Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Epilogue: When All Is Said And Done


I know some of you come here just for the stats, not for my lovingly crafted prose, so here it is: the final tally.

Number of stations visited: 19
Total miles travelled by rail: 310
Total miles walked: 19

Best station (architecturally): Hellifield
Best station (facilities): Skipton
Best station (location): Dent

Worst station (architecturally): Long Preston
Worst station (facilities): Giggleswick
Worst station (location): Clapham

Place I will need to visit again because it's just so goshdarned lovely: Skipton
Places I wouldn't mind returning to someday: Settle, Clapham, Kirkby Stephen, Ribblehead
Place I'd only return to as part of some kind of hostage situation: Wennington

Best Pub: The New Inn, Clapham
Best Pub for Train Nerds: The Station Inn, Ribblehead
Best Pub for feeling uncomfortable and out of place: The Black Horse, Hellifield

Best cafe: The Mulberry Bush, Kirkby Stephen
Best place to commute with the mystic earth Mother: Long Meg and Her Daughters
Best Member of Staff: the Northern Rail guard who chatted about his need for a pub on his hols

Facts learnt during this trip:

  • Station signs are apparently a commodity in short supply
  • The Forest of Bowland is not actually a forest
  • There are few more pleasing experiences than drinking a cup of tea on a station platform with no-one else around for miles
  • Victorian engineers were very clever, but not very interested in the passenger experience
  • You can name a whole series of blogposts after Abba songs and only one person will notice
  • The Settle & Carlisle is astonishingly beautiful but there are too many people using it, thank you very much
  • Zumba is massive in village halls
  • For all its tourists, the Settle & Carlisle really could do with a few more station tea rooms
  • Wind chimes are an evil that must be destroyed
  • Drink driving really isn't that much of a fuss in the countryside
  • Ancient man really knew how to build a stone circle
  • Northern can run decent trains with trolleys if it really wants to
  • Map Bibs are the new Ugg boots
  • This country has more history than it knows what to do with
  • Marks and Spencer ready meals make everything better.  Also bacon sandwiches
  • Mock-Tudor really is horrible
The Journey in Full:







Useful Links

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day Five: Disillusion


I'd packed up my stuff at Kirkby Stephen, and sent the BF home in his car with my dirty washing and the uneaten provisions from the kitchen.  One last train down the Settle and Carlisle.  I was back in Settle, not to pick out a new home for myself, but instead to walk out to the town's "other" station, Giggleswick.  The line branches after Long Preston, so instead of trains for Morecambe and Lancaster passing through the busy town station for a convenient interchange, they go via a little village a mile away.  Sometimes I wonder if Victorian railway engineers actually realised that human beings would be using their routes.

The west side of Settle was not as attractive as the east; whereas the previous day I'd passed old farmhouses and wild countryside, this time I was walking along suburban streets.  There were allotments and a Land Rover showroom, then the River Ribble and a load of cul-de-sacs.  It was silent and grey.


The town sort of petered out, not ending, just dragging to a halt, and leaving me walking amongst waterlogged fields.  It had rained heavily overnight, but now it was just drizzle, persistent wetness that dripped from your eyebrows and the end of your nose and chilled your ears.  Scraggy looking sheep watched me pass, slightly judgemental.


Giggleswick is brilliantly named, of course, but it's little more than a hamlet, and the busy A65 bisects it neatly.  I darted across the road and crossed the car park to the station, wondering what sort of accident had befallen the phone booth to leave it at that angle.  I'm guessing the last train after the pubs have closed and an inebriated 4x4 driver.


It was just a couple of platforms with no station building to speak of.  A small information board told me that I was in an area of wetlands "of national importance", so I felt a bit guilty for dismissing it as a bunch of soggy fields.


Giggleswick, in short, was a disappointment.  It was plain and dull and it didn't even have a decent signpost, which is bizarre considering it's right next to a busy main road.


There is no amount of Frizz Ease shampoo that can tame my 'fro in damp conditions.  I always end up looking like Dennis the Menace or, more likely, Gnasher.

My next station was Clapham: no, not that one.  Can we not form some kind of consensus about railway station names?  There are a bunch of stations in the Clapham area of South London - there's absolutely no need for there to be one up north as well.  We need to eliminate these rogues that just confuse everyone.  It's like Waterloo on Merseyside; we already have a perfectly good Waterloo station, thank you very much.  There are two Swintons and two Adlingtons on the Northern Rail map, just to thoroughly fox the man in the ticket office.  One of the Swintons should probably be renamed "Tilda", as a tribute to the polyamorous androgynous Oscar winning legend, while an Adlington can become "Rebecca" after the gold medal winner.  Job done.


