26 stories for Oxfam | The Two Point Six Challenge

As we are currently in lockdown, I am not going on long walks or on trains for now. Today, in honour of the London Marathon runners who won’t be running the 26-mile marathon – I wrote 26 flash fiction stories to help keep charities alive, fundraising for Oxam.

The coronavirus knows no borders. But neither does our common humanity. Oxfam is supporting people at home and worldwide, as they stand up for each other, protect each other, and demand fair treatment for us all.

We need charities now more than ever. Fundraising has been hit very hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Charity shops including Oxfam’s have been closed to protect the health and safety of staff, volunteers and shoppers. And thousands of fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed meaning many charities are struggling to maintain services because of this huge reduction in income. This is a serious threat to their ability to respond to the pandemic.

So I’m doing whatever I can do to help!


I have put the 26 stories from my #TwoPointSixChallenge in order below.


After the devastation of the second disease and the completion of the Gibraltar Tunnel, a train carried her from London to Casablanca to meet her new family.


During the time of the second disease, ten years’ on from the first, she had been living alone. They had been living alone too.

Every day on their allotted walk, they stood at the same moment, each on a separate bridge over the river.
They were upsteam so, gloved, would put a message in a jar and lower it to the river.
It would float toward the bridge she stood on where she would hopefully catch it in her net.
One day, they turned up and she wasn’t there. They waited and waited but were not allowed to loiter for too long and devasted, returned home.

In the days that followed they walked with tears in their eyes to the bridge and waited.
She was nowhere.

On the twentieth day, they turned to go but as they did so saw something moving and turned back around.
It was a jar in the river with a message.

They ran along beside it until it was stopped by an upturned tree and fished it out.

The message in the jar said I LOVE YOU.


He opened the Unity Box on the table.

It had arrived that morning, sent by Prime Minister Maria Murphy.

Everyone had been sent one.

It was for the Unity Project.

After the 2019 – 2021 disease there had been signs of desertification spreading too fast. Planes had eventually all been grounded indefinitely.

A ten-year Fixed Crossing project had seen the opening of the Gibraltar Tunnel among others. The vacuum left by the planes had been filled by electric trains travelling between continents. And governments had been forced to work together to support the global population financially to avoid further catastrophe.

Ten years after the first new disease there came an even more devastating disease that travelled to all countries and killed millions.

During the first, people had learned to live in smaller spaces and had grown sunflowers and tomatoes and salad greens. After the second, it was clear that without immediate changes, humanity would not survive.

World Leaders had pooled their knowledge together and come up with a mass planting plan – the Unity Project. Drawing on expertise from, let’s call them, seed scientists, they had mapped out the best planting options for each area worldwide. And then each government had commissioned Unity Boxes for every citizen.

Those in flats grew indoor gardens as well as helping plant in the vast number of public spaces that had opened up – including the roads, which had all been grassed over. Some contributed to helping plant living walls outside their windows too. Meanwhile, people with gardens filled them with trees and grew vegetables and fruits and everyone shared what they had among them.

He followed the link on the paper inside the Unity Box at the time stated to open a video chat with the farmer he’s been assigned, Yahya. They waved at each other and smiled.
“Are you ready?” Yahya asked.
“Ready!” he said. And he opened the box.


The company had nearly gone bust in the deep recession that followed the pandemic.

When they’d reached out to employees to help, their employees told them they couldn’t care less, because the relationship had been an abusive one.

So they shuffled some things around and offered senior positions to some of their junior staff and let some of the senior staff go.
Then they offered all employees a stake in the company and a vote on how it was run.

The employees came back.

Together, they pulled the company out of the depths and it became successful for everyone equally.


They were not religious but admired their friends who were fasting during the day, in the heat at home.
So they called a baker and ordered a cake to be made for their friends for Eid.
And on the cake they wrote:
‘We have much to learn from you – happy Eid!’


It was weird suddenly being shut up together in a house of six.

They were four people working for companies and organisations and two academics studying for their PHDs in their mid twenties to mid thirties.

They had decided not to go home to their parents, as most were in their 70s and 80s.

So they decided to eat together each evening and once a week to have a special dinner they cooked together.

They were lucky, they had many friends who were suffering living with housemates that were not respectful.
During that time they became a funny kind of lockdown family.


During the lockdown he learned to make bread.
And he was grateful.


A vaccine was created.
People went to their local polling stations to get it.
Then they went out and changed a lot of things.
And then they were happier.

In the middle of the night

In the middle of the night he heard her screams through the wall as her husband beat her.
He called the police.
She was taken to a new, safe place with her young children.
All in the community helped.


