Thursday, 18 September 2014

Liquidity

Water!

The element that creates this beautiful blue marble we all live on.  A precious resource we all treasure.  The thing Dominic Greene was willing to initiate a revolution for in Quantum of Solace.  Valuable, plentiful, beautiful.

You know what it's not?  Worth £1.95.  ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY FIVE BRITISH PENNIES FOR A BOTTLE OF WATER.

I stared at the bottle of Volvic in Preston station's Whistle Stop shop with a mixture of awe and disgust.  Awe that they had the gall to charge that much for a bottle of still water - that's right; it wasn't even sparkling.  They'd not even gone to the effort of carbonating the bugger, just stuck a plastic bottle in a well, slapped a label on it and sent it out.  It wasn't one of those fancy, pretentious brands like San Pellegrino, or a bottle of Smart Water that would do whatever Smart Water does (increase your IQ?  Change a tyre for you?).  Mainly I felt disgust at the shameless gouging, the way the shop was taking advantage of the thousands of trapped individuals who passed through the station and just wanted a drink between trains.  They were in an unfamiliar city, they didn't know if there would be somewhere else if they ventured outside the station building, they didn't want to miss their connection, they just wanted to get rid of the dryness in their mouth.  They'd have to hand over the £1.95, and it'd be finished by Crewe.

I turned around with what I hoped was an imperious sneer but was probably more of a Kenneth Williams-esque flounce.  Pay that kind of money for water?  How DARE you, sir.


I was still fizzing when I got on board my train.  My objective for the day was to finish the East Lancashire Line, which I started two years ago.  That might seem particularly tardy of me but it's all part of my plan.  I prefer to spread things about a bit.  Lines often feature similar geography, similar architecture; doing them all in one go could be a bit dull.  I try to mix them up a bit - the exception is lines like the Settle & Carlisle, which are difficult to get to and so I have to do them in one mass tart.


My first station was Hapton, a request stop in the shadow of the M65.  I didn't request it - there were a few people waiting on the platform and I took the opportunity to jump off.


Up top, a bridge soared over the railway line and the motorway and took you into the village itself.  It was a tiny little community of straight terraces huddled around a main street.  I nipped into a small newsagents and bought two bottles of water for £1.30 from an incredibly jolly Asian man - his customer service skills were 1000% better than the two members of staff at the Whistle Stop drinking coffee behind the counter and having their own conversation - and continued to the canal bridge.


Something bad had happened.  There was a huge hole in the wall of the bridge, with missing bricks, and the carriageway was fenced off.  It was hard not to picture a car swerving madly, slamming into the wall and plunging into the water below.  That might just be my fondness for melodrama.


Soon I was following the Leeds and Liverpool Canal towpath.  It wasn't a particularly pretty stretch.  There were industrial estates on one side, and the motorway on the other.  Electricity pylons fizzed and crackled, driving away any potential fishermen.  It was well-used by dog walkers though; in fact I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to the lady who came round the corner just as I was adjusting my sweaty testicles.  I'm sure finding a man shifting his bullion by the side of the canal wasn't top of her wish list.


Under it all was the thrum of the traffic on the M65.  It's a relatively new motorway, with its last section opened in 1997; confusingly, that was the section from junction 1a to junction 6, with junctions 7 to 14 having been completed years before.  The official reason for its construction is to service the industry of the Calder Valley, as a major regenerative tool, but that seems odd.  It doesn't really go anywhere, and when it does go somewhere, it's only Preston.  Its eastern limit, however, points hopefully towards Leeds, hinting that it was once intended as another cross-Pennine route.  There's no chance of that ever being built now.

The towpath ducked under the road, and I was surprised that even out here, away from the urban sprawl, there was graffiti on the concrete.  One proto-Banksy had stencilled Ginger Bastard on one of the columns.  I was confused.  Why would you go to the effort of making a stencil?  And who was the ginger bastard in question?


The canal went under the motorway again, then under the railway line, and then I was on the fringes of Burnley.  I clambered up to the road via a set of steps - dislodging two people who were sat on them eating their sandwiches - and walked the short distance to Rose Grove station.


It sounds pretty, but it isn't.  Rose Grove is a single platform between the lines and there's not a rose bush in sight.  Instead I found a shelter filled with a large family having a picnic, the children scattering crumbs and crusts all over the floor.  Through a wire mesh fence the traffic whizzed by.


