Posted in Railways on Saturday 28th October 2006 at 9:07pm
The last weekend of British Summer Time is always strange. Darkness has descended early this past week or too - partly due to the encroaching nights and partly because of fairly ominous weather, but there's no mistaking that Winter is coming. In future, it might all be very different if these folks get their way. At this time of year, railtour operators wind down the enthusiast related parts of their business to some extent - who wants to visit some obscure branchline in the pitch black of a winter evening? They tend to offer more trips for 'normals' - Christmas Shopping jaunts and such like. With an impending possession blocking the line at Highbridge for most of November and with the lack of railtours to count on, I made a last ditch attempt to get out and about today.
This presented it's own difficulties - the line between Gloucester and Birmingham remains closed for engineering at weekends, along with an immense amount of other track around the country. Set off early for Bristol, then headed eastwards towards London. I'd managed to get a cheap fare on the 10:55 Midland Mainline service to Nottingham which I hoped was a nine-car Meridian, as these will soon enough be split to bolster the four car variant. Just as I was leaving the impressive new ticket hall at Kings Cross St Pancras underground, I heard the infamous 'Inspector Sands' announcement. Sped up my exit a little as the phrase looped on the tannoy. Saw a few extra BTP around, but I assumed these were for football related duties anyway. Didn't hear of any problems, so I can only assume it was a false alarm.
Once overground again, negotiated the maze that is St Pancras. Midland Mainline services have now moved from the Interim Station site, to their new home on platforms 1-4 of the station. Walked under the full width of the new station to reach the ticket hall - although it seems a new entrance on the Western side is under construction! There is still an air of the temporary about the station, but the ticket hall, toilets and such seem to be the finished article. Once upstairs on the concourse, noted the sensitive extension to the arched Barlow trainshed roof. Noted a nine car 222 in the platform too, and was soon settling in for the dash up to the East Midlands, which always seems to go surprisingly quickly.
I'd originally planned a longer break in Nottingham, but a desire to go home by a different route, and the lack of many sensible routes not involving bustitution meant a shorter stay. On to the 13:00 to Birmingham - full but not overflowing, which was a relief given previous experience with this service. A slow crawl past the Railway Technical Centre and Etches Park was interesting, then a reverse at Derby and a sleepy trip to New Street. I had an hour to wait at New Street for the next Virgin service to Oxford. I could potentially have squeezed onto the 14:33 just in time, but I couldn't have staked an advance purchased ticket on it! Spent the time wandering around the shops, before heading down to the platform to try to ensure I got a seat. Watched the dispatch of a hugely overcrowded service for Leicester and Stansted Airport before the Reading-bound Voyager arrived. Found a seat in the quiet coach between two girls having a fairly explicit conversation about their previous evening and a man inexplicably dressed in a full suit of desert camouflage dress, but not obviously a soldier. Much of the train bailed at Leamington Spa, clearly using this service in preference to the much slower stopper from Moor Street.
By Oxford, the light was beginning to fail. Had a wander out of the station and noted how much the approach to the city had changed since my first visit. Also noted a fair bit of lateness on the departure board due to a fatality at Maidenhead, and realised that with a fairly big gap in services to Didcot I risked missing my connection, even though it was an hour or so away! Hopped on the next Didcot service, unusually a Virgin service to Southampton not booked to call at Reading. Headed for the end of the platform at Didcot on arrival to see if anything interesting was happening. Apparently not, with most of the cranks amusing themselves by watching an elderly lady practicing Tai Chi on the platform! Consoled myself with a quick pint in the Prince of Wales, before heading back for a now entirely dark station to get the train back to Highbridge. As I said, a strange time of year...
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.