Tag Archives: train travel



“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

It was dark and foggy when we arrived back at Exeter station last night, and this one cut quite a figure in his pyjamas and leather jacket, wearing my bobble hat and clutching his new monkey.

He led the way through the empty corridors and back towards the car, where after a weekend of London adventures he fell asleep within seconds – and stayed asleep till he woke up in his own bed this morning.

This boy totally has this travelling business nailed.



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We had a bit of an epic day of travelling last week, me and Arthur.

It was the funeral of the father of one of my oldest friends up in Stourbridge, and I really wanted to be there. It meant a crack of dawn start and eight hours on peak hour trains to get there and back from Devon, but fortunately this little man took it all in his stride.

He is such good company, and so curious about the world. I just can’t believe how grown up he’s getting.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

A Big Easy Adventure

As we’re beginning to look forward to our adventures this summer I’ve found myself reminiscing about everything we got up to last year – our first summer as a family. The flip side of all the hard work Leigh is slogging through in term time as he trains to be a doctor is that he gets some pretty awesome holidays. We’re under no illusion how tough things are going to be in the first few years after he actually qualifies, but for now we’re determined to make the most of it.

We spent lots of last summer in the UK enjoying the incredible weather, but in the middle of it all we took a trip to the US and Canada – and it’s not one I’m going to forget in a hurry!

It all started when we were watching Big Easy Express for the umpteenth time. Of all the adventures my brother has had since his career in music has taken off, this was the one I most wish I could have been a part of: a vintage train full of extremely talented musicians travelling through the US countryside stopping off to play gigs along the way. When their plans for last summer started to come together – a series of Gentlemen of the Road festivals in out-of-the-way locations across the pond, with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show along for the ride again too – I began to think that just maybe this was our opportunity to get a taste of that adventure.

Fast forward a few months and we were off: flying to New York with tickets booked to take us by train to Halifax in Nova Scotia, stopping off at Simcoe, Ontario on the way for a weekend of music and festival fun.

We were in New York for a week, spending some of it catching up with Ben and Jemima who had moved out there at the beginning of the year and the rest seeing the sights and soaking up the rhythm of the city. Arthur was quite happy to hang out in the sling, looking around or dozing as we explored. We barely scratched the surface really of what New York has to offer, but there was certainly plenty to keep us entertained!





From New York we got the Maple Leaf train to Toronto: it was a twelve hour journey but actually went way quicker than we expected.


Arthur was excited to be doing something new and different, and stunning views kept us all entertained.




The most tedious bit was at the Canadian border when we had to get off the train with baby and luggage in hand and walk through customs only to get back on the same train an hour or so later!

Toronto was awesome. Smaller and more manageable than New York, but still lots to see. The CN Tower was particularly impressive: both from the ground looking up and the spectacular view from the top.



We had friends to catch up with when we got there too. Arthur’s Oddmother, though she lives in London, was in a nearby town visiting her family, and a mutual friend of ours had recently moved back to her hometown nearby. It was great to see them both on their home turf – and Arthur loved the opportunity we had for a bit of lake swimming too…


Then a few days later we were off to Simcoe. We rented a car, picked up my brother Greg and his wife on our way – they’d flown in for a long weekend – and headed out to the countryside. The festival had completely taken over the town – it was pretty surreal to see images of Ben everywhere, but brilliant how completely the locals had embraced their British visitors.



The music was of course the highlight of the weekend, and we found some pretty fantastic vantage points where we could watch and listen without getting caught up in the crowds. Arthur was fascinated by the bits he was awake for – but also showed a remarkable ability to sleep when he needed to, whatever else was going on around him!





Then it was back to Toronto ready for the longest journey of the trip: thirty hours on a train to get to Halifax where Leigh’s extended family live. This was actually the bit I’d most been looking forward to, but as the dream became a reality I did start to get a little nervous about what our increasingly mobile baby would make of it all…

Turns out I need not have worried. Our cabin was cosy, but Arthur was happy to snuggle up with me in a bunk (I did put him next to the wall when we actually went to sleep!)


We spent a lot of our time in the vintage observation carriage – just like the one in the film! We got chatting to the host there and said we’d been inspired to make the trip after my brother and his band did some gigs on a train. He was very excited to hear which band we were talking about and said he often held screenings of Big Easy Express which was one of his favourite films. Arthur of course had no idea about any of that but certainly seemed to enjoy being on the train whilst the world sped by outside the windows.



