Thursday 19th May 2022
Last week was Rail Sale travel week for me. I’d bagged a couple of bargain priced tickets when they went on sale last month for two day trips – one to Cornwall and one to Scotland – as you do.
Monday morning last week saw me roll up at Paddington for GWR’s first Cornwall bound departure of the day at 06:37. I’d booked a standard class single to Truro for £23.10 and used SeatFrog to upgrade to first class for a further £13 making £36.10 in total. Not bad compared to the turn up and go first class fare of £133.30 although when I looked last night at prices for a month’s time it’s still a very reasonable £39.25 standard class and £67.45 first class. (All prices include a Railcard discount.)
The train departed just a minute behind schedule at 06:38 and we got caught behind a late running Heathrow Express as we passed Southall meaning we arrived into Reading six minutes down but a quick call there pulled back two minutes and a spirited non-stop run to Taunton saw us back on time as we departed that station. It was then non stop to Exeter with the train offering a very handy peak morning arrival into the Devon city comfortably before 09:00 at 08:41. After Exeter it was non stop to Plymouth with an arrival there at 09:45 but then the train gets into stopping mode through Cornwall calling at Saltash, St Germans and Lostwithiel as well as the usual stopping pattern through the county although surprisingly Par was given a miss.
I arrived into Truro at 10:58 a minute ahead of schedule. Four and a half hours travelling first class on a lovely line with lots to see along the way for £36.10 is a good deal in my book. There were only nine of us in first class as far as Exeter reducing to seven as far as Plymouth and just a couple after that. It was a five coach IEP swapped at the last moment from the scheduled nine coach formation; something in my experience is not unusual on GWR.
I’d wanted a stay of around four to five hours before returning to allow for some decent travelling around the area and a train back offering a good price to my home station, Hassocks, was the 15:29 from Truro to Plymouth connecting with the 16:50 from Plymouth to Paddington. A Truro to Hassocks advanced single for £29.80 together with another successful £13 SeatFrog first class upgrade was another good bargain, although wasn’t a Rail Sale price since that only applied to tickets to Paddington. The only downside was the number of station calls after Plymouth including Ivybridge, Totnes, Castle Cary, Westbury, Pewsey, Hungerford and Newbury as well as the usual Newton Abbot, Exeter, Tiverton Parkway, Taunton and Reading. We only missed out Teignmouth and the Dawlishs.
While in Cornwall, as well as picking up copies of all three area timetable books issued by Transport for Cornwall (now comprehensive with all bus routes included) …
…. and the First Kernow book promoting their services, not least those aimed at tourists…
….. and admiring the clear colourful departure displays ….
….. and the high profile promotion of the reduced fares now applying – it’s certainly good to see all these things now coming together in Cornwall after a rocky gestation period …
It would be great if GWR could see their way to stocking these bus timetables at Truro (and other) stations – that really would be the icing on the multimodal cake for the county.
I wanted to take a ride on a couple of routes operated on behalf of Transport for Cornwall by the long standing Hopley’s Coaches.
Their route 304 runs hourly from Truro to the north Cornwall coastal village of Porthtowan. It’s a lovely route passing through some attractive Cornish countryside including a tour around the sizeable village of Mount Hawke. We left Truro with 10 on board dropping one off at the hospital, two off at the huge Truro College with three more alighting in Threemilestone – locations served by other frequent routes – leaving just four of us on board for the final twenty five minute run to Porthtowan two of whom got off in Mount Hawke where two more also boarded.
After a lovely lunch on the beach in Porthtowan I caught a bus on Hopley’s other route, the six journey a day route 315 which runs between Redruth, Porthtowan and St Agnes.
I was the only passenger to St Agnes where, after a look around this very attractive coastal village, I caught a First Kernow route U1A back to Truro.
The roads into and out of St Agnes are renowned for their narrowness – and buses often get caught up in traffic delays and this journey was no exception as an HGV approached us.
The HGV driver performed some skilful reversing up the hill but had to persuade motorists in cars behind him to cooperate too. It’s incredible how many motorists seem to find reversing so difficult.
Thanks to that driver the delay was minimal and we arrived into Truro on time.
It was then a great opportunity to meet up with my good friend and former colleague from Brighton & Hove days, Paul Williams, who moved down to Truro in 2010 after his retirement and we enjoyed some wonderful reminiscences over coffee as we watched the comings and goings at the bus station – just like we used to do in the old days!
