18th June 2024 – Back on the move but not on an Interrail pass this time

Stoke-on-Trent – Crewe – Liverpool Lime Street – Wigan North Western – Glasgow Central

I wasn’t going to travel as much this year. Not that it would be possible to travel as much as I did last year, but you know what I mean. Lots has been going on in my world (see the Iris Abbott diary) for part of the explanation and my work diary for much of the rest.

There was a plan, however, to go back to Italy, catch a gig near to Florence with my friend Gilly and Interrail home. I loved the idea, obviously, but a few weeks ago I realised that what I actually needed to do was to slow down a bit. I took a deep breath and decided that Italy could and should wait. I replanned and will now be over there at the start of September.

I still had a fortnight holiday in the diary though. I toyed with a few options but in the end have settled on a much more gentle trip, all within the UK and mostly travelling on a Spirit of Scotland rail pass. That will give me a chance to tick off at least two trips that I’ve wanted to do for years, and puts me in the Highlands at midsummer, always a thing that I’ve loved, ever since Kayty and Chris lived in Brora, over 15 years ago. The travel days will be a lot shorter, mostly half days, or thereabouts so I may even stay on top of writing this diary!

This trip started from my Mum’s house in Stoke-on-Trent. From there it’s a relatively short walk to the bus stop which took me into the City Centre, Hanley. I don’t do that journey often and the bus took a route I’d not done before into the new(ish) bus station, a dreadful place with very poor signage for passengers and awful access for drivers. Who on earth thought that laying out bus stands like the spokes of a wheel was a good idea? They are all reversing into the same small space and you’re constantly expecting them to collide.

The view from ground level is no less grim. Awful place. Oddly, it perhaps a good thing that Stoke has no late night buses any more, so there is no incentive to be here after dark.

From Hanley I caught a second bus to Stoke. Winton Square Conservation Area outside the station is being redeveloped at the moment, a lamentable missed opportunity to remove all vehicles from what was once and could be again an incredible welcoming space. Instead they plan to move the statue of Josiah Wedgwood from it’s rightful place as the focal point to a new location where it won’t be as inconvenient for traffic. You really couldn’t make it up. I despair of this city.

The train from Stoke to Crewe was busy, so I settled on a dropdown seat by the doors. I had more than an hour for my connection at Crewe which gave me time for a cuppa and to look over the fence to see whether there was anything interesting going on in the LSL works. I’m not quite a trainspotter (I’d definitely fail the entrance exam) but I enjoy seeing unusual or historic stuff. The Heritage Centre on the way out of town is also worth a quick look on the way past.

The service to Liverpool took me through the station I’d originally planned to start at when this trip was conceived a couple of weeks ago. Acton Bridge is walking distance from home for me, but for logistical reasons was nothing more than the spot where I swapped from the ticket I’d bought this morning to the one I’d booked last week, without getting onto or off the train.

At Runcorn we cross the line of the old locks down from the Bridgewater Canal, and subsequently the Ship Canal and Mersey are crossed, adjacent to the gorgeous Silver Jubilee Bridge.

I’d not registered before now that the railway into Lime Street station cuts through sandstone in dramatic tunnels and cuttings. Quite spectacular. I had just enough time in Liverpool to grab a few photos in and around the station. I enjoyed the statues of Kenn Dodd and Bessie Braddock, which I’ve not seen before, though the ignorance of Network Rail staff in placing a Wi-Fi poster in between them, spoiling any photo opportunities, was very disappointing.

I know this city pretty well; I was last here only a few weeks ago, but by car. Now I’m living in Acton Bridge I’ll perhaps visit by train more often.

I’ve not done the line from Liverpool to Wigan before, and it was eminently forgettable. Nor have I previously changed trains in Wigan. I took a quick wander outside. The exit from the station is down a rather spartan tunnel. It couldn’t be much less appealing if it tried. Outside, you get more a sense of what it used to be, with bits of faded architectural grandeur. This must have been a lovely area at some point. Pub signs are often worth a look and the one here was very nicely done.

Wallgate Station, serving the lines to Southport, Blackburn and Manchester is on the opposite side of the road and infinitely nicer than North Western. However I had a train to catch back at NW so there wasn’t time to explore it properly.

The train to Glasgow was a few minutes late and really busy. I was glad I had a reservation. Inevitably someone was sat in my seat but he moved, with no complaints.

The Pendolinos are dull but they don’t half shift. Up Shap and on to Penrith before I’ve caught breath. I didn’t even take any photos as I’d not realised how far we had got. The onward journey into Carlisle flew by, at around 125mph. I’ve been there on two railtours this year so it was inevitable that the one time I didn’t get off there was the one day with pleasant weather!

Sat on the left side of the train I didn’t see the main border sign as we crossed the small River Sark into Scotland.

Glasgow Central is a stunning station. Probably my second favourite after Wemyss Bay. My hotel was almost directly above the station. I stayed here for 4 nights when I did my practice run for Interrailing in 2022, learning what stuff I did and didn’t need to get by. This time I was on a higher floor, but facing the city which is actually a bit of a shame as the views are better to the south.

I met up with top mischief maker Tim, who is in town for work for a couple of days. We went for a drink in the rather lovely Horse Shoe Bar, before I said goodnight and returned to my room for a 9:30pm software deployment. A very good first day.

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1 Comment

  1. Glad you’re he journey went well and you made it to the Horseshoe. J

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