Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Bland, Etc

Here's an interesting ("interesting") fact for you: Telford got its first stretch of motorway in 1975.  It got its second stretch, which took it to the M6, in 1983.  That's a brand new, six lanes of tarmac, seventy mile an hour road bulldozed across the countryside to connect the New Town with the motorway network.  Meanwhile it got its railway station, Telford Central, in...1986.  Even though the Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton line had been there since 1849, so all they had to do was whack a couple of platforms down and they were done.

The fact is, Telford isn't really interested in trains.  It was part of the third wave of New Towns, conceived in the sixties then largely built in the seventies, and the prevailing thought at that time was that everyone would have a car.  Everyone.  There was no need to build a railway station because you had that handy motorway.  

Even when they did build it, the emphasis was very much on "get here by car and go somewhere else" rather than "welcoming gateway to the town".  Telford Central is built within a triangle formed by three major roads - the M54, the A5, and the A442, a dual carriageway spine that runs north-south through Telford.  It's a small ticket office and waiting room, combined with a big car park.  There are no facilities, unless you count a Beefeater and Premier Inn off to one side, and there's no feeling of arrival.

I wandered over from the westbound platform to the station building in the hope of seeing something inspirational.  There were some transport policemen having a chat, an empty bus shelter, a woman waiting impatiently.  The transport policemen wandered off to their van parked to the side.  The woman was picked up by a cab.  Then the station was silent again.  It didn't feel right.

Christ almighty that's a bad photo.

In fairness, the town council seems to have realised that this isn't the greatest introduction to the town, and have constructed a large elaborate footbridge to carry you across into Telford proper.  Called the Silver Swallow Bridge - a name, you will be unsurprised to learn, that was invented by a schoolchild - it's a behemoth, crossing first the railway tracks and then the dual carriageway to deposit you in the town.

I walked across it as the rain began to hammer down.  It had been threatening all morning but that was while I was safe and dry on various trains.  The minute I started walking out in the open, the skies turned dark and the rain fell.  I crossed the bridge and ended up on what felt like a service road round the back of some offices.

The route into town was convoluted; I followed a woman who seemed to know where she was headed.  I crossed a wide pedestrian area that the office buildings seemed to turn their back on.  The council had laid on trees and benches but it didn't feel like a boulevard or a place to linger.  The mood wasn't helped by two young lads, huddled under a tree and clearly negotiating something furtive.  I hurried on and up to another footbridge to take me over another main road.

Now, at last, I could see the Telford Centre, the central shopping mall.  While the earlier New Towns looked to Europe for their inspiration, with open, multi-level shopping precincts, the later ones - Milton Keynes and Warrington and Telford - cast their eyes across the Atlantic.  That meant a mall, a huge enclosed area that contained all your shopping needs, surrounded by roads and plenty of car parking space.  The mall was the future; it was warm, and weatherproof, and you could separate shoppers from services with ease.  

I have nothing against shopping malls.  I spent a great deal of my childhood loitering in the Luton Arndale.  They are, however, pretty generic.  Milton Keynes spent an astronomical amount on its central shopping centre, with huge windows allowing natural light, marble floors, and tropical planting.  They made their retail destination a destination.

It was clear that Telford had not had the budget of Milton Keynes and the result was pretty much the same as every other indoor shopping centre in the United Kingdom.  That's fine when you're, say, Leeds, and you've covered over a few streets to make a mall that compliments the rest of your town centre.  In Telford, though, it was a problem.

The effect was that this town could be anywhere.  It should be the big attraction; it should be the heart.  Instead it was just another shopping centre, and I got no feeling about what Telford actually was.  The other problem with having a covered shopping centre as your town's hub is: all it has are shops.  A town is more than retail, and you can't really have a thriving centre if it's all closed and sealed off at 6pm.

