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.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Quick, Quick, Slow


Another Tyneside morning, another early start.  It was a little later than the day before, but I was still a bit of a wreck.  I'd gone to bed as soon as I got in from Acklington the night before and I'd slept all the way through; I now had a kind of walking hangover, where my legs existed about eight seconds behind the rest of me.

On the plus side I got my first trip on an East Coast train.  An early morning service to Edinburgh starts at Newcastle and calls at some of the larger stations on its way to Scotland, so I'd be able to get to Alnmouth station without needing to use a Northern Sprinter.  I was pleasantly surprised by the interior of the East Coast train.  Room to sit comfortably!  An onboard shop!  Plug sockets at every seat!  We didn't get these luxuries on the West Coast, just Pendolinos that smell of toilet.  Presumably, the minute East Coast is privatised again, they'll rip it all out and turn them into cattle trucks, but it'll be nice while it lasts.


Alnmouth station - or, to give it its full name, Almnouth for Alnwick - is remarkably modern and well appointed for a small town station.  Its position on the main line means that it's been gifted direct trains to London and Scotland, a service completely out of proportion to its actual importance; in that way, it's a sort of East Coast Wigan.

The car park was starting to fill up as I walked off the northbound platform and over the bridge to the southbound one.  My next station, Pegswood, doesn't get a service from Newcastle in the morning, only in the reverse direction, so I'd come to Alnmouth mainly to change direction.  I resisted the call of the coffee cart by the entrance and found a seat on the platform.


Across the way was an advertisement for Barter Books in Alnwick.  I found myself torn.  On the one hand, it's a wonderful bookshop housed in an old railway station, no less.  On the other hand, Barter Books was responsible for reintroducing Keep Calm and Carry On to the world, a meme that's not only been done to death, it's been dug up, reanimated by warlocks, then done to death all over again.  I am sick to death of the bloody thing, and the many, many variations on it (particularly the horribly cutesy ones - "Keep Calm and Eat Cake!"  "Keep Calm and Sparkle!"), and so part of me wanted to burn down the bookshop and everything in it.  I suppose it's not really their fault; they're just the Einsteins who discovered a hideous weapon that was turned evil by others.


Most of the people on the platform were waiting for the London train, suitcases in hand, so I got the Pegswood train more or less to myself.  We went almost halfway back to Newcastle, through Acklington and Widdrington, until I was able to drop down onto the platform.  And I mean drop; there was at least a foot between the train door and the concrete below.  I didn't so much step off the train as plummet.  Only after I was off did I spot a Harrington Hump at the front of the train; perhaps it would have been nice to let me know that I didn't have to do a parachute jump off the train if I didn't want to?


It was a nice enough station, a bit dull, but its sign up top was rubbish.  Not only was it just a repurposed platform sign - where is your BR logo? - it still had the turquoise of Arriva Trains Northern bordering it, a hangover from Northern's franchise predecessor.  I wondered if the Purple Gang even realised they had trains running up here.


Pegswood is a mining village, and it couldn't be more northern if it had a giant statue of a whippet in the middle.  I walked along the main road through the village, past a sign warning No Opencast Traffic and a row of small cottages called "Co-operative Terrace".  People were out buying papers - the Daily Mirror, obviously - and waiting for the bus into town.

I made a note to return for the acts at the Pegswood Social Club.  September 27th they're hosting "Fabulous Vocaliste" Michelle B; clearly the "e" on the end of "vocalist" stands for extraordinary!  If that doesn't appeal, there's bingo and dancing every Saturday.  I was charmed.  It was a little bit of the 1970s; who even knew there was still a club circuit?


There were little old people bungalows and houses set back from the road, then Pegswood turned to fields.  A bypass had been built around the village so this was just a quiet back road now.  I was the only pedestrian until about halfway, when another man walked towards me with a Morrison's back.  I moved to the left - because, you know, this is England - but he stayed where he was, marching towards me.  It became increasingly clear that we were playing a game of chicken, and he wasn't about to give in.  I did.  I stepped aside so that he could carry on the path he'd decided to take.  Needless to say, I was deeply in awe of his masculinity.

A turn at a roundabout brought a huge veterinary surgery - the type that specialises in cattle and sheep rather than little Miss Whiskerson.  At a gate, some horses had gathered to stay cool in the shade of the hedgerow, and I paused for a moment to stroke the nose of one of them.  The horse took my affections with a casual arrogance, a sort of, "yeah, damn right you want to feel how great I am."


The bypass continued down a hill into an increasingly wooded area.  I could hear water below me, but I couldn't see it through the thicket of trees.  At a turn in the road I decided to leave the bypass and follow a finger sign that indicated a footpath into Morpeth.  I managed to arrive at the same time as a woman with two of the yappiest, nastiest dogs I'd ever seen; one was a Jack Russell, the other was a sort of Labrador, and both of them seemed to be part wolf.  They barked at me, they barked at cars, they barked at their owner, they barked at trees; they just would not shut up, and the woman didn't seem to have any inclination to stop them.  I was glad to cross the bridge over the river and walk in the opposite direction.