I found a low wall on the platform and sat down for a drink and a bite to eat.  It was a strangely warm day.  Is it not meant to be September?  Shouldn't we be getting icy chills and rainstorms?

The Blackpool bound train arrived and took all the other waiting passengers away, then a few minutes later, the Colne train arrived for me.  The line splits further along.  There's a large, heavy route to Leeds that peels off towards the south of Burnley town centre, while I continued on the single track to the north.  The single track means that the service along here is severely restricted - there's nowhere for the trains to pass one another.


I alighted at Burnley Barracks.  Disappointingly I wasn't greeted by a fit squaddie.  When it was built this was a busy, built up area, but road improvements and the demolition of slums have meant that passenger levels have plummeted.  Which is handy, because it took me about fourteen tries before I got the sign pic: in a more populated area I'd have been spotted as a lunatic and reported to a constable.


The road dropped away steeply towards Burnley town centre, with houses built on the side in a cascade of rooftops.  Small industrial units peppered the side roads: one had a sign warning lorries not to use its entrance as it was too steep for vehicles.  I paused by an abandoned car park to take in the Burnley viaduct, an impressive piece of Victorian engineering that carries a bare minimum of trains these days.


All towns in the North, to some extent, are struggling to find a new role post-industrialisation.  The councils are forced to allocate their limited funds for regeneration - new ways to attract people and businesses to towns bearing the scars of Thatcherism.  Sometimes it's transport facilities, sometimes it's tourism, sometimes it's vast new business parks.

Burnley seemed to have settled on a policy of signage.  There were signs everywhere, for everything.  Barely an old building went by without having a bit of ironwork slapped on the side to tell you its history.  Roads had explanatory notices to tell you the reason for their name.  It was as though the Council had decided that the reason Google hadn't opened its European HQ in Burnley was because they didn't understand the derivation of the town's name (from the River Brun, a metal plaque on a bridge helpfully informed me).


It's a shame they didn't concentrate their efforts on the town centre itself, because that's just a generic pedestrianised zone.  Bright red brick pathways pass between 1960s precincts and a Market Hall.  I nipped into Marks and Spencer and used their facilities before pressing on towards Burnley Central station.  Standish Street was a bit more interesting, with small independent shops, tattoo parlours, and The Emporium, a "Goth shop" selling twisted artworks and everything black.


I was joined at the pedestrian crossing by dozens of excitable sixteen year olds.  Burnley's Sixth Form College is just behind the station, and the local A-level students had obviously just nipped into town for lunch.  In amongst their happy, carefree faces, with my sweaty hoodie and my thick beard, I felt very old and very sad.


There was still twenty minutes or so until my train so I nipped to the Sainsburys across the way for a cup of tea.  I was delighted to find it was only £1 for a decent sized cup to take away, and I made a mental note to absolutely recommend this on the blog.


Unfortunately it tasted awful.  What I managed to taste, that is.  It was hotter than an Icelandic volcano, and the man in the store didn't put the lid on properly so I managed to spill it over my thumb.  I now have a nice blister there.  I also managed to spill some down my front, which I didn't realise until an hour later.  This wouldn't be a problem unless I was wearing a white top - OH WAIT, I WAS.  I had a four inch brown smear right across my stomach.  And when it finally cooled enough for me to be able to consume it, it tasted of ash and despair.  It made me unaccountably furious.  How hard is it to get tea right?  This is ENGLAND.


I chucked the remainder of the tea over the bushes and headed into the waiting room for a seat.  Burnley Central is a sad little station, whose name gives it a grandeur it doesn't deserve.  It's a 1960s box built up from the road - the track is still at height here from crossing the viaduct - so it presents a blank face to the street and access is via stairs and ramps.


The waiting room, meanwhile, has had a Northern makeover, purple and blue and shiny metal seats.  A young couple were keeping their child in a pushchair entertained while behind the counter the two railway employees talked amongst themselves.  I took a dislike to the employees of the station because of an A4 sign on the front of the toilet, informing passengers that it was for disabled customers only.  Able bodied passengers were redirected to Sainsburys or Asda.  That's just petty.


There was a moment of grace though, a sign - this is Burnley after all - in memory of Graham Nuttall.  Readers with long memories might remember him from when I visited Garsdale on the Settle & Carlisle line; he was an active railway campaigner who sadly died while hiking in North Wales.  I felt a strange rush of emotion looking at the sign, and a delight that I was able to pay him the proper attention he deserved after I'd missed the statue at Garsdale.


