All Line Rover trip Day 0: South London & the Night Riviera sleeper train

In September 2022, I travelled around Britain for a week and a half using an All Line Rover train ticket. This is the first of eleven special posts giving a day-by-day narration of my trip. I also wrote an introduction to the trip, discussing my plans and goals, before I left; and will follow up my day-by-day narration with standard posts about the nineteen individual map areas I visited on the trip which are new to the blog. [1]


Apologies for the couple of months of silence, blog readers; I did rather leave you hanging after telling you of my exciting travel plans in my previous post. Well, here’s your update: I did it! I travelled around Britain for a week and a half on an All Line Rover train ticket – it was great!

Interactive map

Here’s something new to the blog: an interactive map of my All Line Rover trip! By default, all 11 days of my trip are shown: press the icon in the top left to see the route for individual days of the trip only.

Key to colours: Purple = train, dark blue = metro/underground, pink = tram, green = bus, orange = walking, medium blue = ferry

Day 0: Chalk Farm to the Night Riviera sleeper

I started my trip at about 6:30pm on Friday 16th September 2022, walking out of my employer’s offices in Primrose Hill (London), where I’d worked for the last couple of days – I wouldn’t be back at work until nearly two weeks later! During my trip, I was planning to normally finish travelling for the day by around this time, not least since it’d be getting dark soon, but not today: I’d be getting the Night Riviera sleeper train from Paddington to Cornwall, which doesn’t start boarding until 10:30pm, so I needed something to occupy myself with.

Northern Line from Chalk Farm to Kings Cross St Pancras – my first public transport journey of the trip

One of my possible goals for the trip was to visit all the tram and/or metro systems in Britain. Britain has embarassingly few of these, so it woudn’t be that hard to visit them all: our four metros are the London Underground, Glasgow Subway, Merseyrail, Tyne and Wear metro, and we have seven tram systems: London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Blackpool and Edinburgh. (Compare France, which has around 6 metros and 30 tram systems.) I wasn’t fully settled on this, as I didn’t want to commit strongly to “box-ticking” goals and then feel I had to stick to them, rather than whatever seemed enjoyable at the time, but I started my trip by aiming for my first tram system: London’s trams in Croydon.

My first National Rail train of the trip – and so the first one I used my All Line Rover ticket for – pulling into the Thameslink platforms at St Pancras

I therefore walked to Chalk Farm station on the Underground – my usual station for travelling to and from work, and took the Northern Line to Kings Cross St Pancras. [2] I headed over to the Thameslink platforms at St Pancras, and was delighted to find my All Line Rover ticket worked in the ticket barriers. (It wasn’t to last: for most of the rest of the trip I had to show my ticket to an attendant.)

There were various options available to me at this point: frequent Thameslink trains head to Wimbledon, Mitcham Junction and East Croydon, all of which are on the tram network. In the end I got on one to Wimbledon via Streatham – which wasn’t the most efficient option, but efficiency isn’t the goal of this trip!

Just over a week before I started my trip, Britain heard of the death of Queen Elizabeth, meaning the Queen’s lying-in-state was taking place in London as I travelled. At Blackfriars, where the platforms are on a giant glass-sided bridge across the Thames, I popped out of the train quickly to take a look out over the river, and stretching out along the South Bank I could see The Queue, as it became known; the orderly, miles-long line of people waiting to pay their respects.

The queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state snaking along the South Bank, seen from Blackfriars

The rest of my journey with Thameslink was uneventful other than my eating the leftover sandwich I’d taken from work, and arriving at Wimbledon, I briefly popped out into the street, before making my way to the tram platform. At Wimbledon, the trams uniquely (I think) stop inside the railway station. This causes a bit of a strange setup regarding pay-as-you-go tapping with one’s Oyster or debit card: normally, for trains or the Underground, you’d tap once on entry and once on exit, so that the best fare can be calculated. But the trams work like buses: you just tap once, getting on, as the fare is fixed regardless of distance, and there are no fare gates to access or exit the stops. At Wimbledon, this means you have to tap twice when entering the station to get a tram: once to get through the barriers to enter the station generally, then once when coming to the tram platforms – this second tap charges you for the tram, but also “cancels” the usual effect of the first tap: the system needs to know you’re no longer expected to tap again to exit the train/underground system somewhere else, since otherwise it might charge you a penalty fare for not tapping out!

This was actually my first ever time on a tram in the UK. I enjoyed it! I like trams: there’s something satisfying about the way they have the permanence and solidity of a train, while weaving between kerbs, cars, shop fronts and traffic lights. On the sections on old rail corridors, so not running on-street, it felt like we were really zipping along, but getting the old phone speedometer app out, I was surprised to find we were only doing 35mph! It was unfortunately dark by the time I got on the tram, so I didn’t get off at Mitcham Common to see the Common as I’d considered doing – I do enjoy a nice wild-ish green space in an urban area, which it seemed like thsi might be. Another time! It took about half an hour to get to West Croydon, where I got off for a short wander.

West Croydon bus station, with the tram tracks running alongside

Croydon town centre was surprisingly dead for 8:30pm on a Friday: I walked through a spacious pedestrianised high street, with all the usual shops, but there were barely any people there.

After a short walk around town, and taking a look at the outside of Croydon Minster, I did a short further tram hop to East Croydon station, where I got a Southern train up to London Victoria.

Somehow, I’ve never been to Victoria staation before. I rather liked it! The high, multi-span roof of the main concourse is rather impressive. I considered getting the tube or a bus up to Paddington, but since I had plenty of time before I could board the sleeper, I decided to walk, threading between Green and Hyde Parks and reaching Paddington in just under an hour, during part of which I hada chat with Vesper on the phone through my headphones. Green Park was at this time being used for floral tributes to the Queen, so I expected to see more people about, but the streets were pretty quiet – quiet, that is, apart from a heavy police presence. I must have passed about forty officers standing around aimlessly in big groups – I assume they were expecting much bigger crowds than were actually in the area.

Arriving at Paddington, I had a quick look in the GWR first-class lounge, open to everyone who’s booked a sleeper berth – it was fine, nothing particularly special: coffee-shop style chairs and some biscuits and tea available. I then went ahead and boarded the sleeper. Boarding was a little challenging: the staff who’d normally give you your key and show you to your room were few and far between, but I eventually worked it out by entering the lounge car and asking the person at the bar.

The lounge car on the Night Riviera sleeper train

I didn’t hang around in the lounge car, though it looked very nice, and instead went straight to my room, as it was already rather later than I’d normally stay up. The room was nice!

My bed for the night on the Night Riviera sleeper train!

Despite the millions Caledonian Sleeper spent on their new “hotel-quality” Scottish sleeper trains, I don’t really prefer them to these nicely refurbished older GWR sleepers. The Caledonian is generally more opulent, and has rooms with toilets and double beds, but I’m fine without those myself, and the ordinary rooms are pretty similar, except that the GWR ones are so much cheaper! I lay down and went to sleep quite directly, to hopefully wake up in Cornwall the next morning. A great start to my trip!

Footnotes

[1] The individual map area posts will duplicate the contents of the special trip posts, but unlike the latter they won’t form a continuous narrative, since they’ll skip things I did in map areas I’ve already posted about. They will, though, newly contain narration of anything I did on previous visits there – since some of these are areas which are new to the blog, but which I visited before starting my blog in 2017.

[2] Inauspiciously for my first public transport journey of the trip, we were delayed, being held outside Camden Town briefly due to some problem at Oval, but it was only a few minutes.

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