Solihull and Hull. Or not.

The Last Day. The last chance to completely change my plans half-way through the day (well, actually about two-thirds of the way, but you get the point). I’m starting to type this while seated on the Up platform at Chesterfield – a town which hadn’t featured in my plans until about an hour ago.

All the photos

All the photos showing the coverage of this trip!

Read on to find out how I got here….

I had an unexpectedly peaceful night’s sleep, though the final pint I had at the Earl of Derby when I got in maybe helped. I heard customers outside talking until closing time, but they weren’t loud and I reckon I must have drifted off before they did. The next thing I heard was footsteps in the corridor around 06:00 and by then the traffic noise was also noticeable. That and my body-clock was telling me it was time to wake up.

The Earl of Derby served a good breakfast with functional if unspectacular service. Functional but not spectacular probably sums-up the whole of the place, really, but all-in-all, a solid pass.

I made it to the station in time for the 08:15 First Capital Connect ‘express’ to town rather than the all-stations service I’d inadvertently planned myself on. This train comes in at 08:05 as an all stations from Kings Lynn which terminates, but everyone knows it forms the front set of the King’s Cross service, so all the Cambridge passengers join it. The “real” 08:15 arrives a few minutes later, having also also come from Kings Lynn, but as a ‘fast’. It then attaches at the rear. Quite a neat arrangement. There were five of us occupying the 16 First Class seats of the front set when we left Cambridge, but after the calls at Royston & Letchworth the seat next to me was about the only one not occupied.

I stood aside at Kings Cross and let the commuters Do Their Thing. I was a little surprised just how many folk were simply ‘milling about’ or having a meal at King’s Cross at 09:20. It does seem, like St. Pancras, the station has become a ‘destination’ in its own right.

[Ooops, the train’s coming: to be continued…]

I got the Circle line to Baker Street, en route to Marylebone, but rather than change onto the Bakerloo line for one station, I went up to the street to walk it. It was a lovely sunny day in London and the first obstacle was navigating through the tourists surging toward Madame Tussauds. Then the other handicap I had to battle was Apple maps on my iPhone navigating me to Marylebone STREET not Marylebone Station. I sort of smelt a rat but went with it anyway. Neither are too far from Baker Street tube, except they are in completely opposite directions. D’oh! It was a pleasant walk around “Marylebone village” in any event.

At least I got to I witness a scene from “The Plank”: A dozy woman pedestrian decided she didn’t want cross the road past a construction site where the north pavement of Paddington Street  was closed, so she ducked under barrier tape. As she casually walked underneath, the workers above were hoisting up some timbers onto the scaffolding. Her head and the end of the planks swinging on the rope were only a few feet apart. When the guys above saw what had nearly happened they were not reserved in expressing their opinions toward her!

I paused for refreshment in Starbucks on Baker Street and spent a happy 20 minutes watching the world go by. All of which led me to this inescapable conclusion: People are STUPID. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m more than capable of buffoonery of a world class standard, as – I firmly believe – are we all. In London, however, I think the sheer volume of people means the frequency of stupidity increases. Cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, cyclists… stupidity all around! It is a something of a miracle that dozens of us don’t come to a sticky end each day.

Moving on…

And the award for best railway coffee goes to: Chiltern Railways.

It was an excellent journey in their Class 67 hauled Mk III stock, and another new experience for me, travelling on Chiltern Railways. As an aside, it was noticeable how important the traffic for Bicester Shopping Village is to them. From the very specific announcements and notices, to the conductor offering to sell tickets for the shuttle bus…

On arrival at Moor Street I trundled across to New Street, forgetting that the entrance has moved and having to back-track a little. Once I found my way in to the new concourse (only sightly less dingy than the old one, but it isn’t finished yet, to be fair) I spent 20 minutes or so in Virgin Trains’ First Class lounge – and found it is even better than Stoke. Virgin Trains definitely know how to pamper their higher paying customers (or, in my case, not paying them at all customer….). Either way, I enjoyed the two packets of chocolate crunch biscuits & a can of Diet Pepsi as part of their hospitality.

