The story begins with a visit to Harrogate one Sunday in September 2015 for the final part of my husband’s 70th birthday celebrations. We caught the local train into Birmingham where we boarded the express for Leeds, changing later to the local one to Harrogate where we enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea at the famous Bettys Tea Rooms.
The trouble began when we got back to Leeds for the journey home. Not being great rugby fans we hadn’t realised that it was the day of an important England game. There were hordes, truly HORDES, of people boarding but we felt that our reserved first-class seats would ensure a comfortable journey home. Not so! To use our seats we first had to clear them of discarded chips and half-eaten burgers and wipe the smeared tomato ketchup from the upholstery. Good job I always carry wipes. Having eventually sat down we waited for the ‘complimentary’ refreshments to arrive. They didn’t. In fact, throughout the entire journey we didn’t see a single Cross Country Trains employee. The extremely drunk rugby fans piled into the first class compartment and were very intimidating, barring our way to the toilets and shouting loud obscenities for the next two hours. They also made it difficult for us to alight when we arrived in Birmingham.
A very strongly worded letter resulted in the train company providing two first class return tickets to anywhere we chose to go. We decided on York. You’re probably now thinking … but the post title mentions Oxford. Stay with me!
Because I was in my final year at uni and very busy we didn’t get around to booking our York trip until the following summer. We’d decided to stay overnight and planned visits to the Jorvik and Castle museums. The day before we were due to go I was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and was ill for several weeks. Part way through my recovery we found that the train tickets were valid for only another week. I wasn’t up to lots of walking around York so we decided on a day out in Oxford. We booked a nice restaurant for lunch and again caught the local train to Birmingham and duly took our seats in first class enjoying the complimentary coffee, shortbread and fruit cake. The train stopped to let passengers on in Coventry and we waited for the train to pull away. We waited, and we waited and we waited….for over TWO HOURS! The train in front of us had broken down.
This time no strongly worded letter was required. The guard brought us a claim form explaining that we would be entitled to a refund of our ticket price. However, since we hadn’t actually paid for the tickets as they were compensatory ones, the train company would only replace them with more complimentary first class tickets. We were fine with this and I pinned the replacements on the noticeboard in our office. Where I promptly forgot about them. Months passed and every now and then I’d catch sight of them and say, “we must use those train tickets”. A couple of weeks ago I checked the date on them and found that they have to be used by 4th September. Today (18th August) was designated ‘Train day out’ in the diary. After some consideration we decided to try Oxford again. We checked the Cross Country Trains company’s website, saw that a train ran from Evesham to Oxford and decided that instead of first catching the train to Birmingham that we would drive to Evesham (about 12 miles) and catch it directly to Oxford from there.
‘Train day out’ dawned and, as planned, we drove to Evesham this morning, parked the car and walked onto the platform. “It’s a bit strange,” I said after a few minutes, “but there’s nothing at all that refers to Cross Country Trains. Everything says GWR.” Husband looked less concerned that I felt. So I said it again. This time he looked around and frowned. He took out his phone and rang GWR. The outcome of his conversation was that we got back in the car and drove out of the station. Part 2 to follow …