Simon Calder: Don't take the 5.06 for an early Bath
The man who pays his way
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Friday 28 September 2012
As September slides into October, the traveller turns away from European beaches towards the next city break – whether the culinary delights of Lyon (see 48 Hours on pages 10-11) or somewhere closer, such as the fine city of Bath. Accordingly, First Great Western has produced a poster showing a couple in the rooftop pool of Thermae Bath Spa, soaking up the sights as the slowly sinking sun highlights the city skyline.
"I'm drowning in paperwork," puns the strapline. "Until I board the 5.06 to Bath."
Anyone seeking to emulate the couple had better not board the 5.06 to Bath. This early-evening train from Paddington does indeed go to Bath, but why anyone would ever take it to visit the spa city for an indulgent weekend is a mystery. Most trains from London to Bath stop three or four times en route. This departure stops 11 times, starting with a pause at Twyford to drop off commuters heading for Henley via the branch line. Then, after the customary stop at Reading, the 5.06 veers off the fast track to Bath to follow the Exeter line. The Bath-bound passengers who missed the 5pm may curse those six expensive minutes as they pause at Theale and Thatcham, then wend through Wiltshire via Pewsey, Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon. Had they cooled their heels at Paddington and caught the 5.30pm they would have overtaken the rustically roaming 5.06, and arrived almost half an hour earlier.
The train operator's bizarre choice of departure made me wonder about other strange UK train services. With the help of the Thomas Cook timetable compilers in their Peterborough office, I have dug out a new top three weird train trips.
The indirect route
In third place, a Cross Country train that lives up to its name, taking in an astonishing amount of ground considering it covers a straight-line distance of only 120 miles. Next time you are awake at 7.10am, spare a moment to visualise the start of a train journey that combines Birmingham University with Cambridge, connects the cathedral cities of Gloucester, Peterborough and Ely, links the Cotswolds with Rutland, and ends at Britain's fourth-busiest airport. All courtesy of the daily Gloucester to Stansted airport service on which the end-to-end fare is a flat £100.
The favourite of the Thomas Cook team is nothing short of a human geography field trip in three and a bit hours. Start in Buxton, the highest town in England, at 3.32pm any weekday, and the only departure on the board is for Barrow-in-Furness. The Northern Rail journey unwinds through the Peak District. It sweeps through the battlefields of the Industrial Revolution – Manchester, Bolton, the Ribble Valley – and doffs its cap at Carnforth, iconic station location for the film Brief Encounter. The finale is most spectacular: it winds around Morecambe Bay, across estuaries that defeat mere roads, with tantalising views of the Cumbrian mountains before ending at what is popularly called the biggest cul-de-sac in the country.
For me, Britain's strangest scheduled train trip is also its longest: the 8.20am from Aberdeen to Penzance – again, run by Cross Country – though cross countries would be more accurate. Even National Rail Enquiries suggests that anyone on Deeside seeking a breakfast-time departure for the bitter end of Cornwall should take the Penzance train but change three times – at Edinburgh Haymarket, Wolverhampton and Birmingham – in order to reach Penzance 50 minutes earlier. If you arrive a few minutes late at the station, never mind: you can join the train at Birmingham by taking the 8.42am from Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street, then a bus through the city centre, and a train to Birmingham. You can even catch up with it if you fly out of Aberdeen shortly after 2pm, thanks to Flybe's non-stop hop to Birmingham. That's because the 8.20 make good progress to Edinburgh, but then goes off the rails, so to speak. As with the other two candidates, no one is really expected to make the whole trip, but it helps to provide a large number of shorter sectors.
Instead of heading south-west, the Cross Country goes east before turning south, calling at Berwick-upon-Tweed and Burton-on-Trent on its 800-minute journey. Historians will note that it combines the ancient kingdoms of Fife and Wessex while aesthetes will appreciate the chance to cross the Tay, the Forth, the Tyne and the Tamar and see the waves break against the shores of Northumberland and South Devon, all without leaving your seat.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Germanwings plane crash: Video shows co-pilot Andreas Lubitz learning to fly as a teenager
- 3 Vladimir Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state
Win a trip to Tobago for two
Dreamland: Britain's oldest amusement park is set to reopen this summer in Margate
The Atlas of Beauty: Photographer travels around the world to capture cultural diversity through stunning portraits of women
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
Germany's great outdoors: The Black Forest, wine country and Saxon Switzerland
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
£24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...
£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...