The AA website shows 22 miles for the route from Staines to Guildford. But I was drunk and meandering. I was working at a school in Staines and my girlfriend lived and worked in Portsmouth. She had organised us onto a trip to Belgium, leaving from Portsmouth early on Saturday morning. On Friday after school, I went to The Swan in Staines for the staff debrief of the events of the week.
Some time after 11, I looked at my watch and ran out of the pub. The last train for the convoluted route to Portsmouth left at around midnight and my flat, just opposite the railway station, was some distance away. I made it home and packed quickly. I looked out of the window. No train in the station yet. I seemed to have plenty of time. I had that secure drunken feeling that everything was going to work out fine.
As I left the house, I saw the train drawing into the station. No problem. It always stayed at the platform for ages. Not this time. I was just coming down onto the platform when it drew off. I watched the last carriage disappear. It was midnight, I needed to be in Portsmouth by 7 and the train had gone. I might as well go home. I reached into my pocket and found that I had locked my keys into the flat. I stood there a while longer. No reasonable course of action came to mind.
I started walking. For some reason, I headed for the Thames and walked along the towpath towards Chertsey. It was lovely in the coolness of night but it was the least direct route possible to Chertsey. I took my phone out and called my girlfriend. She asked, quite reasonably, why I was walking to Chertsey. With the confidence of alcohol, I answered, ‘It’s the best way to get there’.
I got to Chertsey, walked across the bridge and saw a sign to Woking. Woking had a major railway station. I had a goal. It’s quite straightforward in a car but the motorway and A-road interchanges are not designed for lone pedestrians with a slightly faulty sense of direction. I couldn’t see any signs for Woking. Still, the moon was out and I had a vague idea that I should be going south so I headed along the road to Ottershaw. This was in the days before everyone carried a device with GPS. Just before Ottershaw, I saw a sign to Chobham. I knew where Cobham was. I needed to be somewhere to the west of Cobham. I didn’t read it carefully enough to see the extra h.
I arrived in Chobham. The phone rang. My girlfriend. “You’re where?” She looked up where I was on her computer and started laughing in that way that a woman does when she has no idea what to say to her man without demolishing his self-concept. I looked at a map on a bus stop. Woking seemed almost back where I had come. I started running. I was wearing heavy duty walking boots. Good for a long hike but not for a run.
My feet were getting sore as I entered Woking. I began to pass the characteristic red-brick-with-timbered-eaves architecture of every single building on the outskirts of a town in Surrey. Ah. A sign to the railway station. I walked onto the platform. The place was silent and empty. I gazed blearily at the timetables. No train from Woking to Portsmouth until after 7. However, there was one from Guildford to Havant at 6 o’clock. It was after 5 now. Still, that was something to aim for.
I began to run. The main street of Woking echoed to my bootsteps as I trotted to where I thought the road to Guildford was. I got it right. It was only about 10 kilometres to Guildford. I even had time for a short rest before the train arrived.
My feet hurt when it was time for the Saturday night pub crawl through Ostende, but a few oddly-shaped glasses of specialist Belgian beers cured that.