The council finally realised this and a few years ago they built the Southwater development.  A pedestrian bridge - obviously - extended the Mall so that it could drop you in a new section of town, with pubs, restaurants, a cinema and hotels.  Suddenly, there was a space for the night-time economy!  And yet, it is just as generic as the shopping centre, only in a 21st century way.  Grey boxes house a Hungry Horse, a Zizzi, a Pizza Express, a Bella Italia; in short, the exact same national chains you get at any retail park.  

I walked through the development to find the lake that justified the "water" part of the name, and found a shallow pond that looked like one of those drainage pools you get on new housing estates.  Turning round, I was confronted with the blankness of the architecture, the big empty plaza without any life to it, the way the buildings didn't recede into the distance but instead just stopped: the town centre was done, thank you very much, nothing more to see.

Even though the rain was pelting down now, I wanted to walk to my next station without going through the shopping centre again, so I took a narrow side route past the requisite TGI Friday's and ended up in a huge open-air car park with an Asda looming on the horizon.  It gave me my first glimpse of public transport after the trains, a bus station with its signage half as big as NEW LOOK or H&M.

Skirting the centre was easy.  It exists as an island, surrounded by four roads to form a square, each of them carefully planned to be converted to dual carriageways if the need arose.  This was a Motorcity, the other part of American towns that was shipped across the Atlantic.  There was a token and, by the looks of it, relatively recent attempt to calm the traffic by the Asda - flat paving leading into road hump crossings, posh streetlamps, a bit of greenery - but it still wasn't a friendly atmosphere.  Turning the corner under the House of Fraser felt like rounding the edge of a fortress.  A bluff, square castle and I was cowering in the moat.

I was the only person on the pavement.  Yes, the weather was bad, but you expect to see one or two people out and about.  There was nobody.  Everyone heading into town had driven here and walked inside the shopping centre, or had gone straight from the bus station under cover to the shops.  Out here on the streets it was empty. It wasn't even especially busy with cars.  Telford's road layout is so meticulously designed that you only head into the town centre if you want to go to the town centre; there are so many bypasses and diversionary routes to keep you away from these four central ways that you have to work to get here.

Towns need people.  They need to move around freely, walk on the streets, wander.  Good towns - good places - invite you to stroll.  There are interesting sights, shops for you to call into, cafes, museums.  There's a mix of humans that makes a community.  On the streets of Telford, there was none of that.  There wasn't even a view.  When I looked to the right I saw the top of the shopping centre; a flat mess of air conditioners and service pipes and utilities.  The pinnacles were the tops of internal features - the roofs of domes, the upper parts of glass pyramids - and they were uninterested in putting on a show for outsiders.

I had, in my head, already planned a route to Oakengates station, and it meant that I had to pass through a retail park to get there.  I followed the footpath sign past the Odeon cinema.  The only movie posters were for No Time To Die, because (a) that was the only film getting released that week and (b) that was the only film worth talking about.  (Yes I have seen it, and yes I enjoyed it, with reservations, and if you really want to read a rough rundown of my thoughts on it, you can read them here).  But the other side of the Odeon didn't look like a retail park, it looked like the car park for an office building - there were no shops in sight.  I thought I must've taken a wrong turn, so I walked back to the road.  Perhaps I had to go behind the Odeon rather than across it.

There was a roundabout - of course there was, I was in a new town - and a couple of low hotels that looked like student accommodation.  But further on from that was another, bigger roundabout, and I pulled out Google Maps in the driving rain so that I could try and deduce where I was meant to be headed.  There was a blue sign pointing to Oakengates, so I followed that.

It was only when I saw the same blue glass, stubby Dallas office building I'd seen leaving the station that I realised I'd walked in a complete circle and the footbridge I was heading for was the Silver Swallow Bridge.  I sighed and pushed on.  Normally I'd turn back, find the right path, but I was sick of Telford.  It was dispiriting and dull and I wanted to go somewhere else.

