The good wife ruled that we should spend a short break in the Chilterns, and as our luck would have it, she chose the first rain-free weekend since memory. We took the train to Oxford, and followed the national cycling route 5 to Banbury. Too bad that it doesn’t use the Oxford Canal tow path much, but a nice route. A curry and a Bed & Breakfast later, we’re on our way to Stratford-upon-Avon, still along route 5. Signage wasn’t very good and the route was pretty rough in places, but landscape and groomed villages of very affluent “country folk” were nice enough to compensate. I think there were more Jaguar than John Deere vehicles in many of these places.
The most frustrating part were the trains though. The National Rail inquiry service told us that we had to change in Slough on our way out. Luckily, we figured out that the train we were on went straight through to Oxford, changing as advised would have gotten us there five minutes later, with the added hassle of the change.
Given how ill-prepared British trains are for cyclists, we were lucky to find space for our bikes, and nearby seats, so we were glad not to change trains. Almost £20 per person, sold by an unhelpful and unfriendly ticket agent at the station.
The same spiel on our way back from Stratford: the ticket agent didn’t want to talk to us, only hesitantly surrendered information under thread of torture, and definitely though it beneath himself to help us choosing a route into Ealing. Another £20 per person (on a super-saver ticket!) and an amazing 2 hours later on a slow-moving train bound for London Marylebone, we alighted at Wembley Stadium and cycled the remaining 5 miles through suburbia, rather than going all the way into town, cross to London Paddington and come out on a different train (and additional ticket cost).
They really make no detectable effort to promote the use of local trains. Expensive tickets, unappealing schedules, hard-to-come-by and even incorrect time table and connection information, unfriendly and unhelpful staff, slow moving trains – we should emigrate to Germany, were we did similar trips for €20 (covering a group up to five people in a vast area, all day, with amble cycle storage in every train). I get tears in my eyes when I think of it.
Here, we pay £20 per person and journey, are made to block the doors with our bikes due to the absence of any other space, and take over 2 hours from A to B on a journey which would have taken 1 hour 46 minutes by car, according to Google.
Clearly, this isn’t sending quite the right message, is it?
At least the Service Information Board at Oxford station did. Click the image for enlargement.
- Chiltern Railways commuters hit with ‘comedy’ announcements (theweek.co.uk)
- Upgraded by cretins (diamondgeezer.blogspot.com)
- Ministers unveil £9.4bn rail plans package (independent.co.uk)