It’s just over two weeks since I returned from my 3-day Grand Tour, travelling mainly by train on a round trip which began and ended in Coventry and visited the south west of England and the north east of Scotland. Since then it’s been a busy period – I’ve been abroad for a conference and have quite a lot of work to complete arising from that – but I have spent time reflecting on the Tour (if very little time yet reviewing the photographs that were taken). My thoughts fall into three categories: practicality, photographic and experiential.
I spent a lot of time planning the Tour and believed that it would work well. And in practice everything generally did. With one exception the trains were on time (the Inverness to Aberdeen train was 45 minutes late). The total distance was 1,977 miles which took almost exactly 70 hours to cover. Whilst at first glance this appears impressive, it does mean my average speed was only just over 28 mph! The breakdown of the time spent travelling, awaiting connections and other activities is shown in the pie diagram.
I did ponder staying overnight in Kyle of Lochalsh, which would have had the benefit of travelling in daylight for the entirety of the journey to Aberdeen. It would also, of course, have added on a whole day and increased the cost. On balance I would stick with the way I did it; for some reason, I gain more satisfaction from completing the journey in 72 hours than I would if it had taken 96.
One option I considered was, upon arrival in Penzance, to catch the sleeper train to London. This would have got me back to Coventry five hours earlier the next day. But there is only half an hour between the train from Aberdeen arriving and the sleeper departing, which I decided was cutting it a bit fine. Moreover, I’d never visited Penzance and wanted to see a least a little of it before I departed.
The main purpose of the Tour was not photographic. Having said that, I took a lot of photographs – over 700. The approach was very different from my usual one. Normally, my method is very measured; I use a tripod, make use of the camera histogram to help determine exposure and will wait for the right light before I take the picture. On the Tour, pictures were taken from a moving train and any artistic merit they have is due as much to serendipity as to my skill. And without previsualising the finished image as I’m taking the picture, I am finding the editing challenging; whether an image should be high key or low key is generally obvious to me as I seek to reproduce the emotional response that I felt as I took the picture, but that context is absent from the Tour photographs.
Many of the pictures also suffer from artefacts created by reflections from inside the train (hence, in part, the title of this blog). I’m not sure why these cause me concern; after all, I’m not making any secret of the fact that they were taken on a train and reflections are practically unavoidable. But they do. Overall, it does seem a long way from my photographic aspirations.
But I do like some of the photographs. The speed blur of the foreground against a sharp background often works well. The reflections can on occasion be interesting in themselves, as in the featured photograph for this blog. In the next week or two, I’ll publish a selection here and you can reach a view yourself.
In the end, did I enjoy the Grand Tour experience? The answer is definitely yes. Sitting for many hours on a train, alternating between looking at the scenery and reading may not be for everybody but for me it was everything I hoped it would be. I find watching the world go by with no personal effort required tremendously relaxing. And some of that scenery is world class; the coastal scenery in both Scotland and Devon, the Highland mountains, even some of the industrial landscapes of the Midlands are hugely impressive, no doubt helped by the generally good weather I enjoyed.
Would I do it again? No, once was enough. But there are other, equally interesting rail journeys that I might take one day…