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A View from St Giles’ I

arrived at Euston Station expecting to see scurrying porters laden with designer luggage and the well dressed making their way towards a magnificent locomotive all polished brass and gleaming paintwork. After all, it was 10.30 on a Sunday evening and I was there to catch the night sleeper to Scotland. I met up with another of the clerics in the group; the handle had fallen off his suitcase, another turned up lumbering an outsize piece of luggage containing wellington boots and bottles of wine. No, you couldn’t say we cut a dash as we yomped the five miles or so down to the Glasgow section of the train. Going up on the sleeper sounds sophisticated; I knew it wouldn’t quite be the Orient Express, but I had remembered the ads. These show people with tidy hair stretching after a good night’s sleep; a sunny landscape of lochs and heather seen through the window.

Having been scrutinised by Phil with his list, I found myself in a cupboard with lying down bits. Sharing this space would be an extreme test of harmony with one’s significant other. As a single occupant, I can accommodate all my body including both arms and legs, a modest suitcase and a back pack without having to go out into the corridor to take my shoes off. The nocturnal view differs from the ads: all I see is a strip of sodium glare stretching from Birmingham to Dumfries. At Glasgow we spill out onto the platform in the dark and scoop ourselves up to the next station.

This is where it gets regional: three trains a day to Oban. The tidy-haired lady would recognise these views of rugged castles and sparkly lochs in the autumn sunshine. When we arrive we have four hours of leisure before more tickets; queuing for the first ferry, the bus and finally the second ferry. We are now 20 hours from Euston. Had we flown in the opposite direction we’d be preparing to land in Australia by now! We de-ferry on Iona and find we have stepped straight into ‘Local Hero’. The rugged presence with the trailer to take our luggage up to the house has to be the island vet. That first evening we don’t do much; we have transport lag but gather our strength and I organise a boat trip to Fingal’s Cave. The boatman lives in the

house with the yellow painted windows just past the hotel. His front porch is a boutique selling knitted hats; boat trips round the back. There is no bell so I shout through the open door. The knitter comes out. ‘A group of ten?’ ‘Yes’. I attempt to substantiate the transaction: contact name and number; deposit? ‘Just be at the jetty’. It’s calm and stunningly beautiful and we ask the one unclerical passenger to take a photo of us for the album.

There is a group staying at the abbey. By the evening service the children have been bathed and put into pyjamas. We walk to the abbey in sensible footwear through fields occupied by highland cattle during the day. The group descends in slippers from some inner cloister. The children are involved; a 13 year old who is learning to be experimental with his hair complains to his friend ‘How embarrassing is this, I’m 13 and I’m walking around with a mobile?’ Mobile of the dangly variety with flowers, vegetables and butterflies; the theme is creation. Embarrassed or not, he takes part in an onset-of-adolescence way, discarding the despised mobile when he’s done his bit. We are told that this is the last week of the season. By the weekend only the islanders will be left. There is a distinguished gent staffing the gift shop down by the pub; probably a high-court judge or an admiral. Nothing on the shelves is marked down; just think of packing up all that shortbread only to put it out again in 6 months’ time. We had the journey back all worked out; the afternoon ferry, a short stop-over in Oban and on to Glasgow. Dougal, in charge of hospitality, is an old hand at bad news (some think he can’t wait to get rid of us.) He comes into supper on our last evening; the wind is getting up. Perhaps the only ferry will be the very early one the next morning. That is why we eat porridge at 6.00am in order to catch it. The bus driver has joined the bad news club: a tanker has overturned, the road is blocked; we may not be able to get through. But we do. We have cracked this travel lark; a tour of a distillery followed by a fish tea (available between 2.00 and 4.30pm) and three pots of tea but our interest in Oban is waning.

Glasgow central station is Friday night glamour and pretty cold. We can board the train, but as I manage luggage and ticket I drop the ticket between the platform and the train. It’s the sort of thing you ponder on, ‘What would happen if I dropped my ticket down there?’ and then you find you’ve done it. The group keeps forlorn vigil at the point of dropping. A couple of officials come and peer with me; we cannot see a thing. I have underestimated the resourcefulness of Scotrail; the train in reversed; a man with sufficient authorisation goes down onto the track and finds my ticket. I am booked onto carriage P which does not exist. L, M, N, yes, but there is no P. The attendant in N tells me I have been upgraded to first class. You get a natty tartan rug and a toothbrush. Nevertheless, I plan to stay at home now for a bit; my nerves simply can’t take the excitement of travel.

Katharine Rumens Rector, St Giles’ Cripplegate

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