Posted in Railways on Friday 15th June 2007 at 10:34pm
After a very comfortable night at the Alexandra, I felt fully prepared for the day's journey. However things almost got off to a bad start when the hotel staff refused to let me check out! The Night Porter had explained that their computers weren't on yet, and was about to take my details when the Shift Manager arrived. She took a much dimmer view of my attempt to leave and simply said "check out isn't until 7:30". I pointed out that the Hotel might review this since one of the few trains serving Fort William left at 07:40. Still no response. Eventually a younger member of staff arrived who seemed to be able to provoke the computer into action earlier than scheduled. The Manager bustled off somewhere huffily, and the receptionist apologised graciously for the delay. It wouldn't stop me visiting again though - the hotel was comfortable and perfectly situated, and the restaurant is fantastic!
It was good to do the trip back to Glasgow in daylight, and once again the Far North was blessed by fine weather. Had a message from my uncle in the Midlands saying that train services had been suspended due to flooding. Unsure whether this was a product of his strange sense of humour, so went back to windowgazing my way along this amazing stretch of line once again. Having been in relatively calm and peaceful surroundings yesterday, Glasgow came as a shock. Walked to Central Station and found myself irritated by the lunchtime queues in all of the shops and coffee stalls. Stalked about the concourse feeling miserable about leaving Glasgow and Scotland in general, but consoled myself with the Heartland tour tomorrow which would see me back if only for a couple of hours. Boarded my Voyager and settled in for the run to Carlisle.
A little before reaching Kingmoor my 'phone buzzed to say I'd missed a call. Sure enough, my uncle was right - Bescot was washed out and the Heartland tour was off tomorrow! Some rapid re-planning to do, including staying only one night in Birmingham and trying to sort out my ticket home, which was booked for Sunday. Disembarked at a damp Carlisle station with lots to think about - therefore completely missed the opportunity to get a photograph of the log train from Crianlarich which passed seconds after our arrival, to much interest from the local cranks. I seem to have missed this train all week somehow, despite stalking it's route endlessly! Stuck to my itinerary and boarded the slightly delayed Stranraer-Newcastle service for a trip via the Tyne Valley. It always rains there, so I thought nothing of the torrent which seemed to be falling on us. During the couple of stretches of mobile 'phone coverage, managed to sort the hotel out with no problems, and planned to fix the ticket at New Street. Relaxed a little and enjoyed the rest of the trip into Newcastle.
The plan here had been to wait for the 16:27 departure for Birmingham which went via the High Level Bridge. Unfortunately, southbound services were in disarray. Opted to just head south on the next one out. That was cancelled - the balancing working hadn't run because of floods in the Midlands. The following train from Edinburgh was late, but running. The 16:27 - my original plan - was cancelled, but then appeared to be reinstated but delayed. Didn't chance it. Experienced a moment of sudden self-knowledge - here I was, a 34 year old corpulent and balding man, standing on a freezing and windy station miles from home in his shirtsleeves - like all the other frustrated passengers I should have been concerned about getting home on time, getting to a meeting or even how much compensation I could claim for the delay....
...Instead I wondered whether this would mean any interesting diversions!
In the event, my journey on 9M58 was one of the most eventful parts of the entire trip. It also showed the old-fashioned railway ethic of 'lets just get things moving' hasn't disappeared completely. Before privatisation, a problem like this would mean lots of quick decisions to keep people moving. Now, with Network Rail's structured and inflexible approach to advance planning, problems tend not to produce many surprises. It wasn't necessarily better back then - just different. Nowadays passengers get more advance information, but on balance services seem more likely to be cancelled or bustituted rather than diverted. Our trip south began relatively calmly. Via the East Coast Main Line to York, then into a very wet Leeds where a fair number of passengers squeezed on - but First Class remained quiet. No at seat service, because crews had been displaced all over the country by the cancellations - but that was a minor gripe. At least we were moving. Or were we? We sat for some time at Leeds, a station I'd seen quite a bit of already this month. Eventually we were told that flooding and damage to signalling near Adwick was preventing our routing to Wakefield Westgate. Eventually staff were located and a decision was made to run via Methley Junction, Normanton and Wakefield Kirkgate, reversing to regain our booked route at Westgate. Not required track - but an unexpected variation which was welcomed. We took the route fairly slowly, and crossing the River Calder near Turners Lane Junction the first effects of the torrential rain could be seen in its swollen waters. Wakefield Westgate appeared to be in chaos, with both platforms full of people. At least one unlucky passenger boarded our coach and settled into his seat only to spring out once again as we reversed out of the station in the same direction we'd arrived. He was last seen at Sheffield, staring intently at the departure board.
The weather was certainly appalling, and as we headed south things worsened considerably. Very slow running into Sheffield, and more confusion as the powers that be debated whether we should call additionally at Chesterfield. An SSO was finally produced and we set off once again. The journey from Chesterfield to Birmingham took a very long time. I actually lost track somewhere, so strange were the scenes trackside. As we approached Kingsbury we appeared to be crawling slowly along a causeway between two huge lakes. The flooding was surprisingly deep too. I saw a woman trying to persuade two clearly distressed horses to leave a flooded field. The animals were belly-deep and her Land Rover and horsebox were already perilously part-submerged. Felt a bit powerless and realised that this was actually quite serious stuff. Soon after we diverged and took the road via Whitacre Junction - a first for me Southbound in fact. Everything appeared to be going this way, and we ended up in a jam of trains which seemed to stretch as far as New Street. Water Orton lived up to its name in being exceedingly wet, and it took at least 45 minutes to complete this last leg of the trip.
Finally emerged in a very damp, very busy and rather chaotic Birmingham New Street - and here, rather miserably, my All Line Rover officially ended. Stocked up on provisions because I didn't intend going out once I'd checked into my hotel, and had a stab at changing my ticket from Sunday to tomorrow - no chance, they wanted me to apply for a refund online. They assured me I'd get a refund, so I'm not sure why I couldn't sort it out at the station. With none of my intended trips for tomorrow running and my return to Glasgow postponed I trudged out of the station with a heavy heart to seek the quiet of my familiar hotel. I arrived having spent seven days travelling, and at least the last twelve hours at a stretch covering nearly 500 miles. The receptionist, ever polite remarked "Gosh sir! You look fresh. Everyone else is running around like drowned rats today!". There are still lots of good reasons to take the train, it seems!
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.