Saturday, 8 August 2009

Great Train Journeys of the World

I read with interest Dave Hills blog this week about going on a nostalgic tube journey on an old Red tube train. Generally I don't do nostalgia, but reading Dave Hill's article reminded me of all sorts of long buried memories. One of my greatest regrets as a father is that I can't take my children on the greatest train ride of them all. When I was a little kid, the biggest treat was when my mum used to take us home on the "big train" from St Pancras to Mill Hill Broadway.

In the 60's & 70's this journey was usually on a clanky old diesel railbus. These were bright blue with a yellow front. I'd drag my mum to the very front of the train. If you were lucky, the driver would not put the blinds down and you could see the oncoming tracks. The highlight was the stretch between Kentish Town and West Hampstead. On this stretch you go through the Belsize tunnel. We'd always play the game of "who can see the end of the tunnel first". The tunnel is over a mile long and the journey through would seem to take about 10 minutes, with the end emerging through a misty haze after about 8 minutes. On one rather spooky journey, the lights were off all of the way, so it was like a scary fairground ride. I always imagined that zombies and monsters inhabited the tunnel, why I really don't know. Another bit of the journey which I used to like was the section between Hendon and Mill Hill, just before Aerodrome road. Here the line branches off, goes under a rail flyover and has a steep bank to one side that for a few weeks a year is covered in the most glorious wild flowers. In the early days of my life in the 60's, you would emerge from this to see Hendon RAF base on your right, with all manner of the latest military planes. To a young boy, this truly was the worlds greatest train ride. These days you get a glimpse of the RAF Museum at Hendon and then a lovely view of Grahame Park estate.

I vividly remember one day, when we arrived at St Pancras and my mum excitedly announced that she had a special treat. Rather than the rickety old diesel railcar, we were going on a "proper train" with an engine & carriages. It was an express, first stop Mill Hill. It was one of the old style rail carriages with compartments. The carriages then were maroon and the engine was green. The seats had a sort of tartan pattern. I imagined that the train had specially been brought down from Scotland to ferry us to Mill Hill. I asked my mum why it was first stop Mill Hill. She said "because we live there". After that I always thought British Rail was a rather marvellous and caring organisation.

These days, when I take the Thameslink, I don't have the same magical feeling. Whilst I'm rather pleased to seethe train come, it really isn't the same. Is it just because I'm a world weary adult? Having said that, I did make a magical rail journey a few years ago. I was in Stratford and my sister had just had her youngest son and was in the Royal Free. I took the North London Line from Stratford to Hampstead Heath. It was a sunny/cloudy winters afternoon and the sun was just setting. There is a section of the North London line which is raised above street level and I was treated to the most magnificent views of London bathed in the most glourious evening sun. I didn't have my camera, but I've vowed to repeat the journey one day and record it for posterity. How I'd arrange the weather, I don't know. As a lover of craggy urban scene's that is, to my mind one of the worlds greatest train journeys.

One thing which I thought was quite interesting was the lack of pictures of the smelly old diesel railbuses at St Pancras when I was looking for a picture. I guess that people don't hold them in the same affection that I do. I suppose they don't fit in with modern image of Eurostars and champagne bars, which seems to have taken over the St Pancras experience. Personally, I think I preferred it when you could get a pint of real ale in the Shires pub as you waited for you train home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.