Friday, 7 December 2007

Trains, planes and automobiles. . . well, automobiles anyway

Listening to: The whirring inside my brain
It's been: a bloody long day
Drinking: 12-year-old Highland Park

"Are you waiting for a train?" asked the large Scotsman as he loomed out of the early-morning half-light.

I examined my bags, my shoes which appeared to be attached to my feet and a railway station platform, the ticket in my hand, the locked and barred gents toilet (open from 10am-3.30pm), the two shiny strips of metal held together with large pieces of wood which will one day make a lovely raised beds in someone's garden.

"Yes I am," I replied, quickly sitting on the lid of the overloaded suitcase of sarcastic replies and snapping the clasps tight shut.

"Well it's no comin' and I'm ter tek ye tae Inverness," he said, stepping back to reveal a small red mini-bus. "Only we cannae go straight there, someone wants collecting at Forsinard."

My heart sank. I love trains. Not in a 'stand-on-the-platform with notebook, anorak and thermos' kind of a way. I have no idea what the various different-shaped trains are called (except for the Pendolino and that's only because it's silly), but I do love a train ride.

I've been on some of the best Britain has to offer, but this would have been something special. Leaving Thurso at twenty to nine, the train rattles its way through the barren wilderness of Caithness before meeting the east coast of Scotland at Helmsdale, hugging the shore through the little seaside towns of Brora and Golspie before skirting inside to dodge the Dornoch and Moray Firths.

I'd breakfasted heartily at the B&B, stocked up on chocolate, got binoculars ready. I was all set for the best part of four hours innocent pleasure.

Instead I found myself at the back of the aforementioned mini-bus, trundling and bumping our way along the north coast of Scotland (entirely the wrong way, as far as I could tell). Still, I've always wanted to see the Dounreay nuclear power station - the one which makes Scottish surfers glow in the dark.

After about 20 miles we turned sharp left onto what was billed as an 'A' road, but was, in fact, single track with passing places. It was, in all fairness, a stunning road and would have been all the more stunning had the hiker in the seat in front of me not got his face pressed up against the window, his heavy breathing adding to the condensation on the windows which I theatrically wiped away from time to time.

The morning wasn't a total loss. It was a relatively comfortable trip and we arrived in Inverness 20 minutes before the train would have. . . and they gave me my money back.

An hour later I was zipping down the A9 through the Highlands in a very neat hire car with, best of all, a cracking CD/MP3 player player (if you see what I mean). Going over the summit of Slochd the mountain tops were covered with snow like so many craggy Christmas puddings sprinkled with icing sugar.

Led Zep were on loud, the pig farmer and Robert Plant were doing it proud. . . motoring rarely gets any better.

That was hours ago, maybe days. I got to Shrewsbury about 10pm. Hauled myself out of the car and, after a bit of a palava finding the key, deposited my aching body inside my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's house. They're away so I have the place to myself, but I can't sleep.

Is there such a thing as mini-bus lag?


Anonymous said...

It's called knackeredness, dear :) I love train journeys too, but not in the middle of rush hour when you can't get to your reserved seat let alone kick the infidel occupying it out into the aisle where he belongs. A very poetic piece means you've had a good day, all things considered!

fiwa said...

What a shame about the mini-bus, that train ride sounds like it would have been fantastic. I have never been on a train - the one you were supposed to have taken sounds like a vacation all in itself to me.

Better luck tomorrow!

Dave said...

I quite enjoyed my drive to and from Edinburgh (or as you would say, 'the Midlands') a few weeks ago.

Malc said...


Rush hour can be a pain. I commuted by train for three years and Arriva Trains Wales made it their business to confound and dismay me on a daily basis.


Never been on a train! Hell's teeth! You really should come over here and try it. Although there are, I believe, one or two pretty spectacular railways your side of the water. Can't see the Union Pacific being replaced by a mini-bus somehow.


Edinburgh is a place worth driving to.

Dash said...

Hurrah for trains! Trains are my favorite way to travel too.

Glad you arrived safely, Malc! Keep us updated.

Brad said...

Your post just 'took me' to Scotland - Thank you for the mini-fantasy-holiday !

Anonymous said...

That's 'cause Arriva Trains are Welsh. sigh.

Amy said...

Uh oh, should I admit that I've not been on a train either? Does the metrorail count? Oh, wait, I've been on a train in France. Surely that counts! Glad you made it safely Malc, and with your money back, too!

Daphne said...

Oh please, people who haven't been on a train, go on a train! Proper train rides - through great countryside - are always more interesting than car or bus. Though, Malc, I thought your account was really evocative anyway, as Brad says. Interesting post and you do get some good comments!

The Birdwatcher said...

Did the Journey from Glasgow to Fort William up the West Coast and then from Fort William to Mallaig last February. Stunning and spectacular. Want to go again. Enjoy your time back on the mainland.

Anonymous said...

Quite an adventure! Sorry about the train. It sounds like it would have been awesome! And I never knew there were Scottish surfers.

I, like the view said...

I'm just hugely jealous that you got to eat cinder toffee!

the only reason I eat Crunchies is for the inside cindery bit

hope you're having good times - despite the vaguaries of the British transport system. . .


Malc said...

Errr. . . hello everyone.


Trains can be very therapeutic, I've found. The one way that the getting there can be as fun as arriving.


Please let the tourist board know and maybe they'll start paying me.


Dunno about that. British Rail seemed to manage OK, but that was before your time of course. Siarad Cymraeg? No, neither do I.


Metrorail counts. The clue is in the last four letters of the name. And French railways are terrific. The only place in the whole country where the toilets are hygenic is on the trains.

Malc said...


Thanks. Complements always appreciated. It's easy to write about a fabulous place and it's probably more interesting that the train did break down at Inverness.


I walked the West Highland Way a couple of years ago with Mrs TPF, her brother and sister-in-law. It follows a similar route, but I'd love to take the train across Rannoch Moor.


There are several breaks along the north coast (and three or four on Orkney).
Thurso is generally rated one of the best waves in Europe and has hosted a World Championship qualifying round for the last two years. The line-up there is very hardcore.


I'll post you some on my way back if you like. It was terrific.

I, like the view said...

yes please!!!!!!


"some" might not be enough tho. . .


I, like the view said...

(it's light, therefore presumably cheap to post? would it get squashed in the post? mind you, how would it get thru the front door?!)

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