It had not rained for a long time.
At last, clouds gathered, and rain fell.
And they felt pure joy.


The long call followed by three short two-syllable echoes made her think of eagles, which teleported her to another world. A world with forests covering wide, wide spaces and deer and bears and rivers with salmon. She closed her eyes and rested in the other world a while.


The light beam flashed across the blackness of the choppy water. They had made it.


The labyrinth stood on Bodmin Moor, a wild place were beasts were said to roam and ghosts to haunt.
It was built of Cornish hedging, funded by ‘hedge pledges,’ – one of many public planting projects.
It was covered in hundreds of flowering plants.

She walked to its centre and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she was standing in front of a mossy rock near Tintagel. A labyrinth of the same design was carved into it.

No Entry

There was an out-door museum at the border.
They took the electric train to go and visit it.
They’d heard the centrepiece was an enormous sign.
When they arrived at the outdoor museum they saw the fabled sign at the centre of the gardens that comprised the museum.
NO ENTRY, it said – like an anti-Rosetta Stone.
The plaque beneath it read:

This sign was one of many variations with the same message, as well as similar no exit signs, that were placed at the borders of most countries worldwide at the beginning of the century.
Millions of people died in those years.
It was only afterwards that we saw the healthcare system restored through our contributions and the introduction of Universal Basic Income, the National Carer Service, to relieve people of all the unpaid care they’d put in, and the Unity Project, that saw us all planting trees to heal what we had lost.

They looked at the sign for a while in silence, then moved on to the next exhibit – an original concrete school complete with concrete playground.


Alongside digging for unity and reviving the nation’s immune system – the healthcare system, carer support, and universal Basic Income, there had been other, newer ventures that had taken root.

All schools now had access to nature every day for forest school as well as wellbeing guardians who made sure children had someone to talk to.

Today they were going to plant walnuts at forest school.

‘These are like time capsules but that grow into something we can see above ground in a few years time,’ their teacher said.

Then they were shown how to put their walnut into the soil and put little stakes next to them.

She planted her walnut and wrote ‘George’ on its label.

Past Time

In the Before Time there were a lot of things that needed changing but everyone was too scared to do anything about it.
Forced inside at the start of the Now Time, they for the first time saw that there was not an infinite amount of time,
So they pooled their ideas together and everyone was assigned a role in changing course.
And that is how we will arrive in the Next Time.


She was alone.

Great sheets of plastic surrounded her in the hospital bed.
Shadows passed behind them –
Doctors in hazmat suits – like something out of the movie E. T.
And then a heart-shape projected onto her bed, made by a red laser pen.
And she knew it was her Dad come to visit.


Reflection was a luxury that those not run off their feet in the hospitals or serving lines of frightened people in supermarkets had time for during lockdown.

Some with time to spare used it to listen to those without it.

And this was the start of a path that would eventually lead to a happier world.


You can travel anywhere in your memories.

Today, she travelled to Angkor, where ancient tree roots wound themselves round the doorways of stone temples. At one temple, further from the grandest of them all and the one with the many stone faces, where there was not a soul in sight.

She perched on the windowsill of the temple, with her knees up to her chest, out of the sticky heat in the shade and breathed slowly and deeply.

And she was happy to be alive.


They had felt alone and been alone, physically.
But really they were alone together.
And alone together they had all they needed to turn the ship around.
And sail to a land where they walk out onto the shore.
And hug each other once again.


A few cities were submerged until only the tops of buildings poked out above the water – like the village that John Piper once captured but on a great scale.

A man still lived on the roof of one of the taller skyscrapers and people brought him food by boat.

Video call

The men on screen were sitting suited at each of their desks at home.
Many had important looking books on shelves behind them.

They were busy congratulating themselves over jobs well done by others and talking about what a drag it was to only have a couple of private acres of land each to play golf on alone.

They talked about their wives as if they were their mothers – managing the households and children, always nagging.
‘Susan asked me to do the dishes last night. Imagine! As if I have the time right now,’ one said.

Right at that moment, two women entered his room and asked him to go with them.
Susan appeared on screen in place of her husband.
The men went quiet.

‘Hello,’ said Susan.

And she proceeded to tell the men what needed to be done to save the country from catastrophe.

And then she fired them all.

Wise women

There had been a time – for most only depicted for them on the series Cadfael, that not many remembered now – when people knew which plants could heal.

And there had been all of the 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution had spat on that knowledge and some of the wise women and men who had known how to use the plants in medicine had been sent to workhouses to work for next to nothing to line the pockets of the wealthy.

