On Saturday evening (22nd August - how time flies) I'd seen a young man waiting at the bus stop opposite the hotel where Graham and I were staying and asked him about bus routes, fares, etc into the city. A bus would take me right to the railway station, he assured me - if the blankety blank thing turned up at all, them being late isn't the problem, he said, them turning up is. I didn't feel very re-assured when half an hour later he came into the hotel to ring for a taxi. So I convinced myself that the service would be more dependable on a weekday and on Monday morning, leaving plenty of time until my train was due to depart, I waited at the bus stop. The bus was a bit late but I still had plenty of time to catch my train.
At a train station somewhere between Inverness and Bristol.
I wanted to have one long train trip as part of my travels. I love train travel, but unfortunately, we do not have a very practical and efficient network in New Zealand. And they know how to do train service in the UK! It's simpler than flying - no having to be at place of departures hours in advance to queue for security checks. The seats are comfy, the views magnificent and constantly changing. From Inverness to Bath, take a paint chart's shades of green and apply them to the countryside - you see them all. Little towns and villages flash by. A few brief stops at large towns to pick up and drop off and the occasional short wait to keep the train on schedule, it seems to get ahead of itself, never behind.
Cropping fields glide into rocky outcrops, then transform to grasslands, towering mountains, velvety valleys, from the rugged to the dramatic to the just plain beautiful. Occasionally someone comes along to check tickets and sell food and drink. (The coffee was bad but I didn't expect it to be good.)
I have to admit to freaking out a bit at Edinburgh station, one of the places I had to change trains. It was much bigger than I expected and I couldn't find my next train listed on the huge electronic departure screens. Of course, I did in the end, but how was I to know that the train to Wolverhampton would be the same as the train to London Euston? So many people scurrying in all directions, everyone in a hurry, I got quite muddled there for a while.
The only photo I took was the one above but I made notes in my diary. And I chuckle as I read, "ScotRail - get seat 01, beside luggage storage area. 4 old ladies with HUGE suitcases - wouldn't all fit - yelling match, - canna ya and woulda ye." You know how sometimes you watch something and really understand where comedians get their material? The yelling back and forth was between two of the ladies who went ahead to find their seats "before the train starts up and we all end up on our backsides and you break your hip again" and the two who were left to stow the luggage. One was on the wrong side of the luggage and had to crawl over one of the bags to get to her seat. They just left the bags in the passage having agreed after much shouting back and forth that no-one would need to go past until the next stop. Except, of course, unless someone wanted to go to the bathroom. Which, of course, one gentleman did. Actually, I think he just wanted to see what all the fuss had been about. The inspector stopped in his tracks when he came along to check tickets, I caught his eye and his expression told me he'd seen it all before and was no longer amused. He found the culprits, (must have taken a deep breath) and informed them he would store their bags elsewhere and went back to checking tickets. A deeper breath must have been required when he discovered the ladies were in the wrong carriage but he seemed to think it would be easier to sort out later than try to move them. The next time the inspector came past we had a bit of a chat and laugh about it. The whole episode quite made my journey!
I was impressed with the punctuality of the trains. BritRail blotted their copybook on the very last leg of the trip because of major work on the Bristol to Bath line. The train was so late it was cancelled in the end and we were put onto the next train. One of the other passengers told me that been happening all the time lately but if I were to go back to the station the next morning (it was now somewhere around 9 pm) I would get a refund. My worry was would my brother still be waiting to meet me at the station? Of course he was, although it took us a while to find each other.