Reading about travelling westward on the train north

England was beginning to move again yesterday after the Christmas break but not for long as the M6 was completely stationary in both directions last night and other roads were reporting problems. I was glad that I was taking the train this morning. Scotland is recovering from two severe storms over Christmas, while in Northern England we had much less severe wind and rain. We left the house in frosty darkness with all the stars visible as James took me to the station. In the lounge, I watched a TV programme highlighting the benefits recent wet summers and mild winters have had for farmers who have could keep animals outside for longer and cut more hay from the long grass but also the adverse impact it has had on many insects and wildflowers that need shorter grass to survive and birds such as barn owls who cannot see their prey in longer grass and whose numbers are declining. Yet another consequence of climate change.
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Not driving meant that I could dip into a book I found on Tuesday at Cavern Books, Dagfields, near Nantwich: http://www.cavernbooks.co.uk/. It is David Haward Bain’s The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads and the Urge to Go West. In 2000, the author (who is an established non-fiction writer and academic at a Vermont college) travelled along the routes followed by the early rail road, Lincoln Highway, California, Oregon and Pony Express trails with his family. He had more time than we could squeeze out of our jobs on our transcontinental drive and has researched and added much of the associated history along the way, including that of his own grandmother’s family. There is also a selection of old photographs in the book.

He began in Missouri, travelling north up the river valley from Kansas City and Independence where the California and Oregon trails often began. We passed through St Louis on our Route 66 drive before continuing southwest and here is the Lewis & Clark memorial by the river:
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At Omaha, his route coincided with the Lincoln Highway on Route 30 and our drive as we entered Nebraska on R30 from Iowa.
One of the things I enjoyed in Nebraska was the prairie grass in the Cottonmill Park near Kearney.
Prairie Grasses 2 Kearney NE 4 July 2016-1
By the time I had reached this stage of his book, dawn had broken in South Lancashire and the sun was fully up well before we reached Carlisle. The Cumbrian hills were covered in frost and mist but there were still large pools of water in the fields in southern Scotland. As I emerged from the station in Edinburgh, it was much milder. The city is gearing up for the Hogmanay celebrations and it will get much busier over the next two days. I shed my woollies and as I walked to the shops from the flat, noticed large numbers of branches on the ground from the surrounding trees. I will be out tomorrow to do a few things in town and looking forward to Friday to meeting friends and celebrating James’s birthday.

On the rails in the dark

Most of my train journeys to Edinburgh are in the early morning with good views of the Cumbrian hills and the Southern Uplands. Not so on this occasion, I was on the last train in the evening. In the week or so leading up to my trip yesterday evening there had been innumerable reports of problems on the rail network so I was not hopeful. As it turned out, my train was only three minutes late and I was soon installed in my seat with a coffee in front of me. The staff member in the carriage explained that due to staff sickness there would be no at-seat service in first class after Preston and plied us with enough food and wine to take us all the way to our destination. The wine came in a plastic bottle which I will hang on to as they are useful means of carrying alcohol into festivals where glass is forbidden for obvious reasons. I settled into the rest of my journey with Jim Perrin’s ‘Travels with a Flea and other Eccentric Journeys’, a collection of his essays on trips to various parts of the world and around his home in Wales. We arrived in Edinburgh on time and although my usual short cut to the bus stop was blocked by the ice rink and Christmas market, I did get a quick shot with my phone of the castle lit up in blue for St Andrews Day just before the bus pulled in.
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I came up a little earlier than James and my father who will drive up on Friday afternoon as I wanted to fit in some last-minute Christmas shopping. I then discovered several things that will distract me from shopping. Firstly, Edinburgh is doing something a little different for the festive season this year. Each day from the 1st December to the 24th they are opening a building or part of a building which is not usually accessible to the public. The event, which is free, is entitled 24 Doors of Advent. Each day from 1-24th December, a different building or part of one not usually open to the public, will open its doors for a day.
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I plan to visit the venues for the 1st and 2nd and possibly the 3rd, depending upon the preferences of the others. I also discovered that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are performing Peter Maxwell Davies’s ‘Orkney Wedding’ on Thursday evening so that is my treat for this evening.