I was feeling a bit miserable.  The East Lancs line wasn't driving me into raptures.  It was all so ordinary.  I hoped it would perk up further down the track.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Scott-ish

This is my 500th blog post.  And it only took seven years!  I'll try not to dwell on what a massive waste of time this has all been, and instead I'll say thank you for reading.  To celebrate, here's a blog post about a station that isn't even on the Northern map, because no-one said all those blog posts were actually relevant.


If you read the very first post on this blog, back in 2007, you might be wondering what I was doing in Chathill in the first place.  Back then I was just going to visit all the stations on Merseyrail's Northern and Wirral lines.  Just those, no others.  Slowly it expanded.  I added the City Lines.  Then I added the grey lines on the Merseyrail map.  Now I'm visiting every station on the Northern Rail map.  The blog's tentacles have reached all over the country.

It's addictive, station collecting.  It starts to become an obsession.  I just booked a holiday for next Spring, and I found myself looking at a map of the local public transport, wondering what stations I could visit.  Someone I follow on Twitter went to an interesting place in Suffolk; I looked up where it was, and if there was a station nearby.

What I'm saying is that the Northern Rail map is sometimes a straightjacket, stopping me from exploring further.  A case in point came on the last day of my trip to Newcastle.  Northern's purple stops at Chathill, and after that the line turns grey, hinting that beyond is Scotland and, quite possibly, dragons.


Between Chathill and the Scottish border, however, there's one more station, the last, most northerly station in England: Berwick Upon Tweed.


The minute I realised it was there I knew I had to visit it.  No matter that it wasn't within the bounds of the blog - I had to go there.  Instead of getting a nice lie in on my last morning in the Royal Station Hotel, I packed up my stuff and headed for the 6:30 train to Edinburgh.


The train loitered at Berwick and so did I.  It was smaller than I thought it would be - just a single island platform - but it was pleasingly furnished and clean.  It helps that you've just swept over the Royal Border Bridge, an epic viaduct across the Tweed that gives you a magnificent view of the town and its environs.  After that you have to be in a good mood.


I crossed up and over the footbridge and down into the ticket hall.  It's been refurbished too, with some original features, but a CafeXpress has been inelegantly inserted into it.  The corporate colours clashed with the subtle Victoriana.


There's some impressive ironwork outside, and the building's built in imposing red brick, so it's still a decent presence.  It's bigger than it needs to be, but that was the Victorians for you - railway stations were just a massive game of "who's got the biggest penis?" to them.


I walked into town.  Berwick is built on a bend in the river Tweed, and for most of its history England and Scotland exchanged barbed words over who owned it.  The town was passed back and forth like a valuable heirloom among grabby descendants; successive armies marched in, kicked the previous one out, and hung around until it was their turn to get ejected.


The town walls date from Elizabeth I's time; with Mary, Queen of Scots getting all uppity over the border she thought it might be wise to bolster the town's defences.  Now they're a tourist attraction.  Grassed mounds that give you a great view over the town centre, with the occasional gun emplacement to remind you that these walls were proper defensive measures.


Like most towns that have retained their walls, Berwick Upon Tweed feels ancient.  It's a morass of narrow back streets and higgledy-piggledy houses leaning in on one another.  From the central street, with its impressive Town Hall, back roads fall down towards the river.


The problem was it felt tired.  Physically, it was like a slightly larger Morpeth, which I'd visited the previous day, but here it was a bit more run down.  There were empty shops on the high street and the paintwork on a lot of them needed work.  It was undoubtedly charming, and I'll take a couple of vacant units over a MegaMall that sucked up all the life in the town, but there seemed to be a sadness in the streets.


I headed down to the wide River Tweed.  There are three crossings here: the railway goes over the Royal Border Bridge, there's a concrete bridge from the 1920s (the Royal Tweed Bridge) and the Old Bridge, which dates from the time of James I.  In the morning light all three seemed to glisten, impossibly glamorous and exciting.


The Quayside was straight out of Poldark, or rather, its Northern cousin: cobbles, tiny boats, dark alleyways leading to secluded courts.  I followed it round to the base of the Old Bridge, then turned back into town.  The road was steep and unfriendly; strange to think this was once the Great North Road from London to Scotland.


