Club 50-80

May 19, 2019

Anyone following along on Twitter will know that I managed to crack the code and get my £17 ticket to Inverness – meaning my £15 Club 50 membership has already paid for itself about 4 times over. I even managed to navigate the various hazards of late-running trains, tight connections and the late train home from Glasgow which can be lively* on a Saturday night.

Inverness itself was eye-opening. One of our latest projects for We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote is to try and understand how our streets can be redesigned to accommodate not just cycling but visually impaired and disabled people as well. We felt that the best way to do that was to go on an exploration together with a motley crew of blind people with guide dogs and white sticks, a young man in a wheelchair, and a handful of campaigners.

Inverness street sculpture

Public art or confusing obstacle? If all you have to go on is your white cane, this appears to be a flight of steps

At one point, with a pair of specs on that effectively rendered me completely blind, I had to put my own safety in the hands of one of our blind companions. I know that these sorts of simulations aren’t always considered all that illuminating (all I really learned was that I was completely incapable of moving anywhere without my vision, which I could probably have guessed) but it is a humbling experience to allow yourself to be led through the streets by someone who can’t see either but can navigate confidently and calmly and transmit that confidence to you. And, in a way I can’t quite put into words, it changed the whole dynamic of the discussion afterwards into something much more open and mutually illuminating. Maybe there’s something in those annoying trust exercises after all.

Looking at a dropped kerb

Kerb nerdery with a purpose

This is a work in progress, and we’ll be repeating the exercise in Glasgow and Edinburgh in a few weeks with different participant. Excitingly, this means that not only will I get a chance to deepen my understanding of what ‘streets for all’ really means in practice, but I’ll get to use my Club 50 card again. I knew my 50s were going to be fun. Just don’t expect to find me in the party carriage any time soon.

* Fortunately this time the party was going on in the other carriage; I was facing the other way so couldn’t see what was going on but, from the running commentary provided by a group of teenage boys who could see – indeed were craning their necks to make sure they didn’t miss any of it (‘she’s got her top off and she’s wearing a black bra’) – the group of women making most of the noise had lunched very well indeed.


Times Tables

November 19, 2018

What with one thing and another, I seem to have spent the last three weeks on a train with one or other of my bikes. This weekend it was Glasgow and the Go Bike AGM where I was filling in for my little sister as a speaker. Bigtown to Glasgow is usually pretty civilised by train, as long as you check the football schedules before making any plans – the train is slow but scenic and takes six bikes without any need to effectively lock yourself in a cupboard and have faith that someone will let you out, unlike when travelling on Virgin, so the big bike gets to go, which is fortunate as Glasgow has potholes that would swallow a Brompton whole.

bike on train platform

There’s a snag, however. I stayed overnight in Glasgow so I wouldn’t have to be rushing for the last train or, indeed, suffer the horror that is the last train out of Glasgow on a Saturday, a journey that can sometimes be a bit … lively. Unfortunately this meant that the first train I could get home on a Sunday was at 3 in the afternoon (and the next one after that at 10), which is the sort of service you might expect from a country bus, not the direct train service between Scotland’s largest city and a fairly major town about 75 miles away. So my kind hosts were stuck with me not just overnight but well into Sunday lunchtime too.

Fortunately, it being a sunny morning and they being cyclists too, they had just the plan to fill the morning. A nice pootle round Pollok Park (and fortunately it was a pootle – these being people who think nothing of 100 mile days on the bike), followed by brunch after we’d worked up an appetite. Brunch isn’t something that’s quite reached Bigtown yet as far as I know, so it was a welcome novelty. Indeed, it was a bit of a novelty not to be rushing anywhere, so maybe the Bigtown Sunday train service has a point.

cycling in Pollok Park

Today I had the luxury of having nowhere I needed to get to other than a ride out for the paper, and nothing I had to do except make inroads into a stack of work that’s building up. I don’t think it will last – indeed I have to be in Edinburgh on Thursday, having forced lots of Important People to rearrange their schedules because – guess what – the train service meant I’d have to spend three hours hanging around before the meeting if it had been at its originally scheduled time. Ironically enough, it’s at Transport Scotland (and yes they’ve had some full and frank feedback about rail services to the South West) but it turns out even they can’t make the Transpennine Express stop at Lockerbie on a reasonable schedule.

