Posted in Railways on Saturday 3rd March 2012 at 10:29pm

There is an almost universal rule in planning trips around this early part of the year, which says at some point I'll end up in Cambridge. This is partly because it makes for a pleasantly long, circular journey when done right - using track I neglect at other times of the year. It's also because doing so means a bit of time in London, which is a rare pleasure amid other trips - though promises to be fairly commonplace in the coming few weeks. On the last couple of visits though, Cambridge has offered new things - the guided busway and the new Class 379s last time, and this time a chance to see the completed new platform in use after a rather quick and efficient build.

The day began with one of the textbook beginnings I've adopted in recent times - the early train to Bristol, catching up on news and social networking from the last few days, then breakfast at Bristol cursing Starbucks for the truculence around opening times. I was pleased to see that the phantom seat-stealer wasn't around today as I don't think I could have stomached a scramble for my booked pew this morning, so it was onto 1M21 to Birmingham, watching the sun slowly rise and listening to music. A cracking start to the day in fact, after a tricky few days at work. Had a bit longer than usual at Birmingham so I grabbed a coffee and watched the station coming to life. I never tire of busy stations, and there is something special about being relaxed and quiet while the crowds buzz around. Down to the platform for the 09:22 which was a little late arriving and performed a very swift turn-around, causing lots of silly seat reservation related frustration. Found a comfortable spot and settled in, noting that someone on the platform had already had a heavy day, as a drunk sprawled alongside the train with a couple of Network Rail staff trying to stop him wandering away until we'd left. Finally off, taking the familiar route through Nuneaton and Leicester before heading onto the rural section via Melton Mowbray. It had been a little while since I'd done this, and it was interesting to spot the changes as we headed south and east.

After noting a load of locos lined up at Peterborough and the customary one stabled at March, I settled in for the last bit of the journey. The unit was getting busy with daytrippers for Cambridge, and I was restless to stretch my legs. We soon arrived on the new island platform after a slow, lurching switch over to the left of the alignment. Cambridge has always had a curious one-platform with a middle crossover arrangement, with a couple of bays at each end for good measure, and this solution using a bit of the stabling yard had been talked about for years before finally getting built. Noted a few passengers looking bewildered and asking for Platform 8 though! I'd decided not to head into the busy city this time noting that the busway was still a building site at this end, and contented myself with a spot of lunch on the windy platform, awaiting the train to Kings Cross which was booked, apparently into Platform 0. Resisted temptation to board a shiny 379 for Liverpool Street once or twice.

Public or private? Kings Cross changes before my eyes...
Public or private? Kings Cross changes before my eyes...

In the event, the train didn't make it into Platform 0, instead bumbling over to No.3 on arrival. It was a pleasant journey down, made more amusing by how much my presence in First Class seemed to annoy the couple who arrived seconds before departure and glared at me for being present. They were visibly upset when the ticket check failed to see me thrown out of the train too. The run down the southern end of the East Coast Main Line isn't one I do often, and for that reason it's always an interesting one - certainly in comparison to the northern sections which I see more of! At Kings Cross, I wandered into the walkway through the new ticket hall. The sweep of the building was visible, and the large open space was pretty impressive. With the main trainshed roof cleaned and the concourse opened out, there is a light airy feel to the whole station, and this new section promised to change the station into a nicer spot to hang around. I do miss the cafe in the corner where I ended up eating an obscenely big breakfast after the sleeper one morning though! Outside the station I found myself wandering into the area behind the station which was buried behind hoardings. The 'small print' on these reminded you that you should use this private area responsibly, and the moment a down-on-his-luck type stumbled into view, a couple of skinny security goons in ill-fitting blue caps scurried out of nowhere to escort him back to the road. After making a couple of 'phonecalls, I quickly headed back to civilisation and made for refuge on a bus.

Finding myself heading down Farringdon Road, I decided to hop off south of the river and have a look at Blackfriars Station, now spanning the Thames, covering the full length of the bridge - the first London station to do so. The Thames Path was busy, a jazz band pelting out tunes under Blackfriars Bridge, and a stream of people enjoying what had become an unseasonably warm, sunny afternoon. I descended the stairs onto the shingle shoreline, littered with shells and debris. There were a surprising number of folks strolling along the waters edge, the ferries and pleasure boats sending waves against the stones. Took some pictures of the city under the piers of the bridge, before heading back to the path and struggling against the crowd to Tate Modern, then over the busy Millennium Bridge to St.Pauls. Instinctively hopped on a bus again - a No.26 which took me through the city and onwards towards Shoreditch and eventually to South Hackney. I bailed just before it turned East for the Wick, electing to wander over to London Fields station for a run back into Liverpool Street. It was now very warm and sunny, and I was enjoying just being out and about in London for the first time in a while.

A sunny City viewed from the shoreline
A sunny City viewed from the shoreline

From Liverpool Street, it was time to start heading back - albeit a little early. In the event this was a good thing, as after picking up the 205 bus on Houndsditch due to the Crossrail works and getting delayed heavily in the diversion along Beech Street to Old Street, the route was curtailed to terminate at Marylebone. Weighed up my options, bailing at Great Portland Street for the short tube trip to Paddington and a pleasant coffee before heading home on the usual train. Today was a varied and rather busy one - and probably not quite what I'd had in mind when I set out. All the best ones end up like that somehow!

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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.

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