Ascension Island Expedition — Strike! (Thurso to Berwick-Upon-Tweed)
LEEDS, England (Thursday, March 8, 2007) – I woke up at 0445 hours to get ready for my departure from the Thurso rail station. A taxi (the same driver who took me to Scrabster; ₤3) took the to the station. I arrived there about 0625, about 30 minutes early. For awhile a diver of a car parked next to the platform was my only company, but a few minutes after I arrived a young Danish man, Jacob (spelling?) showed up and mentioned the strike.
Jacob had arrived in Thurso the night before, and on the way ScotRail personnel told him the ride would end in Inverness just before the strike was to begin at noon. The train had only two cars, and was pretty crowded at that, so I shared a table seat with Jacob. We talked some, looked out the window some, and read some, and sure enough, at Inverness we were told it was the end of the line.
Inverness was a madhouse between the train and bus stations. I asked for rental cars, but the rental car places either did not rent one-way, had no cars available, or were too damned expensive (₤80 per was what I was told at one place).
After a round-trip taxi ride to the airport in search of rental cars or flights, (and which included a pleasant conversation with the taxi driver as well a pass by Culloden – the futile last gasp of the Jacoobite cause), Jacob and I returned to the bus station in search of tickets south. He got a bus to Edinburgh. I wanted to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed, but royally screwed up and booked a ticked to Stirling – in central Scotland – instead. Fortunately Alison realized my mistake and called me back to warn me. I rebooked to Edinburgh, where I hoped to catch a train or bus south to Berwick.
The ride took us back through the Cairngorms. The weather was gorgeous, and the snow-capped peaks majestic. After awhile, though, I just wanted the journey to be over.
One of he casualties of the strike was a planned trip to Dundee, where I hoped to meet Alison’s uncle Douglas and Aunt Mary. Another casualty was my sanity.
In Edinburgh, I hoped to get money from an ATM. No luck at the bus station. I went on to the train station, and while there, the cart I bought to help haul my gear gave up the ghost – or at least one of the cheesy plastic wheels did (a damned shame as the cart cost me (₤21, or about $42 US). I was reduced to dragging my gear along. I first went to find out about southbound trains. No trains were running, but GNER had shuttle buses bound for Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
I then went in search of dinner, made an order, but the place told me after preparing the sandwich that their credit card machine did not work, though. This was an unfortunate turn of events as I had NO cash. I tried two more ATM machines at the station. Again, no luck.
By now I was beginning to get desperate. There was a bank of three more ATMs within view. I tried the first one, no luck yet again. But the fifth, from a different bank, coughed up ₤20. I then headed to a Burger King at the station, only to be told it was closed. I started for the sandwich shop again, but they were dropping their gates.
Two shuttle buses arrived. I put my gear on the first one, only to learn that it was full before I could board. I moved my gear to the second bus, and got on, relieved as it started south.
The bus left about 2000 hours, 14 hours after I left Thurso. We arrived in Berwick about 2130 hours. My efforts to find lodging for the night fell to naught, until I called the 40 Ravensdowne Bed & Breakfast. They had a family suite available for ₤40 – more than I wanted to spend, and more than I had at the time (₤20). I decided to take the room just to get the damned night over with. Since I was worried about money, I did not call a taxi, and instead walked into town with my 70 pounds of gear and a broken cart. I got hopelessly lost. After passing a police station on my last wrong direction, I stopped off at the station, picked up the phone and was told someone would be out shortly.
Two officers came out, the first one telling me the door had been open. I apologized with a quick recap of my exhausting day, told him what I needed. He pointed me in the right direction. As I left, I apologized again.
“Nae worries, mate,” he said.
I thanked him and headed back down the street. As I rounded the coroner onto Ravesdowne street, I saw the proprietor at the front door looking for me. She set me up with a room and I called Alison. We had plenty to talk about, with my crazy night, with a store in Edinburgh double-charging me for the cart, AT&T screwing Alison over use of her phone card (one idiot there argued with her that the card could not be used for local calls – Relevance? Truth? – and that her attempted calls to me using the card were local).
Well, afterward Alison successfully used it to make a local call. There is also a little problem with the fact that my cell phone number has a 44 (United Kingdom) country code. Since 1776, Virginia and England have been in two different countries. Oh well.
The Virginia Credit Union was also causing problems, with no credit showing for the overcharge on the cart, delays in crediting deposits made IN CASH, and other problems. Some of my debits weren’t showing up yet, so I went in search of ATM machines. The first one I tried, from the Royal Bank of Scotland, did not work. The second one, from Barclays did. I left with enough money to pay for my room as well as questions as two why I could not get any money from five previous ATMs. Three of them, however, were from the Royal Bank of Scotland, so I suspect some kind of network issue.
I tried to catch up on my writing back at the bed & breakfast, but gave up, tried to read, and quickly fell asleep.