Sunday, 10 January 2010

To Wales and Back

My back garden

The snow arrived on the 17th or 18th December and it has accumulated gradually, thawing a little then freezing, then more piling up. Some of the splendid icicles extend half way down the windows, from the edge of the roof. They look like some odd variety of musical instrument as if you could strike a melody from them, an ice xylophone. But to do that you'd have to go outside which I'm not quite ready to do. Yet. But they've gone opaque this morning, and they're dripping, which clearly means a thaw is on. Today anyway.

I am so happy to be home, and inside. In the first part of the journey to Wales, through the south of Scotland and the north of England the landscape was thickly covered with snow, the trees all delicately white, each branch and twig with its own white clinging glove. A few whitish sheep showed up, with their black faces and legs, some pawing at the snow to uncover the grass, some just standing there. Further south, the fields had only a thin cover and south of Crewe there was no snow at all, just some frost on sun-abandoned slopes, and white frosty patches lurking in between clumps of yellow brittle stalks that summer left behind. Travelling through Wales there was a waterlogged field which had frozen over. The sky was turning pink and the flush of the sky was reflected on the frozen surface. Some parts were smooth and glassy, others opaque and chipped. Pink watermelon frosted sugar field.

Welsh pony in the sunset snow
Welsh sea

There was snow on the roads, gardens and fields in Wales, even a little bit on the seashore. But the sky was clear blue and the snow turned to ice. While I was there the weather worsened in the rest of the country. It took me two days to get home. All was well until Crewe but after that, an announcement said that there was no train movement north of Preston. As you know, the announcer said, the weather is terrible. He comes back on later and explains that a train is stuck near Beattock and the one sent to rescue it got stuck too.

We disembark at Preston and pile onto a coach that takes us to Carlisle. Two hours later, at Carlisle station, the Edinburgh train pulls away just as we arrive on the platform. The calm but sympathetic platform attendant tells us he didn't know a coach load of people were arriving, otherwise he would have kept the train back. I go outside to try to get a bus, wait in the freezing cold at the bus stop, along with some others, but the bus does not come. I go back to the train station. The next train to Edinburgh is cancelled. There is another one, the attendant assures us, but it's delayed, it's still at Preston and we can't say if or when it will leave there. Perhaps we could get a train to Glasgow and go on to Edinburgh from there? That is a possibility he admits, but he doesn't know when or if the Glasgow train will leave Preston either.

So there was a lot of uncertainty and waiting around in sub zero temperatures. But there was a warm café with a tired but friendly assistant and various small groups of disconsolate people sitting around. It all had an end-of-the-world kind of feeling. The strangest thing was that there were so few people, when only a little while ago, the station had been crowded with people pouring out of coaches. Where had they all gone? It was only about 8 pm but it felt like the middle of the night, with the few travellers sitting at tables like the last remnants of some celebration which had gone on all night, with most of the guests departed, to warm homes and beds, one imagined. And here we sat, the homeless, the lost, the abandoned, with nowhere to go, as some unnamed yet catastrophic event was creeping ever closer, taking hold of the land in an icy grip.

But lo! An attendant approaches, and tells us that the Glasgow train is coming and the best thing for us to do is to get on it, and then go to Edinburgh. I go out onto the platform to make a phone call, as my mobile has run out of charge. When I come back in, another attendant is now telling us that the Edinburgh train has left Preston, it's on its way, and will arrive about 9 pm, so it makes more sense to wait for it.

When the train does finally arrive, it's like a little miracle of sliding lights in movement, so small and insubstantial really, a tiny snug snake in this vast gloom of icy dark wasteland. I've always loved trains but my feelings for them have expanded greatly after this experience. Arriving in Edinburgh too late to get home, I stay overnight with a friend and the next day set out confidently to get a bus. It's impossible to get any information about buses – the phone lines are expensive and no-one answers anyway. I get a bus to Dalkieth – I'm the only passenger – and the driver says oh yes, the 95 should be running. But it's not. At Justinlees inn at Eskbank the kindly man behind the bar phones for a taxi for me. The landscape is astonishing and lovely, deeply swathed in snow. Little flurries of it still falling. But the road is perfectly negotiable and I wonder why the buses are not running. There's very little traffic though. The taxi driver even comes up the hill, which is icy and snow covered and treacherous. Just getting from the road up the path to my house, the snow comes almost up to my knees. But I'm home.