Village Person

Acklington

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.

Acklington Station Acklington Station

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.

Acklington Waiting Room

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Postcards from the Edge

Chathill station

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.

Newcastle Central - 0545 0555 to Chathill

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Station Keeping

Berney Arms tracks

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.

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Treading the Bordes

BordesleyAh, Birmingham. England’s second city. Throbbing heart of the industrial Midlands. Hub of England’s canal network. Gateway to the Black Country. Punchline to a million jokes for lazy comedians; here are some: Spaghetti Junction, Bullring, New Street station.

Maybe that last one will no longer apply soon, as New Street station is in the throes of a massive regeneration. The first phase – the new ticket hall – is open, and impressed me with its attractiveness. Not that it would be hard to improve on the old New Street building. I proffered my London Midland Great Escape ticket to the barrier staff, and hurried to find an exit to start my latest Station Master quest.

New New Street

One downside, for occasional visitors to the city like me, is that the layout of the station has completely changed, and the main entrance on New Street is closed for the foreseeable future, presumably to allow the ugly 1960s forecourt to be replaced by something that people will walk into willingly.

I struggled to find the appropriate exit, but eventually emerged on the opposite side of the station to the one I needed. I had to walk right round the outside of the Bullring to get to Moor Street station, from where I followed the imaginatively named High Street out of the city centre.

High Street

Poor Birmingham. It sold its soul to the motor car in the 1960s, a mistake for which it is still paying. Massive dual carriageways radiate from the city in every direction, bringing cars right into the city, where they get snarled up in immense traffic jams. The powers-that-be have belatedly realised, and the last couple of decades have seen improvements to rail services and the creation of the Midland Metro, but the car still rules supreme, unfortunately.

My target was Bordesley, the first station beyond Moor Street on the Birmingham-Stratford line. This was my second attempt to visit the station – a previous visit last year had been thwarted by overhead wire problems on the journey down from Liverpool. On that occasion, I had to console myself with a trip to Moor Street station instead – not a bad station to visit, but something of a consolation prize. Almost a year on, and I was ready to try again.

Bordesley receives precisely one scheduled train per week – the 1255 from Stratford-upon-Avon to Great Malvern, which calls at Bordesley at 1337 on Saturdays only. I had approximately 45 minutes to walk from New Street to catch it.

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United We Stand

Manchester United Football GroundAh, football. The Beautiful Game. The Sport of Kings. The Gentleman’s Relish (I may have made that last one up).

Despite football being a national obsession, my personal interest in the game begins and ends with how well Gareth Bale fills a pair of shorts. However, for thousands of people up and down the country, Saturday means getting up at the crack of dawn to travel to the other end of the country for their team’s crucial (it’s always “crucial”) away game.

This always presents a challenge for the railways, who have to cope with an influx of passengers. British Rail – that lumbering, inefficient organisation which, we were told, never responded to passengers’ needs – ran scores of “footex” trains every week, conveying trainloads of scarf-waving football supporters to the four points of the compass.

These days, special trains for football matches are few and far between, and football fans usually travel on regular services, often under the watchful eye of the British Transport Police. If you’re lucky, the train company will stick an extra coach or two on, but that’s about it.

One vestige of the football special does linger on, however. The main line of the Cheshire Lines Committee from Liverpool to Manchester runs right past the south stand of Old Trafford, home of… (Googles) …Manchester United. In 1935, the enterprising CLC built a siding and platform to serve special trains from Manchester city centre. Nearly eighty years later, the platform is still there, and on match days a procession of Northern Rail trains shuttle to and from the station, dropping off the home team’s supporters right next to the stadium.

Northern Rail Map

Of course, being Manchester United supporters, they probably have to get a train from London first (I am assured, by football supporting friends of mine, that that is a funny joke).

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The Restaurants at the End of The Universe, Part 2

Corrour nameboardWondering where Part 1 is? It’s over on my personal blog.

It was Wednesday afternoon, and Ian and I were on the train to Corrour. This is one of those stations. When trainspotters gather, they speak of Corrour in hushed tones. In lists of superlatives, Corrour features heavily: the highest, the most remote, and so on…

Corrour was opened with the line in 1894, giving access to the Corrour Estate. The landed gentry would arrive for fun-packed holidays of deer stalking and grouse shooting – to this day, the Caledonian Sleeper makes special provision for people travelling with firearms.

More recently, it has become a popular station with walkers, who start and end their long rambles in the countryside here. In the 1990s it became famous for another reason. In Danny Boyle’s seminal film Trainspotting, the station was the starting point for the junkie protagonists’ day out in the country.

Disclaimer: I am not a heroin addict, and I’m fairly sure Ian isn’t either. I have also never seen Trainspotting, although visiting the station has persuaded me to finally watch it. The DVD hasn’t arrived from Amazon yet, but I have a feeling I will be impatiently sitting through grimy misery, waiting for the 60 seconds of railway footage. Sorry, Danny Boyle – good job on the Olympics thing, though.

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Come Rannoch on our Moor

If you haven’t already, you may want to read my account of the Caledonian Sleeper over on my main blog, which marks the start of my Scottish trip.

Rannoch stationScotland, I think I’m in love with you. It was Tuesday morning, and I was enjoying the first of three days exploring the Highlands in the company of my friend Ian. We had arrived in Fort William a few hours earlier on the Caledonian Sleeper. After the overnight journey from London, any other journey seems rather ordinary, but as the ScotRail Super Sprinter chugged its way south – back the way we had come earlier that morning – I really couldn’t have been happier.

The railways came late to this part of Britain. It wasn’t until 1894 that fearless navvies completed a route through some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the country. Despite the best efforts of Beeching, over a century later there is still a substantial network of routes criss-crossing the Highlands. The West Highland Line, linking Glasgow, Fort William and Mallaig, regularly features on lists of the greatest train journeys in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. The scenery is truly spectacular. The line twists and turns, following the contours of the landscape as well as it can. In places the train hugs the side of cliff faces on narrow ledges, in other parts it traces a curve round the shores of lochs. Sometimes, where the engineers could find no other alternative, you find yourself flying across valleys on majestic viaducts.

Top Rail Journey in the World poster

Every station on this route deserves to be visited for this blog, and one day I will come back and do just that. For now though, I had to make do with Rannoch, an isolated station located in the heart of the moor from which it takes its name.

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