Travel & Outdoors: Now for the hitchhiker's guide to dissent ...

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The Independent Travel
"We presume your item headed `Orleans to Oxford' was `ghosted' for you by one of those Transport ministers who never use public transport." Last week's alphabetical article on the British invasion of France was all my own work, but attracted a good helping of heckling from readers such as Terry and Jenny Eaton of Milton-under-Wychwood, who took issue with the suggestion that students could hitch from Oxford to Orleans for pounds 0. Their letter continues:

"Pedestrians are banned from motorways for obvious reasons, so hitching along the M40 and M25 is not perhaps the best advice. Must Try Harder. Perhaps a bursary from your paper to found a Chair in Student Travel?"

A neat idea, and if it ever happens then a set book should be the Hitch- hiker's Manual: Britain. It warns: "Trying to hitch around the M25 is fraught with problems due to the number of all-motorway junctions."

A motorway is also the subject of a letter from Harry Gibson of Bury. I suggested that a good way to dodge tolls on the autoroutes on a journey from Newcastle to Nancy was to sneak through Belgium and Luxembourg. "Tolls begin only at the French border," I concluded. But Mr Gibson writes: "The French motorway which runs from Luxembourg around Metz to Nancy is in fact toll-free."

Patrick Bowes writes from Plymouth with amplification: "What is not very clear to the British who are trying to get away to France cheaply and without fuss are the remarkable offers run by SNCF and Eurostar which enable you to do Waterloo-Lyon for pounds 99 return, or Avignon, Marseille or Nice for pounds 109 return. Just as you say that Luton is the new aviation gateway to Europe, well, Lille is the point you step off your Eurostar train and step on to a high-speed TGV train to south-west France, the Riviera or even the Alps without the worry of changing trains in Paris."

Picture the scene: platform four at Birmingham International station on Thursday afternoon, packed with delegates departing from the British Travel Trade Fair.

Having been briefed at the Virgin stand about how Richard Branson's company would revitalise rail travel, everyone waits eagerly for the Virgin Cross Country train to the south, due at 3.16pm. At the appointed moment it appears -but presents a challenge to the assembled throng by hurtling through at 100mph. When one passenger asks one of the station staff if that was indeed her train, he replies with aplomb: "Yes - didn't you manage to catch it?"

The train finally comes to a halt some distance beyond the station. The next service is not for an hour; more to the point, the train is full of people hoping to catch planes from Birmingham's airport. So eventually the train is reversed, causing miscellaneous mayhem for other services. As he waits for the errant train to back up, one disgruntled delegate mutters "Hope this doesn't happen to Branson's planes."

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