Sorry for no blog yesterday – there was nothing quoz about it; just admin: I wanted to post about my trip to Carlisle but I had used up 99% of my photo allocation. I had no time to write a post because I spent the afternoon playing Cyberman: Delete! Delete! Delete!
It wasn’t a random trip to Carlisle – I went to visit Viv of Vivinfrance fame. For non-residents and geography noobs, Carlisle is not in France, and neither was Viv – she was in the north of England, visiting her daughter Sally and family for five days. You can read about our meeting from her perspective on her blog.
Sally gave me a choice of places to meet that were accessible by train, my preferred form of travel, and Carlisle was easiest and cheapest – £24 return on an Advance Saver ticket, but I had to travel on specific trains at specific times.
A week last Tuesday saw me up at stupid o’clock, when it was -4 outside, and leaving the house at seven-ten for the 7:37 train. I changed at Preston, with a wait long enough to include a much-needed cup of tea. I opted for a medium cup; it did not cool in time for me to drink it before it was time to board the train.
Ever tried to use a station toilet wearing winter clothes, including gloves, and carrying two bags and a medium cup of tea? I don’t recommend it. You can’t leave the cup outside in case someone drugs it or, worse, steals it.
Keeping one hand, erm…un-used, in order to maintain the cup’s hygienic purity, resulted in contortions and grunts, and – once I emerged to see the long queue which had formed of irate people needing a wee before getting onto their train – disapproving stares.
After a pleasant journey in which none of the ladies from my toilet were on the same train, I finally disembarked into Viv’s cuddling arms at 10:46.
It is a packet of tissues. Viv writes amusing and/or pained poems from wordles, or word clouds, with which she has a hate-hate relationship. I thought she might find the packet amusing.
Don’t worry, that’s not all I took for Viv – I also gave her a packet in white. We had a good laugh about it:
We visited an interesting bookshop, in which I was sorely tempted to buy English: A Course For Human Beings by Eric Partridge, but I was worried it might offend the next alien invaders to earth.
Viv then treated Sally and me to lunch in a friendly little place next door.
Here’s mine. Yummy! The filling of chicken and bacon was so large, I couldn’t finish it. That must surely be a first.
After a long and chatty lunch, we visited Carlisle Cathedral, across the road. Viv spotted this and said it reminded her of me after a large meal, snoozing in a corner:
Sadly, Viv and Sally had to leave at three, to be home for Sally’s son. We walked back to the station; here’s the view from the station entrance:
Just out of sight is the woman who backed her car into a post as I was waving to my friends. She made an ‘Oops!’ gesture and drove off without checking the damage.
Because of my ticket restrictions, I had almost four hours before my first train home. I walked back to the cathedral because I had noticed a tourist information office next door. I told the woman there that I had three hours to kill; what could I do? She suggested the castle just down the road (literally – Carlisle is a small city).
Under the road in the photo above is a subway to access the castle. It is like a mini-museum, with engineering artifacts and plaques. Very interesting.
The photo below is of the subway, taken from the castle side. The floor has names engraved in it, but I don’t know whose.
The castle is promising from the outside but is mostly a cluster of buildings inside. I had a wander and I came upon an old man who watched me for a while and who must have assumed I was looking for the military museum which I didn’t know existed, because he said, ‘We usually close at four but I’ve turned off the lights already. I don’t mind putting them on again if you want to look around the museum.’ He was so obliging, I accepted his offer.
The museum is small but fascinating, detailing the history of Cumbria’s Border and King’s Own regiments.
I haven’t seen this view of the trenches in a museum before; quite humbling.
The curator and I had a bit of a chat and then it was time for me to find something else to do. Tourist sites close at four in Carlisle so I had a wander around the shops. Did you know, every pound shop across the country stocks the same items? Must be why they can sell stuff for a pound.
Fatigued by five, because I’d been on the go all day, I found a greasy spoon and ordered egg & chips and a mug of tea for me tea (for my non-Brit readers wondering about that last sentence, I’ve lapsed into my original strong northern accent, which I do when I’m tired or surrounded by other strong northern accents).
I was the only person in there and the owner disappeared into the back to (as he later explained, when I called him after spending a pleasant twenty minutes writing in my notebook in the silent shop) jiggle with his phone.
After me tea I made a slow, slow walk back to the station: partly to pass the time; partly because I was beginning to feel as old as my friendly curator of the museum.
There was a quiet waiting room at the station and I spent an hour reading, checking the electronic timetable. The 18:46 Euston train from Glasgow was On Time…On Time…On Time…Delayed. Uh oh.
Worried about my ticket and transfers, I found a helpful member of staff – by the way, I’ve never met a friendlier bunch of people; not one person I spoke to or from whom I asked help was grumpy or unpleasant. I bet Carlisle even has nice bus drivers – and explained my dilemma: I had an Advance Saver ticket and had to get on specific trains at specific times (I put that last bit in for your benefit – the train man already knew how Advance Saver tickets work).
He told me he expected the train to be cancelled – it had hit someone. It was an express train, so I’m sure it was bad news.
Darryl the Train Man told me to get on the next train to Preston, even though it was earlier than my ticket allowed. He said that all the staff knew what had happened so I shouldn’t have any trouble and if I did, to tell them to call him at Carlisle.
The next train to Preston, where I was to change for Manchester Piccadilly and then again for Stockport, came in three minutes later. It was only once I was on that I saw it was going all the way to Manchester Airport, its penultimate stop being Piccadilly. The nice female conductor not only gave me no trouble, she said I could stay on to Piccadilly and even printed out a new ticket to Stockport, to save me any hassle that side.
I arrived on Platform 13, in the bowels of Piccadilly at around 8:30 p.m. A young woman with a toddler, a huge suitcase, a laptop and a large handbag was struggling, so I offered to take her case. Her English wasn’t great so we walked together in silence through the extended concourse (besides, what do you say to a complete stranger who manhandles your luggage from you?), and I finally came up with a conversation starter: Are you going on?
Sheffield, she said, and that was the extent of our chat until her grateful ‘thank you’s when I handed over her case; I don’t think she’d been convinced she was getting it back. I wandered off in search of my 8:43 Stockport train – it was on…Platform 13. I started to run as fast as you can run when you’ve been shopping, sightseeing, travelling and visiting all day, when I saw the Sheffield train. I ran back to my young woman of the toddler and dragged her and her suitcase on to the right platform. I told her not to panic because she had forty minutes until it left, then ran back again – really running this time – to the platform at which I’d first arrived.
I hopped onto my train just in time. As we pulled off, the driver announced, ‘Welcome to the 20:43 train bound for Nottingham, calling at Stockport and…Sheffield.’