It was still early.  The streets were still quiet and the shops were still closed.  I followed the edge of the walls past a tiny shuttered ice cream parlour; on closer inspection, I read a plaque on the side that informed me it was built as Berwick's first public toilet for ladies.  I immediately ruled out ever buying a 99 from them. I don't care how long it's been closed and how nothing inside it is original, that's still a place where people used to go to pee and so I couldn't eat a King Cone without suspecting it would be riddled with germs.  At least there was a better view of Stephenson's railway viaduct from the end of the road.


I headed back to the station, being sure to keep Berwick's own Weeping Angel in sight at all times.  Moffat was really clever to spot how freaking terrifying some of these war memorials are.  This one looked like it could quite easily snap your neck without a moment's doubt.


I needed to get back to the station so I could get a bus.  You heard.  I thought there was no point in coming all this way to Berwick Upon Tweed and not getting even a glimpse of the Scottish border.  I'd thought about walking, having assumed that the town was right on top of the red line, but it turns out that the border's actually a few miles north.  A bit of online research revealed I could get a bus to Foulden, a village just over the line, cross over it, then get another one back.  I paid my £4.30 - once again being thankful that bus fares on Merseyside are subsidised; you could almost get a SaveAway for that - and I was carried swiftly through small lanes to Foulden.

I didn't spot the point when I crossed over into Scotland.  I stepped off the bus into a small country village that didn't look any different to the ones I'd been exploring in Northumberland the last couple of days.  A bit quieter, yes, but it was nine am on a Saturday; people were having a lie in.


There was a brown Historic Scotland sign pointing at the Foulden Tithe Barn, so I went and had a look at that.  It turned out to be an old barn.  A very old barn, yes, but even the plaque on the side admitted it had been substantially altered in the 17th and 18th centuries, so it was hard to get excited about it.


More promising was the church behind it.  Sorry, this is Scotland; the kirk behind it.  I let myself into the graveyard, casting a casual eye about for anyone famous and/or my own name, and walked up to the church.


God has put a test of human willpower right outside the church.  The bell on the top is rung by pulling a long metal cable, and that cable is just hanging there, on the exterior wall.  It required every iota of strength and self control I possessed not to grab hold of the metal ring and make the bell clang over and over.  I should definitely get a place in heaven for that.


I pressed against the vestry door and found, to my delight, that it was unlocked.  I was able to simply wander into the kirk.  How wonderful it must be to live in a place where you can trust the locals, where a community building like this is simply left open for visitors and worshippers, without fear of it being vandalised or robbed.


Inside was a simple, Protestant space, unadorned, uncomplicated.  I'm not a believer but I still appreciated the quiet dignity of the building, and how special it must be to come here to gather your thoughts.  I signed the visitor's book and left quietly, double checking to make sure I'd pulled the door tight behind me.


I left the village the way I'd come, but this time I carried on walking until I reached a small wooden bus shelter.  Presumably, after independence, this'll be where the shock troops will be posted to man the border towers, but for now it was just an isolated spot that happened to be quite close to an administrative line.


That's my rucksack dumped by the post box, by the way.  Who the hell was going to steal it?

I trekked a few yards up the road so I could pull this face.


And then I went a couple of yards further so I could pull this face.


Then I went back to Scotland to wait for my bus and wonder why exactly I thought those facial expressions were a good idea.

Don't leave us, Scotland.  I know it's not really any of my business but, you know, I'm called Scott, so I feel like I have a little bit of a right to an opinion.  I like you.  You've got lovely people and lovely towns and the Glasgow subway.  (We won't mention Lulu). You make Britain more interesting by being in it.  I know the Coalition government are bastards, and you didn't vote for them, but I live on Merseyside; we never vote for the Tories, and yet they keep getting in.  It doesn't mean that there should be a People's Republic of Liverpool.  If you leave we'll be condemned to Tory governments in England until the end of time.

Anyway, I refuse to believe Alex Salmond would be any better.  He's a particularly oily politician, with off-the-scale levels of ego; I strongly suspect that after independence he'll declare himself Emperor of Caledonia and demand a castle be constructed on Arthur's Seat.  Think of that face on your bank notes.  Then shudder.

The whole independence debate makes me sad, mainly because people are so furious about it (on both sides) - you can't be a bit wishy washy or open to debate; either you want the United Kingdom to be destroyed in a ball of flame or you want all Scottish people to be enslaved and dragged to London by their throat - there's no position in between.  And as an English person it's hard not to feel unloved - are we really that bad?  Have we really been that cruel?  I feel like a husband who's just been told his wife has never loved him, and can't work out why.

