Not At Wye? But Why?

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, the day when the Church Catholic remembers the final Thursday before the crucifixion of Jesus, the day when he famously celebrated his Last Supper with his disciples, commanding them to forever more break bread in commemoration of his sufferings. And last night we had our supper not in the beautiful holiday house just south of the white-blanketed ridges of Snowdonia where we have spent our last week, but rather in Wye, where we are now staying with the Prescott grandparents. But our journey here was not without its share of complication. Nothing perhaps worthy of the word ‘suffering’ — not on this day when we remember that for our sake and for our salvation Jesus sweat drops of blood as he prepared to suffer as none before have. Regardless–my poor grandfather had to drive three times to Wye’s railway station in a persevering attempt to pick us up from the platform. But how were we so late (later, latest…) arriving at Wye? Well, here’s the ‘why’.

The journey from Porthmadog to Wye is a long one. At least it is by British standards–after spending consecutive days crossing the length of India, no train journey in the UK really seems that long. The official TrainLine mobile app claims that the quickest route involves five changes and seven hours forty-three minutes of travelling. In fact, unexpected work being done on the railway line meant that our train’s journey was adjusted and we were saved the trouble of having to change in an unpronounceable Welsh town on the way to Crewe. So we chugged our way through the Midlands to London Euston, and then hopped onto the Underground to get to St Pancras — as instructed by our hi-tech super-informative TrainLine mobile app. What it didn’t tell us was that the 1640 from St Pancras to Ashford is a highspeed train, into the rarefied carriages of which our lowly off-peak tickets will not allow us.

So we blindly sauntered our way up the stairs to the platform for the 1640, thinking that with three minutes to spare we had plenty of time–only to be told by an unsympathetic lady in a fluorescent yellow garment at the ticket barrier that we needed to go over to the man on our left and cough up the excess charge. It was only at this point as we stood in the slowly-moving queue into which we had been directed, that the insufficiency of our off-peak tickets began to dawn on us.

‘But surely there was some other way? Surely it wasn’t right that we be compelled to give up another ten sterling pounds just to climb aboard this particular train?’ The combination of the sloth of the queue and our lack of efficiently total conviction that we did indeed want to be subjected to this transaction was fatal — and as we stood debating with ourselves the 1640 high-speed train to Ashford International drew unflappably away from the platform.

Well, that settled it then. Why pay extra when you’re still going to have to wait another half hour? My trusty mobile app informed me that there was an alternative train to Wye from London Bridge at 1709, and my tightfisted optimism persuaded me that we would be able to make this train if we headed back on to the Underground–immediately!

Towards the Tube we walked then, now at a brisker pace for time was running out. But again the ticket barrier greeted us with an unexpected surprise–the problem this time with my off-peak ticket being that it had fallen out of my pocket! I shoved by rucksack across the barrier to my beloved wife and left Taryn standing on the other side of the gate while I went sprinting back whence we just came. And lo and behold! as I drew near the stairs towards the elite high-speed platform, there was an orange rectangle lying sweetly upon the floor. I reached down and picked it up: it was indeed my very own ticket to Wye. Back I rushed to Taryn and we sped our way down the escalators (God bless the stand-on-the-right legalism of the London Tube!) and onto the Northern Line, southbound.

For fifteen minutes we could do nothing but wait in nervous anticipation. Would we reach London Bridge in time for our 1709? Reaching the previous station with several minutes to spare, it seemd that we might. We stood at the doors, all set, and as soon as we arrived burst forth in a flurry of luggage and shoelaces, sprinting up staircases as we exploded from the depths of the metropolis Underground up towards sea level and the overground Railway. We raced forward towards the platform, not letting ourselves be deterred by the fact that not one but three trains were 1709 to somewhere, nor by the two rucksacks, one guitar, one (pink) travel bag, and one copy of the free Tube paper that had come into our possession. We surged past the other hapless commuters helplessly huffing towards trains of their own, and panting slightly emerged victorious onto the platform with the infallible station clock showing thirty seconds still to spare–

Only to find the platform empty.

‘Where–?’ we asked the railway man on the platform.

He pointed across the track to the platform opposite, where a train was just beginning to move slowly into the distance.

‘Oh.’

This meant we needed to get in touch with Grandpa, who had graciously promised to pick us up from the station, and tell him that we weren’t going to make it to Wye for our announced time of 1736, nor indeed for our courageously attempted backup plan of 1830. But could we get in touch? By mobile? By home telephone? By email? Apparently not. I mourned my failure to succeed at anything by purchasing us a couple of muffins from the platform coffee shop.

Forty-five minutes pass and the next train headed Kent-wards finally pulls up at the platform. And this one even goes straight to Wye, so we won’t have to change at Ashford! Every cloud has a silver wotsit and so on. Grandpa calls to say he’s seen our email and not to worry about leaving him lonely at the platform the first time round, he’ll be there to pick us up when we eventually arrive at ten past seven. All is well: we board the train, find some seats, and settle down to reap the benefit of having brought our free paper all this way.

There is a worrying lack of any ticket inspector and there don’t seem to be any announcements, but come 7pm and we arrive at Ashford International. So no trouble there then, just stand up and get ready to get off as soon as we reach Wye at ten past seven. My watch ticks towards the appointerd time, and the train seems to pause on its journey.

Have we reached our destination at long last?

No–outside there is nothing but blackness, and the doors will not let us out.

The train resumes its movement and immediately passes something which looks suspiciously like a platform. But surely we wouldn’t have passed Wye without being allowed to disembark? Minutes pass and slowly melt away our hopes that our next stop might be the one to which we are journeying. The sign at the next platform proves us right: ‘Chilham’ is the station after Wye. But still the doors won’t let us open them to get out–and finally it clicks, we need to be at the front of this train to get out onto the short village station platforms. We begin making our way forward along the train, deciding to get off at the next station and get the first train back. That station comes–and goes, for we are still not far enough along the train.

My phone rings. It’s Granny: ‘What’s happened?’ I try to explain. ‘What do you mean you didn’t get off at Wye? Why didn’t you get off at Wye?’ I try to tell them we’ll get the train back and call them when we’re once more on our way.

The train reaches Canterbury before we’re able to find a door that will let us out, but once there it’s a simple matter of crossing the track and waiting five minutes for the train heading in the opposite direction. When the train arrives I make sure to ask the conductor (who does appear, though he shows no interest in whether or not we have tickets) if these (I point) doors are indeed the right ones to get out at Wye.

He looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face and shakes his head.

What could be wrong this time? I think to myself.

‘It’s the door on the left, not the one on the right’.

That essential tip in hand we manage at long last to make our long-awaited arrival at Wye station, much to the delight of Grandpa, who is there for the third time to welcome us.

What tales do you have of travelling mayhem? Please share them!

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