Day 40 – the final leg, starting with a day in Scotland

Stone – Stoke-on-Trent – Derby – Edinburgh Waverley – Dundee – Glasgow Queen Street – Glasgow Central – Ayr – Stranraer

With only two days of domestic travel allowed on an Interrail pass, finding really long/unusual journeys to make best use of them seemed like a good plan. I’d decided almost as soon as I bought the pass that one of them would be a trip via either Stranraer or Aberdeen. Once it was clear that the Norway/Sweden trip wasn’t going to pass through Bergen (reachable by plane from Aberdeen) then Stranraer was nailed on.

Starting the final trip this way made lots of sense. My Interrail pass runs out on Thursday. Arranging to arrive on that day at the home of my very dear friends Kayt and Chris, in the west of Ireland, would be a lovely way to wrap up two unbelievable months of travel. I could then return home on “normal” tickets at the weekend (but more of that at the appropriate time.)

Today’s journey was calculated backwards from the endpoint. Stranraer is only reachable from Ayr. That is reachable from either Glasgow or Kilmarnock. My initial idea was Stone – Manchester – Bradford – Settle & Carlisle – Kilmarnock. That was scuppered by bus replacements north of Carlisle this weekend.

A wider route was doable, over to the east coast and up to Edinburgh. From there to Glasgow and perhaps a bucket list trip to Wemyss Bay (the loveliest station in Britain?) Very tempting but it involved a bus to Largs then a couple of very tight connections to make the last train of the day. Unlike most Interrail days, this one has a fixed end point. I have to get to Stranraer as I have a ferry to Ireland in the morning. I also of course only have “free” travel today. Risky connections are not an option. The eventual itinerary had lots of breathing room and several recovery options, though it was pretty much a given that I’d arrive in Stranraer on the last train of the day, just before 11pm as they are so infrequent (the previous one was 6 hours earlier.)

I was up by 6:30, half an hour before the alarm went off. This was the first time I’ve set off on a Saturday morning, so packing was done partly last night and partly as I had breakfast. My week had been too busy to do it any earlier.

Stone Station was busier than I’d expected. Several groups waiting on the platform looked like they were off to London to join the Coronation crowds, so I was happy to be headed the opposite way.

Stone station

I had hoped to look at the Knotty 100 event while I was waiting at Stoke station. I’d read about it on Facebook during the week, but had not realised that it was only for a day. What a shame.

I almost never take the Stoke – Derby line. It’s interesting to see the City from a different angle. Longton looks way more impressive from the station (which is on top of a bridge) than it does from the street below. The hotel next to the station was apparently once a lovely place, but became terribly run down. It doesn’t look so bad at the moment, at least from the station. Likewise the Town Hall turns its best face to the line.

The train manager came through to check where everyone was getting off. This service normally runs as one or two carriages, but today it had four, because Uttoxeter Races were on. Maybe it is to pick people up on the way back as no more than half a dozen got off there.

As we continued towards Derby I pondered the idea of a change of route. This train was continuing, via Nottingham, to Newark. From there I could pick up the East Coast Main Line. However the connection time was 17 minutes, and there is a change of stations involved. Missing the connection would delay me by an hour and mean that I couldn’t go to Dundee. I stuck with the original plan.

Derby is a busy little station but soulless. I wonder what happened to the original station, this one looks like a recent budget rebuilt, which is a real shame for one of the most important railway towns in the country. I picked up a cup of tea at Costa and waited for my connection.

Derby station
Derby station

The Cross Country train was incredibly quiet. I don’t think there were more than 4 other people in the carriage at any point all the way to Edinburgh.

From Derby, it picks a quite convoluted route to the East Coast Main Line. Chesterfield, Sheffield, Wakefield and Leeds were all visited. At York we were bumped to the outdoor platform furthest from the city centre, so I didn’t get a look inside the station. I’m looking at stations a lot more carefully having seen so many lovely ones (both new and old) on my travels. From here the speed picked up. I glimpsed Durham Cathedral and the Angel of the North in the distance, and took a quick look at Newcastle station as we paused there for a few minutes.

Every time I come this way (which isn’t often) I remind myself that I need to spend more time visiting some of these coastal towns. I took a good look at Berwick-upon-Tweed a couple of years ago but still need to properly look at Alnmouth, Anwick, Eyemouth and others, some time.

As we crossed the border, the weather changed. It relented briefly as I changed trains in Edinburgh, but by the time we were at the Forth Bridge, it was lashing down. I’ve not done the line through the middle of Fife to Dundee before, so was sad to not see much of it this time. I felt for the golfers getting off at Dunbar for their visit to St Andrews. By the time we crossed the Tay Bridge, we couldn’t even see the ends from the middle.

All being well I’ll get another chance to look at it in August.

The rain stopped as we arrived in Dundee. I’ve never visited before but it’s been on the list for some time. It has some interesting architecture, both old and new and I’d allowed time for a look around. The station here is a good example of the latter.

Dundee Station
Dundee Station

As I was leaving the station, I glanced up at the departures board to double check the time of my next train, only to find that it was cancelled. There was no alternative that gave me time to look around Dundee and still get to Stranraer so I had no choice but to turn around and head back to the platform.

In Glasgow, I was arriving at Queen Street and departing from Central. This is a city I’ve come to know reasonably well in the past few years, having visited several times. I stopped to look at a couple of the city’s famous landmarks as I walked between the two (quite different) stations.

I’m not sure whether the traffic cone on the head of the Duke of Wellington outside the Museum of Modern Art has now become an official addition to the work. It’s certainly become iconic, and I’ve never passed without it being there.

Having not spent time in Dundee I did theoretically have time to kill in Glasgow, but having seen one cancelled service already, I didn’t want to risk it so decided to head straight to Ayr, which I’ve never visited.

The train was improbably busy, and perhaps even more surprisingly the majority of people got off at what I had thought was a small town, Prestwick. Maybe there was an event going on. They certainly didn’t look like they were heading to the airport, which is the only thing I know about the place. Whatever the attraction, groups young and old departed and for the last couple of stops into Ayr the train was almost empty.

I wasn’t expecting much from Ayr. Something to eat and a spot to deal with a work issue that had come up would have suited me fine. The few people I knew who had expressed a view over the years weren’t exactly positive. What I found was a pleasant little town, which was undoubtedly run down, but was hanging on by its fingernails. I suspect it could be quite pleasant if a bit of money was found to deal with the dilapidated buildings, but it still has a few gems.

I walked back to the station a different way. I passed what I think is the most run down Odeon cinema I’ve ever seen that has not closed down, but there were people arriving so good luck to them. The station building itself was closed in 2017, and now operates from a Portakabin. I spoke to one of the staff about it. Apparently it is now privately owned and no-one has been able to convince the (non-local) owner that they need to repair it. Absolutely heartbreaking.

I sat on a bench on the platform to do my work as there was no indoor/covered space. Thankfully it had by now turned into a lovely evening. By the time my train arrived, it was almost dark and the platform was quite busy. The final journey to Stranraer was unremarkable, but the station, set inside a shed on a man-made promontory, where ferries used to land directly alongside, was a quirky end to the day.

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1 Comment

  1. Celia Lyon

    My mums family are from Dundee so I know it quite well, and am very fond of it. I’m due a visit soon, not been for a few years.
    Looks like you have lots to do in a week, will keep close to your diary to see how you get on

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