Edinburgh to London: fast and free

Edinburgh to London: fast and free

Years ago I was in Edinburgh with a girlfriend. She was leaving the city on a coach for London and I was devastated when I couldn’t book a seat on the coach too. I waved her off with a tear in my eye. With no desire to do anything on my own I was lost and restless. Nor did I have money to overcome the loneliness. I felt crap.

I opted to get “out of there” and decided to hitch “anywhere”. So I walked to the local bus stop and got on a bus going west, out of town, towards the ring road, past Corstorphine and the Zoo. Then I sulkily put out my thumb and trusted to whatever showed up.

I got a lift, towards Glasgow. Then another lift onto the A74 southbound, still unsure of what I was doing or where I was going. I dunno, maybe home to North Wales or maybe the mountains of the Lake District?

Well, my next lift took me into England quickly and it started to dawn on me that this was the same route my girlfriend’s coach would be taking, down the M6, to London. I started to look out for a National Express coach. My driver was in a hurry, doing well over 100mph, at times I worried we would not survive.

Anyhow, to keep the story short, I got it into my head to chase the coach, and I started to calculate relative speeds, and the head start the coach had on me. It seemed worth trying and my lifts were taking me that way. But no sign of any express coach.

It was going great until I reached the Luton area, north of London on the M1. I was dropped off at a service station, just as light was fading. After the toilets I got a quick coffee and a pen, then wrote a sign saying LONDON, then I walked out past the petrol station to the exit road onto the motorway.

My heart sank. There was a long line of hitchers, at least a dozen, scattered out along the grass verge. And not your smart looking hitchers either. It looked like the photo line up for the police station, and they were all ahead of me. So close but it seemed my hopes were dashed, the chase was lost. I stood and watched. Hardly any cars were passing, maybe one a minute max. None were stopping. Everyone looked miserable and territorial. I was just one more nuisance. I kept out of the way.

A truck stopped, one guy jumped up and went. The queue shuffled a bit. 10 minutes and nothing. It was starting to drizzle and was getting dark, making us all look like shifty shadows. Criminals one and all. A car stopped mid way along the queue and took a very thankful hitcher away. No one moved. So I filled the gap and sat down, depressed.

I paid no attention to the cars as I had to wait for all these others to go first, so I just inked in my sign a bit better, preparing for the dark of night. It was going to be a long night and I had nowhere to go. I had nothing better to do, so I just kept writing LONDON over and over, darker and darker, straightening the lines of the letters, doodling. Then I wrote “please” beneath it, reflecting my sense of desperation.

I was cold, nothing was happening. Some hitchers drifted off, and the 10 or so of us remaining strung out as if to get as far from each other as possible. I noticed all were trying to get lifts, the queue didn’t exist, it was a fashion contest or a parade of rough and grimy folks. One guy was on crutches, poor bloke. Another scared me, so I looked away. We all hitched, like fish trying to get hooked.

A car drove past me – a nice car, a Jaguar – and stopped further down the line. A guy jumped to the door and spoke to the driver then looked up and shouted at me. I didn’t understand. He shouted again, loud! He beckoned me with his arm. I picked up my bag (I was not letting that out of my sight) and walked up. “He wants you,” said the hitcher.

I was in the Jaguar, purring down the motorway, next stop London. 12 cylinders hummed. The seats squeaked and smelt of real leather. The clock ticked silently. It was dark outside and the road was empty, as we accelerated well beyond legal limits again. We felt above the law, wrapped in such wealth. The driver, dressed in a smart suit, didn’t say much, other than this: “I have never given a lift to anyone before – and I never expect to do so again – but you had the courtesy to say ‘please’, so I wanted to help you”.

Well, I told him why I was heading into London, chasing my girlfriend, the journey from Edinburgh, the coach fully booked. He drove me to Paddington station, gave me the money for the Tube (underground) and cruised off. I caught a train to Victoria coach station, arriving 20 minutes after the coaches arrival time. Can you believe it? After all that. All alone at a coach station again.

I was walking out of the station when in came a coach, the delayed Edinburgh coach! I hid behind a pillar, almost too weak to stand. The passengers all got off – and there she was! I had beaten her to London, faster than the Express (non-stop) coach. You should have seen her face!

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