When we finally got to Halifax it was brilliant to catch up with Leigh’s family and to introduce Arthur to them for the first time – especially his Great Grandad.


All in all it was a wonderful adventure, full of friends, family and new experiences for all of us.  Our plans this summer will keep us closer to home, but I’m sure it won’t be too long before we’re off exploring the world again!


The Reading Residence

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Back on the train

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while will know that the train is most definitely my favourite way to travel. So when the storms that battered the UK earlier this year took out the train line in Dawlish, effectively cutting Devon and Cornwall off from the rest of the UK, I was pretty gutted.

It wasn’t just the inconvenience of it all, though we did have a couple of mightily stressful trips to London with Arthur in the car as a result. And though it felt a little strange, as a non-driver, to have no alternative without the help of Leigh or my parents but a long and not terribly comfortable coach journey to get out of the county, that wasn’t what bothered me most either. The thing was that I loved that train line. I’ve travelled by train all over the world, and rarely if ever have I come across such a spectacular stretch of track: as the train passed through the red cliffs, alongside the sea which was some days millpond calm, others alive with waves and spray, you knew you that there could not be many better places on the planet to be.

At first there were doubts as to whether the line would ever be restored. The damage was severe: Brunel’s sea wall had disintegrated leaving the tracks hanging like a jungle rope walk above the waves below. There was talk of the line being diverted, of giving in to the forces of nature and accepting that such a stunning journey just wasn’t meant to be. For a while I entertained the idea that I might never travel on that route again. Fortunately, though, the pessimism was unfounded.

By some miracle, the railway engineers managed to get the damage fixed and the line back up and running in just eight weeks. And so it was that for our journey up to London this weekend we were back on the train.


As we left Newton Abbot I was full of anticipation for the views that lay ahead, and the day did not disappoint. On the way to Exeter we once again passed through those majestic red cliffs, past boats resting on the mud at low tide, travelled alongside the sea which this time was millpond calm.

Arthur appreciated the views too – he was a bit too young to notice them last time we made the journey, but this trip he was pointing out the boats and water. Most of all though he appreciated being close to me and Leigh: he’s not 100% right now, with five teeth coming through as well as a nasty cough. What he needed most of all were cuddles – and those are always a bit tricky to provide when he’s strapped up in the back seat of the car.

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So hurrah for the railway engineers and for the newly-restored Dawlish line. I may have always loved it, but I have also taken its precarious existence a little more for granted than I probably should. From now on I will definitely appreciate it a whole lot more every time we’re lucky enough to make that journey.

Adventures in train travel


One of the flip sides of escaping to live on the South Coast is that keeping in touch with friends and family involves a lot more travel. People come to see us too of course – and there’s something very special about getting to spend a whole weekend catching up with a backdrop of sea air and glorious views – but we need to do our bit too. So at least one weekend a month we seem to find ourselves juggling baby and travel cot and way too much luggage to head up to the big smoke.

We made sure we got Arthur in ‘train’ing early – when he was three months old we took a trip to Paris on the Eurostar, and over last summer we adventured further afield to visit friends and family in the US and Canada, travelling by rail from New York to Halifax via Toronto. All that was before he started crawling though, something which definitely adds another dimension to babies and trains.

I’d still way rather do a long journey by train than in the car. Quite aside from the slightly embarrassing fact that I have yet to learn to drive so Leigh has to be permanently on duty I like the fact that on the train we can move around and do cuddles: Arthur’s isolation in a car seat threshold is about two hours, and then he’s only really happy if he’s asleep.

Several hours sat mainly in one place definitely calls for a growing arsenal of equipment though, and that is the subject of this post. In no particular order, these are the things that no Arthur train journey can be without.

*Disclaimer: none of this is rocket science. It has, however, taken my baby-addled brain a good few months to work it all out, and I’d like to believe I’m not the only one who might benefit from a bit of stating the obvious from time to time.*

1) A Baby Carrier
Ok, so I lied when I said this was in no particular order. The rest might be, but anyone who knows me knows that a baby carrier is my number one piece of baby kit for pretty much any situation. On a train journey, it means no wrestling with a pram on top of all the other luggage; somewhere for the baby to sleep so that you don’t need to hold them and can have your hands free for other things (writing blog posts for example) or in fact catch up on some sleep yourself; and finally something to support them as you wander up and down the carriages to keep them entertained or sing and dance in the vestibule when things really get bad, all the while being able to hold on to the grab rails to stop yourself from going flying. My favourite baby carrier has to be the Connecta. Comfy enough to wear for long periods of time, yet small enough to throw into the change bag or easily slip on under a jacket. And gorgeous fabrics too, which is always nice.

