I embarked on another journey into the past the other day when I boarded the 2 coach train to Lochgelly for a family reunion. Most of the people present were quite distant relatives but we are all descended from a coal miner who lived in Dunfermline in the 17th century – the latest on him is that he or his ancestors, originated in Applecross, in Wester Ross, and he was probably a cattle drover who stayed on after bringing his cattle down to the Lowlands. Our previous meeting was held 2 years ago in Carnegie Hall (the Dunfermline one).
Even the journey from Edinburgh to Lochgelly took me into the past, as my ancestors lived at various times at many of the places along the route, my great-grandfather helped to build the Forth Rail Bridge, and we used to pass through, or change trains at, some of the other stations on our way to visit my grandmother in Dunfermline.
Annoyingly, the ticket machines at Haymarket only seem to allow you to go to ‘popular’ destinations, of which Lochgelly is not one – I can’t imagine why. When we used to travel through the area in the 1950s en route to and from Dunfermline, everything was smoky and dark for miles around, with evidence of coal mining and steam trains everywhere. Now Lochgelly’s quite a pleasant small town with a massive community centre, which I know from previous experience incorporates a proper theatre with a large scene dock.
Lochgelly station has a steep flight of steps leading down to the road at the side where trains from Edinburgh arrive, but to make up for that there is a very convenient bus service going up the hill into the centre of the little town, only two or three stops away. The Lochgelly Centre is near the junction of Station Road and Auchterderran Road.
On the way back I took a picture of North Queensferry from the Forth Bridge.
Please get in touch if you think you can talk me out of buying a ticket for a steam train trip on the Fife Circle line! I am fighting the temptation just now.
The whole rail route from Edinburgh to Thurso must be one of the most scenic in the country, something I realised once I got over my panic about the southward creep of Gaelic. I’ve travelled the section from Edinburgh to Pitlochry so often that I suppose I’ve become almost immune to the wonders of the Forth Bridge, the charms of the Fife coast (not all routes go this way) and the gradual replacement of Lowland with Highland scenery.
The stations from Perth to Inverness tend to be very well kept – especially Pitlochry, with its multiplicity of floral features – and even the forests look as if they had been manicured, perhaps by the Forestry Commission.
I’ve tried here to capture the look of Aviemore station with its smart colour scheme and twiddly wrought-iron accessories. There is much more to it!
As I write this I am travelling back through this part of the Highlands, and I can see that the scenery, as well as changing with each mile along the way, looks different each time you travel. So when we headed north through Drumochter on Wednesday it was gloomy and forbidding. Now, on a bright Saturday morning, there are pockets of early morning mist in the dips, but the hills are lit by sunlight and you can see all the patches of heather and tufts of grass and protruding rocks in quite a bit of detail, even from the train windows.
The stretch of line north of Inverness was completely new to me but it was the best part, with the huge skies of Sutherland above us and the passing scenery opening out as we reached the coast and then changing again as we climbed from Helmsdale to cross the top of the Scottish mainland, scaring away herds of deer as we went.
There will be more pictures later! Here’s one for now.
Of course you’re theoretically in Gael-land as you wait for the train at Haymarket station in Edinburgh these days, as I may have mentioned before on this very blog.
However, I am now venturing further into Gaeldom than I’ve done for years – almost as far as the land of the Viking, in fact. One thing I’m glad to report is that there are still trains in operation past Inverness. At one time – probably during the evil reign of Empress Thatcher who hated trains, perhaps because she had once been frightened by one as a child in Grantham – there was talk of no more trains north of Edinburgh, although of course that would have been heresy if it meant the Forth Bridge was redundant.
I’ve sensibly split my journey to Thurso into three parts – two on the way back.
So far so good – we’ve got as far as Pitlochry, one of my favourite places, and somewhere I will be visiting properly one day soon. I tried to take a picture as we hurtled through the pass of Killiecrankie but it was too blurry – better just to gaze at the view down to the river. Instead I’ve captured a couple of stations.
