It’s no secret that I like travelling. In particular I love travelling by trains and I hate travelling by planes. I have always liked travelling by trains even when it is more practical to fly or drive by car.
Train stations are amazing places. So many people coming and going. Some in a hurry, some leisurely drifting around. Some people waiting to meet long lost friends and families and others saying goodbye at the end of the platform.
Trains allow you to meet people, some good and some bad but unlike driving, you can read, talk freely or even play around on a laptop or iPad. Train journeys can often take you to places you can’t see by car so you can see countryside in a more unspoilt state than many roads and infinitely more peaceful. Travelling by train in cities is interesting too though it is amazing how few people actually keep their back gardens tidy on the trip into London. The disgusting state of some of the gardens is however more than compensated by the lack of traffic jams, congestion and parking problems.
I have been on some quite great train journeys but none of them have yet been truly great… yet. Berlin to Prague and particularly Prague to Krakow was breathtakingly beautiful. Travelling by train from the Med down the Nile to southern Egypt perhaps does count as a great train journey, at least if you’re not Egyptian. The way you go from the sea to busy, busy Cairo and then meander ever southwards for hundreds of miles until you seemingly come to the end of civilisation itself with the desert forever encroaching closer to the river is incredible.
There are several scenically beautiful journeys in England by train which I always remember. London to Cornwall where the sea washes over the trains in stormy weather. Also the long journey north from London to Edinburgh, passing through the great York station and over the dramatic skyline of the Tyne before going through Newcastle and travelling on the wild Northumbrian coast before coming out in the centre of Edinburgh right under the castle.
No matter how many times you do it, going on the Eurostar from London and then going under the sea to France, Belgium, Germany and beyond is always amazing too. Probably to people who live on continents it is no big deal but travelling by train abroad when you are on a big island is something not to be taken for granted.
I probably first got my taste for train travel from my Granddad. When I was about 5, I would spend 5 or 6 weeks of each summer with my grandparents and once or twice a week we would go on the train somewhere.
My Granddad was a very active man and even on quiet days we would go and build kites that would fly hundreds of feet high. Sometimes we would go to the shore just over a mile away and set up huge bonfires with washed up wood, seaweed and car tyres. If we were lucky a tractor tyre would be found, they being so much bigger were all the more satisfying to burn. The fires caused such black smoke from the rubber we could see them all the way home and sometimes they would be smoking away the next day.
Some days we would go on the bus to the local town and do some food shopping. Grandma would often like to have a cup of tea and a scone or piece of cake. I would like to have a sausage roll. Things were so different then, there weren’t many places to drink or snack at and my Granddad always thought doing so was a total waste of money when at home he could make 200 cups of tea for the price of the one he bought. I am sure he would have hated Starbucks and the like even more than I do and I can’t stand them myself.
The highlight of the week was going on some train trips. As pensioners they would get free or heavily discounted tickets and as a 5 year old I probably did too. We would go all over the place and must have gone to 20 or 30 places by train each year. Sometimes to the sea at Blackpool or Southport both just above Liverpool and which would take several hours to reach. We often used to go to Preston, it was a great adventure and the scenery on the way was incredible. They had lots of shops and just outside the station was a small restaurant that did the nicest chips. We went there a lot and when I had a spare half hour in Preston 30 years later I went straight there but sadly the restaurant had closed.
Once my grandparents missed the change of station at Carlisle and we continued for another hour or two to Glasgow in Scotland but the train company were nice enough to let us return without paying for it.
We must have gone on the famously scenic Carlisle to Settle train line but sadly I can’t remember any of it. I do remember visiting Skipton in 1979 and being worried that the mass-murderer The Yorkshire Ripper might catch us.
My granddad retired when I was just over 2 years old. It is probably my oldest memory as we went to a hotel/restaurant where he was presented with a long-service reward and a grand clock for working in the postal service for 45 years. I remember being slightly the centre of attention being sat right next to my Granddad when the photo was taken. Everyone was very worried I would knock the clock over when I lifted the glass case off for our photo to be taken. There was no need to worry of course, I may only have been two but I wasn’t stupid!
Afterwards we came home to my grandparents house, it was very cold outside, at least to me. My Grandma made me a slice of toast before going bed. She always made the best toast whether it was because of her brand of bread (probably) or variety of butter (possibly) or because she was Grandma (definitely).
We would sit in front of the coal fire and I would get as close as I could without burning myself or getting told to move in case I fell in. However nice Grandma and Granddad were, there house outside the living room was always absolutely freezing cold unless it was hot outside. It was always a quick trip to the toilet and to brush my teeth before jumping into bed with a hot-water bottle pressed next to my legs.