There's not much point in this one being called Clapham anyway, because it's a twenty minute walk from the village of the same name.  I had three hours to kill here before my onward train, so I set off.  I had no desire to sit in a draughty shelter getting a cold.


More fields, more sheep, more rain.  There wasn't a footpath, again, but I only saw one car during the whole walk.  I passed Crina Bottom Farm, and allowed myself a childish snigger at the word "bottom", and then I was crossing the A65 again and entering the village of Clapham.


Unlike its southern counterpart, this Clapham is a pretty, quiet village, with absolutely nothing in the way of cruising grounds for Kevi[name deleted on legal grounds].  I don't think so anyway.  It was actually something of an outdoor hub.  It's an ideal spot from which to explore the nearby cave systems, so the village has a couple of shops selling parkas and crampons where you'd expect butchers and bakers.  There's a few cafes and pubs too, plus B&Bs and a campsite.


If I'd had more time, I might have been tempted to wander up to the Ingleborough Cave to have a look; there were guided tours every hour.  It was another mile and a half further on though so by the time I'd got there I'd have had to turn round again.  Plus the presence of a "Cave Rescue" base put a seed of doubt about its safety in my mind.


Instead I installed myself in the New Inn (est. 1745, so God knows how old the Old Inn was) with a pint of beer in front of a warm fire.  It was almost completely deserted, which I think made the barmaid suspicious; she spent almost my entire visit staring at me through narrowed eyes as though I was about to run off with the cutlery.  I admit that if I could have slipped the incredibly comfortable leather chair in my backpack, I might have been tempted.


As I slowly decompressed, a couple with an enthusiastic spaniel came in and sat by the door.  They sat in complete silence, staring off into the distance, not at each other, until the landlord came over with a couple of menus.  A third party suddenly energised them, and soon the man was interrogating the owner about where he'd come from - "Is it South Africa?"

"I'm from Clapham," said the landlord with a laugh, but the man persisted with Farage-like tenacity.  "Yes, but where are you from originally?"

It turned out the landlord was from Australia, and he launched into a long, heartfelt soliloquy about the beauty of the local countryside, about how safe it was, how friendly it was.  It was quite touching, until he climaxed with, "I've lived in cities all over the world.  Whether they're called London or New York or Sydney, they're all shitholes."  Nice.


I drank up and began the trek back to the station.  I'd probably be hopelessly early, but I needed a decent buffer of time before the next train for my own psychological health.  On the way I passed a sign informing me I was entering the Forest of Bowland, the ancient royal hunting grounds owned by the Duchy of Lancaster.  The Queen apparently named this as the place she'd most like to live in if she didn't have to go round meeting ambassadors and pretending to enjoy native dances; definitive proof, I think, that she is at heart one of those fearsome country matrons who organise the WI tea dances and throttles a chicken with her bare hands for the Sunday lunch.  No wonder she's so unwilling to give up the throne to Charles - he's positively effete in comparison, the kind of man who complains because he's got mud on his Barbour jacket.


A train finally rattled in - the prestige stock definitely goes to the Settle & Carlisle - and took me along the line to Bentham.  This is the nearest thing to a metropolis on the line, and so gives it its name; there's a 1960s station block and long concrete platforms.  Poppies fluttered in baskets.


Bentham, it transpires, has a very active gang of Friends supporting it; they'd really gone to town decorating it with flowers, drawings from the local schools, signs about the history.  There was also a scrolling LED display with news and the time, provided by someone in the society with a bit of technical nous until Northern got round to putting up one of their own.  It was pleasingly eccentric.


I headed out to the main entrance, right next to the whitewashed factory of Angus Fire, and took my sign snap.


It seemed that while the Friends of Bentham Station were busy putting up a pretty display about the local sights and sounds, the youths of the village had some signwriting of their own to do.


Who says satire is dead?

I carried on into the centre, pausing in the tiny town hall to use their public toilet facilities.  A display board outside had a giant OS map of the local area, with the word TIP written over the top of High Bentham and an arrow pointing at the centre; I couldn't work out if this was the local graffiti artists at work again or if this was genuine Council information about where the waste disposal facilities were.


The High Street was busy, busier than I would have expected a small town to be of a Friday afternoon.  The shops seemed to be doing a decent trade, and there was a healthy mix of stores.  A chartered accountant's called Brosnans caught my eye; the Bonds were definitely shadowing me.  There also seemed to be higher proportion than usual of hairdressers and beauty salons.  At a bend in the road, the historical society had struck again, with a "then and now" photo; pleasingly, it looked almost exactly the same.