The title of this post is possibly a little unfair. After all, they did get us from Aachen to Berlin and back to Cologne safely, without the train breaking down or arriving without the requisite number of coaches. The train back to Cologne today was half an hour late, but what’s half an hour between friends? (No need to answer that)
I do have a few annoying little odds and ends to report. Although the 1st class seats on the ICE trains between Cologne and Berlin appear quite luxurious and are of a good size, something isn’t right about the footrest positioning – this seems to be designed for people with unusually long legs, and when I’ve tried to use one of the footrests I end up with muscle strain. Also, it can be hard to attract the attention of the staff who serve on board refreshments, and even when you do they have to memorize what you want and fetch it from the bistro coach instead of bringing a selection on a trolley as they do in the UK.
Still these are definitely minor details compared to the total fiasco that I experienced about this time last year. So it’s a B+ from me, and try and re-design the footrests for next time.
There may be a little more about transport around Berlin later.
I won’t say this is the final chance for DB as we have to travel back to Cologne with them in a few day’s time, but we’re getting close.
At the moment, as I write this on board what is admittedly a very smart and comfortable ICE train from Cologne to Berlin, I have to say it was on time leaving, the coach we were booked on is in fact part of the train, and the only small annoyance as we boarded was that 2 trains arrived at the same platform at the same time and we had to rush up the platform to find our coach while answering frantic queries in two languages from people looking for the train to the airport and/or Dusseldorf.
The first part of our journey, after Virgin’s attempt to spook us at Waverley, went very much according to plan Our Eurostar got to Brussels on time and we found the not-all-that-secret connections exit which got us to our Thalys train to Aachen in time. If only we hadn’t worn ourselves out walking from the station to our hotel (must have been more than 0.3 of a mile), we would have been fine!
Things to do in Aachen: my favourite things here are the Carolus Thermen (swimming pool with lovely warm water, grottos, indoor and outdoor pools, waterfalls, rapids etc, and the Centre Charlemagne, a very informative museum of the history of Aachen. Of course it’s also good to go into the cathedral but personally I learned more from the museum.
Aachen is supposed to be the city of Charlemagne and horses, but we never did work out the horses part of that.
We were waiting for the train this morning on platform 2 at Waverley Station and about five minutes after I had cast scorn on my companion’s predictions of a last-minute platform change, and about ten minutes before departure time, the loudspeaker sprang into action for an announcement that our train would depart from platform 8 – at the other side of the station, up an escalator and down some steps. As we boarded the train at last, the announcer informed us that there were no seat reservations in place – coincidentally another of the pessimistic predictions I had cast scorn on earlier.
Oh well, at least there was a train. As our previous experiences show, you can’t always rely on that with VT.
Meanwhile I’ve been collecting more food every time the trolley comes along.
It’s too sunny to make a start on my grim post-apocalyptic dystopian novel and the breakfast hasn’t come round yet, but I have all my gadgets ready for the journey.
The purple thing is my netbook for writing on, the book with the flowers is my grim post-etc notebook. You can’t see my kindle fire because I used it to take the picture, but it’s the most useful travel gadget because it’s so versatile. I have a playlist of travel tunes on it – a random selection ranging from Big Yellow Taxi through Pasadena and Graceland to Leaving on a Jet Plane. Some of the travel connections are more tenuous than others.
Waiting at Waverley Station I noticed for the first time that there’s a very ornate roof in the main waiting-room, which I think was once the ticket hall. I think the reason I’ve missed seeing it before is that there was a coffee kiosk right in the centre of the area for quite a few years. As well as the ceiling decoration the walls have imitation pillars here and there which mimic some of the architecture in Edinburgh. I’ve tried to take a picture but it doesn’t capture all of this.
I’m now writing on board my First Great Western train to Swindon. I see there is an entertainment coach with screens on the backs of the seats, but on the other hand there has just been an announcement telling first class passengers they have to go and queue for their free food, so East Coast are still ahead on that one.
At first glance Swindon’s reputation – in our department anyway – seems slightly undeserved, but maybe the area round the station is the best bit!