“Now approaching Keith”

Much of what follows was written (jotted might be a more apt word) as I’ve gone along. Consequently the tense will be/is all over the place. For that matter, entire linguistic meaning may be in doubt in places. I’m sure you’ll work it out though.  

Welcome to Inverness

I have arrived in Inverness. All has gone swimmingly thus far, and here is what I have to say on that…

I arrived on the platform of Willington station just as the Nottingham train was arriving at 07:25. I was very happy to see my train, the 07:44 to Cardiff shown on time. It’s a lovely sunny morning if a bit cool – there had evidently been a frost overnight.

A healthy 20 or so passengers boarded the Cardiff which, by the time it got there, was a couple of minutes late. It’s an easy connection at Tamworth for the 08:29 to Crewe so I mention this only to make conversation. Ironically there’s a Cross Country service to Glasgow leaving Tamworth at the same time as I’m heading for Crewe – but as that would largely take me over familiar ground, I’ll stick with Plan A.  Again, nice and sunny but not so chilly waiting on Platform 1 at Tamworth.

First hiccup: The Crewe train got to Nuneaton then stopped. The ominous announcement simply said “Delayed – listen for further announcements”. Thankfully that soon changed to “seven minutes late”.

Tamworth station

Not the most artistic photo you’ve ever seen, but here is Tamworth’s Platform1 in all its glory.

Around Rugely there was a very helpful PA announcement by the London Midland guard advising passengers for Crewe to change at Stafford into a Liverpool train as it saves going round by Stoke. Good plan I think.

I had performed my first bit of Buffoonery at this point as I hadn’t spotted First Class in the Class 350 unit. I knew it was advertised as Standard & First, but had ended up cramming myself and my case into a not particularly comfortable spot. Getting out at Stafford therefore seemed an even more attractive idea.

The 1F35 London Midland 09:10 Stafford to Crewe, arriving at 09:30 was the service in question and this time I did spot the very comfortable First Class bit. The fact it was in the middle of the train is what I think threw me.

Stafford station

Continuing the theme of narrative shots of midlands stations – here is Stafford.

Turns out this train got me to Crewe all of four minutes earlier than my original plan (bearing in mind the Euston – Crewe LM service was running late). This gave me 35 mins or so in the First Class lounge. My first coffee of the day (not bad) and a Fruity Carrot Cake Tulip Muffin!? It was this or nothing (well, other than a croissant or an apple – but!). The Glasgow train was right time at Wolverhampton when I looked so all was well.

Indeed it was Right Time at Crewe and I boarded the rearmost coach. I was evidently too late for the Full British Breakfast but I had a most welcome bacon roll in front of me within ten minutes of boarding. The coffee had been supplied almost immediately.

Pendolino arriving at Crewe

As the Derby “dogbox” departs, a somewhat more imposing train arrives at Crewe to carry me north.

There was a catering crew change at Preston. The departing lot (an Oxley crew, I think from what I couldn’t help overhear) were a very chatty bunch – among themselves at least! (“One rule for one, different rule for all”). Sure enough a fresh round of coffee presented itself very soon after leaving Preston.

Pendolinos really get into their stride north of Lancaster, leaning into the bends.

Another bacon roll appeared as we approached Oxenholme where we had a brief but rather scenic signal check.

The first sign of cloud appeared as we got top side of Tebay but it was sunny again after Carlisle. The third serving of coffee was a bit abortive as the first offering was merely brownish water. The lass reappeared a little later on with a better brew.

It is very striking countryside between Lockerbie and Carstairs but before long we were in the outskirts of Glasgow, by which time it was cloudy & grey again. I spotted a burnt out car in the lineside undergrowth – it has clearly been there years as it’s so overgrown — a bit like Borrowash. What a country of contrasts this is.

Rolling grassland with a hill behind

A random selection of about a thousand similar images snapped from the train window.

Right time into Glasgow.

Out of Central Station, nominally heading toward Queen Street but I was in no great hurry. I’d set Apple Maps on the case but a combination of using the “wrong” exit, an iffy GPS fix due to high buildings and a less than high level of concern on my part, all led to a slightly circuitous route. I’d noticed I would pass the Buchanan Street Apple Store and as I had over an hour in hand, detoured inside (which caused Siri some measure of apoplexy!). Their WiFi came in handy for uploading photos to iCloud. Even though I have unlimited 4G data which is often faster than WiFi, the Photos app insists on WiFi to upload. (I can see why, but an opt in to change this would be useful).