The bridge deposited me next to the station building and I followed a foot and cycle path that shadowed the A442.  It was noisy and isolated, hemmed in by traffic and trees.  It only got worse as, once I passed under the M54, the path became overgrown on one side.  I could still hear the traffic but now I was on a segregated, lonely route.

This is another part of Telford's loyalty to the car.  Pedestrian routes are segregated and sent places people don't want to walk.  I wondered what it was like to be a housewife, a student, a pensioner, to know that the town centre with its shops was just over there, but without access to a car you were left to follow meandering and dangerous looking paths.  I'm a hefty 44 year old man, and I was apprehensive about turning a corner on that path and finding a gang of youths waiting for me in the undergrowth.  How would it be if you're a 16 year old girl who works in McDonalds and has to get there for the breakfast shift before the buses start?  

The path split and splintered into side routes but I stuck to what seemed like the main way and took a bridge over the railway.  It was stone and brick, and obviously predated the town around it; a remnant of when this was countryside.  It emptied me out at the back of an office park.  I wondered what the workers stood by the photocopiers thought when they looked down and saw me roll out of the undergrowth next to their parked up BMWs.

The hill rose steeply and then I encountered something I'd not seen elsewhere in the town: a bus in motion.  I'd seen them parked up in the station, but how they got there was a mystery, because I'd not seen any of them driving about.  There was nobody at the bus stop, but still, it was nice to know they got around, and weren't for show.  

Snedshill was, it turned out, actually historic, but in the same way that a Civil War battlefield is historic: there's nothing to see.  As the name Furnace Way hints, this was once the site of one of the earliest ironworks in an area that produced Ironbridge, but it's now long gone.  Instead, there are retirement bungalows, a park wedged behind the dual carriageway, and, as you approach Oakengates, a few old cottages threaded along the road.

I wasn't enjoying Telford, which made me sad.  I'd long harboured a plan to visit here, but it was disappointing me.  The problem with that third wave of New Towns is they have a vague sense of hopelessness about them.  They weren't built in thrusting 1960s Britain, with the Beatles and Bond and Concorde, but in the 1970s, with the Bay City Rollers and Love Thy Neighbour The Movie and Concorde not selling because fuel prices were astronomical.  Instead of aiming high, trying to make the lives of its residents better, Telford felt insular and uncaring.  It felt less like a town, more like a load of disparate settlements grouped together arbitrarily.

Which is, of course, partly because that's what Telford is.  No New Town in the UK is entirely new - we're far too small and compressed an island to manage that.  Instead Telford filled in the gaps between existing Shropshire communities with new housing and built a town centre for them to aim for.  It's why Oakengates has had a railway station since 1849 - it was there long before the New Town Commission came calling.

I was immediately cheered by an old Co-operative sign, embedded into the wall, a beautiful piece of tiling.  Admittedly, the building it was in was now a pizza parlour, but still, it was the first bit of history I'd seen since I'd got off the train.  Beyond that was Oakengates town centre, a couple of narrow streets snaking up the hill and lined with a variety of pubs and shops.

Oakengates will never be mistaken for Hampstead or Chiswick.  Half its shops were shut; there were members of staff dangling out the front doors of Ladbrokes and the Eastern European supermarket smoking fags.  One of the pubs was still urging us to support England in the Euros.  It was grubby and down at heel.

But here's the difference between Oakengates and Telford town centre - it felt alive.  There were cars and taxis.  There were pedestrians.  People were having pints under the awnings outside the pubs.  A woman in an Afro-Caribbean shop was talking so loudly and excitedly I could hear her out on the street.  I felt like I was in a Place, somewhere people lived rather than existed.  I crested the top of the high street and turned back towards the station feeling a lot jollier.  I'd finally found some personality.