The only plus side to Scottish independence is Sean Connery's promise to come back to live there if there's a "yes" vote.  I want to hear what excuse he comes up with for not selling his luxury home in the Bahamas, because let's be honest, there's no way he's ever leaving that.  Not least because he'll have to start paying taxes.


I went back to the grass verge by the bus stop and sat down (the actual shelter seemed to be a place for swifts to hang out; they kept divebombing the entrance so I was nervous about being in there and ending up as a low budget Tippi Hedren).  I don't want this to one day be a spot where I have to wave a passport, or where one bus service will end so I can take another one.  I like our silly, odd, mixed up, family.  I'd like it to stay that way.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Led Astray


I have to apologise to Cramlington.  I was keen as mustard to have a look round the town before I arrived.  It's a New Town, developed in the 1960s for Newcastle's residents, and New Towns are always interesting.

Unfortunately, as I got off the train, my phone rang.  It was the BF, calling to let me know that he had arrived in Berlin.  (Yes, while I was trekking around the North East he was gallivanting in the German capital for a week with his mate Peter.  No, it isn't fair, is it?).  Normally this would just be a brief phone call, but it turned out that his EasyJet flight had some interesting passengers - namely, the British diving team.

If you're not aware, the diving has a significant... following among the homosexual community.  I'm not sure what appeals to the gays about well-toned men in Speedos performing acrobatic feats while leaping from brave heights, then emerging dripping wet from the water - perhaps it's an appreciation for swimming pool architecture.  All I know is that we were glued to the men's diving during the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, while completely ignoring, say, the Track and Field events.

The sight of half a dozen of our nation's finest divers sent the BF into raptures.  He launched into a lengthy monologue about who he saw, how they were dressed, how Chris Mears was asleep, how Jack Laugher was listening to his iPod, how he pretended to go to the loo just so he could get a better look... Basically he sounded like a twelve year old girl who's just spotted Harry Styles in the corner shop.

(Before you ask, no, Tom Daley wasn't with them, and no, I'm not really a fan of Team GB's divers.  I'm much more of a Vincent Riendeau from Canada fan).


Anyway, twenty minutes later he finally got off the phone (presumably to write Mrs James Denny over and over on his pencil case) and I was left with a conundrum.  Walk into the town, and not give it my full attention so I could be back in time for the next train, or just hang around the station.


I hung around the station.  Sorry Cramlington.  I'm sure you're lovely, but I fancied a bit of a sit down and a drink (my legs were still protesting after the previous day's walk).  I took up a position on the platform and waited for the train to take me to my next station.

Manors suffers from the same affliction as Edge Hill in Liverpool and Ardwick in Manchester.  It's just a little bit too close to the main city terminus to be useful.  By the time you've worked your way to the station, waited for your train, and then got out of Newcastle Central, you could be halfway into the city centre on the bus.  Or you could even walk it.


It leaves Manors with a desolate, unloved feel.  It's an island between the tracks, with a multi-storey car park on one side and the backs of some apartments on the other.  There's no lift for the disabled, because what would be the point?  Just a metal footbridge to clatter over to the main entrance: a gate behind a 1980s business park.


More of that terrible signage as well.

Another reason for Manors' relative quiet is that there's a Tyne & Wear Metro station a two minute walk away.  Theoretically this should be an ideal interchange spot; in reality, anyone in the area just uses the Metro because that goes to far more useful places than the train.


Obviously I was ecstatic at the opportunity to ride the Metro again.  It's a brilliant network, all fast, efficient trains and lovely underground stations and that gorgeous Calvert font.  Manors is underground, with a pleasingly clean and spacious ticket hall leading down to two platforms.


Part of me wanted to just lark around on the Metro for the rest of the day.  I have a feeling that someday I'll have to come back for round the Metro we go.  It's just too tempting, especially now there are direct Newcastle trains from Liverpool every hour.  I doubt it would take too long to do either.


There were two side platforms with the tracks running inbetween; an unusual arrangement in the UK, where we tend to prefer separate tunnels for each underground track.  It reminded me of stations in Barcelona, which have a similar layout.


The only thing that stopped me from riding the Metro all afternoon was that I was incredibly tired.  I'm used to having a bit of a nap in the afternoon - this is a depression side effect, sadly - and combined with the 20 mile walk the day before my body was in full on protest mode.  I changed at Monument and got the train to Newcastle Central, where I could find my hotel and have a bit of a kip.


