My train left Widdrington and bounced slowly southwards. For the first time, there were actually people on board – presumably they had boarded at Alnmouth for a journey to Morpeth or Newcastle.
I was only going one stop, and a few minutes later I jumped off the train (literally; the gap between train and platform is formidable here) at Pegswood.
Pegswood has a Harrington Hump on the southbound platform. These features, designed to reduce the gap between train and platform without going to the trouble of raising the entire platform, are appearing at a number of stations across the Northern network. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s useful at Pegswood, it does a seem a bit odd to spend money installing one here, at a station which receives precisely three trains each day. Still, I’m sure the 1,650 people who use the station (according to the latest stats) will appreciate it.
The bus made its way back north. No criminals this time, just a mix of shoppers and commuters making their way home. I saw the red BR sign for Widdrington in the distance and took that as my cue to ring the bell – too soon, it turned out, as I got off one stop early.
The original Widdrington village is actually some distance from the station. The houses and shops here are a new community which grew up around the railway. This village is actually called Widdrington Station. So Widdrington station serves the village of Widdrington Station, while Widdrington itself is a mile further North. I hope that’s clear.
If I look slightly discombobulated in this picture, then… that is accurate.
I climbed up to the upper deck of the X18 as we departed Acklington. The official best bus seats were taken up by two youths wearing baseball caps, so I took a seat a few rows behind.
The two lads were loudly discussing the criminal records of unnamed acquaintances.
“He got 18 months for manslaughter. He stabbed someone in the fuckin’ back! That’s not manslaughter! That’s murder!”
Then, a bit later: “Wounding: that’s Section 47, that’s 6 months at least.”
It didn’t help that the bus made a detour to serve the visitor centre of HMP Northumberland, which only served to make them nostalgic for old friends who were spending time there. Thankfully they got off at another village soon after and I then had the top deck to myself.
The X18 is a double-decker, just a little bit too large for the country roads it uses. We swerved round blind bends, the journey occasionally punctuated by overhanging tree branches banging against the windows. Helpfully, we passed through both Widdrington and Pegswood, two places I would be returning to later in the day, and I did my best to memorise where the bus stops where in relation to the stations. I also spotted something at Widdrington that I thought might come in handy later.
My next destination was Morpeth. I thought it would be as good a place as any to spend the day before resuming my journey to the other stations on the line later that day.
I got off at the bus station. First order of business: some proper breakfast to replace the melted KitKats which had been my only sustenance so far.
Morpeth town centre is full of charming cafés. I, of course, went to Costa Coffee. Look, I was starving and a chain store breakfast roll is a known quantity.
Back on the train, I proffered my return ticket to the guard and asked him if I could break my journey at Acklington, continuing later on the evening train.
“Yes, of course,” he replied. His body language added, but why would you want to?
I was, again, the only passenger. I got a very real feel for this train’s place in the railway pecking order when, shortly after leaving Alnmouth, we were shunted into a loop for ten minutes to allow an East Coast express to overtake. It roared past, the turbulence from the gleaming silver coaches rocking my diminuitive train from side to side. Eventually, we resumed our southbound trundle and were soon slowing for the stop at Acklington.
I had a feeling that, with the niceness of Chathill, I might have peaked too soon, and I was right. Acklington has a similar imposing station building, but this one is now fenced off from the platforms. The waiting room is clearly of the same design as Chathill’s, but here there was no charming railwayana on display, just a lot of accumulated dirt.
I stumbled, bleary-eyed, into the Tyneside dawn. The streets of Newcastle were quiet; Geordieland was, by and large, still soundly asleep. The pavements were wet from overnight drizzle, and clouds hung ominously in the sky, threatening further rain. Luckily, I didn’t have far to go. I had deliberately booked into The Royal Station Hotel which, as the name suggests, is right next door to the station.
I had set no fewer than four alarms on my phone: the first at 5am, then at five-minute intervals thereafter. This may seem a bit over the top, but I needed to ensure I was up and at Newcastle Central station by 5.55am at the very latest, in order to catch a rare train to Chathill.
When I walked into the station at quarter to six, I found few passengers, but there was a Super Sprinter ticking over in platform 1.
Welcome, watchers! Doesn’t it seem an age since the last time? Well, not for me perhaps, but you all look distinctly older.
OK, thanks Treguard, but I’ll take it from here.
It has been eight months since I gingerly ascended the steps of Bordesley station. This big gap in station visits wasn’t planned, but unfortunately that unpleasant thing known as “real life” intervened. I am working full-time and also studying at the Open University, so evenings and weekends have been increasingly taken up with school work.
There’s also the other issue that most of the easy stations – the ones I can get to via an easy day trip; the low-hanging fruit, if you will – have been ticked off. Most of my future visits are to stations where the only train service is early in the morning, or late in the evening, or otherwise unsuitably timed for a connection from Liverpool. This means hotel stays, which adds to the expense.