Later, women, men and children worldwide worked for next to nothing picking and processing food and clothing to feed, clothe and line the pockets of wealthy people in other countries.

Everyone who had worked close to nature had been identified as more useful elsewhere for someone else’s gain.
But after floods and drought decimated the places that served the wealthy in protected climates, the world’s eyes turned to them and they fell.

People returned to the earth with great spirit and learned the old ways again, led by wise women.

X (ten)

Her Unity Box contained 10 units to grow.

She had a small patio which had needed to be grassed over as temperatures had risen and concrete had become unbearable in cities.
The trees that would grow in the four corners of the small front garden were a crab apple, hazelnut tree, rowan tree and white bean.
She already had back-up walnuts and acorns too.

Next were mushroom spores, tomato seeds, rocket seeds, potato roots, soy bean seeds and carrot seeds.

All the fields had been taken over for grains and rapeseed for oil.

The food to grow to eat she started inside, the tree too.

And by the next summer she had enough to eat.

A tiny hazelnut tree had appeared and, with it, fresh hope.

Yes, I do feel better

One of those telly choir leaders had had the idea of the nation all going out and singing a song on a particular evening.

The BBC loved the idea and asked the public to suggest songs they might like to sing.

Some suggestions had to be taken out but somehow, the song Yes – by McAlmont and Butler made the list.

The nation voted.

It won.

Then, at 6pm one Saturday evening everyone went outside and sang:

‘Yes, I do feel better,

Yes I do, I feel alright,

I feel well enough to tell you

What you can do

With what you got to offer…’

Zen and the art of garden maintenance

The flat-ish black-and-white seed, beloved by hamsters, had been placed beneath the soil.

Within a week it had proudly shot up to five inches tall and shed its seedy head to reveal baby leaves that would fall away later.

Soon, it grew so tall that it was moved to the outside.

It was so happy that it grew new leaves and then was joined by more and more sisters.

Up they grew, and grew until they were ready to bloom.

They opened wide and bright.

Everyone who passed them smiled.

Thanks for reading!


Walk 2020

Activity Level: Not Very Active

I don’t exercise.


I hate the gym.

More than 10 years ago I was running for a bus and when I got on it, my friend who’d saved me a seat said if I ran like that again I’d damage my knees.

Becoming a walking convert

Then last year a friend suggested a walking holiday and without properly reading my WhatsApp messages (I was busy at work) I accepted. It was only the day before we were going to head off, reading back through my messages, that I realised we weren’t doing some nice two-hour circular walks over three days and staying at a lovely spa hotel – I’d signed up to walk all the way from Stroud to Bath over three days along a stretch of the Cotswold Way. Oops.

So ignorant was I of what I’d signed up for, I had to borrow my friend’s husband’s luminous yellow waterproof and, by the end of day one, another friend’s hiking shoes (she had read the WhatsApp messages and was only walking with us for a day). I complained some of the time and tried to ban jovial singing. When one friend suggested picking up the pace I sharply replied that I’d go at my own pace thank you very much. I was a joy to all.

But something clicked over the three days (my knee?) and by the end of it I was a walking convert.

Walk 2020

So this year I’m walking. I started using the hashtag #walk2020 on Twitter before realising some people were using it because they intend to walk 2,020 miles in 2020. I’m not here to walk a mountain. I’m just here to walk.

2,020 miles in 2020 would be 39 miles every weekend. I’m mostly walking between 5 and 12 miles one day a week, usually on a Saturday.

I bought three of the Cicerone walking books that have routes in the south of England (where I live): the Ridgeway, The Thames Path and the North Downs Way.

The Ridgeway is an ancient path of pilgrimage, so it makes sense to work up to that one and do it over a week or more in one big burst. Probably in May. But I thought it would be fun to collect the other two in stages. And break the stages into smaller stages if I wanted to. Because I’m not climbing a mountain.

So far, my partner and I have walked from Abingdon to Oxford, and from Oxford to Swinford Toll Bridge. The section from Oxford in the book ends in Newbridge, so we’ll get the bus to Swinford Bridge and walk on to Newbridge another weekend. With shorter days in winter it’s just more comfortable than walking through the mud in the dark. And give us some credit, we walked Oxford to Swinford Toll Bridge AND BACK yesterday. That’s like 33,000 of my steps and 28,000 of his.


Queen Unveils Plaque for 20th Anniversary of Channel Tunnel Opening

No, not the band – Her Majesty the Queen unveils plaque for 20th Anniversary of Channel Tunnel opening this morning, Thursday 5th June 2014. I am jumping up and down with excitement. I love plaques. And trains. And I don’t know the Queen but after today I might love her too.