With the best will in the world, there’s only so long you can linger and leech off the WiFi in an Apple Store before it starts to look odd. I made my way round the corner to Queens Street Station, forgetting how small and dump-like it is – at least by comparison with Central. With still over half an hour until the Inverness train, I adjourned over the road to George Square to watch Glasgow go by.

George Square, Glasgow

Again, a degree of randomness has crept in when it comes to choosing the image to illustrate this part of the day.

It was at this point I began to consider the implications of a five hour single leg of the journey ahead. I may be in First Class, but it’s Scotrail so I’m not expecting much by way of “added value”. Something for the journey is definitely called for.  Oh, a Greggs.

Back at Glasgow Queen Street – a traditional terminus station with the concourse behind the buffer stops…. There’s a sign which reads “Please note that the FRONT train is at the far end of the platform”. The great British public at their finest.

There is a direct service half and hour later which would actually get me to Inverness an hour and a half quicker. However, even though it looks like I’ll be on a Derby made Turbostar for the duration, so I’m still going with the original plan. Right, time to spend 30p. Thirty Pence – I ask you!?

As it turns out, the turnstile wasn’t functioning so it was a much better value pee than I anticipated!

Station ticket barrier

Glasgow Queen Street interlude: This hapless cyclist has become trapped in the barrier having tried to wheel his steed through the automatic gate. Oh well.

Aboard 1A69, the 14:41 Queen Street to Inverness via Aberdeen. First stop Sterling in 25 minutes. Right time departure. A complimentary coffee from the trolley service arrived as we were barely out of the suburbs. The guard is a chatty fellow but I think my ticket briefly flummoxed him. He muttered something about me having to sing (Wild Rovers??) as he  moved on.

Climbing up out of the Central Belt with some ominous looking hills ahead of us in the distance, the sun reappeared. This prompted the only other occupant of First Class, a railwayman in uniform, to pull the curtains across so he could see his phone. Only slightly irritating!

As we raced through Gleneagles (raced, I tell you!), the nice lady with the trolley returned with her basket of complimentary snacks – so even though I’ve resolved not to dig into my Greggs supplies until at least Aberdeen, I did succumb to a chocolate muffin. Strike me down.

My railwayman travelling companion alighted at Perth – without having the common decency to undraw his curtains (if you’ll pardon the expression!)

On leaving Perth the lie of the land after we crossed the River Tay is such that for a brief time the train is actually traveling due south – all potentially very confusing. I had the compartment to myself – the guard commented that  the train was unusually quiet.

View from the carriage window

A representative image to illustrate this long but very enjoyable journey: The Firth of Tay on leaving Dundee.

As well left Carnoustie I’d thought to myself I hadn’t seen the trolley for a while and so it duly appeared. As it happened, all my victualling needs were taken care of at that point, but I thought it wise to check how long there would be a trolley on board. The lady informed me she was getting off at Aberdeen but a replacement would be getting on there and going through to Inverness – which is good. She kindly said she’d come and check on me before Aberdeen!

There seemed plenty of folk enjoying the many  golf links, but as we entered Arbroath, it looked like precious few souls were talking in the sea air as we skirted the North Sea coast.

View across the carriage

Approaching Arbroath – not a day for sitting outside to take in the view

True to her word, on leaving Montrose the trolley lady came and loaded me up with coffee, water and snacks – “it’ll be an age before the Aberdeen trolley gets round” (It was only later I understood what she meant). We had a brief chat and it turns out she’s based at Queen Street and works all the long distance  routes out of there – including the West Highland Line, so she’s familiar with people “like me”! The guard told me he was done when we got to Aberdeen. He should’ve finished his shift at 12, having had a 4am start, but “got stitched up” for an overtime run to Glasgow & back. Another very friendly soul whose seen it all before but clearly enjoys his job. Mostly!

Two large yellow ships

Scotland’s maritime industry alive and well.

I have to confess that the Greggs Scotch Pie didn’t quite make it as far as Aberdeen. Buoyed by the knowledge that further refreshment would be available later if needed, I decided to call it “high tea”.