I seem to remember I used to spend quite a lot of time complaining about the train service in London back in the day. Man, I didn’t even know I was born …


Multimodal

February 3, 2016

Berwick's bridges

In a change from our usual programme of moaning about the weather, the Brompton and I have been gadding about again

There are no trains to Edinburgh at the moment because storm Andrea or Billy or Fred or whoever damaged a key viaduct on the West Coast Mainline* so that meant taking a three-hour bus trip from Bigtown, which is not my favourite way to travel although I have to admit it is scenic in parts

Dalveen Pass

The bus stopped half way at a service station in case anybody needed a comfort break, and also so that the bus driver could emerge from her cab and reminisce with the other passengers (clearly regulars) about the night they all got stuck in the snow going over the Dalveen Pass.

Dalveen Pass

the Dalveen Pass

Once in Edinburgh, there were other, rather more civilised conveyances on offer, although I decided to stick to the Brompton.

Urban Arrow cargo bike

Then it was on to the East Coast Mainline to Berwick. I had half an hour to kill before an appointment and spent it enjoying the winter sunshine.

Berwick Viaduct

Hopefully Storm Ignatius or Jason or Xerxes or whoever is next will leave this viaduct intact.

* and can I just pause here to have a small moan about the fact that when the Forth Road Bridge was closed for a couple of weeks before Christmas you would have thought that civilisation was on the verge of collapse as Scotland’s entire transport network was severed at a blow, whereas we’ve now been without a train connection except for the scenic but not exactly speedy single track line up to Glasgow since 2015 and where are our emergency debates in Parliament? Not sure whether it’s because it’s just trains and everyone knows that important people go around in cars, or because it’s Bigtownshire and nobody else in Scotland has noticed, but either way…


The Impossible Journey

January 29, 2015

So we woke this morning to two inches of snow and everything looking extremely pretty – the perfect day for a wintry walk followed by an afternoon of hibernating by the woodburner. Sadly, what I had actually planned for today was a trip to Edinburgh for a couple of important plotting meetings and, as one of them was already twice postponed I thought I should at least show willing, ‘blizzard’ or no blizzard. As this involved a 25 minute rural bus journey with a 15 minute connection to the only train for two hours, I was fairly certain that the attempt was doomed, but the internet suggested that the trains were running and the buses not cancelled, so I set off all the same.

I did at least have the sense this time not to attempt the eight miles to Bigtown by bike but this meant fossicking the other half out of bed to give me a lift to the bus stop. Having dug out the car, we abandoned all thought of the back roads and ended up in nose to tail traffic on Big A Road, and then total gridlock as we came through the outskirts of the town. It was a forlorn hope that I could still catch my bus but I hopped out of the car and hoofed it, overtaking everything on the road, and was startled to get to the bus stance to discover the bus waiting for me, just as the snow began again in earnest. The bus then crawled through actual proper white-out conditions, shedding great drifts of snow from its roof at every bend, with me running through various contingency plans for what I’d do when I, as I inevitably would, missed the train – only for our destination to appear unexpectedly through the murk, merely five minutes later than we were due to arrive. ‘I’d be surprised if there’s any trains running,’ the bus driver said cheerily as he let me off but not only were they running, they were only a few minutes delayed ‘I know, I’m astounded!’ said the ticket collector. ‘And isn’t it just gorgeous.’

snowy hills from the train

And indeed it was.

I’m still sorry that I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the beauties of the freshly fallen snow, beyond a snatched glimpse from a train window, but then again I did experience something much rarer: the UK public transport system mysteriously not collapsing despite an amber wintry weather warning. Let others tackle Alpe d’Huez on a Boris Bike or cross the Gobi on a Brompton – I have made it from Bigtown to Embra and back on public transport in the snow.


