Any Port in a Storm

Heysham Port signI’m baaaack.

Did you miss me? A combination of work, study and shortage of finances has conspired to keep me off the rails since my epic trip to Cornwall in the Spring. However, I was back out on the line today for what will be (I hope) one of several trips between now and the end of the year.

I clattered out of Lime Street aboard a Northern Rail diesel, swapping it at Wigan North Western for a Pendolino with a distractingly cute train manager. He can punch my ticket any day…

Northern Rail network mapAhem. My goal was the Lancashire coast and Heysham Port railway station. This tiny station is at the end of a line from Morecambe, which is itself at the end of a short stub of track from Lancaster. It’s a branch from a branch. Just one train a day makes the short run from Morecambe to Heysham Port and back, to connect with the ferry to the Isle of Man.

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Styal Icon

Photo of Styal station platform sign“How much is it to Northwich?”

“How much do you want it to be?”

My bus driver was a comedian. Marvellous. I eventually negotiated a fare of £2 and sat down for an enjoyable 20-minute ride through country lanes and small villages.

The number 48 is an infrequent rural bus service, making just five return trips a day between Frodsham and Northwich. It looked like the sort of bus which has “regulars”, who get on the same bus every day and probably sit in the same seat. I took a seat near the back, probably occupying someone else’s usual spot. I’m sure I got scowled at by at least one other person who got on.

I arrived in Northwich with plenty of time to get the next train, which was fortunate as, unknown to me, the railway and bus stations are some distance apart. A brisk walk across town ensued, but in the end I arrived in plenty of time for my train. The plan was to take a train from Northwich to Manchester Piccadilly, then onward to my next destination, Styal.

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Acton Stations

Photo of station nameboard for Acton BridgeI wish I could have recorded the noise made by the booking office clerk at Aigburth station when I asked for a Cheshire Day Ranger. It’s hard to describe, but was a sort of “ooh” – not, “ooh no, I’m going to have to search through 15 different menus to find it on my ticket machine,” but, “ooh that’s an interesting ticket I’ve never heard of.”

Having successfully acquired my ticket, I set off for Liverpool South Parkway for an onward connection to Crewe. My goal was Acton Bridge, a small Cheshire village with a small station to match.

This is probably going to be my last Station Master trip this year. Autumn brings with it short days and wet weather, as well as those pesky falling leaves that make train travel so unpredictable. However, I decided to go out for one last hurrah, an ambitious trip to bag a few more (relatively) local stations before going into hibernation. I like to keep my audience interested. Also, I didn’t want to leave the phrase “FUCKING CUNT” floating at the top of my blog for the whole winter.

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Photo of Salwick station sign“Sorry, I’ve turned the hot chocolate machine off.”

That was the reaction from the apologetic staff member at the coffee kiosk at Preston station. I found it slightly bizarre that they would start to switch off the equipment at around 3.30pm when the platforms were still teeming with passengers – especially when the server directed me to a rival café at the other end of the platform and told me to give my money to them instead. These are the sort of decisions that make sense to people in distant head office.

Having finally tracked down a chocolatey beverage, I took a moment to study the timetable for my next destination: Salwick.

Photo of Salwick timetable poster showing trains at 0700, 0802, 1202 and 1602

I am already a compulsive nail-biter, but this section of the trip had me nervous enough to chew off my entire fist. I was about to get on board the 1602 to Blackpool South, which would drop me off at Salwick at 1609. My return journey from Salwick to Preston (the last train of the day) was due to depart at 1615. Therefore I had just six minutes to grab my pictures and get back to the train. If I dawdled, I would find myself stranded in the village, facing either a hefty taxi bill or the prospect of camping outside the British Nuclear Fuels plant overnight.

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