Then it was back to the station and that enjoyable but lengthy journey back to Paddington due to all those stations being served and then down to home in Sussex making for a rather long day’s travels.
My second Rail Sale expedition was on Wednesday last week – something I’d been meaning to do for some years – a day trip from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh and back using the West Coast main line in one direction and the East Coast main line in the other.
It was a long day, especially starting from my Hassocks station in Sussex, but it was certainly interesting to compare the differences between the two route options both in terms of train operator and scenery.
I caught the 08:30 Euston to Glasgow having been able to buy a great value standard class price of £17.15. I could have upgraded to Standard Premium for £30 but decided to splash out on First Class to enjoy the complimentary refreshments on such a long journey. SeatFrog now pitch the minimum auction bid price for such a journey at £35 which overcomes the otherwise anomaly of potentially being able to buy a First Class upgrade cheaper than a Standard Premium one. In the event bidding increased to £49, but for a four and a half hour journey (an another one to follow on the return) for me was worth the expense.
In fact SeatFrog allocated me a seat in Standard Premium Coach H which is something I’m pursuing with SeatFrog who, at the time of writing have yet to respond satisfactorily – which has done nothing to enhance their already poor reputation with me.
Coaches J and K in the eleven coach Pendolino were allocated to First Class with coaches G and H designated Standard Premium. I did a count after we left Euston and there were 15 in First Class and eight looking rather lost in the two Standard Premium coaches. It’s not surprising that as the Pendolinos are being refurbished, coach G is being repurposed as Standard Class while Coaches H and J will be flexible between Standard Premium and First Class and Coach K always First Class (which is only half a coach anyway because of the kitchen/galley in the other half). The H and J split will vary depending on the day of the week and advanced bookings – it’s likely at weekends both coaches will be Standard Premium and on journeys still with an element of business travellers in the week it’s likely J will be First Class.
We glided quietly out of Euston spot on time at 08:30 and had a good run through to Glasgow arriving just one minute down at 13:03. It’s a fabulous journey with lots of variety but you can’t beat the section of route north of Oxenholme skirting the eastern edge of the Lake District National Park, over Shap and through Penrith to Carlisle and the Scottish Borders.
After lunch in Glasgow it was a walk to the wonderfully refurbished and extended Glasgow Queen Street station for the half hourly (pre Covid it was every fifteen minutes) ScotRail Express branded route via Falkirk High to Edinburgh.
ScotRail have also been running a half price promotion with a much simpler offer of 50% off all off-peak tickets when purchased online. However, this discount can’t be combined with a Railcard discount so for holders of Railcards it’s not so effective as the English equivalent although the latter is journey specific.
The Glasgow to Edinburgh single was £7 standard class and £9.10 first class and a journey time of 50 minutes makes for a great offer especially as the standard class return fare is only 10p more than the single.
My journey with LNER from Edinburgh back to Kings Cross was on the 15:30 departure. LNER had included First Class tickets in the Rail Sale so I got a ticket for £30.10 which I thought was quite a good deal bearing in mind this journey is one of the quickest only stopping at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Darlington and York taking four hours and 24 minutes.
We left on time and for most of the journey ran a minute or two ahead of schedule in between stations and although we slowed down as we passed through Peterborough by the time we reached south of Potters Bar we were four minutes up but got held as we approached Kings Cross waiting for a platform but still arrived a couple of minutes early at 19:52.
It was by far the busiest of the four journeys I made last week with the seat reservation lights in coach L pretty much all showing red with just a sprinkling of orange and no greens. And I’d say most of the passengers in that coach were business people rather than leisure travellers like myself.
I always enjoy a ride along the East Coast main line especially the coastal views between Edinburgh and Newcastle. For me, it’s a score draw between the East and West Coast lines but the trains and service offered are distinctly different. I find the Azuma trains with their larger windows less claustrophobic than the Pendolinos but the seats in the latter are much more comfortable than the Azumas and on a long journey that really makes a difference.
I’ll be commenting on the service and refreshments offered in a separate blog coming up in a couple of weeks. For now, just to say what great value my trips were – far cheaper and more relaxing than driving. You just always need to book ahead for these bargains, which is a shame, but there are certainly bargains to be had for bus travel in Cornwall now.