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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Train journeys”

Drama & demos, fun & festivals, laughter & aching legs: Another fab year in Berwick

Calendar Girls at the marvellous Maltings – you can still get copies of the fab cast & crew calendar at the Maltings or on line here

As we’re approaching Christmas I thought I’d partake in that age-old tradition of ‘looking back’. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, looking back –  whether with a sense of yearning, a frisson of shame, or a wry smile – is an inevitable pastime. So, in this festive season, bear with me as I glance back over my musings in this column during 2012.

In January my post-holiday glow, gave me cause to celebrate the plethora of events and functions in and around Berwick. Many still to come this year – from the Dickensian Market (9th December), to the Spittal torchlit parade (December 14th), complete with camels this time! I gave three cheers for the pioneering spirit that ensures that treasured traditions continue and new things are thrown into the ring; the lights on the Royal Border Bridge, now fully functioning and gorgeous; and the colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which, come August 1st 2013, will hopefully be central to a thrill-a-minute civic week.

February was the month when Scottish independence and broody hens made curious nest fellows. With a referendum due in 2014, Berwick’s claim as the Monaco of the North needs to be shouted loud and proud. As for hens, I managed to pop fertilised eggs under our broody hen who, miraculously, hatched two gorgeously cute chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick.

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The inescapable inability to keep New Year’s resolutions slapped me reproachfully in the face in March. But, happily, so did the beauty of the surrounding countryside as charity and exercise collided in the form of training for the Edinburgh MoonWalk.

Mary Portas fever hit in April as the first-round bid for funding gripped the town. As in so many things in life, success came second time around. Hopefully uniting behind a coherent vision for Berwick will follow seamlessly.

By May training fatigue plagued me as did fury at the amount of litter that people insist on dumping – particularly from cars. June brought a train timetabling rant after a five-hour journey twice took eight hours – I am fearful that East Coast Mainline’s habit of dropping Berwick from key routes to regain time might mark the whittling away of what has been a fantastic London and southeast-bound service.

Will Berwick's train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through on some routes to save precious minutes

Will Berwick’s train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through our station to save precious minutes?

In July, following on from June’s Jubilee and Olympic fervour, I celebrated Berwick’s ability to lay on a jolly good day out. I hoped – and still do – that we might become a renowned town of festivals.

August was a month off for me – but the people of Berwick continued to plan, party and campaign – notably in the march to keep Berwick’s Maternity Unit open.

September: two more festivals! The Food Festival and Film & Media Arts. Plus October’s all-new Frontier Music Festival. All fabulous. All attracting a wide variety of people to Berwick. All back in 2013.

Change and its challenges were hot topics in October – brought on by our own lengthy building works and the many positive plans being hatched for Berwick. Deep down I know we are doing the right thing in updating and modernising our home – but the process is not always easy or without conflict. This, I mused, is a bit like keeping up the momentum for change in Berwick.

I wafted (rather bravely I thought) into windpower in November. Another brave move for me was appearing at the marvellous Maltings in Calendar Girls. Having marched round Edinburgh in my bra for breast cancer, it seemed only fair to walk the boards in – well, not much really – for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research.

I have had a fabulous year in Beautiful Berwick – thank you for letting me share some of it with you. And, as the windmill might say to its sails: ‘What goes round, comes round.’ So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 6 December 2012)

Loose connections – train travel off the rails

Trains. Train timetables. Trains stopping and not stopping. Trains that don’t connect with trains they’re supposed to connect with. Train staff that can’t help you because it’s: ‘Not our company.’

One of the joys of moving to Berwick from London was our proximity to the station. London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Bristol and, via Peterborough, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich were a maximum two trains away. How clever we were to have chosen a northern idyll so well connected to our work, family and local cultural hotspots. We moaned about our elderly parents’ refusal to do the train journeys. ‘You don’t even have to change when you come from Bristol!’ we cried. Mother dubbed Peterborough ‘a dreadful windy place.’ She was resolute in the face of our protestations that it was merely a stopping off point.

Between us The Husband and I have travelled to and from London many times since our move – there have been occasional delays but, overall, we can’t complain. The minute you deviate from London, however, it’s another story.

The train not necessarily taking the strain between Berwick and places other than London

We persuaded Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law to travel from Bristol to Berwick for Christmas and arranged platform assistance for them at both ends. Surely it must be better than the car, where The Husband’s strict rules allow for one pee break and a Mars Bar? We had not anticipated the terrible weather of Christmas 2010. Brief, repetitive bulletins came from Mother-in-Law each time she remembered to turn on her mobile: severe delays. Then, unexpectedly, everyone was kicked off at Newcastle. Pandemonium.  Finally The Husband drove to Newcastle to get them. Pale and shaken they related stories of being told to stay put; being told to lug their bags over the bridge etc. At no time were they offered real help. That night Father-in-Law had a heart attack. He received excellent treatment at the Wansbeck.

I have done the journey from Berwick to Ipswich three times in the last few months. New timetabling means an extra change at York to get to Peterborough. Twice, delays have meant I’ve missed my connection from York, then from Peterborough (which is a dreadful, windy place, with marathon length walks between platforms – sorry Mum!), and scored a bonus journey to Cambridge. Arriving over two hours late in Ipswich both times.

On one trip I met a Lovely Lady from Berwick who was travelling to Colchester – we’ve bumped into each other since in Berwick. She says she always goes via London now and has had no problems. I think I must do the same. But I can’t ask my elderly mum to do that. If the Peterborough walk’s bad, the tube between King’s Cross and Liverpool Street’s a killer. Apparently the not-stopping at Berwick is to do with time allocation. Certain London-bound trains can regain precious extra minutes if they skip places such as Berwick and Grantham.

I must be getting old because I’m really fed up with:

1. Attitudes to customers. There’s more than a hint of arrogance about companies that don’t ensure that informed staff are around to help people who find themselves in confusing situations when in that company’s care.

2. Attitudes to elderly people. Above point times five. In this era of an ageing population, can we really continue to disregard elderly people’s equal right to assistance, care and respect?

3. Attitudes to areas outside London. When towns like Berwick are written off as disposable ‘time-saving’ places – there are very real implications as far as facilities and opportunities are concerned.

4. Attitudes to the environment. If prices continue to rise and investment in track, rolling stock and service is not forthcoming how many people will put rail at the top of their travel options?

Of course, I’ve met some really helpful platform and on-train staff – those at Berwick Station included. But my experience is that they’re in the minority. What’s yours?

A version of this article appeared in the Berwick Advertiser on Thursday 7th June


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