Oakengates station is at the bottom of Station Road, across from Station Mews and backing onto Station Fields; they're not very imaginative round here.  I headed back down Station Road, past a sign on an industrial unit advertising its Meat Trade Counter which sounded unpleasant for about fourteen reasons, and towards the station.  It was absolutely barrelling it down with rain now, so I didn't bother taking a look at the station house that was now a dental practice - or the pair of slippers that had been discarded on a grass verge and which would haunt me for the rest of the day - and headed for the platform.

Christ almighty that's a bad photo.

I was followed into the shelter by a tall man with a paperback.  He stood at the far end and read his book then, five minutes before the train arrived, tucked it into his pocket and walked away.  He didn't get the train.  I'm now left wondering if this means that Oakengates station doubles as a lending library and I hadn't noticed, or if this was some sort of gay sex pick up that I completely missed the signals for.

My final stop for the day was Wellington, and this is where I owe them an apology.  Wellington is a fine old market town, listed in the Domesday Book and with a charter going back centuries.  It has hundreds of years of history and personality and it deserves a full evaluation.

However, when I arrived, it wasn't just raining, it was engulfed.  Wellington was drowning.  It was heavy, consistent, vertical sheets of water crashing down and flooding the town.  I walked from the station to the pedestrianised area and my coat was clinging to me and my glasses were in desperate need of windscreen wipers.

Out of a sense of duty I endured the rain to do a circuit of the shopping district.  I feel like when people talk about the death of the High Street they are referring, quite specifically, to Wellington.  It was more than a little sad.  Lovely historic buildings that no doubt once housed charming shops were now filled with charity shops.  That's the ones that were filled at all; too many were vacant.  Someone had strung Wellington Boot bunting over the streets to try and induce a cheery atmosphere but in this downpour it looked sarcastic.  I called it a day.

If I was Michael Portillo, I'd have an entire team helping me out with umbrellas and cars and replacement bright pink suits for when the first one got soaked.  I'm not though, I'm just me, and after a miserable afternoon I wanted to find somewhere warm and dry that served beer.

Look at that damp face.  Are you going to deny it one joy?  You beast.

With the beer inside me I felt brave enough to head back out to the station.  Wellington is tucked below street level, in a cutting, meaning it's a somewhat inauspicious welcome to the town.  There are a few steps up to a bus exchange and the back of the shops, or a slowly rising road to the bridge over the tracks.  It feels a bit buried.

On the plus side, being an original station on the line means it gets a proper Victorian station, with fine platform awnings and footbridges.  This wasn't anything special - it wasn't a grand termini - but it still had more dignity and presence than Telford Central's grey box.  It was solid and proud.

I'm not against New Towns at all.  I admire them and support them and some of them are fantastic.  Telford seemed to do it all wrong, somehow.  I wanted better for it.  I really wanted to like it.  But it let me down.

Christ almighty that's a bad photo.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Canal Turn


I'm going to start with a bit of politics.  I know that's not why you come here - you come here because it's your lunch break and they won't let you look at porn on your work computer - but bear with me.  I came to the realisation, on my trip from Moor Street to Hatton, that Chiltern Railways is easily the most Tory of all the rail operating companies.  It goes from Moor Street, which is done out like the Good Old Days, to Marylebone, which is so posh it has a name that only upper class people can say properly.  It goes through Warwickshire and Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, prime Home Counties, prime Tory areas.  Even when it passes through working class Birmingham, it skips inner city Small Heath and Tyseley so it can whizz on to fragrant Solihull with its wine bars and John Lewis.  

Meanwhile, until very recently, its corporate colours were red, white and blue.  Absolute Brexit.  I felt like graffitiing the windows with TAX THE RICH and CAPITALISM IS A DISEASE but I didn't because while I may be left-wing, I'm not awful.

