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.
The exit from the southbound platform is via a footpath, lined with encroaching branches. It emerges onto the B6345, one of those narrow country roads without a pavement to separate pedestrians from the traffic.
Two things struck me about the sign at the entrance. Firstly, it again announced non-existent trains to Berwick, despite it obviously being a recent installation (note the Northern Rail logo in the corner).
Secondly, what on earth is going on with that font? I’m a confirmed Rail Alphabet fan and I didn’t like to see a generic serif typeface attempting to impart useful information. Methinks Northern’s sign makers need to go back to the drawing board.
Fortunately, better signage is available. I had to cross over the railway and follow the road round to the northbound platform, where a proper double-arrow logo and lettering are available. As I took the selfie I became acutely aware of an elderly man walking his dog, who was looking at me quizzically (the man, not the dog).
I was intrigued by an ancient road sign outside the station, pointing the way to Guyzance (sounds like my kind of place) but decided to stick to my original plan and head to Morpeth. It was 7.40am, and the next train wouldn’t arrive for another 11 hours. I would have to get the bus.
I am always amazed to find buses running outside big towns and cities. The common wisdom is that rural buses went out of fashion around the same time as Little & Large. In my head, everyone in the country drives tractors or sheep everywhere. The area is, however, blessed with a decent express bus service, the X18 between Berwick and Newcastle. My plan was to get that bus to Morpeth and spend the day there, before picking up the evening train service.
The bus stop is on the opposite side of the village to the railway station, so I had a walk of about a mile or so. Fortunately, I had well over an hour to spare, so I took my time. Mercifully, a pavement appeared as I approached the village proper, so I could breathe a sigh of relief and not fret about getting mown down by an approaching 4×4.
The first building I encountered was the Railway Inn, promising food, beers and accommodation. It looked welcoming, although I was slightly put off by the large number of camper vans outside (I am naturally suspicious of anyone who takes their own accommodation with them on holiday). I felt that maybe I was doing this trip the wrong way round and I should have left Acklington until later on in the day; had it been a more civilised hour of the day, I could have stopped here for a drink.
Some horses in a nearby field eyed me up as I walked past. One trotted up to the fence and cocked its head. I wasn’t sure if it was looking for a stroke or a sugar cube or some other form of affection from me, so I hurried on.
“Feeling socially awkward with a horse” – there’s an achievement unlocked, I think.
Acklington was, apparently, “Northumberland’s Calor Village of the Year 2007”. Not sure what that means; maybe they’re really good at using camping stoves or something.
I walked past all the usual facilities: a village hall, a parish church, a primary school, but no shop of any description that I could see. On the edge of the village there was an estate of modern semis, not really in keeping with the rest of the buildings.
I passed a woman walking two dogs. I smiled at her but received nothing back; except a feeling of social awkwardness that I am all too familiar with.
At this point, I became aware that I was leaving the village behind and there was still no sign of the bus stop. A quick Google search pulled up the informative and enthusiastic Acklington Parish web site, which confirmed the location of the bus stop. I wondered how people managed to plan public transport trips before the advent of the internet – my entire sojourn in the North East had been planned a month in advance through several long evenings on Transport Direct. Not for the first time, I uttered a silent thank you to Tim Berners-Lee.
I had twenty minutes or so to wait for the bus. I was about to plonk myself down on the bench when I noticed it was still wet from earlier rain. I made do with standing.
I noticed a big slug, no doubt enticed out into the open by the damp conditions, making its slow, slimy way across the pavement.
I thought back to when I was about 8 or 9 years old and someone brought into primary school a glass case full of snails. The teacher delighted in showing us how to make their tentacle eyes retract into their bodies by poking them. Naturally, the classroom full of boys spent many happy hours thereafter prodding snails in the eye. It only occurred to me much later that this was probably quite a cruel thing to do.
There was also a bizarre incident when someone snuck into the classroom, removed the snails from their habitat and put them in someone’s desk as a prank. A couple of hours and several munched exercise books later, we were all marched into the assembly hall to be interrogated by Miss Williams, our fearsome battle-axe of a teacher. “If you don’t confess,” she warned the unknown culprit, “you’ll have nightmares. Every night when you go to sleep, you’ll see giant snails flying at you.”
I wish I was making this up. I don’t think they ever did find out who did it.
Where was I? Oh yes, stations and buses and such. The X18 arrived right on time and I bought a Day Saver from the driver. I took a seat on the top deck so I could enjoy the view on the way to Morpeth.