Sunday, 28 March 2010

A Sock in Time....

I’m now only 47 days from setting off on my trip. The clocks have just gone forward, it's British Summer Time at last, the birds are singing with a little more purpose and volume, and frankly I can’t wait to get cracking.

Needless to say, with a month and a half still to go, I have already packed.

I should, in my defence, say that I unpacked immediately afterwards. Yes, I know that sounds just as nuts, but this was nothing more than a test pack to see what my bag – my carefully-selected bag, I should add – looked and felt like with enough clobber for the trip. It’s important that I take enough clothing for my needs, obviously, but it’s equally important not to take too much.

This is actually quite important. If was making the journey by car then I would probably take whatever I wanted, and then a bit more just to be sure. I'd take an extra jumper, for example, a smart jacket perhaps , spare shoes in case one pair gets wet, another spare (smarter) jacket, slippers perhaps, all if this on the basis that you never know what you might need until you find you haven’t got it. I’d probably pack a few books, too, and a couple of magazines, some portable snacks in case I get peckish. I’d probably leave the kitchen sink, but most other things deemed useful, or perhaps just possibly useful, would be chucked in the back of the car.

And that’s rather the point. None of this stuff I’d ever actually have to carry very far, except from the car park to the hotel room and back again. It doesn’t matter how big or how heavy any of this is, the car will scarcely notice it and so neither will you. But if you don’t have a car boot to fill and instead you are, like me, travelling by bus then it is you who will be taking the strain rather than the car. So reducing weight would seems quite a good idea.

The bag I have chosen becomes, with a few deft moves, a rucksack I can carry on my back. It’s therefore easy and comfortable to carry. Otherwise, it is fairly conventional looking bag of about 50 litres capacity, with a handle and a shoulder strap for variety. My trial packing has confirmed, as I hoped it would, that it is entirely adequate for 8 or 10 days of clothing, and a few bits and pieces like my netbook (which, incidently, I am using now for the first time) and camera.

I have deliberately chosen to go on my trip in early summer when, I hope, the weather will reduce my reliance on thick wooly jumpers and allow me to exist fairly happily with just T shirts and a few pairs of socks. At a pinch, I could rest the bag on my knees or under my seat without it getting in people’s way too much. Well, that’s the plan...

Everything seems to fit in the bag OK., so I suppose it’s probably the right size. In a few weeks time, we’ll know for sure!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Britain By Bus Part 3 – The Wild, Hilly Bit

Suitably rested and with clean socks a-plenty, it’s back on the road on 14 June for the final part of the trip.

First I’m heading west up the Tyne Valley from Tyneside and along the line of Hadrian’s Wall all the way to Carlisle. From there, I’ll be heading over the border into Scotland en route to the capital of South West Scotland, Dumfries.

Day 24 will see me continuing my westward track through scenic Galloway all the way to the busy ferry port of Stranraer , then its northwards once more. I’ll be taking the coastal route up to Ayr, then taking the long run into Glasgow where I hope to squeeze a quick ride on the city’s unique underground railway – affectionately called ‘The Clockwork Orange’ – before turning in for the night.

Then it starts to get tricky. I’m hoping to visit Glasgow’s excellent Transport Museum before finding a way out of the city into the hills to the north. From there, I need to find a bus which will eventually take me to Stirling and then into the Trossach Hills at Callendar.

On Day 26 I’ll enter the Scottish Highlands properly, heading up to Killin in Perthshire before catching a Postbus to Tyndrum then a long distance bus to Fort William. Buses are so infrequent in these parts that I confidently expect to have plenty of time to sit and admire the view!

Next day, I’m heading by bus to Mallaig, hopefully catching a glimpse of the fantastic curved railway viaduct at Glenfinnan, made famous in recent years by the Harry Potter films. From Mallaig, its over the sea to Skye and a quick tour of the island before settling down for the night at the achingly-pretty waterfront town of Portree.

Day 28 is one I’m really looking forward to. Its back through Skye to the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, then along the shores of Loch Duich to Glen Sheil, up the glen and over the mountains to Loch Ness then along the lochside to Inverness – the whole trip through some of the finest scenery on Scotland. Magical!

Day 29 in the final day of the trip, and probably one of the longest in terms of mileage. From Inverness, I’ll be catching the bus all the way up the east coast of Northern Scotland to Wick and from there into the wilds of Caithness to my ultimate goal, John O’Groats.

It all seems a long way away… and it is!

But how will I cope with a whole month on a bus?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Phase 2 – The Long, Northward-Pointing Bit

The second part of my journey starts where Phase 1 left off - in London.

