Trains of Thought

As I took this photograph the other day I thought: I haven’t been on a train for such a long time – just over 18 months, in fact. The last train journey I took was the Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Inverness the day we moved pretty much from one end of the country to the other. The end of one line, and the beginning of another. Inverness station is a terminus for only three railway lines – one from the South, one from the East, and one from the North.

There’s a major suspension bridge carrying all road traffic north across the expanse of open water between Inverness and the Black Isle, first opened in 1982, but not a rail bridge. This little train is heading north too, although technically in this photograph it’s actually snaking slowly westwards along the edge of the Beauly Firth until the sea finally narrows enough to be crossed and for the train to begin to change direction – the only way the railway can go. In some ways so much has changed in and around Inverness over the last 20 years, but in other ways, not so much.

Transport infrastructure is still relatively minimal here – three single track rail lines, two main roads, the A96 heading East towards Aberdeen, and the dual carriageway A9 on the North/ South access. The lesser winding rural roads to the West tend to be more tourist-driven, or for those wanting to get away from it all. No motorways, one airport. All transport links in and out of Inverness are entirely dependent on the weather – in winter, if the main road and/ or rail line is closed due to snow in the mountains, stuff simply doesn’t get through. Food, fuel, people – the snow doesn’t discriminate.

I grew up expecting to be snowed in at some point during the winter. We always kept a well-stocked store cupboard at home, ‘just in case’. It’s a habit that has continued with me throughout my life, which has also helped when I’ve been stuck at home unable to go out for other reasons – like last month when we had to self-isolate when I tested positive for Covid 19. We only needed one online order and home delivery half way through to top up our supplies, and otherwise managed fine with what we already had.

There’s an inward-looking forward-thinking self-sufficiency involved in living up here, even living within the town itself, that seems to suit my introspective, introverted self and has definitely helped me cope with lock-down this time round. It’s a bit like being snowed in and unable to go to school or work or visit friends and family, but easier in that we can still access food shops and essentials, and thankfully the power is still on. Although of course we were never snowed in for months on end – more often days rather than weeks. But still, the mindset remains the same.

So it’s maybe been 18 months since I traveled anywhere beyond a few miles radius from home, but I realise I’m absolutely OK with that self-induced seclusion. In that time I’ve got used to being here, to a slower pace of life brought to a near standstill, while embracing the quietude that comes with a heightened awareness of night and day, sunshine and snow, frost and thaw. Small subtleties have grown in stature, nuances in nature more pronounced. I hear birdsong and raindrops, see patterns and shadows, feel at one with the world now we no longer feel we have to rush everywhere.

I wonder idly if my traveling days are over for good. Has whatever minimal wanderlust I once had been sated forever, or is this just a temporary hiatus due to global circumstance? Who knows, but for now I’m feeling OK in my own little corner of civilisation, safe and snug and secure. Trains come and go and I am not on any of them, and thankfully for the time being I have no desire to be anywhere else than here…

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