You Know you’re not in London any more…

March 28, 2014

… when you find your train journey enlivened by a stranger’s life story. I caught the Bigtown connection by the skin of my teeth this afternoon, and slid into one of the table seats beside what I took to be a mother and teenage daughter. The girl was soon chatting away merrily about the Brompton, the train service, her international gymnastics career (now retired), her As in maths, English and child care, her three-year-old daughter, the various fights she had got into in school after the announcement of her engagement, her plans for this evening (chicken curry cooked by her fiance’s sister if you’re interested), the fact that you can no longer get a half on the bus if you’ve got your own toddler in tow, and much much more. It soon became apparent that the older woman was not her mother – indeed, she was a stranger too, and as bemused as I was, as well as being slightly concerned. The barrage continued until the stop before Bigtown where the girl got off, with a cheery ‘see you later’. It was certainly an eye-opener and I suppose it beats one of those overheard telephone conversations that used to enliven my morning commute down in London, although it wasn’t much less one-sided…

You also know you’ve been in London when you come back feeling like you’re coming down with a lurgy. What with the public transport, all the people, school-age children and the pollution, my isolated country immune system just doesn’t stand a chance…


Multimodal

November 1, 2013

Today I:

– cycled eight miles to Bigtown station

– took the train from Bigtown to Carlisle

– took the bus from Carlisle to the place which really is known as the Muckle Toon (or ‘Bigtown’ for those not fluent in Scots), possibly ironically.

– drove with the other half from the Muckle Toon to Duns

All of which took approximately 2 hours longer than if I’d done it in a car like a normal person. All this talk of HS2 makes me wonder when we’re going to get a FWS* rail line up this way. With maybe trains that run more frequently than once every two hours. And connect with buses that don’t leave from 100 yards down the road exactly 1 minute after the train comes in, with not another bus for 40 minutes. Just a thought… Still, it did at least allow the Brompton to make some new friends, as it always seems to wherever it goes.

Thus commences as week of fairly intensive gadding about, so tweeting and blogging may be light, although I’ll be at this, which I expect will generate a lot that will be tweet- and blog-worthy and this, which will possibly not (although I notice they have at least managed to dig out a few women to speak – their exciting original line up consisted entirely of men in suits).

* Faster than Walking Speed


No Way to Run a Railroad…

December 16, 2012

train lit up with fairy lights

portapotty_on_wheels… but a brilliant way to run a museum. The local railway museum was dressed up for Christmas (even the portaloos) and were running train rides this afternoon and evening, fairy lights and all. Three quid a ride, with hot chocolate and a cookie thrown in and a visit to Santa at the end. It’s all entirely run by volunteers, including the ones who get to drive the trains.

Quite apart from anything else it was a joy to see people so happy in their work*

Oh and the best bit? For an extra seven bucks we got to ride in the cab. Bargain.

view from the cab

* with the exception of the chap who got to play Santa. He’d rather have been driving trains too. Well, wouldn’t you?

do_not_hump


An Awfully Small Adventure, Comparatively Speaking

August 18, 2012

Many moons ago – many, many, many, many moons – a friend and I set off on a huge adventure, travelling round the United States on an unlimited Amtrak pass. Over the summer of 1988 we more or less circumnavigated the country on glorious double decker trains, through awesome scenery, gathering memories (but not apparently taking many photos), including a train which was more than 24 hours late (take that, Silverlink), a tour of every two-story building in a town in New Mexico (we made the local paper too) and a poker school which started up as the train pulled out of San Francisco and was cashing up as we pulled into Chicago around two days later. We were young enough to sleep where we could (oh to have a neck that forgiving) and foolish enough to think it would all work out fine and just savvy enough that it did, although we had to dodge the attentions of the creepy guy in the hostel at the Grand Canyon who let us share his room when everywhere else was booked solid. This was before the internet and mobile phones and everything was arranged by letter or ringing up, and astoundingly we made every connection and caught every train and made it home safely albeit not technically talking to each other for about a year and a half afterwards. If you’ve ever travelled with me, you’ll understand why.

Compared with that, five days by train, bus, ferry, and coach around the West Highlands and islands with each other and her son, my godson, who is, to complicate matters a tiny bit, autistic, should be a doddle, right? I mean, what – apart from everything – could possibly go wrong?

