Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Bradshaw's Britain

Michael Portillo is going around Britain by train, on BBC2 every evening at 6.30p.m., taking his copy of Bradshaw's( who was the original rail traveller) guide with him. I wish he'd asked me. What a nice guy.  He's a much better television presenter than he ever was a politican. Also I think he likes the job he does now and I think the people he meets like him. He's open and friendly and genial despite the posh accent which he so obviously can't help. And he is so self effacing. I loved the bit where he went to the business where they make blue stilton. He watched the girl as she flipped the tall cheese so easily to turn it over and confided that he couldn't even flip an omelette.

He stays in hotels which have lovely views and often a history, places Bradshaw has recommended and  he got so excited when he travelled on the first piece of railway in the world, between Stockton and Darlington. What a thrill railways were then and how sad that there is very little pleasure left for ordinary travellers with dirty overcrowded trains, limp sandwiches, tea from cardboard cups with a teabag in them. We are treated like cattle.  The toilets are vile, the big stations are filled with fast food outlets.

Several years ago I took the Pullman from London to the south coast and had lunch on the way and then the Orient Express to Venice. It was the most expensive holiday I ever had, five days in a gorgeous hotel and then the trip back. We ate dinner going through Paris. We slept on the train and drank hot chocolate in bed. We had champagne in the bar car. On the way back it snowed in the mountains and we stood there and watched as the train sped north.

I used to love the Edinburgh to King's Cross. From Durham it's about two hundred and fifty miles and can be done in three hours.It's a direct train so you don't have to lug your baggage around, you just sit there and read or in my case write. I bribe myself with coffee or little bottles of red wine and am safe and cosy against the bad weather.
Durham station nineteenth century viaduct

And coming home, into the station high above the city, I've descibed it many times in my books, is wonderful.
I once said to one of the Geordie staff who used to be always on the Great North Eastern Railway as we pulled in,
'It's the most beautiful view in the world,' and he said loyally,
'Aye, pet, until you get to Newcastle.'

The best part of all my journeys is coming back. That's what I write about, people coming home and I think of all the people who don't come home, the soldiers most of all, dying in foreign countries and never returning to what they love so well. How many of them have set off from Durham Station over the years and been watched until the train is out of sight by the people who love them?

Michael Portillo is in Scotland this week and admitted that until a few weeks ago had never been to Loch Lomond. I couldn't imagine that either. I spent many happy days fishing in that area. Bradshaw thought it was the most beautiful of all the lochs but then they are all the most beautiful when you are there. Why don't we get a boat and go fishing, Michael and I will show you how to catch pollock? They swim around under the boat in the moonlight, silver flashes beneath the surface and all around you are the bonny bonny banks when the sun has long since set beyond the mountains.
Durham Station
view from the station

No comments:

Post a Comment