TRAVEL as an art form. Discuss. That’s pretty much what I spent hours doing on Saturday with a bunch of total strangers and no, it wasn’t what I’d intended.
It had all begun so nicely. One of those ideas which sounded pretty good at the time. Well I’d have to say that wouldn’t I as part of it was mine. The idea that is.
A friend had a hankering for a day out. Yes, she’s the dangerous one. The one with the atlas gripped permanently in one hand and an unerring eye for spotting bargain prices on trains, buses, flights, flats, even at the petrol pumps. She is not to be diverted!
When she dropped Ludlow Food Festival into the conversation I knew I was doomed. For while she has a passion for food and for what she calls “outings”, I have a soft spot for Shropshire.
It was one of those outings just destined to be since my mental dexterity seems to have mislaid its reverse gear. Once I’d waxed lyrical about a journey I know well, of the delights of relaxing in a train seat, book to hand, coffee at my elbow with the lush Shropshire countryside rolling by I had only to look up and see the knowing grin to realise what I’d done.
My seat was all but booked. Decision made. We were off to Ludlow and its food festival.
It started beautifully. The train was on time. There were seats and great company.
We travelled to Ludlow alongside four Stockport football supporters on their way to Newport.
Where they hadn’t travelled was nobody’s business. Up and down the leagues – sadly currently in the Blue Square division but we didn’t dwell on that – and much further and wilder in support of their beloved England.
They bristled with old and new style technology. Timetables, maps, city guides and of course phones with every app a travelling footie fan could dream of.
They tracked every stop of our journey to perfection and could reel off the best hotels, hostelries and food stops along the way.
Stories poured out of hair-raising exploits in Albania and border surfing across Eastern Europe in pursuit of the glorious game. Shropshire? Piece of cake. If only they knew!
But they were duly impressed by our tangles with Intourist guides and Aeroflot officials as we told reciprocal travelling tales of how we’d battled bureaucracy in Moscow and what was then Leningrad en route to Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent.
As we settled cosily into the English countryside, they with their sights on a trip to Wales and us with our noses ready to sniff out fine food on the Marches, travelling did indeed seem a bit of an art form.
How I regretted that thought on the return leg of our journey home.
For what had seemed a leisurely companionable stroll in the countryside on the outward leg turned into a gruelling marathon on the way home.
As the crowds gathered on the platform in Ludlow in that delicately crisp chill which only the very last days of summer seem to have there were sighs of contentment. Then the shuffling started.
Watches were surreptitiously checked. Out came the phones. Google was summoned to help.
There were no trains, no staff, no tannoy and now, no room on the platform. Train times came and went. The only wheels doing any moving were on the other side of the track.
Finally, 45 minutes later, a train stopped on our platform. It said it was going to Manchester Piccadilly but was in fact being diverted to Holyhead.
We could get on it, but only as far as Shrewsbury. Oh and we could only get in the first few coaches since the ones behind were locked. They were part of a train that had broken down and was being towed. Sardine impressions all round as we all packed on.
At Shrewsbury we spewed back out onto the platform relieved that at least the next train would finally whisk us back to Manchester. Oh really?
It arrived. We crammed on it. It left the station – and juddered to a halt.
There was shoulder to shoulder resistance by now from passengers who had pieced together a whispered tannoy message which apparently told us all to get off at Crewe.
Apparently our train was now running so late it hadn’t time to take us to Manchester and had to go back to Cardiff.
We gave up the ghost on Arriva trains since they didn’t (arrive) and hitched a lift home with a different train company.
Ironically, most of our fare was paid for by vouchers given to us by Arriva and yes, you guessed it. To compensate us for two previous journeys attempted when they missed the arrival time by the not inconsiderable margin of two hours. Will I never learn? And will they?