Me on the Eurostar

Me on the Eurostar

The Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, is here to commemorate the launch of international high speed rail services between the UK and mainland Europe, which we take for granted now, but before the tunnel, braving hours at sea was our only option. Now you can go from London to Paris just to have lunch before returning the same day happy as Larry. I know, I’ve done it. The Queen has probably done it too.

Queen Unveils 20th Anniversary of Channel Tunnel Plaque

Photo: Sophie Collard

After all this, she’s off to France from 5th to 7th June with an invite from the President of France, Françoise Hollande in hand. As part of the State Visit, Her Majesty and His Royal Highness will go to events in Paris and Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Photo: Solent Pictures

Photo: Solent Pictures

Here today to greet the Royals are Rob Holden, the Chairman of HS1, Jacques Gounon, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Groupe Eurotunnel and Clare Hollingsworth, the Chairwoman of Eurostar. William Hague, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Harlem Désir, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs and Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK, are here too.

Photo: Solent Pictures

Photo: Solent Pictures

Jacques Gounon said, “Today 65 million vehicles and 330 million people have already travelled through the Tunnel, bringing substantial economic benefits to the UK and Europe.”

Eurostar was formed in 1994 as a partnership between three railway companies: SNCF (French national railways), SNCB (Belgian national railways) and LCR (London and Continental Railways). The same year the current Eurostar train was first introduced into service carrying 750 passengers and operating at speeds of up to 300kph. The fleet of 28 trains has since carried over 145 million passengers between London and mainland Europe. Following their refurbishment these trains will continue to form a core part of the Eurostar fleet. The new Eurostar e320 train will carry more than 900 passengers at speeds of up to 320kph.

Clare Hollingsworth, Chairwoman of Eurostar, said, “The launch of Eurostar services between the UK and mainland Europe represented a historic milestone revolutionising rail travel on both sides of the Channel. Over the last twenty years we have carried over 145 million passengers as high speed rail increasingly becomes the preferred option for short haul journeys. With the advent of a new state-of-the art fleet of trains and a range of new routes, we are looking forward to extending our reach and cementing further the relationship between the UK and continental Europe.”

After today’s ceremony, the commemorative plaque will be displayed in the international services check-in area of St Pancras International station. Winner.

Top Easter 2014 Short Breaks by Train from London

Easter falls on 20th April, with Good Friday 18th April and Bank Holiday Monday 21st. A perfect amount of time to enjoy Easter 2014 short breaks by train. Train travel is (for me at least) far less stressful than flying and, with a bit of a search, cheaper too. Even if it means not going as far. I’ve looked into places in the UK it’s easy and cheap to get to by train from London this Easter weekend…

London to Oxford – from £5 each way


Good Friday fares are as low as £5 London to Oxford and from £6.45 one way Oxford to London at the moment with First Great Western. Great sites in Oxford include (probably) my favourite museum in the UK, the Pitt Rivers Museum, as well as the Ashmolean Museum, which the city-promoting people tend to make more of a fuss about. Also worth a visit is the Museum of the History of Science with it’s ancient globes. There are several wonderfully old pubs you may have to bend your back a little to walk around inside, and the punting scene, if that’s your thing.

London to Cambridge – from £6 one way

Cambridge Rowers 1943

Not so long ago I went to stay in Norfolk for a week, stopping off at Ely on the way up to Kings Lynn and stopping off at Cambridge on the journey back from Kings Lynn to London. Breaking the journey in that way is free if you have a ticket valid for the entire day, however the cheapest tickets mean travelling at a set time on a specific train. I discovered slower trains from London Liverpool Street to Cambridge are cheaper. So ignore anyone at ticket offices who tries to encourage you not to buy them. Vive la révolution! Hooray! This Easter Weekend, you can get a single with Greater Anglia on Easter Friday from £6 one way and the same on Bank Holiday Monday. Cambridge has famous and beautiful colleges, Christ’s Pieces – a stretch of land where goths hang out, and the Fitzwilliam Museum – although that’s closed Good Friday and Mondays generally. Oh and you can go for a punt of course. Or a pint. Or both.

