This is the story of how a journey on the Longest Day of the year from Lands End to John O’Groats by ground public transport (that’s bus and train) unfolded in real time.
The original plan, as described in Wednesday’s (19th June) blog was to complete the end-to-end journey in just under 24 hours.
Except, that plan was so last month. Literally.
This adventure has been a long time in the making and on the way down to Penzance last night I realised First Kernow’s updated timetable for route A1, introduced for the summer on 26th May, means the planned departure from Lands End at 1334 has been retimed to depart six minutes later at 1340 which, together with an added six minutes running time to allow for summer traffic delays, makes for an arrival into Penzance at 1445 instead of the original time of 1433.
This gives an almost impossible tight four minute connection between bus and train at Penzance with our GWR train leaving for Plymouth at 1449.
Team LEJOG had a bit of a conflab late into the night on the Sleeper from Paddington …. at least as far as passing Swindon around 0130 this morning …. and we decided to forget about achieving any sub 24 hour timings with inherent risks of a missed connection even before we’d left Cornwall and enjoy a more relaxed travel lifestyle by taking advantage of the now more frequent hourly summer A1 timetable (it was two-hourly) and start our adventure an hour earlier this morning on the 1240 from Lands End rather than the risky 1340, and be happy with a 24 hour 45 minute end-to-end journey time.
So here we are…….it’s now….
Thursday 20th June
0755 And all’s well.
GWR’s Night Riviera brought us to Penzance spot on time having left Paddington last night at 2345.
It’s a really lovely refurbished sleeper too. It may not have the en-suite options now offered by Caledonian Sleeper (together with their troublesome teething problems), but it’s still a very pleasant ambiance both in the berths and the lounge car.
I thought it a bit odd the window blind above the hidden sink had been replaced by a sticky cover over the window which I didn’t like to peel off so was unaware where we were on the journey especially in Cornwall in daylight but apparently its a temporary fix for a broken blind.
The lounge car is very nice and I must say I prefer it to the new Caledonian Mark 5 lounge car. This one also has a mix of seating layouts ….
…. as well as impossible to sit on bar stools …
which apparently are perch places ‘to lean against’ rather than sit on – pleased that was clarified for me in time!
Enough chit chat about Sleeper trains, it’s now ‘Breakfast in Penzance’ with a few hours spare before beginning our travel adventure proper in Lands End at 1240.
It was lovely to meet up and have breakfast with Karen and Phil who are All The Stations supporters and are currently on holiday in Cornwall and kindly gave us a lift down to Lands End in their hire car.
1240 Lands End
After the obligatory photographs to prove we are here ….
… it’s time to begin the adventure on our first bus the 1240 First Kernow A1 to Penzance. We left a couple of minutes late but no worries as our revised schedule gives us more time in Penzance.
And we also met the lovely Tony who coincidentally is also heading to John O’Groats raising money for Guide Dogs. He’s taking a route via London and the Caledonian ‘Highlander’ Sleeper to Inverness (as we’re catching that same train but from Crewe) and then he’s taking the (later) train to Thurso tomorrow morning rather than the Stagecoach X98 bus.
All good so far as we enjoy the lovely Cornish countryside and the narrow roads (Porthcurno below!).
Word of advice for any LEJOGers … allow plenty of time for delays on the A1 bus route especially through Treen….
We finally made it into Penzance fifteen minutes late at 1359 and 30 seconds due to all the traffic delays and as Tony with his guide dog Gaynor are booked on the 1400 to Paddington, our bus driver kindly stopped right by the entrance to the station and Geoff jumped off to sprint ahead to try and hold the train for a few seconds with Tony, Gaynor, Vicki and I rushing along behind…
The train was just leaving ….
… but then came to a halt so we chased up the platform thinking the train manager in the rear cab had seen us ..
…. but to no avail, it was a brief emergency stop and the train headed out again leaving Tony behind.
Luckily he has now arranged a Plan B to catch the 1449 to Plymouth with us and then jump on the next train from there to Paddington arriving 2039 so he should just make it to Euston for the Highlander leaving at 2115 to Inverness.
We’ll see him again when we board that train ourselves in Crewe so for now we have a little time to relax……
….before our smartened up Class 150 takes us via ‘all the stations’ to Plymouth leaving at 1449 as per our original plan.
And Tony and the lovely Gaynor are with us…
First a big shout out to Dominic at the Rail Delivery Group. who is monitoring our progress on social media, and GWR who held Tony’s train to Paddington at 1657 as our stopping train from Penzance was running four minutes late and arrived tantalisingly close at 1655. Pleased to say Tony and Gaynor and all the other connecting passengers easily made it.
We had a more sedate connection on to the 1725 Cross Country train to Leeds which we’re with as far as Tamworth at 2119.
