The Ultimate Trainspotting Spot?

Bookspotting at HaymarketA sunny day, and a hour’s meeting stolen in between trains on the journey to St Andrews.

We sit on the cafe terrace above Haymarket station, discussing ebook interoperability, hybrid diesel/electric trains, Beeching and (the demise of) branchlines. Below us, the range of franchised trains roll in, halt, and then continue on their journey. One of my companions explains to our overseas visitor the intricacies of Scotrail, East Coast mainline, Virgin, CrossCountry. Behind my sunglasses, I close my eyes and imagine my two-wheeled way into the countryside.

These ten days have the following travel schedule: Glasgow-Stockholm (including the magnificent Arlanda Express)-Glasgow-Birmingham-University of Birmingham-Brimingham-Glasgow-Stirling-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Leuchars-St Andrews-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Glasgow-Stirling-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Glasgow-Bearsden-Glasgow. Important to pay attention to platform announcements and the display panels.

I don’t remember in every station to check out the closest bookish locations, as indicated the Bookspotting app. But in Haymarket, there’s a moment before the next train to find myself in literary terms. The Scottish Episcopal Church General Synod Office is, slightly oddly, the closest location (relating to former-Bishop-now-writer Richard Holloway), but also featured are Caledonian Place (home to Davie in Irvine Welsh‘s Trainspotting) and 160 Bruntsfield Place (Muriel Spark‘s birthplace).

Good job the train is perfect for reading…


Carniolan Shuffle

You may not have noticed the absence of Central Belt Shuffler in recent weeks, as the demands of working life took over the recording of the daily commute. But now, though far from habitual terrain, an opportunity for shuffling has occurred.

In this shuffle, the train is heading away from the city, and towards wooded foothills, and a small, historic town known for its gingerbread and its bee museum (honey production is a speciality of the region). One of the two under-occupied train managers (the younger; the elder conveys a more world-weary air) is solicitous and ensures I leave the train at the right stop. I had, anyway, written the previous stop down on a scrap of paper: the tiny and charmingly-named Globoko – a station which, had Slovenia had its own Beeching – would surely now be gone.

GlobokoOn the journey, at the biggest intermediary station, descending passengers walk over the tracks to get to the exit; the station manager awaiting a brown paper envelope that one of them holds out for him.

I step down from the train at a sleepy station, to be greeted by the publisher I had travelled here to meet. Besuited and clearly the only possible publisher in the station, he nonetheless holds a hand-written sign with my name on it.

Later, I look down on the train tracks from the old town, over terraces of carefully tended fruit and vegetables.

Flanders & Swann-song

This weekend, the Observer carried an article by Robin McKie on ‘How Beeching got it wrong about Britain’s railways’. McKie explains that rail passenger figures have almost doubled in 10 years, old lines are being reopened, and new ones planned for launch.

McKie argues that this ‘has more to do with the UK’s fading romance with the car than a refound love of the train’, although his evocation of a Cornish journey, full of dramatic views of surf and sea, serves to indicate that some train journeys have a magical nature that the car can never match, let alone surpass.

Dr Beeching, whose report led to the closure of so many branch lines and 5000 miles of track in the 1960s, has a popularity, says McKie, that lies between that of Richard III and Robert Maxwell. McKie’s link to the Flanders & Swann-song ‘The Slow Train’, with accompanying pictures of steam trains and bygone stations, shows us a little of what was lost.

Elsewhere in the media, the BBC has been running a TV series called ‘The Railway’. Last week’s episode featured Hayley, who displayed extraordinary cheerfulness while working in the Lost Property office, and poor dead Ronnie, a dog who ventured onto the tracks and was killed. Apart from sliced-off legs and being frozen solid, she was still in a presentable-enough state to be returned to her owners, which Ben – an economics graduate working on track recovery and clearance – duly did. Compelling.

The last episode in the series will focus on the West Coast Mainline, a route often travelled by Central Belt Shuffler. Don’t miss it.