Observant readers will have noticed that in all this time I haven't actually collected Newcastle Central mainline yet.  I've been through it a few times but I haven't waxed lyrical about it.  This is because it's been undergoing significant refurbishment works all the times I've visited.  They're nearly done now, but the street outside is still a mess and some of the retail is all over the place, so I decided to leave it for another day.  I need to come back some time to collect Blaydon, anyway, the only other Tyne & Wear station I haven't yet been to.

If you're the kind of person who likes reading transport related blogs - and if you're reading this, you probably are - you'll have also read Robert's Station Master blog.  He's trying to visit some of the more obscure and poorly served stations on the network, and as part of that, he visited the Chathill line.  He even asked me along, but when I suggested walking between stations, he turned pale and said perhaps it would be better if he went on his own.

This lead to a certain amount of competition between us.  Admittedly it was mainly on my part; I can't bear to be second (or first loser) at anything.  We'd both visited the same stations, we'd even stayed in the same hotel, so there was a little bit of rivalry about who would have the best time.  It didn't help that he sent me texts like the one below:


So if you're keeping score, Robert got a room with a view of the station, but was in Acklington too early to visit the pub.  I had a view of the street outside my hotel room, but I got to have a couple of pints in the Railway at Acklington.  A draw.  Possibly.  Personally I think being able to drink alcohol is worth five points at least.

That text meant that I had to do one thing at Widdrington, and one thing only: eat chips on the platform.  I got up from my nap and dashed over to the platform for my train.  It was - for the first and only time - busy.  Finally I saw the point of the service to Chathill.  It was full of commuters on their way home, plus a smattering of bored teenagers finding ways to kill time during the holidays.  People were actually standing.


At Morpeth, though, most of them cleared out.  The jammed train became distinctly deserted.  Only a couple of us alighted at Widdrington; I should imagine the rest were waiting for Alnmouth.  I headed immediately for the chip shop - or, to use its proper name, The Widdy Chippy.


It was a real, proper working class chippy; there was none of that pretentious food you get in some other places.  My local chip shop offers curry, chinese, kebabs; the Widdy had spam fritters on its menu and that was about as exotic as it got.  The drinks were bottles of Tip Top and there was a Kid's Special Snack Box with a free frisbee (sorry, "flying disc").  It was packed.  A constant stream of punters came in for their Friday night tea.

I decided not to go with the fish, and instead ordered a battered sausage, onion rings and chips.  A few minutes later, with a smattering of salt, I was on the platform.  Obviously I texted this victory to Robert.


(He's not a smackhead, by the way; he'd just had wisdom teeth removed).

The chips were gorgeous; soft, fluffy, with a deliciously tempered batter.  The onion rings crunched satisfactorily.  The battered sausage was something else.  The batter was fine, but when you bit into the centre, it wasn't really a sausage at its heart; it was more a soft, slightly cold collection of mashed pink stuff.  It wasn't tightly packed inside the sausage skin and flopped onto the tongue.  I couldn't eat it.  I took a couple of bites and then it went into the bin with the polystyrene tray and the scrag ends.

I had a bit of a wander round the immediate vicinity of the station.  The chip shop was housed in a parade of turn of the century stores, next to a Co-op and round the corner from an Indian takeaway.  Behind it was a wide recreation ground which was, for some reason, Stones of Blood themed.  I'm sure it made sense to the playground designers to lay out a space for a pagan stone circle, but I'm not entirely on board with their logic.


As I stood, bemused, a woman appeared at the gate of her house overlooking the recreation ground.  "Simon!  Tea!" she yelled, and a little blonde boy immediately detached himself from the group and legged it towards the house.  Meanwhile, a half dozen teenage girls appeared over the hill, stinking of perfume and over made up, and they took up position behind the bins at the back of the shop.  They were there for the rest of the evening, just hanging out, casting bitchy glances at passers by and sharing packets of crisps.  Friday night in a small town.


I headed back to the station.  The building's a private home again, and you can stare right down into their back yard from the platform.  I put on a podcast - Dennis Hensley chatting to a friend about Partridge Family 8-tracks - and waited for my train.


I'd done it, then.  The whole of the Chathill branch crossed off.  It was always going to be a challenge, I thought, but in reality, it was pretty simple.  A bit - alright, a lot - of walking.  A bit of hanging around.  It had been fun.  And most importantly, I did it better than Robert.