A great on time journey with Cross Country to Tamworth where we’ve changed from the upper level to the lower level on to the West Coast Main Line.
Four kind hearted well wishers have met us with plentiful provisions, including Martin who’s driven up from south London – what a lovely surprise.
Just time for some selfies with Geoff and Vicki as our next Virgin Trains arrives to take us on to Crewe.
There’s something a little eerie about waiting on a deserted Crewe station from 2217 to 2350 with everything closed but as well as the Tamworth provisions we now have more food delivered by another well wisher, Serf, alerted by Sarah, who lives nearby to Crewe.
It’s amazing and heartening to see the widespread admiration for Geoff and Vicki’s fantastic work documenting their travels on YouTube from supporters literally all across the country.
I’m still not sure what the point of these info-screens are, but at least they brighten up the platform.
I pressed the green ‘i’ button but nothing happened.
At least we know the Caledonian Sleeper to take us overnight to Inverness is on its way and, importantly, on time.
2350 and here it arrives, all sixteen coaches….
Friday 21st June 2019
0000 Good night
0412 Good morning as that reassuring clunk and jolt, when you’re asleep on the Caledonian ‘Highlander’ Sleeper, lets you know it’s train split time in Edinburgh. This time I resisted the temptation to look out through the window blind in my berth at the deserted platform, save for high-viz wearing railway staff working hard to separate the train into its three separate portions to head north, and just carried on drifting in sleep until ….
0420 I was conscious we’d left Edinburgh and were moving but now we’ve stopped and my mind woke up and also clicked into gear thinking – why have we stopped, we mustn’t be delayed into Inverness. Luckily the pause was only for a short while and the wonderful ‘Real Time Trains’ website is showing us as waiting at a red signal at Haynarket junction for about eight minutes just now and a consequential four minutes late running as we’re now back on the move again and thankfully with a predicted on time arrival into Inverness.
0440 Good night.
One minute early arriving into Perth. All looking good.
0700 The Cairngorms
I know they’re now getting on a bit but I love these old style lounge cars and there’s no better way of seeing the beautiful scenery Scotland offers.
More importantly Tony and Gaynor are now awake and up …
0814 Tomatin passing loop
We’ve made it to the passing loop at Tomatin on time and great to see the LNER Kings Cross bound train pass by just now also on time so now we have a clear track ahead into Inverness and are confident we’ll make our vital connection on to the X98 at 0850.
Our Sleeper is arriving into Inverness on time so it’s all good for the connection on to the Stagecoach X98 to Wick at 0850.
Not only that but a big surprise to be met off the train by Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman Network Rail (who was attending the AGM of the Friends of the Far North Line that morning) – thanks so much Peter for taking the trouble to meet us – even though we were dashing through for the bus it was a delight to stop and have a quick chat.
Then it was fond farewells to Tony and Gaynor and that dash to the X98 at the nearby bus station.
And another thanks – to Daniel and David, top bosses at Stagecoach North Scotland, for making sure our connection was made …
… and the right ticket was issued – a through ticket right to John O’Groats.
So now it’s the penultimate leg to Wick.
1130 Berridale Braes on the A9
In good news the expected delay at the long term roadworks on the A9 at Berridale Braes didn’t materialise as we passed through just now…
… catching a green phase not long after arriving …
…. but in not so good news we’re almost 15 minutes behind schedule anyway making that 15 minute connection in Wick looking tight.
However we’ve just arrived at ….
Where there’s a driver changeover and a little bit of stand time ….
….and its now 1140 and we’re off again now only ten minutes down so looking good again.
Yes! We’ve arrived in Wick on time after all the delays on route and so now it’s on to the final leg – the 1235 route 177 to John O’Groats – it’s a Friday only school kids special – apparently a 66 seater with 64 kids on the ‘manifest’ so we’re banking on some kids not turning up today as there’s three of us and another passenger waiting!
1240 The Last Leg
In Wick our 177 has arrived with plenty of room and we’re off on the final leg to John O’Groats with the stop watch showing 23 hours and 57 minutes.
And there’s plenty of room on board too.
But we’re doing a figure of eight type route to drop the school kids off!
24 hours 41 minutes 41 seconds
It’s been an epic journey and in such great company. Huge thanks to Vicki and Geoff for joining me…
… and so pleased they managed to get both hats bringing an 874 mile journey to a celebratory end.
Having done the usual touristy stuff we’re now heading down to Thurso in a taxi to meet up with Tony and Gaynor and make sure they get safely on the route 80 bus up to John O’Groats for the end of their journey.
Here they are arriving at Thurso station….
…..and catching the 80 on their final journey leg to John O’Groats.
A welcome bite to eat has gone down well and we’re taking the late afternoon train from Thurso back to Inverness which brings this story to an end.
Thanks for reading.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.