I love train travel and I can spend hours watching life go by from a carriage window. From luxurious train travel with a sleeper to the breath taking journeys in the wintry Alps I just love chugging along in a train. Having spent years flying for work it is the train that I choose for holidays and excitement. The changing vistas, the exotic mix of people, waking up to life beyond my small capsule is a never ending parade. The train sleepers, the food, the noise of the tracks and meeting fellow travellers for me is the fun and dependability never found on aeroplanes.
I think this love of trains stemmed from day trips with my Mother and in particular our trips to the seaside in Bangor, Northern Ireland. The small town was my Mother’s birth place and she was very nostalgic about it. We would set off early in the morning and arrive at the train station by bus. The coal powered trains in the station belched smoke and the noise of the porters and the guards, the loading of goods, animals and passengers was thrilling. First we collected our tickets which allocated our carriage and seats. The train doors were thrown open and these were so thick and heavy it was the railway staff who walked along the platform closing them. When the final whistle blew and the train started up with a WHOOO….WHOOO I would glue my nose to the window watching for the stations, the names of which I once knew by heart.
The buildings were grey and old on the edge of town, mostly factories and warehouses. We passed cattle and sheep, views of woods, golf courses, the cold grey ocean and many small towns. Some of the stations were so small they were called a halt but most often the train kept going as there was no one there to wave it down.
Bangor was the end of the line, 13 miles from Belfast and my Mother and I would head for the beach carrying our picnic and beach toys. With my sun frock removed, I would be changed into a home knitted woollen swimming costume, complete with belt; a rubber swimming cap, which pulled my hair and grabbed at my skin; a pair of blow up water wings and some goggles. What a sight that must have been! My Mother would take off her Cuban heels and stockings and tuck her skirt into the leg of her knickers in order to be ready should I need to be rescued. The water was icy cold and I remember shaking and goose bumps covering my blue skin before I got more than ankle deep. Bangor is not known for its warm tropical waters. Eventually I would venture in around hip deep and jump up and down as the waves came in. Even with water wings I can’t remember being very enthusiastic about going in all the way.
Getting out is forever memorable. My knitted suit would be heavy with salt water and the bottom full of sand which made it sag down to my knees. The other nightmare was getting the rubber cap off whilst hanging on to my long hair. My Mother would tell me the story of her swim from one side of Bangor Bay to the other. This was no mean feat and the swimmers were accompanied by family or friends in boats. On one such swim my Mother got seasick and after that she stopped competing deciding to rest on her laurels of a win when she was eighteen.
We ate sandwiches brought from home, a slice of sponge cake and tea from a thermos flask. After our beach picnic we would walk along the ocean front, look at the shops and head back to the train station. I was always tired on the trip back and every time I would beg my Mother to tell me the story of The Titanic. She was very good at storytelling and this was always a high point of our days on train journeys.
My Mothers Father James decided he wanted to immigrate to America to give his wife Agnes, 4 sons and one daughter a better future. He set out for New York with his eldest son also called James and left Agnes and the other children in Bangor. The plan was for him to become established, find a home and then have the family join him. He arranged tickets for the voyage on The Titanic but just before it was due to sail Agnes got a telegram to say that her husband and son had died in the flu epidemic. Consequently the trip was cancelled and my Mother’s family stayed in Bangor. She would tell me how lucky they had been as the great ship sank on its maiden voyage. By the end of the story we were back in Belfast and I was dragging my feet to the bus stop. Sandy and tired I would fall asleep at the end of our great day out and hope summer would last long enough for just one more trip by train to the seaside.