I carried on past the Horse & Farrier pub, and a sign on a lamp post with "SELL YOUR USED COMPACT DISCS" and a mobile number, while High Bentham quietly turned into Low Bentham.  My eye was caught by a little hole in the wall, with what looked like a plaque over the top.  I darted across the road and found a typewritten sign, with the screws rusting onto the paper, and the heading "Plague Stones":

Tradition holds that this stone was used as a trading point during times of pestilence when villagers would place coins in the vinegar filled hole, in return for provisions supplied by outlying farmers.  The stone itself may have originated as the base of a boundary cross in pre-Dissolution days, but its re-use as a Plague Stone would be circa 1597.
I'd never heard of a plague stone before; it was a charming piece of history, tucked away on the grass verge.  Thanks for the lesson, pupils of Settle High School in 1988!

Low Bentham's main street was even twistier than the High version, so narrow that pavements vanished altogether.  A noticeboard held a faded pamphlet detailing the attractions in the village; apparently "the year really gets going in February with the panto", which is a nice way of saying "don't bother coming outdoors while it's dark".  Who goes to a panto in February anyway?


It took me a few moments to realise that the sign in the window wasn't missing a couple of letters; it was genuinely called AndTiques.  How annoying.

Past the village post office (opening hours: Wednesday and Friday, 10:00 -12:00) the river Wenning made an appearance, looping round under the road and the railway line.  Bridges carried them across, only to have to do exactly the same thing a little further on; it doesn't seemed to have occurred to anyone to simply go round the loop.


As I left the village, I spotted a whitewashed house with a slate board on the wall.  I was, apparently, on a Private Road, with charges for conveyances and a list of tolls.  Somewhat surprisingly, the sign was dated 1932, and there didn't seem to be any indication of when they stopped taking tolls.  Fortunately there didn't seem to be a charge for pedestrians; in any case, I'd left my shillings in my other trousers.


The railway was now on my right, on an embankment about 10 feet above the ground - it hardly seemed worth bothering with.  There was no pavement again, and so I spent my time ducking into hedges to avoid being knocked sideways.

It was all getting a bit tiresome.  I had that "end of the holiday" feeling.  It's hard to relax and enjoy yourself when you know that the end of the day is going to be a whole load of long train journeys home.  I think I was getting station overload, too.  Bentham had been my eighteenth station in four days, and none of the day's stops had really fired me up.  I was feeling a bit bored if I'm honest.  I was impatient to get it all over and done with.  Rest assured, this was just a temporary blip, but at the time, there was a definite part of me thinking, "whose bloody idea was this?"

At the next railway bridge, there was a warning sign for potential flooding and an indication of why they'd built that tiny embankment.


Those markers are in feet; a decent flood would have been a good few inches over the top of my head.  I praised Cthulu that we'd had a relatively dry March.


A sign was soon welcoming me to "City of Lancaster: Wennington".  It was the end of the school day by now, and a couple of minibuses filled with hyperactive children pushed me into a ditch.  A teenage boy, in his school uniform and looking surly, seemed to freeze when he saw me.  I had an immediate panic that I was about to be either assaulted for my mobile or accused of being a paedo, but no, a Rover estate swung alongside him and he got his lift home.

At a junction, the familiar brown signs for campsites and caravan pitches had been joined by a smaller, less official one, saying Hot Tubs.  It didn't clarify whether these were hot tubs for sale, or a sort of jacuzzi theme park, but I figured it was too chilly anyway to sit in bubbles in my speedos with a group of strangers.  Maybe in the summer.


Wennington brought with it the narrowest roadway so far, a triangle of green and... that was it.  No, really.  I'd got two hours to kill before my train and there wasn't even a village shop, never mind a nice tea room or a country pub.


I plonked myself on the bench to gather myself together.  This was it.  End of the line for my Epic Journey With Little Purpose.  Stuck in an isolated station with nothing to do.  In a way, it was an appropriate end to the week.  I'd spent so much time just loitering.  The stations were all too far away from one another, too isolated, so I seemed to have spent my whole week just killing time.  Sometimes that was alright - I'd happily go back to Skipton and kill some time there any day - but most of the time I was somewhere cold, and wet, and with a pub that didn't open until six pm.

It wasn't me.  Part of the pleasure of this blog is the inbetween parts, the walks across country to get from one station to the other.  I resolved to go to some places where I could do a decent bit of walking for a while.  Get all this loitering out of my system.


Wennington station was just over the river, and was as bland as you'd expect.  Perhaps the most interesting part was the green and yellow, rather than purple.  No idea why it was there, but it made a change.


