Back from London

An LNER Azuma train at York station, due to depart to London King's Cross station

We’re back from our trip to London. We got there a bit later than planned, due to action short of a strike by the drivers’ union ASLEF resulting in our planned train from Leeds to London being cancelled. This wasn’t ideal, as it meant we didn’t arrive until 10pm; however, we made it, and had an enjoyable trip.

I’ll post separately about the specific places that we went to over the next week or so. We had also planned to visit the Horniman Museum, as the gallery containing its famous over-stuffed walrus closed this week for two years, but we couldn’t quite fit it in. As usual, Ianvisits was invaluable for finding out about special exhibitions and served as inspiration for a few of our visits.

We managed a couple of trips on the new Elizabeth Line; it was partially open on our last trip to London in 2022 but we didn’t need to use it then. The stations are impressive and I appreciated the greater accessibility, but I couldn’t help but feel that the trains themselves already look a little tired. It may be the use of grey interior panels; they felt a little dark and not as bright internally as other new trains elsewhere. It’s good to see it being well-used despite being opened for less than two years.

We normally manage one trip to London each year – we missed 2020 for obvious reasons, but also didn’t manage to go last year either. We may have a shorter visit later this year, but with journeys taking 3 hours each way and the costs, it’s not something that we can do on a whim.


The City of London

Next week, Christine, our baby and I are off to London for a few days. It’ll be our first trip as a family of three there; I last went in January on my own when our baby was only a few weeks’ old. It’ll also be the first time I’ve ever driven to London, as we’ve always taken the train or coach in the past.

I’m driving because we’re also visiting family on the way, but also because of the amount of luggage we’ll need. Babies may be small, but they also need several days worth of food and nappies, a pram, travel cot, high chair and other things. So whilst Christine and I could do several days in London with a rucksack each, with a baby, we’ll need the car.

We’re staying in a hotel in north London that’s easily reached by car and has parking, but is also close to a tube station. Once we’re there, I have no intention of driving in central London – congestion charge aside, I’m not keen on driving in city centres. And whilst London Underground is not great for prams or wheelchairs, our baby thankfully tolerates being carried in a sling.

Part of the reason for our visit is so that I can go to the HE Show at Olympia – if you’re going as well, drop me a line. We’re also planning to go to the Tower of London, as it’s been many years since I visited, and Christine has never been. It’s expensive, unless you have lots of spare Tesco Clubcard tokens like we do.

I always look forward to trips to London, partly because we always make a point of seeing friends who live there when we go, but also because there is so much to do. It makes a change from a few years ago when I developed a general dislike of the place. Back then, I also had access to free train travel and so could visit London (or, indeed any British city) whenever I wanted to. Perhaps I like London more nowadays because I only get to go there once or twice each year, and it usually requires weeks of forward planning – I can’t just decide to go there on a whim like I used to.

The Two Together Railcard

A screenshot of the Two Together Railcard web site

There’s a new addition to the railcard family – the Two Together Railcard. Launched some time ago as a pilot in the West Midlands, it’s now available nationally, as of yesterday.

Unlike most railcards, issued to a single person, this is issued to two named people who must travel together for it to be valid. You needn’t be related, so if you regularly travel with a particular friend or housemate then they can be on the card. Like most railcards, it costs £30 and is valid for one year, and gives you a third off almost all rail tickets. You can also get 10% from this link, so it costs £27 for the year. The card can be bought at staffed ticket offices at stations, or online.

As Christine and I do a lot of travel together, this card has the potential to save us a lot of money, so we’ve ordered one. The £30 cost will easily be recuperated as we regularly spend more than £90 per year on tickets where both of us travel. In fact, it may pay for itself after just one long return journey. Until now we’ve been making use of Northern Rail’s Duo tickets, which allow a second adult to go half price with a full-fare paying adult. But this is limited to only some of Northern’s trains and isn’t a national scheme.

Right now we don’t qualify for any of the four other existing national railcards. The 16-25 railcard is for those aged 16-25 (we’re too old) or older people in full-time education (we’re not). The Friends & Family railcard is for those with children aged 5-15, which won’t apply to us for some time – you need to be travelling with at least one child in that age range for it to be valid. We’re both thirty years too young for the Senior railcard, and neither of us are disabled, so the Disabled railcard is out.

So, if you’re like Christine and I – adults who work full time, are approaching middle age and are childless or don’t have any children over five years old – then the Two Together railcard is a welcome introduction.

