Saturday, 5 June 2010

BritRail - Cumbria and the North West Coast

BritRail - Cumbria and the North West Coast

Tonight I asked Greg about two structures I keep seeing from the train windows. One is a large round flat cement wall that seems to be covered with the spokes of a wheel – the diameter of the area is about the size of a house. He told me what I am seeing is a city’s anaerobic water treatment plant. I need to have him along on our trips for such answers.

Then I see often see long, slender cement columns with concave sides, about as high as a grain elevator. He told me he thinks those might be nuclear generating plants. Wyona added that smoke seems to be belting out of them. “Perhaps, steam,” said Greg.

Northwest England, Cumbria and the Lakes. That is where we were going today. Wyona had a printout of the stopping pattern of the train from Lancaster to Barrow in Furnss: Lancaster, Carnforth, Silverdale, Arnside, Grange Ovr Sands, Kents Bank, Cark & Cartmel, Ulverston, Dalton Cumbria, Roose, Barow In Furnss, Askam, Kirkby In Furn, Foxfeld, Green Road, Miliom, Silecroft, Bottle (Cumbria), Ravenglass, Drigg, Seascale, Seilafield, St. Bees, Corkickle, Whitehaven,Barton, Harrington, Workington, Workington North, Flimby, Maryport, Aspatria, Wigton, Daiston Cumbria, and Carlisle.

The railroad followed the sea alongt the northwest coast and the train stopped every 3 to 6 minutes for people to alight or step down. That is why I had to write down the names of all of those towns. We actually stopped that many times in 3 hours.

“Where are you going?”, asked the conductor when he saw our open ended ticket.

“To Carlisle,” replied Wyona.

“You are on the wrong train. The train you just got off of will get you there in one hour.”

“We choose this route to see your beautiful, scenic, small towns along the coast,” Wyona replied.

“Just so you know,” said the conductor.

A few stops further down the line, when another family left and we took their four seater table to look at the seaside through their windows, the older gentleman said Wyona, “I have taken the trip you are going on. It is beautiful. You will enjoy it.”

Wyona spends her evenings trying to figure out which trains we can catch to maximize our time on the trains instead of on the station platforms.
She printed out a large coloured map in four different parts and then did a cut and paste on all of the pages until she has a large map of England that both covers a whole talbe and shows the rail lines on it.

I have been thinking about the itineraries she has printed out for the last 15 days, and then the back-up itineraries in case we miss this or that connection. I suggested she drive a staple through all of these papers, hole punched them, and call it her memoirs. “Yes, I am always trying to organize my environment,” said Wyona.

What I have learned from going 24 hours a day for 15 days with her is that it is better for one of us to do the high level organizing and the other (me) to be organized. Oh, I haven’t turned my brain off. On occasion I can still yell, “Wyona, platform 4”, and we leap on a train just in time.

We have never been left on the platform, seeing the train pull out without us. But it may be a usual occurrence for a conductor to see us running and call out, “The train is leaving in 30 seconds. Hop on at this door and find a seat in transit.”

Timing has to be just perfect on leaving a train when the journey is through. Too soon and I am paralyzed, caught in the river of other commuters, streaming to the exit doors.

Too late leaving the train and I get trapped by the cleaning staff going through the coaches -- like a whirl wind lifting debris and garbage from floors and chairs. Alternately, I get trapped in the coach by the new commuters pouring down the isles to find their seats if I am not quick enough getting to the departure doors.

I have developed at least a middle-skill level at picking up two carry-on’s and carting them up or down stairs to different train platforms. One in each hand gives me good balance on the stairs --so good, that I hardly get anyone offering to help me carry my bags anymore.

As well, I find that my left foot does an automatic kick on the suitcase to swing it down to a 45 degree angle so that I can run along with the other commuters and their baggage. I might even do the kick to a phantom suitcase should Wyona be in charge of the carry-on’s at that point.

I should concentrate on relaxing on this part of my trip, but there is a certain amount of tension involved in getting off trains at the right stops, or making sure that I am reading the departure and not the arrival screen in a train station.

Yesterday Wyona made an amazing save for a woman who had turned the corner of the escalator and was heading down for the underground. The woman made the corner, but her luggage did not, and got caught on its corner. She was a few steps down the escalator when she realized her luggage was weaving at the top, but not following her. The woman ran back up the stairs which continued to move downward and at the same time Wyona righted the suitcase and put it in her hands.

All in a day’s travel.

“I am going to miss my little lambs,” said Wyona as another field full of them passed by our view, today.

I am going to miss the scenery. I have been wondering if I have been hallucinating when I look at the fields, for the crops seem to be growing before my eyes as I travel.

Knowing today was our second last day of travel seemed to make the hours bitter-sweet.

It is not the Shrewsburry fruit and nut cookies, nor the orange and chocolate chip biscuits, nor the Walkers shortbread (with double cream) that we will be missing.

Nor is it the mistakes we are making that creates this nostalgia. The mistakes are natural ones. I can be sure that if I take along a winter coat and gloves for a trip to Mt. Snowden, that I will come home sunburned.

