I grew up travelling on 1970s trains. They were my ticket to freedom and I loved travelling over the British Rail network. however, things did not always go to plan!
Planning an adventure on 1970s trains
It was the Summer of 1974. I was aged 16 and planning a railway adventure. My interview with British Rail Engineering at Crewe Works was in 4 weeks time but had time on my hands. I decided to buy a London Midland Region Railrover ticket. This ticket allowed unlimited travel over the London Midland Region for a whole week (see map below) In those days I lived in Stevenage, Hertfordshire on the Eastern Region served by trains to and from Kings Cross. As this station was not covered by my Railrover, I had to also pay for a ticket to London. Find out more about these suburban lines here.
British Rail Passenger Timetable
The aim was to use Euston as a starting point each day and return to London at night to stay with my Aunt and Uncle who lived in North London. Survival depended on British Rail cheese and pickle sandwiches which were not as bad as their reputation! My guide for the week was to be the newly issued British Railways first all system timetable. This replaced the 5 regional timetables. A rather weighty tome which I had to carry with me on my travels. A whopping 1347 pages long weighing 1.56Kg! It certainly didn’t fit in the pocket and practically filled my rucksack on its own.
1970s Railway Network
The aim was to cover as much of the London Midland region as possible in 7 days. I’d been to some stations on the London Midland Region previously whilst on Merrymaker and Mystery Trips. The Settle to Carlisle route was a priority. Travelling up the West Coast Mainline to Carlisle, I got the Thames Clyde Express back from there as far as Skipton along the S&C. Then I retraced my steps through Gargrave and Hellifield changing at Lancaster to catch an Express heading South and returned safely. A real circular tour.
I also managed a trip out of Liverpool Exchange on the electric service to Ormskirk changing onto a DMU to Preston. I was keen to take in the beauty of the Cumbrian coastline. One of the days, I remember catching a Southbound service from Preston behind a Class 40. It put up one of the most spirited runs I have ever had behind one of these locos. I cannot recall sitting in a seat on that journey but spent the whole time resting my arms on the droplight door window and sucking in the experience.
One day, my plan turned out to be too ambitious! After suffering some missed connections, I found myself stranded at Carlisle late one night. I had no chance of making it back to London and my Aunt and Uncle. Bedding down in the waiting room on the island platform, I was woken several hours later by a British Transport policeman. After showing him my valid ticket and he was happy to let me stay and sleep.
Helpful British Rail Staff
The most memorable trip of the week occurred when my Aunt and Uncle foolishly said that they would be away for the weekend. I would not be able to stay with them on the Friday night. This was my opportunity! I decided to take the Stranraer boat train from Euston at 20:55 and intended to get off at Carlisle at 02:00. I had the choice of my bench in the waiting room to be my bed for the night or returning to Euston on the Royal Highlander.
On boarding the 20:55, I was fortunate to get a whole compartment to myself in the Mk1 carriage. I shut all the blinds and went to sleep. I was woken by the sound of the sliding door to the compartment being opened. A Scottish voice asked for my ticket. When I showed him my Rover ticket, he laughed and asked where I thought I was going? When I replied ‘Carlisle’ he laughed again and announced we were just approaching Ayr!! I was horrified to discover I had missed my stop and was now miles away. He was very sympathetic and offered to let me off at Ayr, a set-down only stop at 04:00.
Getting A Train Home
The next train to Glasgow was a couple of hours wait. The guard had told me to use the staff mess room and to tell anyone asking that I had his permission which was very kind . I managed to make a cup of tea – black as there was no milk. At least it was warm and wet! The driver of the 06:05 to Glasgow appeared a bit later and was very understanding when I told him of my predicament. When the guard of the 06:05 arrived he felt rather sorry for me. On arrival at Glasgow he would see the guard of the train back to Carlisle and explain what had happened so that I wouldn’t be charged. The journey got stranger! We struck some cows that had wandered onto the line but luckily the train did not derail. There was blood on the windows and we had to stop at the next station for the train to be inspected. The rest of the trip South was uneventful in comparison.
I had a great week travelling the West Coast Mainline and the Seattle and Carlisle. Four weeks later, I passed my interview with British Rail Engineering at Crewe Works and became a trainee engineer. This meant I now qualified for travel concessions. Further adventures awaited me at the next opportunity…
If you’ve enjoyed this reminiscing, you might be interested in reading further. I recommend the book Seventies Spotting Days Around the London Midland Region from Amazon
Read about my teenage exploits in 1971 when I use a rail rover to visit Barry Scrapyard
Find out what great value a 75p Rover ticket was in 1971!
Have you ever fallen asleep on the train and woken up in the wrong place??
Ray Wood says
Did same thing many times Started to buy all line rovers with no restrictions then
Perhaps that’s what I should have done!!
Bought a first class 2-week all lines rover when I retired in 2010 and travelled between Penzance and Skye – memorable!
Blue lightening says
Enjoyed the blog. Takes me back to the early 60’s when a pal and I used to get regional rail rovers for the week – great adventures?
Speaking of falling asleep on trains….in the late 60’s I went on a 5 week training course which was based in Billingham. I used to travel up there on a Sunday from Manchester and return on Friday afternoon. On the first Sunday before the course I was on a train from going up to Stockton-on-Tees and got chatting to a chap in the compartment who turned it to be an area manager for Bailey’s nightclub and was waxing lyrical about one of their clubs I frequented in my home town, ‘The Cav”, as we affectionately called. He must have been impressed because he gave me a free pass into all of the Baileys clubs around Teeside, including the La Ronda in Billingham.
Now in those days people on the course got £3 a day subsistence allowance and out of that I only had to pay £1.50 half board for my digs. Armed with the pass meant I had £1.50 a day to go on the lash at La Ronda and soon found one or two other like minded individuals on the course more than willing to join me.
Come Friday we were all knackered from too many late nights. My journey involved a change of trains in Stockton and York to catch a Manchester connection. Well i made the Stockton change ok, but zzzzz’d my way from then on. I awoke just as we pulled into NEWARK!!!!!
To my horror, I discovered there was no way of getting to Manchester and had to spend a very uncomfortable night on a porters trolley. To make things worse i was supposed to taking my girlfriend at the time ou for her birthday that night and of course mobile phones didn’t exist and she didn’t have a home phone.
Never missed my station since, and was given the heave ho by the girl. There was however a rather nice ending to this episode. Two weeks later I hooked up with a new girlfriend and subsequently married her….and where did we first meet? Well, ‘The Cav’ of course!?
What a fantastic story and obviously fate was on your side in the end! Thanks for sharing.