On Train Journeys

Why do people hate long train journeys so much?

from dothegreenthing.com
from dothegreenthing.com

I ask because I used to take the train to/from Aberystwyth from/to home during the holidays. ‘Long journey, eh?’ would say one of innumerable conductors.
____‘Yeah.’
____‘You must be knackered.’
____‘Kind of, it’s not all that bad.’
 ____‘How long have you been travelling?’
____‘Eight, nine hours.’
 ____‘Wow.’
 ____‘Yeah.’
Then they’d give me this nod of respect as if to say, ‘you’re one of us now. You’re a hardened train traveller now, kid.’ I’m still waiting for my Concierge Key…

Truth is, I love trains. Not in the train spotting kind of way but as a form of transportation. I can think of nothing better than securing a table seat (with the big windows) on a quiet carriage in the summer. It makes me feel an odd kind of warmness – it’s comforting, relaxing even. I can sit there with a few books and listen to my music, chat to the conductor, start a conversation with some of the more sociable people on the train… I can’t think of much better (other than forests, forests are better).

So when people ask, ‘how can you do it?’ I don’t really understand the question. I enjoy it. It’s not really a question of doing anything, more a question of how you want to spend your time.

The other thing I find interesting is how everyone seems to want a direct train to their destination. Why? I know that changing trains at a station can be painful if it’s somewhere massive (like Birmingham New Street or a majority of the London stations) but once you’ve mastered one large station then there’s no longer a problem. In fact, I’d go as far to say that changing trains makes for an interesting break. Get off, stretch your legs, grab a coffee, leave the station if you have the time – find a park near a lake, sit on a bench, watch the ducks – just get back to the station in time for the next train.

Settle - Carlisle Railway, from visitcumbria.com
Settle – Carlisle Railway, from visitcumbria.com

You see, there’s just something about watching the world through a train window. Unlike car journeys you’re not berated by advertising boards every five meters or stuck in traffic, instead you’re hurtling through the countryside, clippity-clacking over bridges, staring over vast drops (especially vast on the Settle-Carlisle line) or chugging through the valleys; and as the scenery changes, as you move further North or South, East or West, the passengers change. Office clerks and students jump on an off close to the cities, followed closely by the shoppers (often weighed down with carrier bags and group humour). Out in the villages the accents pick up and the faces seem older, wizened, grey yet chirpy – they know one another, the conductor, the lady pushing around the refreshments, and when the train jolts at a certain corner they don’t even budge, ‘always happens,’ they say, ‘every time.’

And then you arrive. You have reached your destination. Please mind the gap. Everyone pulls themselves from their chairs and collects their luggage. They make their way out onto the platform, into the station, some into open arms – hugs, kisses – whilst I’m often to be found sitting there. Reduced to some bleary child, eyes wild with experience, wishing I had the money for another ride on the nine hour merry-go-round (because it’s so damn expensive these days, huh?).

Waverley Station, Edinburgh, from edinburgh.org
Waverley Station, Edinburgh, from edinburgh.org
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