Tag Archives: London

Split down the middle

I had intended to spend the weekend in the west country. But when I first looked at it there were already a series of problems.
The venue is difficult (though not impossible) to get to by train. And even when I first researched the idea a few weeks ago the cheapest advance tickets were more than the cost of renting a car and driving.
Except that I live in east London and work in the centre where there’s no parking. So I’d have had to fight my way across London in the rush hour and then flog down the M3 and A303 on a Friday night. Not a nice thought.
Getting a train to Heathrow and picking up a car from there might have been an option. But that adds the M25 to the mix, which is not a nice thought either.
And when the weather took a turn for the worse the thought of snow and ice in Somerset wasn’t very appealing either. And that’s before you factor in the risk of getting stranded in Shepton Mallet. So that idea got parked for another time.
I own a small cruiser on the Broads. When the weather’s nicer I spend weekends up there. The moorings were carefully chosen so I can get the train up on Friday evening and back on Sunday night.
This time of year, though, it can get a bit nippy. So better to pop up for the day once every six weeks or so just to check everything is OK.
I did that a couple of weeks ago so there’s no great rush for a return visit. But there’s a few odd jobs that need doing so why not?
As it’s a short notice trip all the cheap advance tickets have been snapped ages ago. So a day return from London to Norwich would be £51.70 thank you very much. I’m not a train nerd, but I assume this fare is set by Greater Anglia. And it seemed rather steep to me.
But wait. There’s engineering work, so I need to go from King’s Cross and change at Cambridge or Ely. If you want an idea of how woeful the mainline service from Liverpool Street is, it’s worth noting that going the long way round only takes 10 to 15 minutes more.
For anyone not familiar with split ticketing all you need to know that if your journey involves two different operators it can often be cheaper to split the ticket in two at the boundary.
A day return from London to Cambridge is £16.50. And a day return from Cambridge to Norwich is £17.30. For a grand total of £33.80.
And I get to travel on exactly the same trains as I would get if I was foolish enough to pay the inflated fare. So that’s a saving of £17.90. Which is a wonderful indicator of how broken our public transport is. And also pleases me because I bet doing it this way means Greater Anglia get a lot less of my money for trying to rip me off.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. On some of the trains from London you need to change in Ely. So what happens if you split the ticket there. £19.50 return for the first leg and £16.40 return for the second, for a total of £35.90. Still cheaper than £51.70, and you might think this is fair enough as there are more miles to Ely than Cambridge.
Except that if you go back and look at the Cambridge to Norwich return it’s valid on direct trains AND ones via Ely. So if I’m going via Ely I’m still better off splitting the ticket at Cambridge. For anyone who’s not familiar with the idea of split tickets, the basic rule is that you do not have to get off the train at the split point. But the train you are on must stop there.
Since all trains from Kings Cross to Ely stop at Cambridge I can buy a split ticket to Cambridge and another one from there to Norwich and decide where I change depending on whether the services are on time or not.
And a little more madness for you. According to National Rail the expensive return isn’t valid on the 1900 from Norwich changing at Stowmarket and Cambridge. The £17.30 return from to Norwich to Cambrige is. How on earth does that work?

Updated to add a note of thanks to @raileasy for pointing out the TrainSplit site, which does all the hard work for you.

A tale of two cities

I know that London isn’t perfect. But sometimes it’s not until you leave it (however briefly) that you start to appreciate it.

Today I found myself in Eastbourne. Before going any further I suppose I’d better point out that:

A) Before pedants pick on my choice of title, I know that Eastbourne isn’t a city.

B) I have nothing against Eastbourne per se. I’m not picking on the place for any reason.

I just happened to find myself in that particular part of East Sussex because I had an urge to go walking. By the coast. Along cliff tops. And Eastbourne happens to be a rather convenient starting point for Beachy Head and the South Downs Way. And I hadn’t been there since I was a kid.

So what does Eastbourne conjure up in your mind’s eye. Edwardian? Elegant but a little elderly now? Faded gentility? An echo of an era past? The 50s perhaps?

On the walk from the station to the promenade I was left with the distinct impression of chavs by the coast. Not quite as bad as, say, Clacton, but very noticeable. And a gaggle of goths in the vicinity of McDs.

If you want to size up anywhere by the coast then study the gulls. In Brighton they are brash. Hovering, just waiting to pounce when some unsuspecting visitor leaves their lunch or ice-cream unguarded for a moment. In Eastbourne the birds skulked and sulked, giving the distinct impression that they’d really rather be somewhere else. Suddenly, London didn’t seem quite so bad. And that was before the weather took a turn for the worse.

It was only serendipity (perhaps a desire to walk in the direction that would mean I was facing the sunset) that I hadn’t started at Seaford. So at least I had the wind and rain at my back most of the day. People I met coming the other way seemed to be suffering much more having to walk into it.

The climb from Cow Gap up to Beachy Head is a bit of a haul, but with some throaty panting like a steam-train tackling an incline I did it without a pause. The top seemed like a good place for a chocolate break (blueberries coated in Belgian white) and to take a look back over Eastbourne.

I read somewhere that back in the 19th century Eastbourne was planned to be a pleasant place. So what did I see? The sweep of the coast? The pier? No, the only thing that poked through the mist was a bloody great tower block. So much for town planning.

Beachy Head and Belle Tout lighthouse beyond are both easily accessible by car. A few tourists had obviously decided that, despite the weather, they’d venture out into the countryside. So how do you tell the difference between a walker and a tourist? No, it has nothing to do with anoraks. Just about everyone (apart from the really foolhardy) were hunkered down in shapeless, sensible clothes. But walking across a muddy field in white trainers, or trying to cling on to a brolly while the wind whirled and eddied is a dead giveaway.

You also get a better class of dog out in the wilds. None of those whiny snappy little rat-like things. Ones that look like their coat was designed to repel the damp, and their paws were meant to get muddy, and they were meant to be chasing rabbits rather than on a leash.

Birling Gap provided welcome shelter for a brief refuelling stop (cheese, chorizo and ciabatta should you care). After which the Seven Sisters were a pushover. The wind was backing, the rain wasn’t easing, and there was no sign of a break in the clouds.

A brief respite as I gazed over Cuckmere Haven from the top of the cliff. The shingle scrunching underfoot along the beach. Watching the run-off rainwater rip down the river and out to sea.

A warm welcoming pub at Exceat Bridge. Just over 16km according to the GPS, so let’s call it an even 10 miles for those of you who don’t do metric maps.

As a rule, I’m a fair-weather walker. But there was something about today. Soft suffused mist. Wind, rain, and a sense of achievement. A day spent doing nothing other than having a great day. Triumph out of adversity. Who would have thought that a rainy Easter in Eastbourne could have turned out so well.

So what did you do today? Because life is there to be lived.