London to Bath – from £13.50 one way


Book now with First Great Western and you can get fares from £13.50 each way from London to Bath for the Easter weekend. Bath has the Abbey, Royal Crescent, Pulteney Bridge and Roman Baths, that, last time I went, were accompanied by Bill Bryson’s thoughts in the audio guide. I lived in Bath for a while and learned things like, there was no Sally Lunn and Jane Austen actually disliked – read hated – the city, plus the Bath Chronicle said Queen Victoria looked drab when she visited, so she never returned. As such, Bath is best appreciated for it’s aesthetic beauty, celebration of the elite, and pubs like the Raven, the Royal Oak and the wonderful – co-operatively owned – Bell Inn. Toppings bookshop is lovely too, they’ll make you a cup of tea while you browse. Talking of tea, check out the Tea Emporium rather than taking afternoon tea in the tourist traps if you fancy a bit of peace.

All three cities have some fantastic places to stay from about £30 per person per night sharing on airbnb.co.uk

Letter to an Unknown Soldier, a WWI Project at Paddington Station

Letter to an Unknown Soldier is a new project created by Neil Bartlett, a novelist and theatre director, and Kate Pullinger, a professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa, with the aim of making a tribute out of words to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Members of the public are invited to write their own letters to the unknown soldier, forming a collaborative war memorial. The statue the project centres around is on Platform One at Paddington Station in London.

Everyone from the celebrated Stephen Fry to the celebrated poet Andrew Motion has had a go, of the 50 leading writers and artists kicking it all off – but the big reveal will be 28th June 2014, with the project running until 4th August 2014. I’ve had a go at writing one too…

“I wanted to express my gratitude… is what I find myself writing from habit. I’m not sure gratitude is the right word, because I’m not too sure I’m for the war, or any war for that matter. And I’m not sure whether you’re out there by choice or by duty or if the two can ever be intertwined. I could talk about home or ask you what it is like out there, in the mud and the cold and the rain. I could talk about the women down the road sewing as if it will mend everything, or about my widowed neighbour who stares forlornly at the forget-me-nots in her garden and no longer speaks, not even to the milkman. But I don’t think these trivialities will put light in your heart and it is light in your heart that might pull you through the struggles that arrive with each new day. So I will tell you a story, with the aim of spiriting you away to a gentle place…

After a while all the cold mud grows warmer, and the air hot. Rainforest plants appear, thick and moist and green and they open to a lake from which steam rises. All around birds of paradise sing. The butterflies float iridescent in the humidity and the bright tree frogs gaze longingly at the flies. A beautiful person swims there, in the lake, every day, at the foot of a ramshackle jetty which runs from the door of a house made of reeds to the bank. This ethereal being kisses the water as it flows past their nakedness. Time subsides. Reaching the bank they raise their body glistening from the water, drawing their legs up to their chest. And then their eyes, like other fantastical worlds, invite you to join them, as temptation stretches out across the sand waiting.”


© Dom Agius

© Dom Agius

Stephen Fry wrote;

“Beloved brother,

 Enough time has passed now for us to think only one thought:  that we will never see you again. The last I heard you were cheerful and funny, as ever.

Remember when I told you that I was going to declare myself a conscientious objector? I saw a look in your eye. “My brother, a coward?” It nearly killed me. I would give anything to be in your place, a hero respected and at peace — and not just because of the insults, beatings and stones hurled at me from bus conductors, shopkeepers and children in the streets.

Every night Ma and Pa sob as they try to swallow their food. I eat in another room. They cannot look at me. I try not to feel sorry for myself, but I do believe it is wrong to kill. I made my decision. you made yours.

For eternity your image will stand for unquestioning courage. I will die proud of you and ashamed of myself. And that is in spite of me being right.”

The Unknown Soldier © Dom Agius

The Unknown Soldier © Dom Agius

In the 37 days prior to the anniversary of the declaration of war, you’re invited to write your own letter and send it to the site. As the letters are submitted, they will be published for everybody to see. After that they’ll be added to the British Library web archive.

Fifty UK writers have pledged to write letters to the soldier so far. Among them are Benjamin Zephaniah, David Almond, Geoff Dyer, Malorie Blackman, and Birdsong writer Sebastian Faulks.

Prisoners, nurses, senior citizens, local historians, ex-service men and women and lots of secondary school pupils have also pledged to write letters.

The Letter to an Unknown Soldier website goes live 28th June 2014. You can visit now to read more, including a few of the letters at 1418NOW.org.uk/letter.

Behold! The Two Together Railcard – For Cheaper Train Tickets

Attention couples and (very good) friends: Exciting news! For the first time in thirty years the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) is offering a new discount card, saving lucky rail travellers a whopping third off off peak travel on the Nation Rail network. And you don’t have to be under 25 or over 60 – you can be my age! Or whatever age you might be, dear reader, that is between the ages of 25 and 60.

