The Joy Of Travel

I think I have said this before but one of the advantages, arguably the only advantage, of living where I do in Milton Keynes is every UK and most Irish racecourses are reachable as a day trip.

Admittedly it does, occasionally, mean availing oneself of the services or a low cost airline or the railways but it is usually well worth it and with some canny advance bookings some really good bargains can be found.

Normally when I fly to the races, unless the course has very good public transport links, I hire a car for the final point of the journey. On this occasion I have made the mistake of going for the public transport option.

I have begun writing this in the departure lounge of Glasgow Prestwick airport. Actually I am not 100% sure if “Glasgow” is part of the official title, as the airport is actually on the outskirts of Ayr. However by Ryanair’s flexible interpretation of geography Glasgow is certainly what they call it.

Anyway I am in Prestwick airport and I am, to put it mildly hacked off.

Or to be absolutely precise I am mainly hacked off with public transport and a little bit hacked off with the airport.

When you are planning a trip from the comfort of your own home, working out the public transport options are relatively simple, especially in the internet age.

A few clicks of the mouse and you have access to rail and bus timetables, almost for anywhere in the world – even Scotland (that should hack off my Scottish reader – only joking!!!).

Well that is the theory, the reality is they lie.

There are two options for getting to Prestwick to Hamilton by public transport (well there are probably an infinite number of combinations but two realistic ones).

Simply one could either go by train about 1hr 50mins or by bus about 1hr 15mins, although with early and late flights times were not a major concern, both with hourly services on a Sunday.

My plan was to catch the train as, on the return journey, I would then have time to grab a meal in Glasgow on the way back.

Well that was the theory until I approached Prestwick Airport Station to discover there was engineering works and the trains were to be replaced by a coach service into Glasgow. No mention on the Network Rail web site the previous day!!!

Luckily the bus to Hamilton departs within five minutes of the train so the bus it was, not a very comfortable trip, but when are bus journeys comfortable? Also a bit of a shock when told it was £9.65 return.

So I found  myself in Hamilton 11:15 on a Sunday morning – the bus arrived 15 minutes early, so presumably anyone who wanted to catch it later in its journey would have found they had missed it, unless they were at the stop very early.

With three hours before the first race I didn’t really fancy spending that amount of time in the Portakabin that is the Hamilton Press room.

So it was off to find a coffee shop.

Is there anywhere more depressing than a town centre on a Sunday morning, when almost all the shops are closed?

Eventually I found a coffee shop and I have to say it was a delight. They even had power points so you could plug in a laptop, the earl grey tea actually tasted of earl grey and the Panini was excellent, a great way to kill half an hour or so.

Time to go racing.

Now it is about a 1½ mile walk from the town centre to the racecourse and had I not been up since 04:30 and had I not been carrying a heavy laptop bag I would have walked to the course.

Being tired and lazy I decided I would catch a bus. Now Hamilton bus station has no information desk, however it does have a destination finder, which conveniently omits to make any mention of the racecourse.

Now I did know, roughly, the course would be on the way to Glasgow and as luck would have it two busses then pulled into the bus station, on different sides, both going to Glasgow. I went to the nearest bus, joined the queue, then asked the driver if he went past the racecourse.

He smiled, replying, “no, you want the one that is just pulling out over the other side,” pointing to the other Glasgow bus, “there is another one in half an hour” he happily added.

Now I know why bus drivers sit behind protective screens.

All was not lost as there was a taxi rank outside the adjacent station, no taxi’s there mark you.

Anyway I stood there, alone, forlorn and something really surreal then happened.

An empty taxi pulled up, he wound down his window and, in a broad Scot’s accent asked me, “are you wanting a taxi?”

Before I had a chance to respond “no I am just standing here taking in the air” he carried on, “this taxi rank isn’t used on Sunday’s, you need the one down the end,” pointing over his shoulder.

At which he drove off.

Now there was no sign saying the taxi rank was only part time but I strolled down to the other taxi rank – it was, of course, bereft of taxis.

I stood there for around 10 - 15 minutes, no sign of any taxis.

So I decided to stroll back to the bus stop where, supposedly a bus would be along in five minutes.

Would you believe, as soon as I sat down at the bus stop three taxis arrived at the taxi rank.      
Anyway the bus arrived and I was able to have my day at the races.

The last race was at 5:10 and my flight back was not until 10:45, so I had plenty of time to kill post racing.

My bus timetable, printed off from the internet told me the last bus to the airport was at 7:45, getting there at 9:00. This gave me plenty of time to grab a bite to eat in Hamilton before going back to Prestwick.

Typically, when you are not in any great rush, a bus arrived within two or three minutes of me getting outside the racecourse and I was back at Hamilton bus station by 6:00.

Call it providence, or whatever, but I decided to double check the times of the busses back to Prestwick, I am so glad I did. The timetable I printed off the internet had lied.

The last bust to the airport was not at 7:45 but at 6:45.

So no time for a meal and 45 minutes to kill. I wasn’t overly worried about the meal part as I knew there is a restaurant after security at the Airport and I could eat there.

Have you ever spent 45 minutes waiting at a bus station? It seemed the longest 45 minutes of my life and it was not a pleasant experience. There were two lads, probably no more than 16, high on booze / drugs or both, whose vocabulary seemed to be defined by the Oxford Dictionary Of Profanity (if there is such a book), one of whom seemed to be boasting about having a three hour incestuous relationship with his mother that morning.

Then, just behind the bust stop where I was waiting, were the public conveniences and I soon got the distinct impression that the people using them either had some medical condition or they were there for other reasons!!!

Luckily the bus did depart on time and I found myself back at Prestwick Airport at 8:00, longing for something hot to eat.

It was quickly through security and off to the restaurant and the hot food was calling, or was it?

It seemed very quiet when I reached the counter, not much sign of any hot food.

I enquired.

I was rebuffed, “no, the kitchen is closed.”

I was not a happy bunny.

It summed up the day perfectly.

So may I issue a couple of pleas. To travel companies, if you are going to put timetables or travel information on your websites please, please make sure it is up to date. Having out of date or incorrect information is, in my view, worse than having no information at all.

To the managers at Prestwick Airport, if you are having two evening flights departing, with a couple of hundred passengers it would pay to have the restaurant you heavily advertise actually serving hot food, as restaurants should. I was not the only one looking for a hot meal – they would have easily have recouped the cost of having the kitchen open.

Meanwhile next time I fly to the races I will be hiring a car, I cannot be done with this public transport malarkey.      

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