Beyond Solihull, it skipped some more bits of the city before deigning to stop at rural Hatton, well away from the common oiks.  (West Midlands Trains also runs a limited service to Hatton, only in the peaks, and I hope they send their grimiest, dirtiest, stinkiest diesels to chug through and lower the house prices).  The station is a couple of platforms in the countryside, decorated in that corporate Union Jack, with a small row of railway cottages running alongside.  I left the platform just as a friendly pair of retirees waved goodbye to one of the residents, sending the bouncy labrador back into the house then getting in their 4x4 and driving off.  I skulked up the road, hovered under the station sign as usual, then headed for the canal towpath.

Now if I was a proper travel writer, one with a mission to entertain and inform, I'd have turned right at the bottom of the steps.  Hatton station is actually a fair way from the village itself, which considered the canal far more important to its history than the railway.  The Hatton Locks are a series of twenty-one locks raising the level of the Grand Union Canal, threading their way through the village and forming an important transport resource.  They were so notable that they were opened by the Duke of Kent.  A proper travel writer would immediately rush to see them, perhaps take a boat through a couple of the locks, almost certainly chat to a couple of extravagantly bewhiskered bargemen.

I am not a proper travel writer.  I turned left.  

The thing is, Lapworth station was to the left.  If I'd gone to the locks, it was a mile's walk, and then, when I was done, I'd have had to walk back the way I came.  I hate going back the way I came.  It's so dull.  I could have diverted inland for the return, of course, but that would've made the walk even longer, and I didn't particularly want to go there in the first place.  So I apologise if you came here for stories of amazing canal escapades.

The towpath was empty for the most part.  I encountered a single fisherman, his long rod almost extending the width of the canal, and we shared a polite nod of acknowledgement.  There were no boats after I left the yacht club at Hatton behind, just a stretch of long silent water until I reached the tunnel at Shrewley.  

The tunnel cuts through a hill, but there's no way for pedestrians to pass through it.  Instead I mounted the slope, already starting to sweat.  It was a sticky, abnormal day, the skies pregnant with rain, the air hinting at thunderstorms, and the steep clamber caused me to grunt and drip.  At the top it levelled out into an access road and I had my countryside fantasies ruined.  The M40 was less than four hundred metres away, completely invisible to me, but constantly present.  It was a roar, a relentless noise underpinning every step.  A canal and a railway are only noisy periodically; even on the busiest tube lines there are whole minutes of silence between trains.  A busy road is a single, unflinching rhythm, a stream of sound at all hours, varying from truck to motorbike to car so that it ebbs and flows and acts as a constant distraction.  I suppose you get used to it, but to me, it was like having a bee three inches from my ear the whole time.

I was deposited in Shrewley itself, a village strung along a single road.  I dodged the cars to cross and found a small To The Canal sign in the undergrowth, beside a house undergoing major refurbishment with a skip in the drive.  I paused.  Down there?

I'd expected the path back down to be similar to the one I'd just climbed; instead I was disappearing into the dark.  I walked forward to the mouth of the tunnel.  At first there were low, wide steps, then, after a half a dozen, they disappeared, and instead I was walking down smooth stones.  Raised bricks had been placed in them for you to wedge your feet against, but there was no handrail, nothing.  Water trickled down the sides.

Obviously I slipped; my body always aims for the lowest of low comedy.  I reached out to grab something, some kind of purchase, and punched my hand through a spider's web.  The rest of the walk down the slope was painfully slow, my hand tracing the side of the tunnel the whole time, while my mind idly wondered if I'd slide all the way to the bottom when I inevitably fell and cracked my skull open or if I'd simply lay sprawled in the darkness to be discovered by a dog walker eight hours later.

Soon I was out the other side, back in the daylight, back on the towpath.  Or what little towpath there was.  My right foot was perilously close to the edge the whole time.  I transferred my phone to my left pocket because I was worried it would get dislodged and plunge into the water.  Dammit, I thought, how did they ever expect to get a horse along a path this tight?  Then I realised, actually, they didn't.

