I live in Milton Keynes – I admit it isn’t something I’m proud of and certainly not something I would sing about from the rooftops.
However it does have one advantage – its location. Every UK racecourse is, theoretically, a day trip away, although some do involve flying.
For me the furthest flung racecourse is Perth, a neat little 406 miles each way by car. Unsurprisingly Perth is my least visited racecourse. It is also the most jinxed in terms of trying to visit.
My first couple of visits to Perth were straightforward as they coincided, accidentally and purely coincidentally of course, with holiday trips to Scotland.
It’s not so bad to get to the course when you’re actually starting off from the same country.
In September 2010 I was off to Perth again. The forecast was for a showery previous evening then a sunny day. I arrived at Stansted Airport about 06:00 and it was a lovely crisp sunny morning.
The flight was on time and arriving at Edinburgh it was a delightful sunny day. So it was off to collect the hire car and northbound to Perth.
I had time to kill so I stopped at Kinross Services on the M90 for a relaxing “full Scottish” breakfast and I decided to fire up my laptop to see if there were any non-runners.
Indeed there were non-runners, every single one of them!!
The sunshine was deceptive as, overnight, the course had encountered a shower, a shower so heavy the course became waterlogged and the meeting was called off, whilst I was obliviously waiting to board my flight.
All the way to Scotland for what?
A waterlogged racecourse.
A quick check with the airline showed the next flight to London wasn’t until 17:30 – at least they switched me to that flight at no extra charge.
They day didn’t turn out too badly in the end – I did some exploring and ended up (by design) in Arbroath around lunchtime, where I treated myself to a hot Arbroath Smokie, straight from the kiln –more than compensating for the missed racing.
It was, however, still an expensive days sightseeing.
That was my last attempt to go racing at Perth, until last week.
Regular readers will know I’m packing in the racing from the end of this year and I’m doing a farewell tour of the more far flung courses. Of course that had to include Perth.
I had a dilemma as I have done a few northern trips in the past few weeks and, frankly, I didn’t fancy the drive. Flying was not an option as I’m currently “banned” from flying by the medics.
That left limited options so I opted for rail travel.
Coming back I toyed with catching the sleeper train but that would have entailed leaving Perth at 23:21 and getting thrown off the sleeper to change trains at Crewe at the ungodly hour of 05:36. I really didn’t fancy paying £200 just for a couple of hours sleep.
So it was a matter of coming back the next day. The cheapest train journey back next day was £68 so I decided to kill two birds with one stone.
As well as writing about horse racing I am also a travel writer – something I very much prefer.
So I decided to combine the trip with some travel writing and I decided to come home catching a National Express coach, so I could write about the experience.
The trip was, indeed, an experience.
There was a minor stir on the train to Perth as a lady boarded the train at Stirling thinking it was going to Glasgow and then proceeded to have an Oscar winning hysterical hissy-fit when she realised the train was going in the opposite direction and the next station was Perth.
On arriving at Perth I almost made a bee-line to the taxi rank for the four mile trip to the course. Unfortunately I didn’t as I opted, instead, to catch the special bus service to the course.
For some perverse reason, race day busses depart from neither the railway station nor the adjacent bus station – which would seem logical – but from somewhere the other side of the city centre.
With some help from friendly locals I found the bus stop and was bemused to see the bus was actually an old Routemaster.
Now the romantic in me loves the old Routemasters with their iconic platforms for jumping on and off. However in the 21st century they are not really practical, as they seem to have a top speed of 20 mph and coupled with Perth’s gridlocked roads it made for a very long, frustrating, 25 minute four mile journey to the course.
I arrived at the course with just 50 minutes to the opening race.
One of the perks of being an accredited journalist is we have a Pass card to gain entry to the course, usually via the Owners and Trainers entrance, an easy, painless process – normally.
There was a massive queue at the Owners and Trainers entrance and it took almost 15 minutes to get in.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful, although I had forgotten just how poor viewing is at Perth.
The overnight stay was fine although I do wonder if Perth has some ideas above its station.
How can any restaurant justify charging £18.50 for a dish of spaghetti carbonara? Or £22 for a plain 8oz sirloin steak?
Well now for the journey home. As I mentioned earlier I also do travel writing and I thought something about coach travel would be different.
Apart from trips to and from airports it’s over 40 years since I last travelled by coach.
Like the journey north it was in two parts – Perth to Glasgow then Glasgow to Milton Keynes.
The first shock came when boarding the coach to Glasgow when the driver told me I couldn’t take my bag on board. It wasn’t a huge bag – a pilot style overnight bag in fact. The hour and twenty minute journey was uneventful and the large windows in the coach allowed for some stunning views of the scenery.
When it was time to change coaches at Glasgow I made sure I retrieved my tablet from my bag so I could at least use the Kindle if the trip was too dire.
I also, wisely as it happened, stocked up with water and sweets before boarding for the 7¾ hour drive to Milton Keynes.
I’m not going to compromise my travel write-up but suffice to say it was an interesting trip – I think it can be best summed up as, like a long haul flight but without the trolly-dolly’s.
Using the on-board toilet facilities as the coach switched lanes at 70 mph was a technique I failed to master.
The biggest surprise though was the journey from Glasgow to London was with a single driver which meant 45 minute statutory stops for him to have a break – have you ever tried to kill 45 minutes at a motorway service area?
I can tell you two things following that trip.