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Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The 2011 Challenge, Epilogue (6)

The last photograph I took this year was of the train arriving at Montrose to whisk us away to the South. I thought this gave my photographic record a certain symetery, given that I had started with a photograph of the train North arriving at Milton Keynes Central.

The weather had one last cruel trick to play on us, however, as the high winds had caused overhead power problems; and even though this train was a diesel and therefore capable of getting through to London even in a complete power failure, the fact that the lines were down meant that this was not to be.

The railway was advising a rather peculiar alternative, taking a cross-country route from York to Sheffield, then another to Manchester, and then a train to Euston. I figured that anyone who followed this advice would be lucky to get to London much before 10 p.m. and I really didn't fancy that.

They told us that the train we were on was going to continue as far as Doncaster; and I figured I'd get home quicker if I rode it on through and my wife drove up to Doncaster to meet me. So this is what I arranged.

Then the news came through that the train would continue beyond Doncaster to Retford, Newark and Grantham. So I contacted my wife again and suggested that she aim for Grantham instead.

Now, for some peculiar reason best known to herself, and despite the fact that the A1 and the East Coast Main Line run in parallel and serve all the same towns and cities, my wife was NOT heading North up the A1. Instead, she had asked her SatNav to give her a route to Doncaster railway station, and it had put her on the M1. So now she was going to have a bit of fun finding a cross-country route to Grantham.

Wouldn't it be easier just to meet at Doncaster, she asked?

Not really, I said - it'll add between two and three hours to the journey!

But why? She persisted. Why does it matter whether you do the stretch between Doncaster and Grantham by car or by train?

I muttered something about the train being approximately twice as fast at covering the ground, and stuck to my guns. I mean, the route finding isn't that difficult even without the SatNav. Just point yourself East until you meet the A1 and turn whichever way it says Grantham is! If Grantham isn't signposted, turn for Peterborough. If you reach Stamford or Peterborough and have signs saying that you are heading towards London, turn around. How difficult is that?

So anyway, we met at Grantham, where the railway had laid on buses and taxis to get people to Peterborough from where they could continue their journeys by rail. This connection hadn't been widely advertised, however, because Peterborough United were playing an away match, and they had not been able to drum up enough coaches to meet the needs if everyone had been told about it. So they were "advising" people to go via Sheffield and Manchester instead!

Rule number 1 of rail travel: when you encounter a SNAFU, take careful note of whatever they advise you to do, and then DO SOMETHING ELSE. Just about anything else will do. The one thing you must not do is follow the herd - because the services they advise you to use will almost certianly not have the capacity to cope with moving this additional herd, and abject misery is bound to be the outcome.

There were another couple of Challengers in my railway carriage - first timers from Sudbury - and we gave them a lift from Grantham to Peterborough (as this was bound to be quicker than waiting for the regular "rail replacement" service, and would mean that they were ahead of that particular "herd"). It was an interesting journey, as my wife had not cleared all of her junk out of the car before heading North. Why would she? At that time, she thought she was just coming for me. We did, however, eventually manage to squeeze four adults, three expedition rucksacks, two bags of horse feed and a saddle into a Polo, following which we pointed South.

And so ended my 2011 Challenge.

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