It was going to be an epic experience.
Everybody assured me of it. The train journey, they said, south from
Fort William in Scotland, is the most scenic, the most awe-inspiring,
the most breathtaking in Britain. The Highlands, Glencoe, the Moor
of Rannoch, Loch Lomond, all, all this would be mine, and by the
time I reached the whisky warehouses of Dumbarton I should be ready
to retire to my sleeper worn out with wonder and weighed down by
British Rail cuisine. In a state of high expectation, I boarded the
18.22 at Fort William, found a quiet window-seat affording unimpeded
panoramic views, resolutely closed my book and settled back. I would
adjourn to the dining car, I mused, on the Moor of Rannoch and take
coffee as we skirted Loch Lomond.
'Stanley,' said a voice behind me, 'what
did you do with the thermos flask?'
'It's in the carrier bag next to the cheese biscuits. I put it in
fresh this morning.'
'No you never, Stanley. We finished the cheese biscuits last night
on the coach. You know we did, because you put your banana skin and
wrappers in the box and threw it in that litter basket at Glenfinnan.'
'Maybe it's in the string bag. Have you looked in the string bag?'
'Strewth, Stanley, what did you go and put it in there for? Now see
what you've gone and done. You've squashed the pork pie, shoving it
in like that. Why don't you ever think, Stanley?'.
I looked out of the window. The sun
shone. The rivers splashed over rocks coloured every shade of the
rainbow. A deer dashed across a clearing into a thicket, and the
backdrop of sun-capped mountains could have been freshly cut out of
'What time will you be serving dinner?' I asked the ticket
inspector. He looked at me strangely.
'They'll put on a microbuffet with coffee and sandwiches at Rannoch
as far as Dumbarton,' he said.
'You mean there's no dining car or even a bar?' I said incredulously.
'Not on this line; it doesn't pay. You should have gone to Inverness
if you wanted a proper meal.'
The guard brought me a cup of tea for
consolation, and when we got to Glasgow I retired for the night,
worn out with wonder and weighed down with potato crisps.
At 7 a.m. we reached Stafford. At 9 a.m. we were still there because
our engine had broken down. At 10 a.m. the spare engine arrived.
Thanks to further engine failure, we were able to spend a full half-hour
sightseeing at Nuneaton Station, and I have never seen such awe
manifest on the faces of a group of travellers as that inspired by
the first sight of the backyards of Mornington Crescent, heralding
the misty lunchtime magnificence of Euston Station.