I often dream of living in a remote place. I’m sure I romanticise it quite a bit, especially given since I grew up in the city.
Today was a steady reminder of the bitchings and challenges of “living behind the God’s back”, as we say in Finland. This is the story of how we traveled South again with W & Musti.
We were supposed to head back to Inverness and South with the last train of the day at 15h (there are usually three trains in a day). Unfortunately, the trains were cancelled between Thurso and Inverness because ScotRail didn’t have a driver for their train. Indeed, this particular line apparently has literally two drivers. If one of them is sick and the other one drunk, there is no-one to take you South.
When we arrived at the station, a small mini bus was waiting for us to hop on. Have you ever driven a vehicle in Caithness? In many places, the road infrastructure isn’t really made for efficient travel. Caithness has quite a minimalist approach to building roads – they build the least they can get away with (straight quote from W, btw). “Ok”, we thought with W after the initial exasperation had calmed down, “this probably won’t be so bad. We have loads of time – if we drive straight to Inverness we’ll get there with plenty of time to shop and spend a lovely evening”. Little did we know, there was just absolutely no chance of this happening.
The minibus driver sent to drive around fucking Caithness countryside in complete wilderness, was not just English – but also visiting Caithness and Thurso area for the first time. We didn’t really find out how he had gotten there in the first place.
So, once we got to the road, the driver spent a good amount of time calling both his minibus company and ScotRail about driving straight to Inverness. Turns out, they expected him to drive by every train station on the line to check if there are passengers. Now, the people who decide on crap like this, are not Caithnesians – the ScotRail management he spoke to are probably based in Edinburgh. The whole bus full of Scots were enraged and one passenger at a time went to the front to tell him what a ludicrous plan it was. I actually felt quite bad for him, he obviously had agreed to do a job that he had no idea what it was going to entail and it was obviously a shit deal for him. Poor English dude with a bus full of angry Scots and one Finn. He said he’d have to follow the orders or he’d get into trouble. Oh well…
This idea of following the train track by car is so laughable it’s unbelievable, as the problem with this scenario is many fold:
- It takes twice??? as long to reach a train station by car – and that is if you know where you are going. We spent one hour going back and forth on this forgotten dirt road in the middle of a field trying to find the right way to the station, asking for directions from random farmers who happened to be on a walk with their dog.
- There is no way to communicate to potential passengers on the stations that a minibus is coming to pick them up instead.
- If you’re waiting for the last train of the day and it doesn’t come and you don’t know a minibus is “on it’s way” you probably won’t stick around for an extra hour just for fun?
- There probably wouldn’t even be space for them as the minibus was already quite full when we left.
- At one point, it also started to chuck down rain and you could hardly see the road. So driving takes even longer. Also, not a likely weather for people to travel and definitely not likely for them to wait around for nothing.
Since it was a minibus and not a real bus, there was no bathroom. We had one bathroom break – which was literally on a muddy road, next to a field and some farmhouse. Everyone had to crouch behind a bush or in a ditch and do their business in cold, wind and rain. The heater in the bus was broken somehow as the whole bus was freezing cold. The curly and bumpy roads were a bit much for us, but they were exceptionally much for Musti – he vomited in the bus, twice. It’s also worth noting that the Caithness countryside doesn’t boast very good mobile connections, if any. Most of the time we had absolutely no network to: call ScotRail again, load up Google maps, call a local, or even let our friend down in Inverness know we were going to be late.
After the night fell and the heavy rainfall showed no signs of stopping, when we were already two hours late from the schedule and far away from even being half way to Inverness, in the pitch black Scottish January night, we happened to run into another minibus on one of the train stations. Luckily for us, this guy was local and told our driver that the instructions he had gotten were completely insane and made absolutely no sense. We wouldn’t be in Inverness before midnight, if even then, as the weather was so unpredictable.
We actually didn’t find out why this other minibus was just hanging out at this random station two hours after the official train time – I guess he was also a bit lost. His bus only had a couple of passengers and he said he had been instructed to drive straight to Inverness.
The drivers negotiated so that all of our bus transferred into his and we were finally actually on our way to Inverness (instead of eternal perdition) and eventually we did arrive, though three hours later than was at any point necessary.
The fate of our English driver remains a mystery.