Fort William to York
This was to be the final day of our trip – the hire car was back at the hire car company, the train tickets were all organised, and all we had left ahead of us was a longish day of train travel, back to being picked up by Mum in York. I’d spent some time researching how best to split the tickets (Dad and I had a “two together” railcard, and he also had his “Senior’s” railcard. Our train from Fort William was at the somewhat challenging hour of 0744, and hence only the Senior railcard was valid for deductions (I’d have to pay full fare). I worked out the best place to split the tickets was at Dalmuir (a stop near Glasgow), at which point we’d switch from our advance singles, to the relevant portions of our off-peak returns between Edinburgh and Dalmuir (still valid via Glasgow) on the “Two Together) railcard! We then had advance 1st class tickets on the 1400 LNER service from Edinburgh to York, so again I’d given us plenty of time to change trains.
A wintry morning
Having set an early alarm to ensure we were all ready to go in good time, we moseyed to breakfast in the blue glow of a dark and surprisingly snowy morning (a good inch or two had fallen right down at sea level in Fort William overnight). The breakfast at the Premier Inn in Fort William is served in the adjacent pub/restaurant, which involved a very short walk (Dad not really up to “dashing”, particularly in snow) outside in the cold. But we managed (and rather better than the two other guests who were trying to find a sheltered corner for a quick cigarette)! We tucked into a hearty breakfast, and were given permission by the staff to stick a couple of bananas in our bags for later in the day.
We then headed to the station, where whoever was in charge of the platform signs was clearly having a bad morning – there are only two platforms, but the train was shown at being on Platform 1, when it was clearly on Platform 2. Fortunately we got sorted anyway, and enjoyed warming up with the heaters on full power.
It’s pretty tricky to take pictures of snowy scenery through a blizzard and a dirty train window, but I had a go. The snow towards the summits of the line and across Rannoch Moor was really deep (the snowplough on the train was definitely in use judging by the odd sizeable lump flying past the windows). All in all it was a super experience crossing this bleak, remote landscape in deep fresh snow, and whilst the tall mountains were hidden, we did get to see some deer too!
As we headed further south, and also dropped down away from the highest mountains, the snowline continued to creep upwards, only outlining the top of the hills once we passed Arrochar, and headed towards Helensburgh. Nevertheless, it was a really memorable and enjoyable trip.
Back to Edinburgh
Next up we went back onto the new electric trains to Edinburgh – we didn’t hang around in Glasgow. These trains leave every 15 minutes, and only take c. 45 minutes to get to Edinburgh. With our first class tickets for the final leg to York, we had access to the first class lounge in Edinburgh, where we’d be able to keep ourselves going with a cup of tea / pack of crisps / chocolate biscuit until we could board our train, so we decided to plough on with the journey (sustained by our Premier Inn bananas) until we got there.
There isn’t much to report from this leg of the journey. The lounge at Edinburgh is relatively easy to access (lifts etc) once you find it, but did take a bit of finding. We had plenty of time to sink into the heavy leather chairs, and wait for our departure to be announced – which happened a bit later than would have been ideal. A gentle mosey to the platform, and we noticed that our train was one of the brand new “Azumas”, rather than the older train we’d been expecting, which once again meant that the seat reservations were all in the wrong places. However, as the Covid situation had been getting worse (it was now mid-March 2020), the train was almost completely empty, and we picked a pair of seats that would give us views on the coast side of the train for this section of the journey.
Edinburgh station has clearly had a lot of work done on it in recent years – the roof really looks superb now, and makes it a very light and airy place. As mentioned in the outbound journey, the platform numbering seems a bit random, and if you are travelling with family, or with those who are less mobile, getting a map of the platform numbers up on your smartphone (if you are lucky enough to have one), or from staff in advance of needing it is helpful!
Rainbows and sunshine
The East Coast Mainline between Edinburgh and Newcastle spends a lot of time hugging the coast. By this time the weather had significantly improved, and the sun was shining, but there was still the odd shower. We had the wonderful sight of a rainbow out to sea following us for a good half an hour or so as we sped down the coast. This added to the natural beauty of the area, which includes Lindisfarne (visible from the train).
First Class in LNER includes a hot meal and a couple of drinks, which was a nice way to end the trip. Unfortunately, the final bit of the trip was somewhat delayed – the strong winds, which had chased away the rain, had led to some speed restrictions between Durham and York, and we kept having to update Mum on our expected arrival time so she could balance a prompt pick up with the amount of time one is allowed to stay in the short-stay car-park at the station!. Nevertheless, it all worked in the end!
As you can see from the photos, this was a trip that dad and I both really enjoyed, and one that worked for our circumstances – a lot of food, drink, and travelling around, and just a chance to “be” together.
As it turned out, as the Covid crisis worsened, and lockdown began, this was the last real quality time we would have to spend together. As with many sufferers of dementia, the change from normal routines to the challenges of lockdown seemed to accelerate both decline in Dad’s physical and mental capacity (and placed an increasing strain on Mum as his primary carer). The aphasia made alternative routes of communication (Zoom etc) more challenging too, and by the time we saw Dad in person again over summer 2020 as rules were relaxed, it was clear that this wonderful trip to Scotland had happened “just in time”, as he was no longer in a condition where the trip would be viable in future.
Just after his 75th birthday in November (back in lockdown again), Mum managed to secure Dad a 2-week stint in a lovely care and nursing home near about 4 miles from their house. He never did return home after that, and with increasing lockdowns it was difficult to have anything more meaningful than short window visits, but it was clear that he still recognised us as “his people”, and that he was really living his best life in the nursing home in those circumstances.
Early in 2021, his doctor expressed concerns that he had all the symptoms of oesophogeal cancer (which incidentally was the same illness that his own mother had died of at 75), and that he would now enter palliative care. This did open up the possibility of in-person visits for Mum and myself, and I visited twice with the children and Mrs T playing outside whilst I was in the room with him. It was wonderful to see he still recognised them, and his last really coherent utterences were his grandchildren’s names.
Sadly, but in many ways a relief that the dementia did not have longer to ravage away at his mental faculties any further, he died on 6th April 2021, just over a year after the end of our trip – a trip that I am so thankful that we made, and one that has helped me so much (so far) in processing all that has happened over the last years.
Mike Thomas: 8 November 1945 – 6 April 2021
So one final photograph, one of Dad in his “prime”, enjoying a family holiday in Switzerland back in 2008, and in particular an incredibly large meringue!