I’ve been travelling all week – from London to Yorkshire, around and about, and back home again. I went on the train.
I do like train travel. In fact, I love it, and I’ll count the ways here.
First of all, I like the little orange tickets with the carefully worded details on them. All the information for your trip, succinctly presented. It’s so straight forward. Be at x station, to travel to y station, at z time. Nothing else matters. Be there. If you’re not, forget it. Do not lose this ticket. I even like the frisson of danger here; the thought of losing the ticket, or of not turning up. Shiver. Imagine it.
What might make you not turn up, I wonder?*
And why would you want to miss getting on the train, in fact. This is the second thing I love – boarding a train in itself is exciting. Finding the right carriage. Stowing your rather large bag on the overhead rack – the ‘Will I drop it on someone’s head moment’, and the triumph when you don’t. And who will be in the seat next to you? Someone interesting? Someone intimidating? Someone noisy?** It’s fun to wonder about it, and not always fun to find out.
But no matter. If you have a ticket, you may travel, and the characters on the train are all part of the journey.
Is it 10.58 precisely? Trains keep to such romantic, elegant timeframes.*** Let’s go! Look at the view from the window! Cities, turning into outskirts. Snatched glances of people – in their back gardens, mowing the lawn, opening the shed door. A woman filling up a bucket from the outside tap. Onwards, as the suburbs turn into open fields. A tractor, with clouds of birds following its plough.
The wide open sky all around.
Time for a cup of coffee, maybe, and the fourth good thing. Wobbling along to the buffet car, having asked your seat-mate if they would like you to fetch anything. A most British politeness, though I ask every time, and no one has ever wanted anything. Maybe this is because most people just like the challenge of wobbling along there themselves, and someone else fetching the coffees is in fact, depriving them of a particular joy.
I think I will stop offering. I’ve never thought about it like that before. I’ve been stealing people’s fun, perhaps.
Fifth thing. Tunnels. Of course, it depends on the route. But this time I had a very long tunnel on one of my train rides, and it was so great. I thought it would never end! I thought maybe we were tunnelling into the centre of a mountain, or under the sea, but eventually we emerged, blinking into the sunshine.
Six – viaducts. Now, you don’t always get a viaduct, but the route from Leeds to Knaresborough has a very fine one. I was in a swoon of delight the entire way across. You can’t see down exactly, but from the train window you can see the stone wall, right there next to the carriage, and then the sense of the drop, and the view right across the valley. Magic.
The seventh joy: station names. We stopped at Weeton, Pannal, Hornbeam Park, Starbeck. What were they like? Well, one of them had a large warning sign saying ‘You are now entering a Great Crested Newt conservation area’, which tells you everything.
Eighth must be awarded to fellow train lovers. At Harrogate, two old men stopped on the platform just by my window, and were gesturing excitedly to each other about something under the carriage. One was explaining with large arm movements the engineering behind the wheel, or whatever it was they were interested in. I watched on, fascinated. I love people with all their curiosities. They spotted me watching them. The train started to move on. We waved, and smiled. I wonder if they will record me in their notebook: ‘GZ54 engine spotted with Colin at Harrogate. 11.36am. Girl on the train.’****
Of all the joys, the best is that trains can take you to people you love. Mine certainly did. I’m back in London now, after a happy week. But my heart is still full of the going, and also glad of the coming home. It was a lovely adventure, filled with happiness. I didn’t even pick up a pencil. Normal service will resume next week.
**There is a way around this, called the Quiet Carriage. A place for like minded souls.
***Sometimes the timeframes feel hypothetical, I admit.
****That would be a good title for a book! 😉