2) An Upgrade
Now this is clearly a luxury rather than a necessity, but an upgrade to first class makes journeys with a baby so much smoother. We only do it on the weekends, when for our route from Totnes to London it costs £20, and offset it by booking as far in advance as we can for the cheapest ticket. When you bear in mind that the baby is otherwise travelling for free, and that the upgrade almost always guarantees you a couple of extra seats and a table, it really starts to make sense.
(For non-parent-first-class travellers reading this in uproar about a potential influx of babies to your sanctuary, we tend to choose the carriage with the fewest reservations, and never the quiet carriage so you can always escape there if you need to).

3) Food
Since Arthur’s been eating solids, food has always been a great way to pass the time. Not so useful at home when you want to have a quick snack before heading out the door but pretty handy when you’ve got a couple of hours to kill. The key thing to remember here is nothing too messy, something I learnt the hard way after a particularly spectacular houmous explosion at a motorway service station on one of our rare car journeys. I say learnt, but I still found myself mashing banana on rice cakes for an in-transit breakfast on the way to London last weekend before taking one look at them and eating them myself. But dry rice cakes, hard cheese, fruit and veg sticks, raisins – all these things make for pretty good snacks and pass a bit of time in the process.

4) Boobs
I might be cheating a bit with this one, as I know I’m very much in the minority to still be breastfeeding Arthur now he’s past a year, but a major reason for keeping going (there are lots, but that’s a different post) is how much easier it makes things on the move. If all else fails, stick him on the boob. He’s happy, and with any luck he’ll take the opportunity to have a nap.

5) Toys
Now this definitely falls into the stating the obvious territory, but it’s more the choice of toys that I feel is worth mentioning. Before I was a parent I always winced slightly when I saw children being kept ‘quiet’ by some device that was actually making more noise than they could’ve done if they tried. I may change my mind on this as Arthur gets older, but for now I’m definitely in the camp of not becoming massively anti-social in the pursuit of keeping my child entertained. See point 6 for reasons why this can definitely work to your advantage…
There are a few things that we’ve found particularly useful in keeping the journey fun for a wriggly baby:
– Small soft toys are great – initially I used to make them sing and dance for Arthur, and recently he’s started making them do that himself. His current favourite is a fox, but anything small enough to carry easily will do.
– Those toys with suction cups for sticking onto highchairs are also pretty handy. I bought this one to keep Arthur entertained on the flight to New York, and he’s still fascinated by it.
– And of course books – for reading, and in their board book format great for chewing, or stacking, or wearing. The potential’s endless.
I always have to remind myself to resist the temptation to get everything out the minute Arthur starts to get restless. One thing at a time, and then repeat until you arrive at your destination…

6) Other People
It can’t be denied that one or more travelling companions (besides the baby) is a pretty helpful addition to the journey. But if you play your cards right then other passengers can quickly become your best friends! I’m always extremely self-conscious about getting on a train with Arthur, inventing an internal monologue for everyone sat nearby which is chastising us for daring to leave the house with our baby, let alone bring him into the train carriage where they have to sit for the next few hours. It always gives me flashbacks of getting on packed tube trains for school trips, ready to defend the perfectly affable teenagers in my charge from accusations of loutishness levelled at them purely because of their age… But I digress.
When travelling on trains with Arthur, I have generally found him to be extremely good at making friends if I let him. On more than one occassion people who have raised their eyebrows when they first see us are proclaiming what a lovely baby he is by the end of the journey. And if people really don’t want to travel with a baby – well, they can always move to another carriage. Their loss I say.

With all of these things to support us, I have to say that travelling with Arthur is almost always a delight. Watching his excitement as the train begins to move, looking out of the window with him and pointing out all the things we see along the way, feeling him lean into me when we arrive at our destination and he gazes around taking in his new surroundings. It is these things and more that make me love travelling in general – not just to see friends and family, but to see the world – and I can’t wait for all the future adventures we have in store with our baby.


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