There’s such a lot to see, do and experience in the capital that I’ll struggle to get through everything I want to do. However, I hope to squeeze in a ride on the longest escalator in Europe, travel through the first tunnel to be built under the River Thames, visit the London Transport Museum (obviously), visit the grave of the inventor of the bus…. Luckily, I’m only travelling as far at Watford on the first day (actually Day 9 of the trip) and I’ll be doing so by travelling on the world’s first underground railway.

Day 10 will see me battling northwards to Northampton. I say battle because while this looks easy on the map, the bus timetables seem to tell a different story and there are few obvious routes. Looks like I will be going via Aylesbury and Milton Keynes but I suppose anything is possible. Day 11 will take me from Northampton to Coventry, so its out of the Home Counties and into the West Midlands.

Day 12 is a fairly short day, so I’ll try to squeeze in a visit to the Coventry Motor Museum before setting off for Meriden, which is the exact centre of England, and then onwards to Birmingham. I’ll be spending the next day, Bank Holiday Monday, in Brum visiting the city’s 2 bus museums on a day when they wheel out their exhibits and use them to run services between the two museums. Brilliant idea!

Day 14 will see me travelling by tram to Wolverhmpton, then onwards by bus to Bridgenorth and a ride on the only funincular railway in Britain in genuine passenger service (ie, not a tourist attraction or a fun way of getting to the pier!) Then its through the cradle of the industrial revolution at Coalbrookdale and an overnight in Shrewsbury.

The next day I will be looking for some of Thomas Telford’s original milestones along the route of the old A5 before diving headlong into the Welsh borders, hopefully to end the day in Wrexham. Day 16 and I’m on the road to Chester, then to Birkenhead and a tram ride to a nearby transport museum before boarding the eponomous ferry across the Mersey (possibly to the strains of Gerry and the Pacemakers) to one of my all-time favourite cities, Liverpool

From Liverpool its bus to St Helens, where I am hoping they will pretend I am a school party and open the bus museum specially for me (its closed during the week!). Then its onwards to Warrington and Eccles (Eccles cakes will be eaten) and then by tram via Salford to Manchester.

Day 18 will see me leaving Manchester for Glossop for the next day’s Sunday only service up the spectacular Snake Pass deep into the heart of the Peak District. Then its Sheffield, Holmsfirth (Last of the Summer Wine country), Huddersfield and Bradford. If I’m lucky, I’ll meet some new chums of mine and if I’m really lucky they’ll have a preserved bus with them! This will be a long day so I expect I’ll deserve a curry (what else?).

Next day its off the Skipton, then across the Lancashire border to Preston’s brutal concrete bus station/car park and another bus, this time to Blackpool. If there’s time, I hope to visit a vehicle restoration business dedicated to restoring old buses.

Another long day on Day 21. It’s a Blackpool tram to Fleetwood, ferry across the river, bus to Lancaster then the spectacular 555 service deep into the heart of the Lake District. Just time to whiz across to Penrith for a bus down the Eden Valley to Kirkby Stephen and a much-needed rest.

Day 22 is one I’m really looking forward to. It starts with a journey by vintage bus over the Pennines to Barnard Castle, then by bus to Darlington and Middlesbrough, across the Tees on the mighty and unique Transporter Bridge, then up the coast to the Tyne and home for more clean socks and a glass of ale.

And a rest!

Details of the final phase to follow.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Road To Nowhere – The First Bit

Its now 61 days before I start this trip of mine and, as I’ve already said, much of the planning is now complete. So I suppose its time to start giving you an idea of exactly where I’m intending to go.

First of all, this is not going to be a race against the clock - far from it. I’ve allowed myself two months away from work to ensure I have time to visit the places I‘m interested in – and not just the places I have time to visit. In fact, its perfectly feasible to make the journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats by bus inside a week, and I know some who have done so, but for me this journey is all about discovery so I’m intending to cover as much ground as I can.

So, where exactly will I be going? Well, here’s a flavour of my first section of the trip.

I’m setting off from The Land’s End Hotel first thing on Friday 14 May. The first bus journey of the trip (I shall probably make a speech) will take me along the winding roads to Penzance, and then its onwards to explore some of The Lizard by bus (hopefully tracking down a decent veggie pasty in Helston to lunch on - suggestions, anyone?). Day One will end in Truro.

Day Two will see me travelling across country to Cornwall’s Atlantic Coast to take what I hope will be an exhilarating run up the coast from Newquay to Padstow, then inland for a glimpse of Bodmin Moor before the long run into Plymouth.

