Homeward bound – first published 6 April 2014


Commando had finished the Manchester Marathon before the forecast rain started to fall. Of course, once the rain began it didn’t stop, not that we’d have gone out anywhere anyway. Commando was tired and I was pretty exhausted from all that worrying to be honest. We went back to our hotel room and hardly emerged until we had to check out and head for Manchester Piccadilly station for our journey home. It turned out to be rather more eventful than I’d have liked.

6 April 2014

Commando wore his Saints away shirt home, which was ironic given we lost at Man City on Saturday but still. That goal was at least three yards off side too but we won’t go into that (and before you say anything I do understand the offside rule). We checked out and made it to the station with enough time to buy a take away latte and a sandwich before our train. There wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to the sandwiches and they’d run out of sugar which didn’t bother me but Commando wasn’t best pleased.

We settled down on the train with our coffees. Our seats were on the opposite side of the train this time so we had a different view from our window seats. Of course I spent the time taking photos out of the window as the country flew past outside. The first decent one was green fields dotted with sheep backed by dramatic skies. This was Poynton, just outside Stockport, or so the GPS data on my photo app tells me. Next came Bollington and more fields, minus the sheep.



The wonderful building by Macclesfield station came out quite well, perhaps because we’d slowed down at this point. Lots of the buildings in this part of the world have bricks of all shades giving them a marvellous texture. It looks as if it might have been a factory of some kind converted into flats now I think. A little further on there were fields again, with gnarled branches. The photo was blurred but I’ve kept it because I love the quality of the light, the shapes of the trees and the stormy sky.



On the outskirts of Congleton the sky was just as stormy, the fields still had that jewell quality and there were little houses nestled on the hills amongst the trees and tiny dots in the valley, sheep, cows, horses? In the fields between Stone and Hollywood it looked as if we’d out run the storm. There were blurry sheep grazing behind neat hedgerows at the bottom of a hill.



At the evocatively named Butterhill Bank near Burston, the canal I’d seen glistening alongside us on and off since Macclesfield finally showed us some barges. Google tells me this is the Trent and Mersey canal. Then, at Weston, another barge, closer this time but low in the water almost obscured by the grass and a tractor that looked like it had rolled over. Perhaps the ground was boggy? The farm looked quite ramshackle as we passed.



We hit the canal jackpot at Great Haywood just as we reached the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. There were dozens of them moored up in some kind of barge marina. It looked a hive of activity, modern buildings, parked cars and a line of pylons stretching off into the distance. At Little Haywood two barges were on the move and I could see a man walking his dog along the towpath.
“They like their barges up here don’t they?” Commando said.



He was right, the only thing outnumbering barges were the sheep and lots of spring lambs gambolling about. Soon we passed the farm the sheep belonged to, another collection of dilapidated buildings and rusty old cars in the yard.



By Colwich we were back to the golden fields of rape seed. Then, at Rugeley we finally had a good view of the canal as the skies darkened again. Here, beside the train tracks and the canal was a power station belching out smoke into the grizzly sky. It seemed fitting that it was so bleak.





Around about this time I went to the loo so I missed the outskirts of Birmingham. Well it is a three hour train journey after all. The toilets on Virgin trains are rather swish affairs with a well spoken woman’s voice telling you the door is closed and the door is locked. When it came to flushing she had rather a lot to say on the subject of what should not be flushed down the train toilet. After the obvious things she started getting a little carried away.
“Please don’t flush…gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams or goldfish down this toilet,” she said.
When I came out of the toilet laughing Commando thought I’d gone mad until I made him go in and try for himself. It was worth the price of the ticket just for that and if you ever find yourself on a Virgin train make sure you use the loo, just be careful what you flush.

Back to looking out of the window. By this time we’d passed Birmingham and Coventry and were close to Rugby and a return to green fields dotted with sheep. Then things clouded over again and there was a little rain so I had a rest. By the time the rain stopped we were well into the south of England and there were the houses of Church Stowe, followed by the hills of Bugbrooke close to Milton Keynes.





After that the light began to go as the weather closed in so the photos stopped. Pretty soon we were pulling into Euston anyway and it was time to gather our belongings and leave the train. At the beginning of this post I said things didn’t run smoothly and this was where they started to go wrong. From Euston we needed to get across London to Waterloo. Obviously the easiest and quickest way is the tube.

Maybe I haven’t mentioned how much I hate the London Underground, or any underground come to that. Yes, it’s a great idea for getting quickly from A to B but it’s under the ground in a metal tube running fast through a tunnel crowded with people, for someone who doesn’t like being shut in that’s quite difficult. Even so, I usually manage to keep it together and I’ve used the tube a fair bit in my time, often on my own.

Anyhow, long story short, we had to use the Northern Line, the one with the creaky old trains. This is my least favourite. I counted off each station we went through trying to stay calm. Then we had to change for the Waterloo and City Line. We got off at Bank, the deepest station in Central London. I was feeling quite jittery at this point, as if there was no air (even though I didn’t know it was the deepest station at the time) and I couldn’t wait to get on the next train and out of there. When we got to the entrance to the Waterloo and City line the gates were barred, it was closed. I could feel myself beginning to panic. How I didn’t run screaming along the tunnel and up the two long escalators I don’t know but, when I got outside into the fresh air I stood, holding my face up to the rain just breathing for a while.

Now we were in the middle of London with no real idea which direction Waterloo was or how far and no idea how to get back on the tube on the right line. We were also running out of time to catch our next train. We stomped through the rain trying to find a taxi with its light on. Lots of taxis passed but all were occupied. Commando was Getting cross and I was still feeling shaky after the tube. Finally we found a cab. The driver was a lovely chirpy cockney, very jokey and nice.
“They’re always closing that line,” he said. “Never mind it’s only about ten minutes to Waterloo. We gave him a good tip.

After that the journey from Waterloo to Southampton Parkway seemed easy. It’s only an hour and a half and we were entertained by a toddler, a little girl who had far too much energy and a bright smile. That and speculation about the drunken fare dodger who locked himself in the toilet for the whole journey to avoid the guard then nipped out at Parkway where there are no ticket barriers.

My final photos are of Commando, safe at home showing off his marathon medal. A fitting end to a long journey.


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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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