Friday, 27 April 2018

End of the line

The thing about King’s Lynn is that it’s pretty. And picturesque. And on the sea.

The sea in question is the Wash, a square-sided bay into which four rivers pour, open on the fourth side to the North Sea. There are plenty of fine views and great walks. But swimming? Well, the North Sea certainly isn’t the Med.

King’s Lynn is also historic. Why, it even has a fine Hanseatic warehouse. That’s a warehouse that back in the high Middle Ages was used by the Hanseatic League, that association of North German trading cities that handled huge volumes of commerce across the Baltic and North seas.

Hanseatic Warehouse
Which is something of a clue to the nature of King’s Lynn. It’s really not that far from Hamburg, the city whose number plates proudly display the letters ‘HH’: Hansestadt Hamburg, the free Hanseatic city. Which means that King’s Lynn, while certainly in England, sometimes feel terribly close to Germany.

To put it another way, if I were asked to sum up that fine city in just one word, it would have to be ‘remote’. There’s one train an hour from London, and woe betide you if you get in the wrong half: it gets uncoupled at Cambridge, because King’s Lynn is perceived as only being worth half a train.

What a boneshaker of a ride it is too! Try to head for the toilet and you run a serious risk of being thrown to the ground at least three times in the length of half a carriage. As for using the toilet itself, while I won’t describe the risks for a man, let me just say that they are severe indeed.

When I was invited there the person I was seeing told me that it meant travelling to the end of the line, and boy did it feel that way. You reach buffers at the station, with a distinct sense that this is as far as England goes. Even though the whole town spreads out behind the station, there’s a feeling that actually there’s nothing more, just the sea, and then Germany.

King's Lynn: end of the line
Getting there turned into a bit of an adventure too. I buy my train tickets through a fine internet service called ‘’. It makes sure that you have enough time to get between stations when you have to change trains. In my case, that meant allowing me 45 minutes to get from St Pancras to King’s Cross, which are about 300 metres apart.

Unfortunately, I always forget how generous the trainline’s margins are, so I do what it tells me and catch the trains it peremptorily tells me I have to take. That meant I didn’t just arrive on time for the King’s Lynn train but with about 40 minutes to spare. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for long before the train pulled in and we could climb aboard. I settled down and made myself comfortable.

That was fine until about five minutes before departure time. At which point a tinny voiced announced across the public address system that the fire alarm had failed its test, and therefore ‘this service is out of service’ – an interesting if paradoxical statement, since if it was out of service, it was surely no longer a service, making the announcement internally contradictory. But perhaps I was being too picky.

More to the point, I wanted to suggest that they put it back in service anyway, because I at least wasn’t planning on there being a fire between King’s Cross and King’s Lynn, so we could probably do without a fire alarm. I was also prepared to promise to leave the train if, against all probability, a fire did break out.

However, that didn’t work and the train was cancelled. That was a pain because with only one train an hour, that was likely to make me late. But a railway employee told me that we could catch the 10:14 instead of the 9:44, which slightly surprised me, since I didn’t think there was a 10:14. Call me a cynic, but I think railway staff sometimes just say these things to avoid a discussion.

But then, oh miracle, we heard another announcement, this time booming through the station. “The 9:44 to King’s Lynn will leave from platform 9 instead of platform 5”. Since it was 9:43 by then and platform 9 is three minutes’ walk from platform 5, the King’s Lynn passengers provided the station with a fine exhibition of firstly checking with each other that they’d heard correctly and then attempting to move to the new platform at high speed but without compromising their dignity.

All the way, assuring each other that the train wouldn’t leave without us, though we didn't entirely believe it.

Anyway, it did wait, and an hour and 37 minutes later, it reached the end of the line and King’s Lynn. Where it deposited me in time for a fine meeting with interesting people. So despite some stressful moments, in the end it was a successful trip.

Proving that King’s Lynn, as well as being remote, is pretty, picturesque and in addition, fun.

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