Lessons from travelling


Travel is said to broaden the mind and I spent last week in Southport, a very Victorian seaside town, probably halfway between Liverpool and Blackpool.
Getting there, for a conference, required changing trains at Ashford International, St Pancras (also very international), Euston and Wigan – and two stretches (the Hi speed Ashford to St Pancras, and Virgin’s West Coast Mainline Euston-Wigan) were claimed to be among the best today’s railways have to offer. Hmmmm!
However it was a 7/8 hour journey both ways and I therefore left Rye during the morning rush hour. Our little green train was remarkably empty, I felt, but Ashford was a different story.
The hi-speed only had six coaches (in the rush hour) when frequently it has 12, and it was standing room only before it even arrived at Ashford. Luckily I had a very large suitcase which I used as a battering ram to get onto the train, and I could then sit on it – which I needed to as I am a 75-year-old with severe breathing difficulties.
At that point (standing/semi-sitting all the way from Ashford to St Pancras) I had a lot of sympathy for the mutterings of some of our local commuters – and felt the railway company was taking their commuters for an expensive ride.
After that experience I decided I needed to avoid getting on and off the Underground so I walked (as I had just enough time) between St Pancras and Euston.
[Plans for a moving walkway along the same route in a tunnel between the stations were blocked when it was discovered that the British Library’s shelves went far deeper underground than anyone thought !].
Virgin did, at least, provide a reserved seat into which I wriggled. Others with wider hips would have struggled. My alleged “window” seat also faced a blank wall but, luckily, the man opposite was a good listener. He had little choice !
Wigan involved a short walk between two stations, but the “chug chug” train turned up on time and took us across the flat plain to the sea.
In Southport there were quite a few empty shops, and my hotel was run by the same group who run Pontins holiday camp in Camber. I will say no more – except that it was surrounded by two nightclubs, a cocktail bar, and a couple of pubs.
It was very, very noisy – but the DIY breakfast (though limited in choice) fed me well enough to survive the day. Conferences all too often only comprise one meal, and it is called breakfast !
I was told the holiday trade was suffering, particularly in the case of “day trippers” – and Manchester and Liverpool seemed to be a similar distance from Southport as Camber is from South London.
A main cause, locals in a nearby pub felt, was recent changes in parking charges with an emphasis on two hour stays, and little incentive for day trippers.
Now my own experience of my own visitors is that they fall into two categories. They either want a wander around a little and/or maybe have a meal (needing a couple of hours parking), or they want to take their time and want five or six hours parking.
In Camber I suspect the demand (in summer months) is more for long stay parking, and maybe Rother’s experiment in the big car park in Camber will get the cars off the road quicker so that Camber does not become one huge log jam.
In Rye though I think we need a mix and all these things (like charges) will have to be looked at by both the District Council (who own some car parks) and the County Council (who own the roads and on-street parking) as CPE (Civil Parking Enforcement) is introduced in around two years time.
In Southport the parking authority seems to have shot itself through the foot in (perhaps greedily) setting charges in a way which has actually put off visitors – and there is a case here for looking very carefully at differential charging for (probably on-street parking) short term stayers and for those who want a long stay (perhaps in Gibbett Marsh).
The journey back from Southport ended (surprise, surprise) with a replacement bus service from Ashford, but it was on time, and was pretty quick (45 minutes) despite meandering all over the marshes in order to reach Ham Street and Appledore.
No doubt though some liquid purchases from M&S at St Pancras helped improve my mood.

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