I’ll let you know next week, on my return.


Travels Without my Bike

August 3, 2011

Oh blast blast blast. There I was happily planning my trip to the Netherlands (I know, I really know how to live it up on holiday – first chicken sitting, now infrastructure study tours). One can’t really go to the Netherlands and not cycle, so obviously the bike was going to go too. And fortunately, the trip would be an easy one. There’s a train that goes direct to Newcastle from Bigtown that doesn’t require booking for bikes and has space for up to 12 bikes on it, so the chances of there not being any room are pretty slim. And then from Newcastle to Amsterdam the ferry only charges a fiver each way for my bike and I can book a place online. And once in Amsterdam, well surely by now the Dutch have installed magic carpets or automatic bike-lane tailwind generators (or maybe just efficient trains you can take your bike on) to get us both to Assen without a problem. So it was all good.

Well, it was until I checked the trains to Newcastle, anyway. And saw that the dreaded bus-replacement-service-of-doom was operating every Sunday until the end of the summer or possibly the end of time. No space for bikes (or wheelchairs or bulky luggage for that matter). All my lovely plans scuppered. Bikeless in Holland* – oh the frustration.

Fortunately, I can rent one for the actual study tour, so I won’t be completely bikeless. And a sneaky thought – quickly suppressed – did occur to me. After all, there are plenty of bikes, proper actual Dutch bikes, in the Netherlands, they’re all around and probably available cheaply secondhand. The cost of renting by the day would soon add up making buying one almost sensible and there’d be no problem getting a bike back on the train…

Of course, we’ve been here before (and we’ve not got that one back from France yet either). And I don’t need another bike, let alone a heavy single-geared coaster-brake model designed for a country with rather fewer hills than we have. And I can’t really afford just to go buying bikes for the hell of it, even cheaply secondhand. So I won’t definitely won’t be buying myself a bike out there. Well, almost definitely.

Watch, as they say, this space.

*I know, I know, it’s the Netherlands, calling it Holland is like saying I live in England. Tell that to their own tourist board, that’s all I’m saying


Train a not-particularly-Grande Vitesse

July 24, 2011

It seemed a bitter irony that, having gone to all the effort – not to mention spent a fair bit of money – booking our trip to the South of France by train, we still ended up delayed for over an hour at Charles de Gaulle airport. It was just that the delay was on a train under the airport rather than in it – as the TGV succumbed to what appeared to be, from my uncertain translation of the announcement, the ‘wrong kind of rain.’

In fairness to SNCF (and I type this with gritted teeth) there was a fairly epic storm brewing over the flatlands of northern France. Ragged Thread had, rather optimistically as it turned out, suggested that the French Weather Gods would see off our puny British ones. Sadly, ours were just on their way and once they had caught up with us, the Dordogne found itself experiencing a whole week of classic Galloway weather, for which I hope its farmers are grateful. I can only surmise that the storm which delayed our train long enough for us to miss not one but two Eurostars at Lille was some sort of final showdown, a battle royale between the two sets of minor deities. Whoever won, when we finally got to the UK, the clouds seem to have parted and by the time we got up here, we were treated to a glorious long light late summer evening with not a cloud sullying the sky.

Unfortunately we were also rather lighter in the pocket for we had missed our Glasgow train and, in a bit of a false economy, I’d bought advance tickets which were useless on any other trian and meant we had to pay the full price, walk-up fare. There’s nothing like unexpectedly having to put £193 on your credit card just to make it home to put the tin lid on that post-holiday glow, is there? Apparently had it been the Eurostar that had been late we might have been all right but as it was our French connecting service that was at fault, well – and here, the Euston ticket clerk demonstrated his mastery of the Gallic shrug.

But anyway, we made it, which is the main thing. And for our holiday next year – well, if there are any drought-stricken farmers or worried reservoir managers out there who’d like a guaranteed week of steady rain next summer, just put your best offer in the comments box and we’ll see what we can do. Or maybe, for a small sum, we can guaranted not to visit whatever holiday spot or resort you were planning on booking yourselves. Or maybe we’ll just stay put next year and get rained on at home.