Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

28th September 2013


Train at InvernessLeaving Inverness behind, Ian and I set off for home. By extreme good fortune, although we had booked our train tickets separately, the seat reservation system had allocated us seats facing each other across a table. I was glad we had reservations, for the train was busy and became more crowded the further south we travelled.

A variety of personalities all jostled for space. I noticed a teenager wearing iPod earphones, who was turfed out of his seat on three separate occasions during the journey, when the person who had reserved it turned up to claim it. Immediately behind Ian, an American couple had settled in for the long journey to Edinburgh. The wife was reading a tabloid magazine, picking out stories of interest and loudly discussing them with her husband. We heard her opinions on Prince Charles (how could he pick Camilla over Lady Di?) and Simon Cowell (his new baby is a surrogate, like Neil Patrick Harris). Her husband, meanwhile, buried his head in a book called “Whiskeypedia”. By the end of our journey, Ian and I had our eye-rolls perfectly synchronised.

The automatic announcer on the train kept getting out of step with the station stops. For some reason, this seemed to amuse a group of people sitting at a table further down the carriage. Every time it announced the wrong station, gales of laughter were heard.

This train was also notable for the frankly alarming sign in the lavatory. Basically, don’t use this toilet if you have any genital piercings.


Excitement abounded as we approached Edinburgh. First, crossing over the Forth Rail Bridge, an astonishing feat of railway engineering which is surely one of Scotland’s most well-known landmarks. After years of admiring it from afar, finally I got to travel over it.

Often with railway landmarks, the best views are from outside the train. For example, Glenfinnan Viaduct, on the West Highland Line, cannot be seen easily from inside the carriage. The Forth Bridge, however, is just as spectacular from inside the train. I sat back and marvelled at the giant girders as they glided past the window.

Forth Rail Bridge

A bit closer to Edinburgh, and work is in progress on the controversial, long-delayed, much-maligned tramway system (you can also see Murrayfield Rugby Stadium in the background).

Edinburgh Tram Construction

We passed through Edinburgh’s secondary station, Haymarket, which is currently a building site due to extensive refurbishment work, before rolling into Edinburgh Waverley. As we walked through the ticket barrier onto the concourse, there were actually bagpipes playing somewhere on the station. That’s how Scottish it is.

Waverley is a huge, sprawling station, with 17 platforms leading off in seemingly every direction. Never thought I’d find a station that made London Euston seem relaxed, but this may be it.

Edinburgh Waverley

Frankly, it overwhelmed me a bit. I needed to escape the crowds, so Ian and I popped our heads outside for a quick look at Edinburgh while we waited for our respective connections.

Sorry, Edinburgh. All I saw of you was the street outside the station. It’s a very nice street. I will come back at some point, and maybe walk up that street and have a snack in a Costa Coffee there.


This was where Ian and I went our separate ways. Ian was heading for That London, down the East Coast Main Line, while I was heading down the West Coast Main Line to Preston for an onward connection to Liverpool. We hugged awkwardly (it was my idea, but I think it’s fair to say neither of us enjoyed it) and said farewell.

The TransPennine Express was busy heading south from Edinburgh. The good news: I’d reserved a seat. The bad news: I had to climb over a bevy of old ladies who had already ensconced themselves around the table. I felt terrible making the woman with crutches stand up to let me in, but I’d booked a window seat, and I needed that power socket to charge my mobile phone – for what good is a long train journey if I can’t Tweet interminably throughout?


Another man got on board and fought his way to a seat. “Sorry,” he explained to his fellow passengers, “I’m booked in that seat” – he gestured towards me – “but it’s OK – really.”

Wow – passive-agressive much? Naturally, I couldn’t allow the rest of Coach B to believe that I was an uncouth reserved seat stealer, so a brief “battle of the reservations” ensued. My professionally printed orange and green seat reservation coupon trumped his tatty printout from The TrainLine, so I won the right to continued occupancy of seat 45, and I settled back to enjoy the journey.

The old ladies were very nice. Over the course of the journey they produced numerous items of food out of seemingly bottomless handbags. They offered me Starbursts from one of those giant “treat bags” that are only ever sold at railway station WHSmith outlets. My lunch was more prosaic – a Boots Meal Deal, although I did Scottish it up a bit by buying an Irn Bru as part of it.

I watched as scenery flashed past the window, as well as a wide variety of trains, including a Pendolino, a few freight trains and – excitingly – the Network Rail Measurement HST. By this point the old ladies were playing dominoes. Reservation guy was being plied with wine by the women sharing his table (they were going to a wedding).

We passed a sign that read “SCOTLAND | ENGLAND”. Everything seemed instantly worse. Back to the world of David Cameron, credit card bills and a shitty IT Assistant job.

Scotland, I love you, and not just because a man with a Highland accent can melt my brain into a small pile of jelly. I have rarely felt more welcome as a tourist. Forget this “anti-English” nonsense; every person I met was unfailingly friendly. Your towns and villages are lovely, your rail network excellent.

Scotland’s independence referendum is next year. At the moment, opinion polls have the “No” vote a commanding lead. I get the impression, though, that Scotland could go it alone, should they choose to. The country has everything, in terms of resources and infrastructure. The people have the drive and determination and sense of pride to make it work. I just hope they will still let poor English folk like me in to enjoy themselves.

I changed trains at Preston and crossed to the opposite platform to continue my journey. As I waited for the Liverpool train, I noticed one particular station leap out at me from the departures poster:

Corrour on Preston station departures poster

A thousand happy thoughts flooded my mind – of mobile hotels with bunk beds and free shortbread; tiny villages shrouded in mist; wayside stations against a backdrop of lochs and moors; restaurants dishing up haggis in the middle of nowhere; bus trips across islands in the drizzle; opulent hotels with stained glass windows.

As the Northern Rail Sprinter rolled out of Preston towards home, I was already sure in my mind that I would be coming back to Scotland again very soon.

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