The card’s launch date is 3rd March 2014 and it’s a big hooray for those of us who might have made the switch from rail travel to National Express coach travel much of the time because train travel is just. too. expensive.

The Two Together Railcard March 3rd 2014 - courtesy of ATOC.

The Two Together Railcard March 3rd 2014 – courtesy of ATOC.

The card will cost £30 and save you 1/3 off rail travel – just as the 16-25 and senior rail cards do. The card is for couples and friends travelling together. The only catch, if you want to see it that way, is that you need two named persons on it – which means that as with EE’s ‘Magic Numbers’ you’ll want to agree to get a card with someone you know you travel by train with more than anyone else. This inevitably means the greatest beneficiaries will be happy couples – but pick a good bestie and it’s still a pretty damn good offering.

I’m excited. I don’t know who I will identify as the adult between 25 and 60 I travel with on the network the most, but I am excited.

Good job, ATOC – more of this please.

You will be able to purchase your very own Two Together Railcard online at railcard.co.uk from 3rd March 2014 or at any train station ticket office (that’s big enough) in the UK.

For more on the varying railcards and how they can save you money – check out my post How to Book Trains in the UK and save Money

Break your Journey, do some Split Ticketing | Sightseeing for Less

Recently, I decided I was going to go for it. Quite simply, if I wanted to go some places and see some shit, I was going to do it, because, as the kids say, you only live once (or twice, as I heard the other day).

With my wonderful friend and colleague, Katherine Conlon, a historian with a degree in the subject from York and an MA from Bristol, we set up the website www.traveldarkly.com. This gave me a new sense of purpose – a new theme. I would explore the UK, Europe and beyond looking for freaky shit.

To start this ‘going for it’ business, I got two massive maps of the UK from Stanfords travel bookshop alongside a Lonely Planet Great Britain . I carefully and painstakingly underlined all the places in the UK that related to death, disaster and the macabre throughout history, as well as all the best railway journeys in the UK, and linked the two together. Following the advice of my great friend Kashyap, the Budget Traveller, I also acquired a copy of the Rough Guide to the Best Places to Stay in Britain on a Budget.

The latter was invaluable when, at 6pm on a Sunday, I arrived at King’s Lynn station hoping to hop on the Coast Hopper Bus – only to realise that on a Sunday the last one leaves at 4pm, and that I needed to give a very nice taxi driver the postcode of Deepdale Farm where I was going to be staying, so he could put it into his GPS wotsit-magig and take me there.

A room of one's own for £24 a night in winter at Deepdale Farm Backpackers. © Sophie Collard

A room of one’s own for £24 a night in winter at Deepdale Farm Backpackers. © Sophie Collard

On 10th January, I left home with a suitcase filled with clothes and borrowed ski wear. The plan was a bit of the UK, followed by a ski train trip to the Jungfrau region, followed by more of the UK.

And this is when a revelation hit me. I wanted to see quite a few places, by train, in the UK that related to dark tourism. I had maps and descriptions. I knew how to split train tickets by booking different legs of a journey separately, and I knew that UK train rules from up high dictate that passengers are allowed to break their journey at any given station on any given route they are travelling, provided they do so on the day of travel.

I was headed to Deepdale Farm in Norfolk for a week, because I wanted to do some writing, I’m not wealthy enough right now to be able to afford an Arvon Foundation retreat, and the smell of woodsmoke is my favourite smell in the whole wide world. And it’s really cheap.

I had a train ticket from London to King’s Lynn. There was a replacement rail service from Ely. I had never been to Ely. There was a Cathedral in Ely that not only has a painted ceiling to rival the Sistine Chapel’s but also an architect who fell off the roof of to his death, and Oliver Cromwell’s House, which is ‘haunted,’ and the museum, which is housed in a very old gaol. Perfect. I tweeted the train operator for this route, First Capital Connect, and asked if it was possible to break the journey at Ely. It was, so I did.

Ely Cathedral Ceiling © Sophie Collard

Ely Cathedral Ceiling © Sophie Collard

On the way back from King’s Lynn, a week later, I noted that Cambridge was on the line to London. Lovely, can’t beat a stop in Cambridge. I got to King’s Lynn station and asked how much a train to London was. £33.50. This seemed awfully expensive, when it should have been £22.50 or something.

‘That’s at weekends,’ the man in the ticket office said.

‘What. A. Load. Of. Crap,’ I thought.