Taking the Megabusplus to London

Leading on from yesterday’s post about our trip to London, here’s a little more about the Megabusplus service that we used. I’ve taken it before, when I needed to get down to London to fly to France for a holiday in 2009, but this was Christine’s first time, and also my first return trip.

Like the regular Megabus, it is run by the Stagecoach Group, and takes advantage of the fact that Stagecoach is also the current East Midlands Trains franchisee. So rather than getting a coach all of the way, time-wise roughly half of the journey is by coach and the reminder by train, with the switchover talking place at East Midlands Parkway railway station.

This is significantly quicker than taking a coach all of the way. Taking Halifax-London as the example, to do this by coach takes almost 6 hours in total. Megabusplus knocks this down to a little over four hours. You also arrive into London St Pancras railway station, which has much better onward transport links, than Victoria coach station. And I find that I can’t read on coaches (I get travel sick), so for me there’s less ‘downtime’ than a regular coach.

However, compared with a direct train Megabusplus is still slower – the 08:06 Grand Central train from Halifax left a few minutes after our coach and would have reached King’s Cross a full hour before we did.

The prices are about the same as regular Megabus, with fares starting at £1 one way, plus a 50p booking fee. I was too late to get it this cheap, but it was still much more affordable than the train at the last minute. Your ‘ticket’ is the reference number that you get by email when you pay – most people print this out but you can just show it on your phone to the driver, like I did.

The Halifax service actually starts from Bradford, then calls at Halifax and onto Huddersfield, before running direct to East Midlands Parkway. I say ‘direct’ – Huddersfield’s links with the southbound M1 are pretty poor and so we went on some very narrow and windy roads to get there. On the way down we briefly called at a service station, but this was only to change to a different driver and customers were not allowed to alight. East Midlands Parkway is effectively a service station though, with a café, toilets and a vending machine.

The Megabusplus coaches themselves are reasonably bog-standard – single-decker, space below for luggage, and a toilet. There’s no on-board catering, and seats aren’t allocated. Most of the people on the two journeys we made were travelling on their own, so if the coach is busy you’ll have to sit next to a stranger. Pre-booking is mandatory – there’s no facility to turn up and pay, although you can book up until the night before, as I did. On the other hand, this means that if everyone arrives early, then the coach can leave early – as happened on the return leg.

I would definitely recommend bringing a music player. Unlike trains, there’s no quiet coach, or any way of moving to another carriage if it’s too noisy. On the way back there was a very restless baby, so I was glad I had some music to listen to.

If you need to get to London cheaply, and don’t want it to take all day, then Megabusplus is worth it. But if you’re able to get a cheaper train ticket, then the train is a quicker and better experience.

Buying rail tickets


Buying rail tickets for train travel in the UK is complicated. Despite some simplification introduced last year, it’s still possible to buy a range of rail tickets at different prices that will get you on the same seat on the same train.

The fantastic Money Saving Expert has a very thorough guide and it’s well worth a read, but here’s my summarised advice:

  • Buy your rail tickets in advance, and as early as possible – you can get them up to 3 months ahead.
  • Rail tickets bought on the day (so-called ‘walk on fares’) offer lots of flexibility but are also usually the most expensive – you can book as little as 48 hours in advance and save a lot of money.
  • Avoid – it charges extra fees.
  • You can usually book any ticket from any train company, even if your journey doesn’t use their trains. So you could book with CrossCountry to travel on a First Transpennine Express (FTPE) train and get the same price as you would booking direct with FTPE.
  • Rail Easy displays fares in a different way which can make it easier to find cheaper tickets. I also found that they are more likely to send tickets by first class post for free, rather than charge £6 for next-day delivery. They do charge a booking fee though.
  • If you spend more than £76 per year (or £6 per month) on rail tickets, get a railcard. If you are between the ages of 16 and 25 you can get a 16-25 railcard. You can order a new one right up until the day before your 26th birthday too. Family railcards and senior railcards are also available. They give you 34% off the price of almost all train tickets, including those booked in advance.
  • Sometimes two single rail tickets are cheaper than a return – always check both. This is especially true if you book in advance.
  • Megatrain is worth a look as its fares start from £1 (plus 50p booking fee). Trains run from Sheffield, Derby and Portsmouth into London, but there are connecting coaches from cities like York and Bradford (I travelled from York to London for a total of £3.50 last year). There’s also additional discounts for NUS Extra card holders.

There are many more tips out there, which shows how confusing the system is. Ultimately, the best way to get the cheapest fare is to book as far in advance as possible, use a railcard and shop around a bit.