In my mind, the canals basically stopped existing the minute the Liverpool to Manchester railway opened in 1830.  Why would you use a slow, tortuous, highly-engineered canal when you had the option of a fast railway instead?  Of course, it wasn't like that at all; canals continued to be used as a means of transportation for decades afterwards.  But the railways were the nail in the coffin and then, a while later, the motor car came along and hammered in another.

By the 1920s, the canals were on their knees, and they needed to find some way to attract traffic.  Two big canal companies, the Regent's and the Grand Junction, amalgamated, and began upgrading the route between London and Birmingham.  It was an incredibly expensive undertaking with the intention of making the narrow waterways much wider to accommodate two way traffic plus larger vessels, while the depth was increased so that heavier cargoes could be carried.  The aforementioned Duke of Kent turned up to open the new route in 1934.  

Yep, you read that right: 1934.  To put that in perspective, the Queensway Tunnel opened under the Mersey the same year.  The Grand Union was putting its money in canals at a time when you could get on a plane and travel across Europe.  And then, of course, the Second World War promptly arrived and decimated the economy.  In 1948 the Labour government nationalised the canals along with the railways and I imagine there were a lot of shareholders who were frankly relieved to have the burden taken off them.

The Grand Union is a beautiful walk; I was enjoying it thoroughly.  But it was inconceivable to me that people, even people a hundred years ago with a lot of money tied up in the canal network, believed there was any future in it as a serious mode of transportation when trains and lorries also existed.  According to this website it takes nine days to get from London to Birmingham, and that's in 2021, with modern, well-maintained boats.  Throwing millions of pounds at something that is already obsolete seems like the grandest of follies.

As I rounded the corner, I encountered my first canal boat.  There had been a couple moored up but this was the first one that was actually on the move.  It was then that I realised two things:

    (a) a canal boat moves quite slowly, but not slowly enough, and;
    (b) I walk quite quickly, but not quickly enough.

It meant that I was walking at more or less the same pace as the canal boat.  This was obviously unacceptable.  I didn't want to be staring at that man for the three miles to Lapworth.  Similarly, I'm sure he didn't want to have me watching him.  Neither of us wanted to slow down, though; we had places to be.  It was an impasse.

Fortunately, a second boat appeared, coming in the opposite direction.  The man on the barge slowed his boat down so they could pass one another under a bridge and I moved into turbo mode.  Obviously, I walk fast, because I am a homosexual (I always liked Trixie Mattel's explanation for why gays walk so fast; we all have Womanizer by Britney Spears playing inside our head and are matching the beat) but this would take a concerted effort.  I pounded that towpath, really hammering it, a sort of ultra mince that got me past the boat and round the corner and distant enough that I could slow down and relax again.  I'd put the narrowboat behind me and now I wouldn't have a shadow for the rest of the walk.

The path darkened as I walked through woodland.  There was no motorway noise here, just the sound of birds.  I have absolutely no talent for learning birdsong, so I couldn't tell you what they were.  They were somewhere in among the trees.  The bridges that crossed the canal now were small, local roads, farm tracks.  Further along a man was moored at the bank and washing the roof of his boat.  "Looks like it's going to rain," he said to me.

"I hope so," I replied.  "I need cooling down!"  The ultra mince had turned me into a soaking wet, sweaty mess.  My t-shirt clung to me and my hair was tight against my forehead.  Drops ran down my neck and face.  I considered taking my top off, since there was hardly anyone about.  I was afraid of being seen, though.  I imagined my pale fleshy form being half-glimpsed through the trees and becoming a terrifying urban legend.  The White Beast of Warwickshire.  The Towpath Blob.  The Grand Union Horror.  I kept the shirt on.

Fortunately, the rain began to fall.  Just mildly at first, then harder and heavier, long driving pounding drops.  It was delightful.  I was rinsed with it, wiping away the salty sweat from my lips, splattering against my glasses.  I paused to wipe them down then pushed on.  It was still warm so I left my jacket in my backpack, a look that raised eyebrows in a group of walkers coming the other way in full human condom ponchos.  Lightweights.  There was another walker though, a man wearing the same as me - t-shirt, shorts, sturdy boots - and we nodded in recognition at a fellow traveller.  I wondered if he was doing Lapworth to Hatton, if somewhere there's this exact blog, but in reverse.