So I asked if I could just purchase King’s Lynn to Cambridge for £9.50. I did. I went. I saw. And then when I got to Cambridge station (taking the park and ride into town and back, which is a bitch to walk to with a suitcase otherwise) I checked for the cheapest of the two trains available – one goes to King’s Cross, one goes to Liverpool Street – I saw that the slow one to Liverpool Street, which was the area I wanted to be in anyway, was £15.90. This meant the total fare for that day, on the day, King’s Lynn to Liverpool Street with a long pause in Cambridge, was £25.40.

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Where Oliver Cromwell's head is buried © Sophie Collard

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Where Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried © Sophie Collard

I don’t think the man in the ticket office was altogether impressed when I exclaimed, ‘I WIN!’

Empowered by this cheap train ticket win, I happily opened my Lonely Planet Great Britain and looked for the next trip which would follow after the train to Switzerland and back. Bristol, my hometown, then back to London.

And what’s this? What is on the line to London from Bristol? Well lot’s of places, including Swindon, where the STEAM museum is, but I’ve been to the STEAM museum, and Swindon is boring (sorry Swindon), so the answer is actually Didcot Parkway. And not because I’m looking to hang out in Didcot Parkway, but because Didcot Parkway is the gateway to Oxford.

Here’s how it will work. Following a wonderful excursion to the Jungfrau region by Eurostar, TGV Lyria, SBB and Jungfraubahn, I treated myself to a walk-up open return to Bristol, where I am sitting right here, right now, just like the Fatboy Slim song says.

On the return to London, where I will be taking afternoon tea with the wonderful Laura Porter of about.com fame, I can break my journey at Didcot Parkway, where, get this, a return to Oxford is a mere £6. £6! For all the joys of the Pitt River’s Museum and its shrunken heads, and Oxford Castle and its grizzly history, and all the pubs for gnomes…

Well I don’t mind if I do.

For more information about saving money when booking train tickets by split ticketing, journey breaks or using rail cards, see my post; How to Book Trains in the UK and Save Money

The Train from London Waterloo – Destinations and Ways to Save Money

A train from London Waterloo will go to destinations in the South West and South Coast of the UK. Waterloo is the busiest station in the UK with more than 90 million entries and exits a year. 90 Million! That’s a lot.

Popular destinations from London Waterloo vary depending on whether you are a commuter or a day tripper/holidaymaker.

The top three destinations out of London Waterloo are:

  • Bournemouth
  • Poole
  • Southampton

Other destinations from Waterloo include:

Salisbury     Windsor     Portsmouth     Ascot     Epsom      Reading

Guildford     Staines     Woking     Basingstoke     Winchester 

Exeter     Yeovil     Shepperton     Kingston     Weymouth

Hampton Court   Chessington     Sunningdale

Teddington     Brookwood     Wimbledon     Byfleet & New Haw

Waterloo to Southampton

Southampton is also a port, and ferries leave Southampton and go to the Isle of Wight with Red Funnel Ferries and the Hythe Pier on the Hythe Ferry. Trains take roughly 1hr 20mins – 1hr 40mins. There is a free shuttle bus  every 15 minutes from the train station that takes 7 mins to get to the ferry terminal.

Book train tickets from Waterloo to Southampton

Waterloo to Poole

I always think of the waterpark when I think of poole. A pool in Poole, imagine that. Very popular with little ones. 2hrs to 3hrs 20 mins from Waterloo.

Book trains from Waterloo to Poole 

Waterloo to Bournemouth

Bournemouth has a lovely long beach and so is a popular UK seaside destination, but is also home to Bournemouth University, which has a varied list of arts courses including Scriptwriting for Film and Television. Many students can also get a third off rail travel by using a Young Persons Railcard. 2hrs from Waterloo. 2hrs – 2hrs 15 mins from Waterloo.

Book trains from Waterloo to Bournemouth

And the rest…

Waterloo to Salisbury

Salisbury has Salisbury Cathedral, which is very grand indeed and has a modern font which behaves like a water feature. It is set in grassy grounds with lots of quaint little cafes nearby. It is 1 hr 30mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Windsor

Windsor is home to Windsor Castle and Legoland. It is just under 1 hr to Windsor & Eton Riverside from Waterloo. The castle is not far from the station and Legoland is served by a shuttle bus that picks up from both stations. Shuttle buses cost £4.80 for an adult return and £2.40 for a child return, information can be found here.

Waterloo to Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a port, so lots of ferries leave from Portsmouth and go with Direct Ferries to; St Malo, Caen, Cherbourg and Le Havre in France, Bilbao and Santander in Spain, Fishbourne in the UK and Guernsey and Jersey which are islands off the coast of, and belonging to, the UK. The train from Waterloo to Portsmouth takes 1hr 30mins – 2hrs. Portsmouth & Southsea station is closer to the ferry terminal than Portsmouth Harbour but shuttle buses operate from both. Allow 45 minutes to get from the train station to the ferry terminal to be on the safe side.

