The Epic Railway Journey

England to Sweden by Train

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Day 16 - Amsterdam to Derby

A fairly early start as we have a long way to travel today. We walk from our hotel to the station; even though the city is beginning to get busy with commuters coming in to work, there are nothing like the crowds we have encountered during the last couple of days.

13th August: 0856 Amsterdam Centraal to Bruxelles Midi / Brussel Zuid: 232km

Dutch flag Belgian flag
Thalys at Amsterdam Thalys - interior

An immaculate Thalys train runs into the platform a few minutes before departure time and we settle ourselves comfortably. The journey is uneventful; as on the outward journey, the food and drink service is a little sparse, but at least on this occasion we manage to get a second drink.

1301 Bruxelles Midi / Brussel Zuid to London Waterloo: 376km

Belgian flag French flag UK flag
Eurostar at Brussels Eurostar - interior

With plenty of time to spare, we take it in turns to look after the luggage while the other one looks around the shops on the main station. We go through the security and passport checks into the Eurostar lounge well before departure time. There are a couple of shops here, one selling Belgian chocolates, the other a newsagents with canned drinks, sweets and a few souvenirs of the pissing boy type. We are a little disappointed, because on the last occasion we travelled this way (admittedly, just before Christmas) there was a fine selection of gifts available and some very good special offers on Belgian beer. The lounge is rather dreary; the impression is very much that the Belgian authorities would prefer not to bother with all this special segregation of Eurostar passengers - after all, it is not done for other international trains, such as Thalys.

Like Thalys, the Eurostar trip goes well. The meal is particularly good on this occasion, and there are very few delays even on the notoriously slow stretches through south London. Even the queue at Waterloo station for immigration control moves very smoothly.

London Underground: 5km

Still sticking to rail travel for this part of the journey, we take the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus, then the Victoria line to King's Cross St Pancras.

1715 (?) London St Pancras to Derby: 207km

HST at St Pancras HST - interior

Well, 1715 is the train we are booked on - the "Master Cutler" - but we arrive at St Pancras to find that, owing to train shortages, it, and several other trains, have been cancelled. Luckily, we have allowed plenty of time for the journey from Waterloo, and we are early enough to be able catch the 1625. Had this not been the case, we dread to think how overcrowded the service following the 1715 will be, at what is always a very busy time of the day.

Our train arrives at about 1600, but is closed to passengers while it is "prepared for the outward journey". When we are eventually allowed to board, there is one mad rush from the end of the platform. Even with first class tickets, without reservations we have great difficulty finding two seats together. We consider the upgrade to Premier service (a very expensive option even taking into account the fact that it includes a meal) but seats are in short supply here, too. But we manage to get ourselves settled into the "ordinary" first class, and eventually get under way, about 20 minutes late.

"Preparing the train" did not, apparently, include checking the nearest toilet, which is a totally disgusting state. Fortunately, there are others not far away.

We generally find the High Speed Train sets that are used on these services very comfortable, although on this occasion there is something of a sensation of being "hemmed in". We are served drinks (tea, coffee, soft drinks or wine) and snacks (crisps, biscuits and fruit). All are free; but if you want anything more substantial, you have to go to the buffet car. To get there, you have to negotiate a couple of very crowded first class carriages, including the one where they are serving meals. Since we now expect our arrival in Derby to be somewhat earlier than we had originally planned, we decide not to bother.

By the time we reach Leicester, the crowds have thinned out a bit and there is room to stretch one's legs; but the carriage is looking distinctly shabby with the debris left behind by a multitude of people: discarded newspapers, food wrappings and so on. The staff are doing their best to keep on top of things, but are obviously rushed off their feet. And just to cap it all, as we approach Long Eaton, the public address system goes on the blink and starts playing a pre-recorded announcement over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again...

There is not much slack in the timetable schedule, but (small mercy!) we do manage to pull back a few minutes, and arrive in Derby around a quarter of an hour late. For the first time in over a fortnight, we actually breathe a sigh of relief to be getting off a train.

Then, it is another short taxi ride, and we arrive home. We could go round to the supermarket, buy some food, bring it home and cook; but we have had a rough journey, we feel that we need just a little more pampering. So, we leave our cases, quickly freshen up and go out again to spend yet another very pleasant evening eating, this time in our favourite Derby restaurant. Thus we manage, in spite of the difficulties earlier in the evening, to perpetuate the holiday mood for another few hours and bring our travels to an enjoyable conclusion.

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We hope you have enjoyed these pages. Was it an epic journey? Yes, we think so. It was certainly very enjoyable and, we think, very unusual. I could perhaps have titled the article "Our Holiday Snaps" - but, in that case, would you have bothered to read it?

Total distance travelled by rail, in 16 days: 4273km (2655 miles).

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except photograph of HST at St Pancras © Ross Aitken

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