Now, onto my favourite mode of transport. Trains.
Living in the North East, I rarely got to try this particular mode of transport. In fact, a lot of my childhood was spent watching the ones that once criss-crossed the North East of England being dismantled, very rarely ever with any trains actually running on them. Fortunately the years since have allowed me to indulge my interest.
One of my earliest memories (aside from the one where I successfully climbed out of my cot for the first time..yay!*), is of walking out the track at the back of our house and watching them demolish the bridge that took the old tub-line past the back of our house down to Knitsley station. This must have been about 1973, I am told. I was 2. Knitsley station itself was one of my regular playgrounds, until someone bought it sadly, in the mid-seventies and made it into a rather luxurious house. It’s ruined now, in my opinion, but the opportunity to live in a history such as an old railway station made me envious for many years. Until buying Montana anyway. Then I truly understood the toil, financial toll and tears that stands behind these restorations.
My first trip on a train makes more sense in adulthood. With Consett railway station closed since 1957, there were vague memories of walking over train tracks on some wooden victorian style footbridge. It turns out this was 1975, in the midst of the fuel crisis – my Dad had driven down to Newcastle station and, to save petrol, taken the train the rest of the way to my Grandmothers house down at Monkseaton. Photos of Monkseaton station confirm the existence of a wooden footbridge, now listed.
I don’t think I ever travelled on a train again until university, when taking a train from Sunderland to Hexham, just for the dual experience of taking a train journey and going to a horse racing meeting for the first time ever. Skipping one lecture to do it. For someone who has always hated school, it not to be regretted, University is just another of those conditioning hoops to jump through. During that time, I also went down to London for a job interview. What a great opportunity to try a variety of trains! On the way back, I chose to disemark at York and took the much longer local train back via Hartlepool, just for the experience, rather than the inter-city to Newcastle then a train back down to Sunderland. One of the few lines left in County Durham had to be experienced, after all.
Living in Brighton brought many opportunities to exotic southern destinations and regular trips to London. It may amaze people to learn that by the age of 23, I had never yet been abroad. Realising that I had a few unused holidays to use and that I’d recently seen a leaflet at Brighton station advertising a through train ticket to Paris, I strolled down one lunchtime from work and bought that, applying for a passport straight afterwards. It was £49 or thereabouts, as I recall, and involved 3 legs : (a) a train from Brighton to Newhaven Harbour; (b) a ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe; (c) a train from Dieppe Maritime to Paris. Well, what an adventure. I think the London Road, Brighton train was about 10pm and got to Newhaven in time for the midnight ferry to Dieppe. Then it was straight onto a train at Dieppe Maritime all the way to Paris St Lazare, arriving about 7am. In those days of course, no internet and I had to find accomodation on the day at the local tourist office. It almost feels like too much of a risk now!
Reading up later, I’ve realised this Newhaven-Dieppe-Paris was the shortest route between the two capitals, so historically the rich and famous made that seem route. I’m glad I did. Dieppe maritime, an art deco classic when looking at the old photos online has now gone. So I can say that I travelled in the footsteps of Kings and Queens, the rich and famous of the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras, albeit in lesser standards than they had.
During this busy period of trying international travel for the first time, I went interrailing with some of my friends in about 1996. Departing with the newly built Eurostar from Waterloo, we headed for Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Venice, Rome, Florence, Turin and some other places I can’t quite remember now. it was quite a trip and my first experience of overnight sleeping trains.
Eventually, my time working in Brighton ended and I took a job in London, commuting daily by train. a journey that took about 1 hour each way. I have to admit, despite the commuter grumbles, I actually quite enjoyed it for being able to take books with me for the route, or do the Daily Telgraph cryptic crossword – which I even completed a few times. Although even my patience was often tested by huge delays and I was glad to depart in 2002 in one way, as the trains became busier. Can’t deny though, I probably would’ve carried on doing it for years if I hadn’t lost my job.
Since that time, I’ve made it a goal to test out trains in virtually every country visited. Most recently achieving the feat in Finland. I’ve tried out trains in many places, highlights being the overnighters in Russia and a classic route between Budapest and Berlin. Really, just pop into a railway station like Budapest or Vienna to see the variety of available destinations still available to any traveller.
Amongst this, I still feel the urge to make a little diversion in any town I visit to see where the railway station is – or was. There’s always the station road clue to help us out.
As for the boats and planes, I may cover that another time, but no doubt trains win for me.
*worth noting that my mother immediately appeared and put me back in. I’m sure there’s a metaphor for how life works in there somewhere.