Fortunately, Virgin's failure to mark the reserved seats has failed (on Virgin, success is only ever a failed fail) so I can sit down without having to eject a Crewevian or Rugbyite out of my seat. The train is full, everyone fleeing the jubilant city on a four-carriager. In the toilet is a notice explaining that Virgin will aim to ensure that these toilets will conform to a high standard of cleanliness. Why not just "Virgin will clean these toilets "(preferably by Branson on his knees using his beard). There's also a poster warning potential cabling thieves about not stealing cables. I'm not convinced cable thieves would be on the trains rather than the tracks, but there y'go.
David has gone to Barcelona, I am going to Wigan. Tapas vs butter pie, Sagrada Familia vs Wigan Pier, Montserrat Caballe vs George Formby. The George Orwell connection. Out of the window, I can see England: country churches, oilseed fields, Roman ruins in Berkhamsted, the Grand Union, saplings, narrowboats, caravans, rabbits, shorn sheep, a watertower at sunset, optimistic photovoltaics on a roof. We speed through Milton Keynes, Litchfield, Tamworth, middle England, escaped pigs, marginal seats.
Arrive at Richard and Rachael's and eat an Eccles cake before sleeping the sleep of someone who doesn't sleep very well at other people's houses.
Crimson and clover
We set off on a four mile walk which rapidly doubles in length, through the Fairy Glen (a waterfall-laden wood), across holey fields, past clover-munching cows, a detour up a hill for a view and an ice-cream, and onto the canal, before stopping for a late lunch at the Rigbye Arms. I take a photo of the perfect English vista: all misty hills, green and grey countryside, fields, hedgerows, a spire - it probably remains unchanged since the Enclosures Act. Coming back down, we can't find our way out of the glen/wood so end up doing half the walk all over again before trudging to Appley Bridge and then what seems like another 40 miles to Gathurst where we collapse into bhajis and paneer at the Baby Blue Elephant Indian restaurant.
Trudging slowly over wet sand
Crosby is finger-freezingly cold. We manage five minutes with the Gormleys before rushing back to the car where R&R have an ice-cream from a van situated pragmatically opposite a truck selling tea, coffee, soup and hot Bovril. England's adaptability.
They're beautiful though (the sculptures, not the catering vans).
They watch each other out to sea.
Apparently, people dress them up, like the Mannequin Pis, although nobody's thought to put a hat and scarf on them today. If you look slightly to the side, you can see them shivering out of the corner of your eye.
We drive onto Formby where there is a National Trust managed forest and, allegedly, red squirrels. 15 have been spotted today. It is pissing down with rain and we don't see any; presumably they're all watching the Thames flotilla on TV in their dreys. We manage about 10 minutes in the wood before scampering down to the sand dunes (and salty air) of the beach which feels more like January than June. I want a jumper and some gloves. Still, there are plenty of people out dog-walking and strolling.
Back to the railway station for the train to Crewe. Because Beardy Twat (Branson) wanted £72 to come back on a Sunday, I did the Guardian Money advice thing and split my journey. This means I either have 12 minutes to change at Crewe or 90 to wait. If this were Germany, France, or even Spain or Portugal, I'd go for the former option and probably have the time for a stand up kaffee/café creme/café con leche/galão as well. But this is England, so I go for the long wait. Except the Wigan - Crewe train is delayed, so have to wait 25 minutes in the rain. The British railways are just one long lone of unheated waiting rooms, awful Pumpkin cafes, rain-strewn delays and failed seat reservations. George Stephenson would be rolling in his fucking grave. But when I get there, Crewe station is rather nice - the waiting room is warm and, bizarrely, Virgin have provided free wifi (which they don't on the trains) Loud children are absent because this is the last train of the day. The train manager hands out jubilee sweets (not quite the promised at-seat massage, but still) and we roll into a rainy London a few minutes early. At the bus-stop a Chinese woman stands with a a life-size cardboard cut out of the queen. Two Nigerian women ask if they can pose for a photo with it, to which she acquiesces. This is England.