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Getting home

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So here's the story of the trip back from visiting my dad in Hampshire this last weekend.

The plan was to take the sleeper down on Friday night and come back Sunday night arriving back at Nairn with half an hour to spare before the first council meeting of the week, on Teams, followed by a meeting in person in Inverness in the afternoon.

What actually happened was Storms Isha and Jocelyn. Isha was due on Sunday night and on Saturday afternoon Caledonian Sleeper messaged me to say they'd cancelled it as ScotRail were stopping all services north of the Central Belt from 7pm on Sunday.

As well as a full refund they offered to either get me home for free on a day train (LNER/ScotRail) on Sunday (with the caveat that I might not get all the day home due to the expected cancellations due to Isha) or put me up in the sleeper pulled up on a platform at Euston station(!) on Sunday night and then get me home in the same way on Monday. So not a bad offer.

We collectively mulled this over. I didn't want to head home on Sunday morning as that was half my weekend gone, plus it wasn't certain I'd get home. I also didn't want to go home in the day time on Monday because of the meetings which I couldn't do from a moving train with an inevitably somewhat variable Internet connection. The sensible solution was to stay an extra day, do both meetings on Teams from my dad's house (using my niece's laptop), and then take the sleeper home on Monday night. I could get a ticket and it would be a bit dearer but only £20, plus I'd lose £10 admin fee on cancelling the train ticket into Paddington on Sunday night but whatever.

And this all went swimmingly, especially when the afternoon meeting went from being hybrid ("but in person if possible") to full Teams on Monday morning due to Isha.

Well, until half way through the second meeting at about 4pm when Caledonian Sleeper messaged me with the same news as the previous night and the same offer. They also said that Tuesday night's sleeper was also likely to be cancelled due to Jocelyn (and it turned out that it was).

So time for a new plan which was to go to London on Monday night, sleep on the sleeper in Euston Station, and then leg it down to King's Cross to catch the first day time train to Inverness: the 07:00 changing at Edinburgh and Perth. That would get me home well before Jocelyn arrived and ScotRail shut down the train network again1.

Anyway I toddled off to London for a night on the sleeper. Which was weird. Turns out I sleep better on a moving train. I suspect it's that on a moving train my brain says "lots of noises, I'm going to ignore them all" whereas on a stationary train it's very quiet ... until the couple in the next compartment start coughing (which they did all night, I assume they had Covid - I also hope the ventilation system hasn't passed it on to me) or someone opens the outside carriage door - with all the beeping that involves as it opens and closes.

At 6am I got up, walked down to King's Cross, picked up my ticket (£212.30 for a First Class ticket as Caledonian Sleeper were only offering me a free journey in Standard Class and that was, as I expected, rammed with few unreserved seats). First Class was OK and fairly quiet. I did use an FFP2 mask anyway and was grateful for it when a passenger got on at Newcastle and proceeded to cough continuously. A mask will only do so much so I rapidly moved carriage.

But meanwhile the horror of the ScotRail cancellations began. They seemed determined to cancel every train, even ones between Glasgow and Edinburgh were being cancelled. It also became clear that the Highland Line was still shut between Perth and Pitlochry so that was me screwed on my original plan.

I spent a frustrating couple of hours on the train bouncing from web site to web site and messaging ScotRail. The biggest problem was that some web sites still claims trains were running but ScotRail's own site, which I figured should be the most accurate as it was their trains, said they were cancelled.

In the end I gave up and took Beth up on her offer to drive down and rescue me but she didn't want to have to drive into Edinburgh so the final (we thought!) plan was that she would drive to Perth and I would get a bus from Edinburgh to Perth arriving there at about 2pm.

Good, we've for a plan. It's not great, not least 1 hour 45 minutes on a bus full of people with germs but I've got my FFP2 mask, and it will get me home.

So we roll into Edinburgh at 11:20 and as I'm walking out of the station I look up at the departure board and there's my connecting train to Perth, which ScotRail claims is cancelled, departing at 11:35. I leg it to Platform 14 and ask the guard if this train is really going to Perth. It is.

While on the train I go back to ScotRail's web site and there it still is, plain as day, the news that the train I'm now on and which is heading towards Perth is cancelled.

ScotRail claiming my train is cancelled

I captured the screenshot above while on the allegedly cancelled train! I despair.

Anyway the good news is that the train was fairly empty (although I kept my FFP2 mask on - too much exposure to people this weekend, don't need any more) and I arrived in Perth at 13:03 getting there about ten minutes after Beth who I'd alerted to my change of ETA and so she had made up some time.

At 4pm we were home. I was still wearing yesterday's pants (yuck!) but other than that I came off fairly unscathed. We're both completely knackered mind you.

I'm hoping to reclaim my fare home off ScotRail as they failed to get me home, at all. So if that works my return journey will be pretty much free other than a local train in Hampshire and a tube ticket but on the negative side we burned a lot of diesel and a day on Beth's time.

So my conclusions:

  • Always carry more spare pants than you think you need.

  • Caledonian Sleeper were excellent in what they were offering and in my case I ended up getting a night's accommodation in London at no charge.

  • ScotRail's information service sucks.
  1. I did miss a trick here incidentally: what I should have done is booked on the "Lowlander" sleeper to Edinburgh on Monday night as that did run. That would have got me into Edinburgh at about 8am with lots of time to get home.

Written 23/01/24

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