At Aberdeen, where there’s an 11 minute wait and the aforementioned crew change, a pair of two car 158 units were added to the rear of the service making it a seven car train. Judging by the number who got on at Aberdeen – it’s commuter time of course – they’re needed. Indeed, although I remain in splendid isolation in the comfy bit, the vestibule ahead of me is full & standing. The guard has announced that the rear two cars are detached at Inverurie.

Teatime I think.

Dyce, only a short distance out of Aberdeen  (Aberdeen airport is next door) was almost as busy – and two gentlemen had the temerity to come and use First Class.

Around Inverurie everything was getting very grey – the weather was distinctly overcast and downright dull. Also, (and I say this with the greatest respect to the good people who call Inverurie home) even the town looked grey.

There were still people standing in the vestibule at this point, but looking along the train I think this was out of choice more than necessity as it had thinned-out a lot. One of the two blokes who came into First Class had dumped his many bags and disappeared who knows where. I get the impression both were fresh off an oil rig somewhere.

Sure enough it was just south of Huntly before the chap with the Aberdeen trolley fought his way to the back end of the front unit. By the time he made it I was ready for my sixth coffee of the day (in my defence, they’re quite small cups!).

For the record. The owner of the previously whinged about bags reclaimed them on leaving Huntly. It seems he was actually one of the vestibule occupants and had now found room in Standard for himself and his luggage. In retrospect, given the imbalance in space utilisation, I think it was pretty good thinking to have put them out of the way like that – and probably something borne of experience.

“We are now approaching Keith”. There was a time that could get a man into trouble.

Out of curiosity, I’ve just priced-up what it would’ve cost me to do today’s journey (and straight back home). The answer – a First Anytime Return Willington to Inverness is £685.60. On that basis, I’m pretty much in profit for the rest of the week. (£332.20 in Standard class, in case you’re wondering).

Elgin: The northernmost latitude of the journey. Reached three minutes early – as if it matters.

Spot on time into Inverness. I dawled slightly as there was a good size crowd coming off this service and squeezing through the barriers. Even though I had a fair idea where I was heading, I let Siri guide me to the Premier Inn. As I was exiting the station I think I was panhandled but a combination of my forward momentum, a mutually exchanged confused look and, frankly, no chance it was ever going to happen anyway, meant it never got beyond the “excuse me, but….” stage.

A distillery

Again, not the best phot you’ve ever seen (I blame the driver) but here’s a whisky distillery for your delectation.

I checked in using the automated receptionist, which was significantly faster than the real thing five feet away. Though to be fair, I’m not sure the the bloke he was checking in knew if it was Wednesday or Wednesfield. I dumped the bag, made sure various devices were talking to one another to sync photos and blogs, then headed out into the bright lights of Inverness. I’d selected my destination from the GBG, less than a mile away but I hadn’t accounted for the hilliness of this corner of the city (yes, sorry Inverness, it had completely escaped me you were a city). As I type and edit this (I do try and edit it into something marginally coherent – though you’d hardly know from this paragraph). I am really enjoying a pint of Cromarty Brewing Co.’s Happy Chappy, an aptly named 4.1% “new wave pale ale”. I am also enjoying the hospitality of the moderately busy Corriegarth Hotel to do so. I had tried to book a room here, but by the time I got round to making the arrangements it was fully booked. Actually I’m now quite glad It was as I’m not sure I would have coped with trundling my case up here.

Right, I’m going to upload this now. Check back tomorrow when should find a postcript to the day’s fun. Also, I hope, a lot more photos. I’m using my iPad in the Corriegarth and, to be honest, am not getting on well with the app I’m using. I think a bit of MacBook tinkering later will be called for. Enjoy and tune in tomorrow for the next thrilling instalment….

I’ll leave you, for now,  with a couple of images of The Corriegarth…

Just to add a last few words about Wednesday…. The pub cleared-out almost after some football match finished. I headed back down the hill as the only beer left to try was Speckled Hen (I’d rather drink cola!). I’m almost ashamed to report I detoured into McDonalds for supper before a final nightcap in the GBG-listed Hootanany Bar. I recall trying this place last time I was here and I also recall not being overly impressed then. To be fair, the one beer (out of a grand total of two real ales) I did try — Black Isle Organic Red Kite — was very palatable. If I’m being honest, it was probably on better form (fresher?) than the two I’d had up the hill. The live music wasn’t my cup of tea though, so I finished my beer and came back to the room. Good night.

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