Have you ever thought about booking a holiday with Inside Track, but don’t have a partner or a travel companion? Read on about my 1st experience as a “Lone Traveller”.
Let me introduce myself, my name is Fiona, I am forty-six and I have worked in the Inside Track office for over three years. I do the booking and invoicing for all the holidays we run, answer the telephone, take payments and all the other jobs in between. I love talking to the customers and, as we have a LOT of return customers, I have got to know some of them quite well over the years. I book their holiday, rail tickets, extra nights, and any other requests they may have, so it can be quite in-depth. I love it! I see them right through to arrival day, then the Tour Manager takes over, and off on their holiday they go.
Now, I have been married for 18 years and most of my holidays have been with my husband and three children. Earlier holidays were with friends or family, but I have NEVER been on holiday alone….
Our Director, Clive, has been trying to get me out of the office and onto one of our tours since day one. Until now, I have been reluctant, as being a ‘Lone Traveller’, even with the aim of fact-finding for work reasons, did NOT appeal to me. Eating alone or sitting alone (even with a group around me) filled me with dread. I’d like to think I am quite sociable but making conversation with strangers has never been something I have felt comfortable doing. I much prefer the security of people I know. It’s just easier and more familiar.
However, I saw the ‘Hogmanay Hoot’ itinerary and it had a Scottish Banquet with Piper! Being Scottish, this holiday appealed to my nostalgia. I expressed an interest and Boom! I was ‘booked’ on the holiday. Now, if you are anything like me, you will think of lots of reasons in the weeks before the holiday starts, to cancel. But I forged ahead, packed my case, and set off…. No backing out now.
Day 1 - Friday
Our train from Milton Keynes was a direct train to Carlisle. I had booked the train tickets myself using our in-house system, so I was able to reserve seats, which was handy because there were a lot of other trains cancelled on the day, so our train became quite full. The journey itself was uneventful, but I was far from relaxed. My mind kept wandering to the what ifs. “What if I don’t like it”, “what if I get homesick”, “what if I get lost and get left behind”. It sounds silly, as I’m a grown adult, but the brain has an odd way of sneaking up on you with these thoughts. (I can roll my own eyes at myself now).
I travelled with the Tour Manager, who happens to be our aforementioned Director, Clive. He was my travelling buddy as far as Carlisle, but then he had to work, so upon arrival, I was effectively, the dreaded, ‘Lone Traveller’.
The holiday arrival time was 1300 in the hotel bar. Usually, a holiday will start at the railway station, where the clients will meet the Tour Manager and then travel to the hotel or the first visit on the itinerary, by coach, but this one was straight off the train and into the Station Hotel, right next door to the Carlisle Railway Station. Simple.
The meet and greet included drinks and sandwiches. As people started to arrive, I felt a little anxious, with no comfort blanket of a partner or travelling companion. I find making conversation difficult at first and I was also very aware that all the people I was meeting had spent a lot of money to be there and this was their actual holiday (unlike me who was there to experience an Inside Track holiday for work reasons). I didn’t want to attach myself to people who were not looking for a hanger-on, so I was trying to stand out of the way and look like I wasn’t feeling super awkward. Luckily, most of the customers on this particular holiday had travelled with Inside Track before, and around 50% of them were unaccompanied, so very quickly everyone got stuck in chatting with each other. They either felt more confident about talking to strangers than I do, had done this before, or were making more of an effort than I was. I must try harder.
Detailed Itineraries were handed out to each person as they arrived and there was an hour before our coach arrived to take us on our first visit. Those who had travelled with Inside Track before were spotting people they had met on earlier holidays and were greeting each other like old friends, catching up and sharing stories about the holidays they had met on previously. They were experts at including newbies like me though. They made their circles a little bigger and stepped back to include me in conversations as I nervously hung back a little. I started to relax. I knew I would be ok, but it would take a little while longer to fully settle in.
Our rooms were not ready yet, so Clive organised for everyone’s luggage to go into storage before we boarded the luxury coach to head off to our first visit of the day, The Robert Burns Ellisland Museum and Farm. Although I am from Scotland, and I had heard of Robert Burns, I knew very little about him or had much interest. However, this 18th Century House and Farm is remarkably interesting, made even more so by the super enthusiastic and friendly staff. There was nothing about this visit that you wouldn’t like. We even got a wee dram of locally produced Whisky with some Bannock bread and some accordion music to accompany.
Back on the coach we headed to our next visit - The Globe Inn, Dumfries. This historic pub is hidden down a narrow flagstone passage and has a small museum dedicated to Robert Burns. Here we sampled an 8-course Degustation (French word for tasting) Menu with drinks included. This is one of those places where you think “I’d love to do that”, but never actually get around to it. All I can say is “WOW!” The food was amazing, and the staff were brilliant. Round of applause, literally. You would imagine with small portions of food, you would still be hungry at the end, but no, we all went back to the hotel that night satisfied and happy. What a first day!
Day 2 - Saturday
We had a relaxed start for day two. Breakfast in the hotel dining room was as you would imagine, cooked breakfast, toast, cereal, tea/coffee, etc. Everyone was greeting each other cheerily and looking forward to our run on the beautiful Settle/Carlisle line. After breakfast, we sauntered over to the station on foot (about 1 min walk) and boarded the train. I joined a table with a couple I had chatted to at dinner the night before, and another ‘Lone Traveller’. Everyone chatted easily as we passed through the glorious Dales scenery, through tunnels, over Ribblehead Viaduct, and on to Keighley. There were toilets on board and a refreshment trolley where you could buy souvenirs, as well as the usual tea and coffee (or wine if you prefer). I bought a fridge magnet, and this would be the only time I would spend any money all weekend!