Tom O' The Wood was a tiny hamlet with a tempting pub and more boats moored.  By the bridge there was an information board about the women of the canals, and a post with a speaker and a hand crank to hear their stories.  I gave it a spin but all I heard was a crackle, like a record player nobody cleaned, so I ducked under the bridge and carried on.  Across the way a man leapt from his barge onto the bank, a power tool in hand.  You're constantly fighting the water in the boats.  It always wants to invade your dry spaces and so it's a constant process of renewal to keep it out.  By now the houseboats and their cargoes were familiar to me, the wheelbarrow and bike on the roof, the little selection of plants, the brief glimpse of a tidy kitchenette.  There were two men pulling a boat in, tying it up with ropes, and when I passed the back window I saw their wives inside making tea.  The canals make men men again and the women are there for supplies.  

I could never live on a canal boat myself.  I see the appeal of travelling around, of following a mood, but I'm too afraid.  I'd be scared to leave my boat unattended, a box with all my possessions that could be damaged or destroyed so easily.  It felt so fragile.  

A finger post at the side of the canal showed me a side route, the point where the Stratford Canal touched up against the Grand Union.  I clambered over the bridge - the rain had made the cobbles particularly hazardous and I descended like a man trying on eight inch heels for the first time - and saw that I was almost at my destination.  I ducked under a bridge and made myself look presentable.  A wipe down with a tissue, a change of t-shirt, a spray of deodorant and aftershave.  The troll that re-emerged was maybe not entirely transformed but he was human enough to get served in the Navigation Inn.

The orange juice was to rehydrate me; the beer was to enjoy.  I sat in the garden, cooling off, under a tented roof and connected to the wifi (one bar of 3G - what sort of a hellhole was this?).  Across from me there was a pair of retirees, where she talked a lot more than he did, explaining all the local attractions and why exactly she hadn't visited them.  There was a boisterous group of middle-aged women further out, enjoying a pub lunch, and two grey haired men in lycra carrying cycle helmets.  One came out with the beer and when he suggested they take a seat further out in the garden the other one said "lead on sir" so I immediately hated him.  I relaxed.

After an hour or so I'd finished my drinks and so I lazily picked myself up and headed into the village.  The station is called Lapworth, but the village is Kingswood; there was already a Kingswood station down south though so they renamed this one after the parish rather than the locality.  It was a neat, moneyed village, with new prestige developments slotted in seamlessly and a village shop and a garage and an off-licence.  The village noticeboard advertised a talk on the local history and a male voice choir and held slightly damp bus timetables.

I went past the primary school and a mobile library with a badly painted picture of Antony and Cleopatra on the side - I have a feeling I'm going to be seeing a lot of Shakespeare tie-ins throughout Warwickshire - and then there was the station, tucked to one side.  This was, incidentally, on Station Lane.  You don't get many Station Lanes.  Station Road, yes, but Lane is countrysidey, Olde Worlde, and not very modern thrusting railway.  

It was also decorated in the red white and blue of Chiltern Railways, and seemed to be of some interest to a train nerd.  On the platform was a boy with a huge camera on a tripod; he loitered in a slightly anticipatory way.  I guessed that there was a train passing through soon, a freight or something, and that I might possibly turn up in the back of a shot on a YouTube video somewhere.

I deposited myself on the bench and ate my lunch, a chicken wrap I'd bought the day before and stashed in a Tupperware.  The rain had stopped and the afternoon was waning.  I'd sliced off a corner of the map here.  After the grimy industrial world of my first post-pandemic trip I'd wanted something with a bit of natural beauty, a bit of a walk, a bit of a change.  Hatton to Lapworth had been worth it.