01 July 2007

To London for a Show......

Coincidentally, many months ago, I realised that I'd be on my weekend off when the annual bus rally held at the North Weald Airfield in Essex was on. Advertised as attracting over 200 vehicles and 50 stalls, the event is particularly large! Realising that I could attend so far in advance meant that I could plan the cheapest possible rail travel by booking so far in advance. Travel was so cheap that I, for the first time after the Railrover 2 years ago, booked 1st class travel in both directions (Cleethorpes - King's Cross).

The cost? £28.60 each way. Very reasonable, plus with me travelling down on Sat 30 June and returning the following day, children would be aplenty on board the train in standard class and that's one thing I'd want to avoid.

The unfortunate events in London at 2am on 29 June, where a BMW car was found laden with explosives that hadn't gone off, did concern me a little in terms of what would be open in central London, as on the Saturday night I'd planned to go and see Chicago in the West End with Simon. Coupled with the horrific flooding throughout South Yorkshire, there were no trains running between Scunthorpe - Doncaster, so the potential for problems were plentiful.

Still, I had a first class rail ticket so I had a little more bounce in my step on Saturday morning when I went to catch the 1326 TransPennine Express train from Cleethorpes station. According to the National Rail website, the connecting bus service journey time between Scunthorpe - Doncaster was 32 minutes! That struck me immediately as impossible; when we ran the 909 coach between the 2 points, 45 minutes were given and this was a little tight! As it happened, and not wanting to miss my train (with my reserved first class seat), I opted to catch the train 1 hour earlier from Cleethorpes at 1228.

It was fortunate that I chose to do this as the Travel South Yorkshire (ex SYPTE) timetable on display at the station, showed a 50 min travel time for the replacment bus service - much more realistic - and also showed that had I opted to travel on the later train, would have missed my GNER to London by 6 minutes.

Here's my itininery:

1228 Cleethorpes (TransPennine Express)
1310 Scunthorpe

1320 Scunthorpe (replacement bus)
1410 Doncaster

1504 Doncaster (GNER)
1647 London King's Cross

1700 King's Cross St. Pancras (Underground)
1706 Great Portland Street

In the event, 185136 worked the Cleethorpes - Scunthorpe section, with only myself in first class. I opted for a complimentary tea and a packet of shortbread chocolate chip biscuits. Very calm and serene. Then came the replacement bus ride: and it was a bus - M804 PRA, new to Trent Buses in 1994, a MAN/Optare Sigma, now operating with Woodside Continental Tours of Sheffield. It was in an all-over white livery with blue lettering and did a top speed of 50mph. Luggage space was, as you can probably imagine, virtually nil, and unlike bus passengers, the majority of people on board had luggage (excluding me). Also parked at Scunthorpe station was a Frodingham Coaches (EYMS) liveried B10M/Plaxton Premiere, A15 EYC. I thought the bulk of us would go on that, allowing the overspill to use the bus, but in the event it was the other way round. I wasn't complaining too much as we did leave punctually (and first) at 1320.

Despite being overtaken by Reliant Robins and every juganaut on the road, we arrived in Doncaster at 1406. Don't be fooled that, with a GNER first class ticket, you're automatically allowed to frequent the First Class Lounge on the station. A board outside welcomed all first class passengers except those with Weekend First and Advance First tickets who are "not allowed to use the First Class Lounge". There was no apology so I had to spend some money in the Pumpkin Buffet Restaurant.

My 1504 GNER to King's Cross arrived on time and had a dummy unit 82212 at the southern end of the train. I was in coach M (a personal first) and had never waited so far along the platform before. I found my individual, reclinable seat, and awaited our departure, 2 minutes later. Tea/coffee et al were served at numerous intervals throughout the journey; I again opted for a gratis cup of tea and pack of biscuits. Unlike TransPennine, GNER were, on this occasion, using proper milk in a big flask, rather than individual portions of UHT milk.

There was a speed restriction in force along the East Coast Main Line throughout the Doncaster area due to the recent flooding, and it was very evident from the train: whole fields submerged; at times it was as if the raised train line was passing through the middle of the sea, the only giveaway that this wasn't the case being the occasional tree rearing its 'head' above the water. We had very high rainfall in Cleethorpes, with some streets in Grimsby having to be evacuated, but nothing on the scale the Doncaster area received. It was clearly a very desperate time in this area and it made me appreciate just how efficiently the emergency timetables had been drawn up by the train companies and just how quickly replacement bus/coach operators had drafted in their vehicles to help out. So often does the bus/coach industry come to the aid of the rail industry and so very rarely is it the other way round.

We arrived in King's Cross at 1651, a mere 4 minutes late, and my journey had taken 1 hour longer than expected due to catching an earlier train from Cleethorpes, but I wasn't bothered as I was here now and had travelled first class throughout, save 50 minutes on a bus, in quiet, calm, relaxed surroundings. Wonderful, it really was.

I have an Oyster Card, and it's been all mine for about 1 year exactly. I initially topped it up with £20 and arranged for it to be automatically topped up by £20 every time my balance drops below £5. Naturally, for this to occur, my debit card it linked to it. It's a great way for the casual visitor to London to travel around the city. Tube journeys are 50% cheaper (only £2) and bus fares are 33% cheaper (only £1.50). Over the past year I've not used it much, but this weekend I was going to be making more use of it.

King's Cross St. Pancras Underground station has been undergoing renovation for a very long time, in readiness for the Eurostar service to France. Now completed, it makes the station fully accessible to those with limited mobility and it far more open plan, despite being wholly underground, than it was before. I boarded a Metropolitan Line Uxbridge-bound train (5046, running car 422) at 1703, alighting at Great Portland Street at 1706.

Both Simon and I were staying at the LSE Campus on Fitzroy Street nearby, at a very reasonable £30 per night. We met up here and then headed into the West End in readiness for the 8pm show time for Chicago. It was raining a little so we opted to get on a bus and have a ride to Marble Arch and back to get out of the way of the crowds. We boarded a 390 bus at Tottenham Court Road at 1840. We waited. And waited. More got on. More got off. In 22 minutes, we moved only once - about 10 feet in total. This weekend was the Gay Pride March in central London and there was obviously an ad hoc road closure ahead. So, having paid £1.50 for the comfort of the bus for 22 minutes and total distance travelled of 10 feet, we cut our losses and left.

This will continue in tomorrow's post.