The path shadowed the water, but higher up; I was a bit concerned, in fact, because the path was slippery and there was no fence.  I wondered what I'd do if I fell in the water (assuming I didn't drown, which was probably what would actually happen).  I realised that a good soaking would probably ruin my phone and my camera, and I'd have no proof that I actually visited any of the stations so far.  The thought actually chilled me.  It wasn't the thought of losing a couple of hundred pounds of technology, it was the idea that the proof of my Tarting would be washed away.  I hugged the hillside even tighter.


It wasn't a well used path.  There must be a better, more frequented one through the woods that doesn't promise to send you into the water.  I pushed through brambles and nettles and emerged in a field.  The crops there had been covered with muslin, presumably as protection from predators, and in the sunlight it looked as though a battalion of spiders had cast a web across the whole field.  The morning dew just added to the effect, sparkling and shining and glistening.


I followed the path into another field, this one yellow wheat, stretching away from me.  I'd seen combine harvesters from the train over the past couple of days, so I guessed the crops didn't have much longer until they were beheaded.


The sun in my eyes now, I'd reached the very edge of Morpeth, with a footbridge over the river Wansbeck to take you into the town itself.  I crossed over and took a seat for a drink of water.  Beside me was an Environment Agency worksite; the town suffered terrible floods in 2008 and 2012 and the Government was now creating new defences.  Part of this is a new dam upstream to catch the rainwater, while the banks were being built up before winter came.  On an August day, the river seemed nothing less than idyllic, but I could see how it would turn in a cold rainy March.


Morpeth town centre was quintessential small-town Britain, and I loved it.  There were slight variations on the theme - not many other places have a bagpipe museum; certainly not many places in England, anyway - but mainly it was a medieval town that had continued to prosper and thrive over centuries.  Four streets met at a central square; around them were old fashioned shops interspersed with high street names.  A glass fronted ironmonger with proud carved signage stood a couple of doors down from Rutherford & Co department store (est. 1846).


I ducked down a side road and found an elegant arcade leading to a pedestrianised plaza, so I took advantage of the opportunity to dawdle and had a chai latte in the coffee shop there.  It was already busy with a cluster of busy, formidable ladies who'd clearly come into town for their Friday treat.  They pulled the tables together and gossiped endlessly, relentlessly, joyously.


I nipped into Marks and Spencer to use the loo - if nothing else M&S deserve our appreciation for always providing clean, accessible toilets in our towns and cities, now that councils can't afford it any more - then walked down New Market back towards the river.  There was a footbridge leading straight into Carlisle Park, with rowing boats moored alongside for hire.  I followed the path round, listening to the water pouring over a weir, and looked up at the remains of Morpeth's first castle.  Now called Ha' Hill, it's actually the mound of a motte and bailey Norman castle.  I decided against climbing it.


Instead I took a turn to look at the aviary.  It was only small, but it had been there for a hundred years or so.  Plaques informed me that the birds - mainly budgerigars and cockatoos - were sheltered here after their owners couldn't care for them, which immediately made me sad.  It wasn't so much an aviary as a homeless shelter.

I left the park to head to the station, secretly wishing I had all day to spend there.  I could just sit in a cafe and listen to my iPod and watch the town pass by.  Morpeth was lovely.  If it didn't flood so often I'd consider moving there; as it is, I'll just visit in the non-rainy season.


I passed another park on my way.  I say "park", it's actually a roundabout with grand ideas: Mafeking Park, the smallest public park in Britain.  It was dedicated after the victory there and used to be bigger, but not much; road improvements reduced it over the years until now it's just a tree.  Not exactly ideal for picnics.  The Farquar Deucher Park & Arboretum over the road was far nicer, even if I got in my head that it was the Francis Dolarhyde Park & Arboretum; Dolarhyde is the serial killer in Thomas Harris' Red Dragon so you can see how twisted my mind is.


Morpeth station was, unsurprisingly, a delight.  Given how gorgeous the rest of the town was I couldn't see them agreeing to have a nasty brick and glass confection chucked up for tourists to see.  Instead a long sandstone building stretched the length of the track, surrounded by trees and greenery.


It was deceptive though.  The station building was almost entirely unused.  At one end, the ticket office had been housed in a lovingly restored waiting room.  Bright light shone in through the old fashioned windows, and it was fantastic.  Unfortunately, the rest of the building was boarded up and flaking.  There was a lift, because this is another stop for East Coast trains, but there wasn't much else.  Not even a cafe.


It made me sad.  If a thriving, well-to-do town like Morpeth couldn't support a decent station, who could?  I'd hate there to be a time when the only place you can buy a ticket after the morning peak is in the big cities, and where the only place you can get an orange juice while you wait for your train is in Britain's 11883rd Tesco Metro over the road.


I leaned up against a noticeboard to wait for my train.  It belonged to SENRUG, the awkwardly named South East Northumberland Rail User Group.  The board detailed its initiatives, its achievements and, most interestingly, its plans to reopen the Ashington and Blyth line.  Unlike most aspirations to open routes, this one's got legs; it was mentioned in the new franchise consultations.  It helps that the tracks are all there, left over from a freight line.


Three stations done and it wasn't even half ten.  Compared with the day before, I was positively flying.