When I arrived in the Lake District, I thought I'd stay for only a week or so. My intention was to find an apartment to rent for the month of January and work on the perennial grains problem out of it. Sadly, every ad I saw ended up being either a scam or too expensive. I'd write to people and they'd reply with poor grammar saying things about their “family lawyer” and requesting that I wire them funds through Western Union. Sometimes we wouldn't even get that far. I'd request a link to a CouchSurfing or Facebook profile and find a sparse write-up filled with contradictory information: I assume that Harvard Law School graduates can use punctuation appropriately.
The search was stressful to me, along with the fact of having underestimated the length of my stay when I initially contacted my relatives. Finally, fed up the whole buisness, I decided to try CouchSurfing. I knew that it wouldn't be ideal. I'd have to interact with my hosts and spend the night on couches and both of these things would detract from the focused time I was seeking. I'd met a few nice people from Cork at a singing in Frankfurt and had it in my mind that it might be a good place to go, so, accordingly, I searched that area and eventually found Tatjana's profile:
i love discovering new perspectives with my camera, watching my spinach grow, reading as if time stood still, endless walks in nature, playing and growing with children, long train rides across beautiful landscapes, unexpected enriching encounters with strangers, feeling the force of wind in the sails, the magical moment where the different voices in our little choir blend to create a beautiful whole, the smell of wet earth after a thunderstorm, unwinding by playing the piano & the guitar, cooking & eating together with others, chestnuts in all possible ways, endless conversations about anything and everything in a blend of languages, swimming in natural waters, snow slowing down the pace of life…
currently i'm in an intense phase of unlearning old patterns, making space for new behaviours that are more in tune with my inner rhythm. after half a year of travelling and wwoofing i've now settled down in ireland for a while to do a course in permaculture and practical sustainability, trying to learn new skills and find out which direction i feel like going.
The permaculture bit at the end caught my attention: that would be an excellent basis for many discussions. So I dropped her a line asking if I could stay a week and she agreed on the condition that we evaluate how the stay was going after the first three or so days.
The next evening, I announced my plans to continue traveling over supper. My relatives looked at me with a mix of surprise and understanding: we had so much left to do!
But I look forward to coming back sometime soon :-)
After supper, I packed things up. Everyone was had been so kind for Christmas and found me small, easily transportable gifts. But there were so many of these that they formed, in aggregate, quite a bundle and I could not take them all with. Consequently, and much to my dismay, I ended up leaving a number of nice things, including several pounds of chocolate, behind.
So we made a plan to wake up early and drop me off at the Windermere station, south of Ambleside. That night the air around the futon's blankets grew crisper than usual and, when I awoke the next morning, I was not surprised to find snow. But I was surprised by just how beautiful the snow was.
Having descended out of the mountain pass, we swung into Ambleside, piled out of the car, and there were hugs all around. Randy opened the trunk, and I pulled out my notably weighty bag, waving as they pulled off.
Alone again, as I hadn't been in nearly a month, I went into the Booths grocery store and bought a tomato, garlic, and cheese pasta. Then I wait, surrounded by bleary-eyed people, for the train, which is uncharacteristically late.
Finally it pulls up and we all climb on board, and I begin my journey.
|08:50 - Windermere||09:06 - Oxenholme Lake District||Train (TRANSPENNINE EXPRESS)||No seats reserved.|
|09:23 - Oxenholme Lake District||10:20 - Warrington Bank Quay||Train (VIRGIN TRAINS)||Coach: BSeat: 14|
|10:26 - Warrington Bank Quay||10:53 - Chester||Train (ARRIVA TRAINS WALES)||No seats reserved.|
|11:16 - Chester||12:50 - Holyhead||Train (VIRGIN TRAINS)||Coach: BSeat: 60|
|13:50 - Holyhead||17:15 - Dublin Port (Stena)||Ferry (ARRIVA TRAINS WALES)||No seat reserved with this ticket*|
|17:15 - Dublin Port (Stena)||19:00 - Dublin Heuston||Transfer||No seats reserved.|
|19:00 - Dublin Heuston||21:58 - Cork City||Train (IRISH RAIL)||No seats reserved.|
I've thought several times that being trapped on early morning trains is somewhat hellish, in a literally sense. But there's sufficient light out this morning for me to gawk at snow the whole way into Oxenholme.
The station there is insignificantly small and I wait outside, surrounded still by crisp air and snow. The in-coming train is running a little behind, so now we are even later.
The train now truly does leave the Lake District behind and, with it, the snow. Shortly it is bright and sunny outside the train and we are passing through green fields.
When the train pulls into Warrington Bank Quay, I go searching for my transfer. But it's already left! But, either because Virgin Trains is that great or because my being late gives me special privileges, I'm not yet out of the game. The station person gets on the phone and makes a few calls, then looks up and points.
“Quick! Get on that train. It'll take you to on a faster route to Chester and you can cut off the train you're supposed to be on. Ask the first person you see that the station where to go and they'll point the way. We'll hold the train five minutes for you. Go!”
I run and make it aboard the indicated train just as the doors are closing. I spend the ride to Chester enjoying the scenery, fretting a little about my ferry, and marveling at what's just happened. As I've mentioned before, every train station in the UK has signs up which tell you how on time the trains are, how clean the trains are, and how many passengers have been held up recently, along with many other forms of data. All the trains have quality targets they are supposed to meet and, if they drop below these targets, ticket prices are reduced. By holding a train for me, the rail company is risking not meeting one of their targets (though perhaps missed connections are weighted more heavily than delayed arrivals). Nonetheless, it's a gutsy move on their part.
I've copied the following from Virgin Rail's April 2013 Customer Charter:
Our Delay Repay scheme comes into effect on 1 April 2013. Under this scheme, if you hold a ticket for a single or return journey you can claim compensation for a delay of over 30 minutes, irrespective of what caused the delay. If you are delayed by ;
- 30 – 59 minutes : We will pay you compensation to the value of 50% of the cost of your single ticket or 50% of the cost of the relevant portion* of your return ticket.
- 60 – 119 minutes : We will pay you compensation to the value of 100% of the cost of your single ticket or 100% of the cost of the relevant portion* of your return ticket.
- 120 minutes or longer : We will pay you compensation to the value of 100% of the cost of your single ticket or 100% of the cost of your return ticket (i.e. both portions not just one way).
When I get to the next station, I ask the first operator I meet and he tells me the track number. I run! I run up the stairs, I run around a corner, I backtrack, I find the right stairs, I run down the stairs. There is no train. A sign near the track says the next train is in 20 minutes. I wait a couple of minutes. I go the customer service office and ask where the train is. They point and I turn to see it gliding away.
I turn back and ask if there's anything else and this time, the answer is no. The helpful clerk lady digs around in her computer and tells me that the later ferry from Holyhead has been canceled due to stormy weather over the Irish Sea. So not only is it not possible for me to catch this ferry; it isn't even possible for me to leave Great Britain tonight.