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Thursday, 25 August 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 0: Getting to Oban (1)

This year, I was starting at Oban. And Oban is one of the easiest of all the start points to get to. Critically, it is easy to reach in a day by public transport. No need for sleepers. No need for all that tiresome waiting around in the Bree Louise with nothing better to do than sample the alcoholic beverages on offer. No need even for an earlier-than-normal alarm. My normal train to London is the 7.58 from Bedford, and to get to Oban I had to start by catching the 8.34 from Bedford to Bletchley (pictured) on Thursday 12 May. So my wife took me to Bedford station, as she normally would, and dropped me off on her way to work, as she normally would. The only thing remotely abnormal about today's arrangement was that instead of wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase, I was wearing my walking clothes and boots and carrying a rucksack. And I had half an hour to kill at Bedford before boarding my train (pictured).

Now, I had been more than a little surprised, when I bought my tickets, to find that I could have a first class ticket for the first two legs of the journey (Bedford - Bletchley and Bletchley - Milton Keynes Central) for only a few pounds more than a substandard class ticket. The real surprise wasn't so much that the price differential was so slight, but that there was the option of travelling first class at all. The bulk of the journey (the Bedford - Bletchley leg) is, after all, on the Marston Vale line: a delightful little cross-country backwater (the last remaining stretch of the old Oxford - Cambridge line to retain its passenger service), but the few times I had travelled it in the past I hadn't even realized that there WAS an option to travel first class.

But evidently there was! So I bought my first class ticket, and now I looked for the first class compartment.

It wasn't in the back carriage of the two-car unit; so I walked forward into the front carriage.

It wasn't there, either.

Slowly the penny dropped. There was hardly any price differential, because there was no first class accommodation on the Marston Vale line, and I should only get to enjoy my first class luxury for the three minute flit from Bletchley to Milton Keynes Central!

Oh well! Accepting that it is what it is, I settled down in a substandard class seat to enjoy my journey through the Slough of Despond. (I kid you not ... Marston Vale is the heart of the Bedfordshire brickfields ... and when John Bunyan wrote of the Slough of Despond, the mental picture he had in mind was of standing on the hill at Lidlington, looking down on the clay-caked brick workers of the Marston Vale trudging wearily through the slimy mire. Or so they say. And it certainly sounds a convincing enough identification to me.)

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