Cambridge to London rail fares

February 20th, 2014

This is mostly for my own future reference, but I reckoned that it might be useful to other people in Cambridge. How much does it cost to go to London by train? Well, that depends – I was quite taken aback with the sheer Byzantine complexity of all the different prices and rules! Anyway, here are the ones I use most commonly:

Weekday flexible off-peak day returns:

  • To Kings Cross (50 minute journey time),  £23.70 return. With Network Railcard discount: £15.65
  • To Liverpool Street (1hr 20 journey time), £16 return. With Network Railcard discount: £13.00 (minimum fare applies)
  • To Kings Cross with an all-zones travelcard, £30.90 return. With Network Railcard discount: £20.40
  • To Liverpool St with an all-zones travelcard, £23.50 return. With Network Railcard discount £15.50

Weekend flexible super-off-peak day returns:

  • Either route, £16 return. With railcard discount: £10.55
  • Either route with travelcard, £22 return. With railcard discount: £14.50

Advance Fares (cheapest single journey to London)

You must book online via Greater Anglia for these. They cost £6 or £8 (depending on availability) each way, to Liverpool St only and are restricted to specific trains.

Anytime (Peak) fares:

  • Kings Cross return, £38.60
  • Liverpool Street return, £35.20
  • Either route with all-zones Travelcard, £48.60

A more detailed explanation follows…

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Linux development on Windows with Vagrant and VirtualBox

February 12th, 2014

I’m doing some Linux-based server development at the moment, but my work machine runs Windows 7. I reckoned the best way to do this was to run a Linux VM, and a friend put me on to Vagrant, which is a crossplatform tool for managing VMs. Put simply, Vagrant allows you to build a VM according to a script, so that your whole build environment can be created repeatably on demand. This is really useful when a colleague joins your project, since you don’t have to spend a whole day remembering all the things you installed to make your build environment, and debugging issues with it not working on their machine.

Vagrant comes from the world of *nix, so it’s command-line driven and (as ever) such software doesn’t always play nicely with Linux. Here’s what I did to get it working on Windows 7.

  • Don’t bother getting any guest OSs for VirtualBox at this stage.

Vagrant needs an SSH client to work properly, and Windows doesn’t include one by default. It suggests using Cygwin, MinGW or git to provide one. I chose to use MinGW, which is a minimal set of tools to make Windows behave a lot more like a GNU system.

MinGW has a package-based installer – you download the installer, tell it which packages you want, and then it downloads and installs them for you.


  • get the latest MinGW installer from and then hit “Install” when it runs.
  • Keep the default installation directory (C:\MinGW) because like nearly all *nix tools, MinGW hates filepaths with spaces in. Make sure “install graphical user interface” remains ticked.
  • The installer should then open the package manager GUI (“MinGW Installation Manager”.
  • Go to Installation->Update Catalogue to ensure you have the latest package list.
  • Close the update dialogue box when it has finished.
  • Under “basic setup”, click on the checkbox next to msys-base and choose “Mark for installation”. Do the same for mingw32-base and mingw-gcc-g++.
  • Now go to “All packages” and scroll down to “msys-openssh”. Find the “bin” class and again mark for installation.
  • Finally, go to Installation->Apply Changes, and the system will download and install everything you need.

Finally finally, you need to alter that PATH environment variable so that Vagrant can find the ssh client:

  • Go to Control Panel->System And Security->System->Advanced System Settings and on the Advanced tab click “Environment Variables”.
  • Under “System Variables” scroll down to “Path” and click “Edit”.
  • The Variable Value box will be too small to contain the values, so carefully press your End key and add ;C:\MinGW\MSYS\1.0\bin to the end of the path. Note the semicolon that separates each individual path.
  • Having done that, close all the dialogue boxes and get a command prompt window. Follow the Vagrant introductory tutorial, it should all work now!

House sale plaudits

February 5th, 2014

Our house sale completed on Monday – goodbye, Oxford! I’ll miss the lively atmosphere and convenience of Cowley Road, though I suspect that my waistline will benefit from not having quite such easy access to supermarkets and restaurants.

Now the sale’s over, I’m going to give out my customary plaudits to the firms we used for our move.

Firstly, the estate agents: Breckon and Breckon, who were constantly helpful and professional, responded well to emails and phonecalls, handled all the bidders, supervised all the viewings, took decent photographs and even arranged for extra surveys and quotations on behalf of the buyers. In short, they did everything possible to make the process straightforward, so thanks very much to Jenny, Julie, Ellie and the rest of the team there.

Secondly, our solicitor: Chris Wingfield from Woodfines‘ Cambridge office, who handled our conveyancing last time. Again, excellent on email and managed to keep us up to date with everything without needing to be chased.

Finally, the removers: A G Jacob & Sons (they must get a lot of renditions of this song – but I resisted, just!) who quoted sensible prices for removals and storage and would supply packaging and do all the packing for £150 extra. Steve, Melvin and the team were courteous and helpful and very efficient. They’ve got all our stuff in storage down in Wallingford and we’ll probably see it again in a couple of months. I would strongly recommend that if you have enough furniture to need a full-service remover that you pay extra for packing – it doesn’t add a lot to the cost and massively reduces the levels of stress and hassle beforehand. In fact, you’d probably pay almost as much just for the packing materials if you bought them yourself.

The house purchase process grinds on slowly, with pretty much all the delays being caused by Clydesdale Bank, whose business process is so slow it makes most glaciers look positively rapid by comparison. They are at least helpful when I speak to them, and I don’t have to deal with them via the execrable London & Country Mortgages this time – Clydesdale’s mortgage team answer the phone on the second or third ring, which is more than L&C ever did. But we’re now into the fourth week since we had our offer accepted – two weeks were spent waiting for Clydesdale to give us an appointment to discuss the mortgage, and I’m told that the necessary forms and paperwork have been finished today and should be with me tomorrow. However, their process apparently can take up to another eight weeks from them receiving these forms before the mortgage is ready to draw down. The vendors are already getting shirty with us (via their estate agents), which is exactly what happened last time. I’m only sticking with Clydesdale because it’ll cost me £8k in early repayment penalties to go to someone else, and because they at least are prepared to give us a mortgage when we’ve both just changed jobs, which it seems a number of other lenders have a problem with. But generally, don’t touch them with a bargepole. I don’t own a bargepole any more, but I might just buy a new one so that I can not touch them with it. Let’s hope we inch forward a little bit in the next few days.