The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, our destination, is a 5-mile-long heritage railway line and here we were going to ride a steam train. I had never been on a steam train before, so this was a highlight for me, and it did not disappoint. We were given lovely little packed lunches to eat on board and the bar was open. We steamed along the line eating, chatting & drinking. “I could get used to this,” I thought.
By this point, I had settled into the ‘Lone Traveller’ identity. Once you get used to asking people if you can join them, which is made extremely easy by the way everyone is altogether most of the time, the holiday experience really ramps up. Although, I have to say, at one point I was on my own and a couple asked me if I would like to join them, so if you think you will never be able to ask people yourself, don’t worry, someone will scoop you up. If that’s what you want, that is. Up the line, at Oxenhope we jumped off and had a nose around their Exhibition shed. The itinerary here gave a choice of what you can do next - visit the sheds at Haworth, visit the Vintage Carriages Trust Museum at Ingrow West, or just ride the steam train back up and down the line, meeting the group back at Oxenhope, where Clive had a surprise up his sleeve.
The itinerary just said, “some form of transport will be waiting outside”, so to see an old Routemaster Bus was brilliant, and totally in keeping with the heritage feel of the day. We trundled through the streets back to Keighley Railway Station, where we left the bus and caught the train back to Carlisle.
We had group dining that evening, so all I had to do was select a seat at one of the tables set for 8, and I had wonderful company for dinner. Everyone chatted effortlessly about our day, and that wonderful meal last night, and after a 3-course dinner I headed to bed. It wasn’t an especially taxing day, but I am used to having a nice afternoon nap on a Saturday, (I know, I know, I’m too young I hear you say) so I was looking forward to getting my head down.
The rooms at the Station Hotel, as with all the rooms we book on our holidays, are en-suite and usually (although not always) the single rooms have double beds. My room for this holiday was well equipped with all the other things you would expect to find, an Iron, Ironing board, towels, hairdryer, TV and tea/coffee making facilities.
Day 3 - Sunday
After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for our last full day. Breakfast was had and the waiting coach was boarded at 9am. Lee, our very competent and cheery driver, welcomed us all back and set off for the scenic drive, with snowy mountains in the distance, to Bassenthwaite Lake Station. This spectacular café is situated inside a full-size replica steam train, which was used in the film Murder on the Orient Express. Another WOW! A quick stop for tea/coffee, the toilet, photo opportunity and we were back on the road.
Next on the tour was Workington, where we hopped on a train for Foxfield. Our journey hugged the coastline and took us past places like St Bees and Ravenglass, with Scotland in view across the water, arriving just after lunchtime. Lee (and coach) was waiting for us when we arrived to take us to our lovely lunching venue the Whitewater Hotel, Backbarrow. After soup and sandwiches were consumed, we pushed on to the Eden Valley Railway at Warcop Station. They had opened for the afternoon especially for us and treated us to a slow trundle on an old electric train. The light was dimming as the sun was setting, but we were able to enjoy the scenery as we went to Appleby-in-Westmorland and back. More tea and biscuits were offered in their little tearoom upon our return, along with the chance to have a look at their model railway and Emporium.
I really enjoyed this day out and I even had a little nap on the warm coach home, only woken from time to time by Clive’s dulcet tones as he kept us amused with little facts and funny stories on the coaches’ PA system.
Back at the hotel, there was time to pop up to our rooms to freshen up, before meeting up again in the hotel bar. Drinks were on Inside Track as we waited for the main attraction ….. The Scottish Banquet!
It wasn’t long before Craig Irving, our Piper for the evening, was leading the way into the dining room. I never know the names of tunes, I just know I love the sound of bagpipes, so this was a real treat, whatever it was he was playing. The room itself was set up nicely and Joyce, the wife of another Inside Track Tour Manager, followed the piper and the haggis around the room while we all clapped along. Joyce recited Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis with gusto and drama. I have never seen such a brilliant performance. I was thoroughly impressed.
The whole evening was a success. The staff, the piper, the food, Joyce and Clive were all brilliant and I knew I had made the right decision to come along on this holiday. I don’t know what I was ever worried about.
Day 4 - Monday
The goodbyes in the morning were warm and genuinely friendly. Those lovely people all come from diverse backgrounds, and everyone was going somewhere different around the country, but they all had something in common, not only a shared interest in heritage railways, but a love of their Inside Track holidays. Some of them have been ‘customers’ for 20 years! I’m definitely the new kid, but after this weekend, I feel like a member of a very lovely club.
The train journey home was certainly much more relaxed than Friday’s. None of my “what ifs” had come true, and Clive had worked his socks off all weekend making sure we were in the right place at the right time and that everyone was ok, so we both settled into a seat with a well deserved drink. Well done Clive, you have changed my mind about Lone Travelling.
It just shows you. Step out of your comfort zone, just for a little while, and the world becomes just a little bit bigger, and your life becomes just a little bit richer.
There are many people I would like to thank for making this holiday so fabulous, Clive, Joyce, our driver Lee, the staff at the hotel, the volunteers at the railways and museums, the piper Craig…… but the biggest thanks must go to the people who were on the holiday with me, what a special bunch of people Inside Trackers are, Thank You!
If you are reading this and still undecided about an Inside Track holiday, my advice would be “Go for it!” you won’t be disappointed. I just can’t believe it took me so long to do it.