I made another trip to Sussex in mid-July, primarily to bring back Mum & Dad for their first visit to us. To make the trip as productive as possible, and to give Mum & Dad as much independence as possible, we agreed that I would come up the day before to spend time with my friend, Caroline, and the following morning they would manage the first leg of the journey themselves, with us meeting in London. I left home bright and early in promising sunshine.
It was early, and the sunshine was promising: my justification for failing to check the weather forecast and deciding not to bring a coat. And that promise held good for the first stage of the trip. In fact, the first leg was absolutely splendid. The vagaries of National Rail meant it was cheaper for me to buy a ticket to Exeter St David’s, then an onward ticket on the same train. The aforementioned vagaries meant that I was given a first class ticket for the price of standard class – which in itself was already very reasonably priced. I can recommend first class train travel. Large, comfy, leather seats; complimentary drinks, snacks and newspapers; clean windows. Very enjoyable – full marks to Great Western. But even National Rail can’t hold back the rain. By Exeter it was falling steadily. The remainder of the journey was more crowded and less salubrious. And the rain continued. I wondered about that lack of coat…
A change of train – farewell Great Western, time to slum it on Southern. The rain was now torrential. But at least the ongoing rail dispute that had been blighting Southern Rail for some weeks had not resulted in my connection being cancelled. I arrived at Crawley on time. And still the rain poured down. I asked at the ticket office for directions to the nearest shop that might sell umbrellas. As the ticket clerk shook her head sympathetically, her colleague raised a hand in acknowledgement… and offered me a fetching leopard print umbrella: one of many that had been left behind by forgetful passengers. Full marks, Three Bridges rail staff, for being helpful, cheerful and courteous to a fault.
A lovely, if damp, afternoon followed: a catch-up with Caroline and an exceedingly soggy walk with her puppy. Even the leopard print umbrella would have been overwhelmed; thankfully I borrowed a waterproof. Poor Penny, the cardigan corgi puppy, was less well protected and less enamoured of the rain. She was very reluctant to cross the swollen stream that forms part of her normal route. Her legs are so short!
An evening with Russ, Tom and Amy; back on the train up to London the next morning; a tube ride across the capital and I’m ready and waiting at Charing Cross with time to spare. Full marks again: no delays, no confusion, clear information – and there were Mum & Dad, coming through the ticket barrier with a member of the station staff assisting with their luggage and taking them to the taxi rank.
This is the first time I have arranged assistance for a train journey. And it worked perfectly. Because there were a lot of firsts on this trip I preferred to come and meet Mum & Dad and guide them through, but everything we had arranged worked like a dream, and everyone who helped them was equally polite and helpful. It was definitely worth my being there: we learned exactly how things work at Paddington and how we can arrange even more assistance in the future. Hats off to National Rail for such a competent, complimentary service. Even if we didn’t have Paddington himself to welcome us onto the train.
Once on the train from London Paddington to Liskeard we could relax and enjoy the ride. And the sun came out. Sunshine to welcome Mum & Dad to Cornwall…
After a recovery day we thought about a trip out. The sun had retreated again by then, indeed the clouds looked ominous. My tentative plans of a delicious cream tea by the river were set aside; it was too cold and the weather too unreliable. I considered my wet weather option – more trains involved but these were steam trains. Imagine my surprise when I glanced at the website of my first choice of line and discovered they run ‘steam and cream’ trips. Imagine my delight when the timetable told me that one ran this very day. And when I called to book – they had just four spaces left!
The Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway is a delight. Restored and run by volunteers, the station at Bodmin is immaculate and a step back in time. Pristine cream and brown paintwork, beautiful plants and flowers, vintage hoardings and of course, the lovely engines and carriages.
Dad used to be a railway engineer. How he loved seeing the old rails and paraphernalia: he took himself off to inspect the signal box and told us the names of all manner of things from specific joints and couplings on the track to the platelayer’s hut – which is the only name I can now remember.
Mum and I enjoyed the lush planting.
Finally, the shunting was completed and our glorious vintage Pullman was ready. We no longer had to gaze greedily through the windows. Eagerly, we took our seats. There’s something about old trains…
Each table was laid with a different set of vintage china; huge scones and lashings of jam and cream. (I’m getting into the vintage vernacular here.) Our two stewards were the epitome of charm and wit. Extra jam and cream were provided on request; extra tea and coffee went without saying.
A lively discussion followed the mention of the word “Devon”, which in turn led to a debate on the respective merits of Cornish and Devon cream teas. Is it jam, then cream? Or cream, followed by jam? There’s never been any question for me!
I thought this would be a lovely trip for Mum & Dad but really, Bernie and I enjoyed it every bit as much.
It was lovely to have Mum & Dad visit. Now they have a clear picture of where we are (and perhaps why we moved here). Having managed the trip once, I hope they will visit again. There’s plenty more to show them – or they can just sit in the garden with the papers, or on the sofa and watch the birds.
They had a few more days with us this time, before making the journey home on their own, relying on the assistance provided which again, worked very well. So – high praise from me for trains and train staff of all ages and all eras. My only complaint – our ‘home’ station of Liskeard. There is no assistance available here. I had told the platform staff that we would need to help Mum & Dad onto the train and stow their luggage for them. Twice the conductor closed the door with us still on board… we almost had an unwanted ride to Plymouth!