From Birmingham I was heading for Manchester on CrossCountry. It was one of their Voyagers to be precise, but I can’t have everything. The journey was made much more bearable by it not being very busy and an extra jolly young lady steward offering “the trolley of temptation”! By the time we were approaching Wolverhampton, I was tucking in to a cheese & ham panini. By “panini” of course I mean a cheese & ham roll with brown stripes dyed onto the bread to look like grill marks, nuked in a microwave. I didn’t complain though. And: See! It can be done! Rachel, Virgin Trains’s best Customer Services Whatever-They-Are-Called made a point of asking the two of us left on at Stockport if we wanted anything else – despite being only five minutes out from Piccadilly. (I’d already heard her tell another passenger her shift was done on arrival at Manchester and that she’d been to Taunton & back, starting at 06:00). We both declined, of course, but the point is it was offered.

On arrival at Manchester I went up on to the balcony bit to look down over the crowds while waiting for the Hull train I’d planned on in 50 minutes. I scanned the departure board and saw a First Transpennine service for Cleethorpes arriving from Manchester Airport in five minutes. Impulse Decision Made. It was formed of one of TPE’s Class 185s I first met in Lancaster, and was a busy service due to it being non-stop to Sheffield after Stockport. There was a steward looking after First Class who was quite attentive, but I was still full from chocolate crunch biscuits and a panini!

As a sign of the times, I noticed that a pair of security guards in hi-vis yellow tabards were walking up and down the train “Keeping Transpennine Safe & Secure” (and paying a particular hands on sort of attention to the catering trolley!) I hadn’t realised that the Hope Valley was such a hotspot for on-train disorder. After Sheffield the train was much quieter. Still, I got thinking, which is always a bad sign. Whilst I had nothing against Cleethorpes as such (not been there on the train since about 1974!), it was the fact I’d have to retrace my steps all the way back to Sheffield that peeved me. I explored all sorts of options thanks to RealTimeTrains, thinking that Lincoln might be a viable route back – but nothing worked unless I wanted to get the bus back from Derby again, which really wasn’t an option.

So I bailed out at Doncaster and caught the 16:46 East Coast service from Leeds as far as Grantham. Luckily I was just in time for tea! I did limit myself to just two ham sandwiches (two quarters of one round, that is!) and a bag of crisps. Unfortunately, because it was again fairly busy, I found myself sitting on the righthand side as I had from Newcastle, so there was a definite feeling of de ja vu. This service didn’t stop at Newark, so the town was a case of blink-and-you’ve-missed-it.

At Grantham I joined the hoard (literally, a hoard) of prospective passengers waiting for the Skegness train. Luckily for me, I was going the other way, but when I boarded it, I found the Nottingham train also had its fair share of returning Skeggy travellers. Bless ‘em, they are er, ‘distinctive’ type of folk.

En route to Nottingham, I explored various onward options to avoid a two hour wait at Derby. The decision was made to have a last thrash up the Erewash Valley on an East Midlands Trains Norwich – Liverpool, then back to Derby from Chesterfield. I still had an hour’s wait at Derby, so after taking some snaps of a brand spanking new train fresh out of Litchurch Lane works for Southern Trains, I adjourned to the Alex.

The last hurrah for the trip was the old faithful, the 21:10 Willington stopper, then that – as they say – was that. There was still 150 minutes of validity on my ticket when I got off, but I am more than satisfied I have got my money’s worth out of it.

 

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed my rambles. I write for future me, but if anyone else gets something from it as I go along, then that is really satisfying.

Until the next time….

THE END.

One thought on “Solihull and Hull. Or not.

  1. Jim says:

    Any idea on the number of miles travelled?

    Also, I was really looking forward to Hull.

    Thanks for an enjoyable read,

    Jim

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