Waterloo to Ascot

Ascot has Royal Ascot, the famous annual horse races – where a lot of women wear a lot of hats. (One each for the most part). The racecourse is a seven minute walk from the railway station and trains from Waterloo take just under 1hr.

Waterloo to Epsom

Epsom has the Epsom Derby. The racecourse is usually served by a bus that takes 10 mins from the station, but during the festivals shuttle buses are laid on between the station and the racecourse these cost £3 one way or £5 return, regardless of your age. Otherwise its a 1/2 a mile walk from Tattenham Corner Station or 1 mile walk from Epsom Downs Station. Trains to Epsom take 35-40 mins.

Waterloo to Reading

Reading is a commuter city and station at which many journeys are split to save money. It is on the outskirts of the Network Rail area. There are lots of willow trees that hang over the river at Reading and it also has the Reading Festival, which can be seen from the train tracks that run alongside the festival area right by the station. Trains take 1hr 20mins from Waterloo to Reading.

Or you can hop on the Underground at Waterloo and get the train from London Paddington to Reading instead, which is a shorter journey.

Waterloo to Guildford

Guildford is another commuter destination in Surrey and, ‘luxury shopping capital of the UK.’ There is a castle you can visit for £3. Guildford is 40mins from Waterloo. 40mins to 1hr 15mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Staines

Staines, also a commuter destination and now actually called Staines-upon-Thames is also the closest train station to Thorpe Park, the fantastic water-based theme park loved by so many brits for so much more than its log flume. 30 – 50 mins from Waterloo and the 950 shuttle bus runs from the station to Thorpe Park every 15 mins.

Waterloo to Woking

Woking is a commuter town. 25-50 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Basingstoke

Basingstoke is also a commuter town. 45 mins – 1 hr 20 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Winchester

Winchester has Winchester Cathedral which costs to get into but is impressive even from the outside. The once capital of England is quite a charming little city with many old Tudor buildings. Ordinary chain shops and restaurants have found homes in these beautiful wooden-beamed buildings. Approximately 1hr from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Exeter

Exeter, gateway to Devon… Exeter is a university town but also has Exeter Cathedral and a 14th century labyrinth of underground passageways and Exeter’s Historic Quayside. 2 hrs 45 mins to 3hrs 25 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Yeovil

Yeovil is not only the gateway railway station for those wanting to visit Glastonbury with its lovely town centre, Abbey and Tor, it also has a Railway Centre with steam trains. Lucky you. 2 hrs 20 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Weymouth

Weymouth – the sea, the sea! 2 hrs 40 mins – 2 hrs 55 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Hampton Court

To me Hampton Court Palace is significant because the ghost of Hernry VIII’s wife is said to haunt it. Catherine Howard purportedly runs screaming yet headless through the halls. Hampton Court is 30 – 36 mins from Waterloo. The palace is 200m across the bridge from the station.

Waterloo to Chessington

Home to Chessington World of Adventures. 10 mins walk from Chessington South rail station. 34 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Kingston

Kingston is served by Shepperton station too. 28 – 43 mins to Kingston from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Sunningdale

Sunningdale is a commuter destination and wealthy residential area. 47 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Teddington

Teddington is a commuter destination which has a lock you can visit. There’s some info here. 33-37 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Brookwood

Brookwood is of particular interest to me because of the Necropolis railway that once ran from central London to the cemetery. A private railway line was used to transport coffins and mourners. Sometimes twice daily. The station was sadly bombed in the war and never rebuilt and so the railway line was ripped up. But you can still go on guided walks of the route for a suggested donation of £3. An in-depth Fortean Times article can be found here. 35-45 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Wimbledon

Wimbledon, tennis dahling. 16 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Byfleet & New Haw

Byfleet & New Haw – Mercedes-Benz World is here, if cars are your thing. There are exhibitions about the history of Mercedes-Benz and they offer guided tours and driving experiences too. 35 – 40 mins from Waterloo.

Waterloo to Strawberry Hill

A commuter town in Twickenham home to  Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole’s Gothic Castle, a Gothic Revival building commissioned by the son of Britain’s first Prime Minister. It’s five to ten minutes walk from the station and is sign-posted. 35- 45 mins from Waterloo.

So whether you’re a commuter or day-tripper, Waterloo provides a gateway to some excellent cities, towns and attractions. If you think this guide is missing something, do let me know…