Post date: 
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Image shows John on a train trip to Ulverston, standing next to the statue of Oliver and Hardy.

Despite losing his sight, John Williams continues to explore the country by train. John shares his story and travel tips, so you too can get out and about independently. 

I started travelling because…

I lost my wife eight years ago and became very lonely. I was so happily married and had a wonderful life (I still am a very happy man with a helpful, loyal and loving family of three kids and many grandchildren). Unable to be at home as I was surrounded by one too many memories of my dear wife, I took the decision to get out of the house and explore the country by train.

On buses and trains there are always people you can talk too and I’ve met some very interesting people along the way.

I lost my sight…

four years ago due to glaucoma. I have some light perception in my left eye and I can see distance as far as 10 yards (10 metres) in my right, but I can no longer read or see my plate when eating. Despite this, it doesn’t prevent me from getting out and about every day.

If I sit at home, I can’t read unassisted or do my gardening, and I’m not interested in watching television, so it gets a bit boring. That’s really the ultimate reason why I go on a journey almost every day. I always carry with me a railway map and follow the route by using a magnifier.

On a typical day, I’m up early and out the door by 7am. I go down to the local bus station and often jump on the first bus, not knowing where exactly I’m going. If I’m organising a train trip, then I know the train times as I’ve picked this up after travelling in Wales for so long. I almost always arrive back home on the same day (more on that later).

London Euston is my favourite station so far. They have a mobility assistance service, which is perfect for me. You can access the First Class Lounge where it’s comfortable, warm and safe with great staff and this is also a buggy service that will drop you off to the platform if need be.        

My advice for train travel…

  • Get off your bum and get on buses and trains. Don’t stay at home thinking you can’t do it because of your sight. Everything is possible if you are positive in your attitude; just get up and go.
  • Your life will be more interesting and exciting, much more than sitting at home. Age should not be a factor – at 88, I’ve lost most of my sight but my cane is enough to help me get around the country.
  • Train journeys are much more interesting now than 10 years ago. They are more prompt, clean and some have trolley services.
  • Avoid busy periods. Sunday and bank holidays are always hectic and crowded. Try to steer clear.
  • People are always very kind and willing to help, especially on the railways. Staff will escort you to help you cross the platform and they will phone ahead and ask another staff member to meet you at your stop.
  • Be careful at all times, don’t take any risks and watch pavements and steps. I use my cane but I have to be careful where I tread and walk. You don’t want to fall in a place you’re not familiar with. If in doubt, ask, people will always help.
  • Do your research - look out for the best pass and make sure you have the local timetable. I have used the All Rail Rover and the Welsh Highland Railway pass and they have worked well for me. The former is a seven or 14-day ticket. If you’re going to travel a lot, decide whether an annual pass will work for you. I have a lovely family who will provide me with details of train times if need be. I tend not to buy tickets in advance; I go directly to the bus or train station and buy tickets there. There are certain railway lines where I can travel for free, due to my bus pass.
  • Be wary of timings and let your family/friends or carers know of your whereabouts. I haven’t had any bad experiences but sometimes, I do get the timing wrong. I once caught the bus from Abergele to Aberystwyth but I was unable to get a connection back. I told my children where I was, looked for accommodation and stayed the night, with no hassle. I caught a bus home the next day.
  • If you’re staying overnight and are worried about accessibility, let staff know that you are blind or partially sighted. Hotels or B&Bs will often give you a ground floor room or help you get the best room to suit your needs.

Get out there and do it…

I know many people with sight problems who sit at home with no purpose or sense of adventure.

Be adventurous. Live your life to the fullest!

People may fear going into the unknown, but the unknown is welcoming. It isn’t difficult and help is always available. You will only overcome the fear by simply doing it and venturing out.

Every day is enjoyable for me. When I’m done writing this, I’ll be off on a bus. I like the challenge… not knowing where my bed will be at the end of the day.

It’s possible, if I can do it, you can do it. Whoever is reading this, if you live near me, I would happily travel with you!


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