linked to my Oyster card to give me cheaper travel on TfL services in London - this is something only staff can do, and so I chose an early enough train to give me time to get this done.

Changing at Peterborough - that's the train from Stamford behind me!
I left Stamford on the 07:57 Cross Country train to Peterborough and then caught the 08:29 LNER train to London: this was from Lincoln and was just a five-coach "Azuma" train, making a very neat connection with the train from Stamford. It arrived on time at Kings Cross at 09:23, just 90 minutes I had left Stamford and less than two hours after leaving my house, which is not at all bad. While only claiming Standard Class fares from the Order (Third Order, Society of St Francis), I booked Advance First Class tickets both ways and so enjoyed the bacon roll and coffee as a second breakfast on the way to London.

At Kings Cross St Pancras Underground station I easily found a member of station staff by the ticket machines where he was on hand to help intending passengers, and he took my Railcard and Oyster and poked the necessary numbers into the machine along with his staff ID card and behold, the Oyster computer system should now charge me about one-third less for my travel in London!

I then had plenty of time to get to Southwark and consulted the map on my iPhone: it was almost a straight line! I could easily do this on foot and in fact I had at various times in the past walked most of the route for various reasons, and it would be interesting to see it again. I needed to acquire a packed lunch on the way and knew that I would be passing several shops where I'd be able to buy something for this. So off I went, across the road outside the station and along the right-hand (west) side of Grays Inn Road towards the Inns of Court at Holborn. I noticed, as I never had before, that there is an amazing number of dentists in Grays Inn Road! I bought my lunch from a small Co-operative "corner shop" somewhere along the road, a very decent meal deal.

When I reached Holborn I crossed the road and turned left to head towards Blackfriars, passing the end of the famous Hatton Garden jewellery quarter (as visited by James Bond in Diamonds are Forever!) and then heading southwards towards the river. There was a glimpse of St Paul's Cathedral as I crossed Fleet Street, and then of the Tate Modern gallery as I walked over Blackfriars Bridge. Along Blackfriars Road I glanced at the frontage of Southwark station just to see if anyone I knew was coming that way, but no-one was. I noticed for the first time that it really is just a very short walk from there to Waterloo station: indeed, Waterloo East is connected by a walkway to Southwark Underground Station.

Soon I was approaching the venue of my meeting and coming the other way were two of my colleagues who had come by train from Kettering to St Pancras and had continued to Southwark by taxi ... they were amazed that I had walked all that way but I am younger and fitter than they, and intend to keep the fitness for as long as I can, which does require the exercise. We were among the first to arrive and as everyone gathered it transpired that some had walked from Waterloo, just a nice walking distance, but the others who had come into Liverpool Street, Kings Cross, St Pancras or Marylebone had all taken buses or the Underground - and my friends who had taken a taxi. 

I had thoroughly enjoyed my walk but at the end of the day I did use the Underground to go back to Kings Cross. By then it was becoming dark and cooler and, of course, I was no longer in need of quite so much exercise! From Southwark I travelled just one stop to Waterloo and then changed to the Northern Line to Warren Street where I left the Underground and walked the rest of the way to St Pancras station. Having allowed time in the morning for my little task with the Railcard I had also allowed plenty of time in the evening for odd jobs, and one odd job that really needed to be done was to buy a supply of St Pancras Blend tea from Fortnum and Mason, only available from their shop at St Pancras. Once that was done I browsed around a little more and then made my way across the road to Kings Cross to await my LNER train to Peterborough where I made the change once more for Stamford; home by early evening after a very satisfying day. The waiting room at Peterborough was busy: from platforms 6 and 7 there were trains for Norwich, Ipswich and (mine) Birmingham within the next half-hour, and all were clearly going to be fairly busy. My train came in more-or-less on time and left on time, reasonably full but not overcrowded. People are travelling, and we need to get our railways up and running properly, with full timetables and without random cancellations caused by staff shortages (which in truth are usually overtime unpopularity!). It surely cannot be long now before we have a decent railway again?