I planned the trip to ensure I was in Plymouth on a Saturday night, so I could take the 82 bus to Exeter on the Sunday morning (the only day on which it runs) which runs right through the heart of Dartmoor. From Exeter, I’ll then be taking a bus right along Dorset’s spectacular Jurassic Coast, a three-hour journey through fantastic coastal scenery that will eventually bring me to Weymouth.

Monday, Day 4, sees me en route from Weymouth to Swanage, then by bus and chain ferry across Poole Harbour to Bournemouth before finally running right along the coast to the fringes of the New Forest at Lymington.

Day 5 will see me on the water again, this time heading for the Isle of Wight. After a run in an open top bus down to The Needles, I’ll be setting off to visit my first bus museum of the journey at Newport. Then its off to Shanklin, to travel by former London Underground train – on rolling stock that first saw service during the Blitz - to Ryde. Sometime during the day I’m hoping to meet a bus preservationist who, amongst other things, is busy restoring two London Routemaster buses.

Day 6 and I’ll be ticking off another form of public transport. This time its hovercraft across the Solent to Portsmouth. Then it’s a coast-hugging bus all the way to Brighton

Day 7 and I’ll be heading north for probably the first time on the trip. I’ll be diving inland to Tunbridge Wells, then to Crawley and Horsham before arriving in Guildford, one of the sourthernmost boundary towns of the old Green Line bus services. I’ll overnight in Leatherhead.

Day 8 will be the most challenging as I hop from bus to bus en route to Central London, hopefully taking in the odd Croydon tram on the way. I’ll be heading to Tower Bridge, which itself has a rather remarkable association with buses, before climbing aboard an original London Routemaster en route to Trafalgar Square. Then its Underground to King’s Cross and a train north to Tyneside for a brief visit home.

Well, I will have run out of socks by then, and I think a change of underwear would be in everyone’s interests…!

Details of phase 2 to follow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Bit of a Setback...

I was looking forward to capturing some of my journey on video, so I bought myself a rather snazzy little Canon which is little bigger than a tube of smarties and looked just the job. I tried it out and it seemed really easy to use and pretty good all round. So, Iain was very happy.

Then I tried to get some of test footage I'd shot off the camera and onto my computer for editing, and that's when the trouble started.

For starters, it was soon apparent that the video file format was unique to Canon and my usual video editing software couldn't handle it, instead I had to use their own software. Great. Then I looked in the box and spotted a pile of CDs at the bottom. Oh joy, I thought. But no. They were all Windows compatible, but not Mac compatible.

So I am left with a perfectly good camera from which I cannot extract any video. I can connect it up to the telly, I can view it on its own 2 inch screen but I can't connect it to my computer or do any editing or anything. Apparently, I can buy a Mac version of the software for something like $100, but I don't think I will.

Its going back.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Well, its officially B Day minus 74, and I've just completed the last organisational bit of the trip - buying my rail ticket home from John O'Groats.

By the kind of mad, twisted logic that will be familiar to anyone who has the misfortune to use our privatised rail services regularly, it's taken me several weeks to be able to buy this ticket, for no other reason than because the rail companies clearly don't want you to plan too far ahead. Perhaps they find planning for the future difficult, or a little threatening or something. Or perhaps they know something we don't and they genuinely can't see themselves surviving any more than a few months into the future (remember GNER?). Anyway....

Of course, when I decided to see if I could get the price of my journey - from Thurso to Newcastle - down out of the rafters a bit, the logic just seemed to keep on twisting. First of all, it really wasn't that easy, because every website I tried seemed to be telling me the ticket was exactly the same price, take it or leave it ( much for competition, then). However, because my journey was in 3 stages (Thurso to Inverness, Inverness to Edinburgh, and Edinburgh to Newcastle) I decided to see if any parts of that journey might be cheaper if (mad, I know...) bought separately...

And surprise, surprise! It was soon clear that if you bought a ticket for the Edinburgh to Newcastle section, and then a ticket for the Thurso to Edinburgh section, you could save yourself about £15 - because the Edinburgh to Newcastle section actually turned out cheaper. The total cost was about £96, compared to more than £111 when bought as a single through ticket - even though precisely the same trains were being used! Nuts? I think so.

Which brings me to buses (wouldn't you just know it?). If you get on a bus, buy a ticket, travel one stop then get off, and then immediately get back on again and buy another ticket, then get off at the next bus stop and repeat the process, you'll pretty soon run out of money because this is the craziest, most expensive way to travel. The principle here is that, generally speaking, the longer your journey, the cheaper it becomes.

Not so the railways, it seems....