How Not to Travel

Hasteful MammalTHE 8th of May saw me up ungodly early, keen to resume my perambulatory pastime. I had booked the first train out of London Euston, which posed the usual issue that none of the commuter trains ran early enough to let me catch it. The solution was, as it has been before, to catch the night bus in the small hours, a thing I only have a chance of achieving if I opt not to go to bed at all.

Night Bus

Timetable Trouble

In the past, I have sometimes caught the very last night bus of what by then is rapidly ceasing to be night. On this occasion that seemed foolhardy as it allowed very little room for error on arriving in Central London. I thus opted instead to catch the penultimate night bus and made sure to check the timetable so that I knew when it was.

In retrospect, I should probably have checked the timetable before I became a sleep-deprived zombie, struggling to stay awake through the night.

The difference between when I thought the bus was and when it actually was was quite small. Small enough in fact that I was just metres from the bus stop when the bus rushed past me and disappeared into the night morning. Dammit!

Plan ‘B’ for ‘Bus’

I was frustrated by this turn of events but not unduly panicked. After all, I still had the last bus to fall back on, even if it meant that I’d have to be quick on my feet at the other end.

The last bus turned up bang on time, which was a good omen. The omen was lying, as it turned out, but we’ll get to that. The bus whooshed westwards, conveying me into London but had only got just past Lewisham when it broke down.

I’ll say that again: it broke down.

Rebooting the Bus

The driver did what any right-thinking human being does when faced with a piece of modern malfunctioning technology. He turned it off and on again. This, being the panacea of all things technical, succeeded admirably. The trouble was, he had to do it every other time he stopped and it had to stay off for a couple of minutes each time. This rapidly ate into the contingency that I didn’t actually have.

Eventually, the bus conked out completely and decided that it had rebooted enough. This was somewhere on the Old Kent Road (I think) and I was trying not to think about the cost of the train tickets I wouldn’t be travelling on and the hotels I wouldn’t be staying in when another bus pulled up behind us. Its headcode said ‘Kings Cross’, which is just down the road from Euston. Well, it seemed worth a shot.

Literally Running Late

I leapt out of the one bus and onto the other, which then made its way to Kings Cross, stopping at every stop in between bar one. When it finally got there, I hared down the street as fast as my legs would convey me. It was touch and go, but I could still conceivably make it…

…or not.

Train to Glasgow

Euston, We Have a Problem

I arrived, for the maximum fury and frustration, in time to watch my train pulling out from the platform.

This was not ideal for a number of reasons. For a start my heart was threatening to explode and my lungs were apparently in competition with my legs as to which were more on fire. And all for nothing. Also, I had bought advance tickets, which are cheaper but can only be used on that one specific train. I was now the proud possessor of a ticket-themed bookmark that had cost me over a ton. There may have been bad language.

Thirdly, the next train wasn’t for two hours. And the reason I hadn’t been catching that one was because, again, it allowed no contingency whatsoever at the other end. If it ran on time and if I was quick on my feet, I could still make my connection in Glasgow. If.

Offally Expensive

I decided to risk it and bought new tickets. This cost not only an arm and a leg but pretty much the price of a black market kidney. It was almost enough to deter me from so doing except that then everything I’d already booked would be wasted too.

I also bought a book. I needed something to do for two hours and figured I may as well put my expensive new bookmark to good use.

Two hours later the next train to Glasgow pulled out of the station bang on time. This, I decided, really was a good omen. The omen chose not disabuse me. Yet.

On Track for Tardiness

The train got as far as Milton Keynes (its first stop) when a broken train in front of it caused us fifteen minutes of delay. This posed a problem as I’d had only had twenty minutes to get from Glasgow Central to Glasgow Queen Street, and that’s about a ten-minute walk. Still, MK was early on in the journey and train companies deliberately build slack into their timings in order to massage their punctuality figures. No doubt, I thought, we’ll recover time.

We actually lost some through the journey up through England and only started to claw it back after passing Carlisle. In the end, it was a net gain but only one of five minutes. Thus, I leapt off the train in a state of mild panic with exactly ten minutes to get to Queen Street. My legs, which had been sat in a train seat for five hours, weren’t all that keen on running.


Exquisite Timing

I reached Glasgow Queen Street just in time to watch that train pull out too.


At this point, I realised, I didn’t know when the next one was. Trains from Glasgow to Mallaig are sporadic, I knew, so I was probably looking at a couple of hours, maybe even three or four. I looked it up. Six.

Six hours?!

Yes, the timetable insisted, six.

Sitting & Waiting

Ah well, at least my ticket for this leg of the journey would still be valid as it wasn’t an advance. I just needed to let the Lochailort Inn know that I wouldn’t be getting there until eleven something. Which would be after they’d normally shut their doors. In the meantime, at least I had a book to finish.

The hours ticked by, mostly in a pub, and I returned to Queen Street to catch the Very Much Later train. I found the station thronging with confused and angry people on account of all the delays. Wait, all the what?

Accepting the Inevitable

A signal failure west of Glasgow had cancelled a whole bunch of trains and had a knock-on effect on others that meant that pretty much nothing was moving. At this point, I took the hint and gave up.

As a courtesy, I phoned the Lochailort Inn to say I couldn’t get there (they were charmingly apologetic about my travel incompetence) and, knowing that I was now paying for a room I wouldn’t get to sleep in, I set off to find another one in Glasgow. At this point, my travel day had doubled the cost of the entire walking trip and I hadn’t actually done any walking yet.

Hotels & Hope

I found a hotel — Glasgow has several — and finished my book before finding food and retiring for the night. I’d try again on the first train out, which left Queen Street at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Or so I hoped…

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