If Wyona and I pack a big lunch, that is the day that the train staff feed us breakfast, lunch, supper and 2 mid-day snacks.

If I drag my computer along on the trip, that is the day that the trains have no internet connections in their coaches. I won’t miss any of the surprises connected with the above events.

What I am already missing is the hours of scenery passing before me.

I am not as enamoured of the destinations of our trips, as I am of the hours of the exquisite beauty of England, Scotland and Wales passing before my eyes.

So ... Wyona saw a deal today – a weekend special.

“Hello, Greg,” she said on the cell phone. “I am in Carlisle.”

“In Scotland,” he confirmed.

“Is that where Carlise is?” she laughed. “I am booking your to come along with us tomorrow for our last day – 6 ½ hours out to Penzance and 6 ½ hours back. The bonus is having 3 hours in Penzance.”

“I am in,” said he.

On our travels, we have only left behind 2 pillows, one coat and one scarf, each of which we will probably buy ten times over if we can just squeeze in a market or two on our travels.

While Charise was here, I heard her ask Wyona numerous times to write her own memoirs so that Charise can read them. I thought, instead, Wyona should staple together her maps and her print-outs of where we have gone for the last 2 weeks and call those her memoirs.

Wyona does so much of the organizing.

At the same time, I am reading Great Britain, a guidebook to get a general picture of the country we will be seeing.

Today, I read that “the northwest was Britain’s industrial heartland...What is really impressive is that the industrial revolution was born here and raised here into the overwhelming force of capitalism; that the world’s first industrial city grew up around Manchester’s burgeoning mills; and that the endless possibilities of the Age of Reason, that unquestionable optimism that continues to spur contemporary society to greater heights of optimism and advancement, were put through their original paces here. Ancient Rome would have been impressed by the achievement.”

Those three sentences shaped what I was seeing today. The sky was grey. The light was dull. I knew I was not going to get good pictures with my camera. Instead, I kept my eyes glued to the window as I always do. By the end of the day, I had this overwhelming feeling that should I ever take History 200 again, I would have no trouble passing the exam, one that I failed when I was 19 and had to spend all summer studying for a re-write. Tonight, I felt as though I could have written the textbook for the course.

I didn’t reach for the camera until half way through the day.

For fun, I was studying the patterns of the sand in the tidal rivers, looking at the factories that still dot the land, watching the working class people who were boarding the trains with their families for a few hours in the sun and the wind of the beach before going back to their factories. A young father who truly loved his children sat with them on the train, playing with the baby and entertaining the curly red-headed 3 year old girl on his knee.

Wyona and I moved over to let a young mother with her 2 children join our table, for the train was crowded. She talked to her brother who was with her, and nursed the baby on and off at the same time as she was speaking to him. She plumped the baby in its plastic diaper down on top of the table to play among all of us.
There was an earthy warmness to the day. Because we ride with first class tickets, doesn’t mean that the trains we ride have quiet elegance of first class accommodation in any of the coaches.

Today, luggage lunch bags spilled over into the middle of the isles. Conversations between passengers with different English dialects went on. Some families were playing games and I could hear the clicking of die. The noise at the back end of the train was so loud I thought 8 or 10 middle school boys had got their gang together at that back train door. Kids were singing a rousing “taunting song” like one that might be heard at a rugby match.

“No,” said Wyona on investigating. “All of that noise is coming from just 2 rambunctious teen-age girls.”

On the same train a young man asked us if it would bother us if he practised his guitar, so he strummed and sang in the seat next to us.

“When did it change?”, I asked Wyona. “There was a time when you would have to beg a man to sing falsetto, and now kids this age think nothing of doing it in the middle of a train.”

“Lucky them. It gives them a range of 2 ½ octaves,” she said.

Wyona and I had Glen’s road atlas out at our table, the one he purchased for his road trip through England. We kept one finger on the railroad line, even tracking when we would go over an inlet on a bridge.

The tide had taken the water out to sea.

Motor boats and sail boats looked marooned there – inside of what appeared to be a house foundation to me. Does anyone know what this is that I have taken a picture of?

The railroad coach jostled its passengers along the perimeter of England’s west coast and they got off with their nap sacks on their backs, pushing their children in strollers to the sea, the sun on their faces and the wind blowing the tails of their shirts far behind them.

This week has been spring break. All of the students are out of school and at home. In every city we have seen so many families out enjoying each other on the streets, balloons in their hands, amusement parks operating on the beaches, and we even saw one town getting ready to have a parade of some kind today.

I was too slow with my camera to get a picture of today’s sighting of fishermen. Men were sitting on the sides of a bank or on plastic white chairs, evenly spaced out along a body of water, as though they had rented a trailer space, but they were each holding fishing rods in their hands. The body of water (2 long ditches, really) was so narrow that they could easily have had a conversation with another fisherman on the other side of the pond, without even raising their voice.

“I don’t think that body of water is any wider than the Elbow River,” Wyona said to me.

Tonight we tried to follow the train manager’s suggestion to everyone.

“Be sure to take your personal belongings with you, and ... mind the gap as you leave the train.”


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