At least it gave me a very small prize.  As I stood on the platform, surfing Twitter to kill some time (thank goodness it had a decent mobile signal!) Northern Rail's resident quizmaster, Tim, initiated a giveaway - "post a Northern selfie!".  I replied with the picture below, and the comment "#northernselfie is my middle name", and I got a free #getaticket ticket wallet out of it.  More importantly, Northern Rail finally decided to follow me on Twitter, after all this time giving them free PR.  I was starting to feel slighted.


Yes, that is a prize-winning gurn at the camera.  Think on that.

An idle check of the timetables revealed that, even though my train west wasn't due for another two hours, there would be a Leeds-bound train passing through in a matter of minutes.  Sitting on a warm train had to be better than hanging around a breezy platform, so I calculated on the timetable where the crossover would be; if I got a train heading east, where would I have to get off to get the train back again?  I smiled when I saw the answer.

Of course.  It had to be.  The best station on the line, my favourite on the whole trip.  What a lovely way to end it all.



Saturday, 12 April 2014

Day Four (Continued): Suzy Hang Around

During my travels, I've seen railway stations in many different architectural styles.  Victorian Gothic.  Brutalist concrete.  Baronial manor house.  Decommissioned public toilet (take a bow, Luton).  Gargrave station was, to the best of my recollection, the first mock-Tudor railway station I'd ever seen.


It didn't work.  It wasn't just that the wooden struts were in need of repair, and the white paint was flecked and yellowing.  It was also inappropriate, a bit of time shifting that didn't work.  Having a Tudor station building doesn't work for the same reason a cave wouldn't work - the clash with the modern trains is just too much.

Also, I personally loathe mock-Tudor in all its guises, so there's that.


It wasn't a station now, at any rate.  The building had been made into the offices of Reliant Installations, "experts in silos and tanks", and there was a busy industrial yard alongside in what must have once been the goods facilities.  The workers at the unit watched me as I left, as though seeing a passenger at the station was some kind of unique event.


I'm not sure why they looked at me like I was an alien being because Gargrave struck me as a perfect little commuter village.  If it was in Surrey or Kent every one of the houses would be jammed full of stockbrokers and bankers, because it was pretty, it was well appointed, and it had a train line running right through it.


Cottages hustled against the street, intermingling with larger double-fronted houses and barn conversions.  Ivy clambered over the old stone frontages.  On the wall of the parish church, a neat blue plaque stated that it was the final resting place of   "The Right Hon Iain McLeod MP, 1913-1970."  I texted the BF with a picture of the plaque - he's a massive politics nerd - along with the question, "One of yours?"

He replied immediately with, "No.  Tory bastard."  So you might get some idea of his political leanings.


I had plenty of time to kill.  I had four stations to collect over the course of the rest of the day, and all of them were miles away from their neighbours.  It was a case of get the train to the station, hang around for a bit, then get another train onwards.  Or, as I put it on the spreadsheet I use to plan these trips, loiter.

Fortunately, Gargrave is a lovely place to while away an hour or so.  I soon crossed the River Aire and was in the centre of the village.  It's squeezed in the gap between the river and a canal - the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, as it happens.  It seems to follow me around as I travel all over the North.  I'm sure if I added up all my time walking alongside it I've done about half the entire route.


Gargrave was once the site of a Roman villa, though there's nothing left of it now; the parish council have still erected an impressive metal board detailing its history under the legions.  Today it's all a lot more modern - a few pubs, a ladies clothing shop called Dapper, the Bollywood Cottage.  I was charmed by what I thought was a genuine, old fashioned Victorian sign over the pharmacy; the presence of "homeopathy" on its list of available services gave it away.  The presence of "homeopathy" also took away its right to call itself a decent pharmacy, too.


I did a circuit of the village then headed back towards the station.  I needed a pee; that lager in Long Preston was having its effect on my peanut sized bladder.  Fortunately, and slightly unbelievably, I spotted a public toilet on the green so I nipped in for a widdle.  There was a laminated, A4 sign directly in my field of vision as I walked in:
THE COST IS £8,500 a year
Gargrave needs 
YOUR DONATIONS
to keep these 
toilets open
Thank You
I'll be honest; I suddenly wished I'd gone behind a tree.  I only wanted to excrete urine, I didn't want a guilt trip into the bargain.  There was a little slot above the sink with HONESTY BOX printed above it.  How much is a pee worth, I wondered?  It used to be a penny, of course, but this is 2014 - a penny won't buy you anything.  The ones at Lime Street are 30p, but they were larger, cleaner and warmer.  In the end I slipped a 10p piece in the slot and spent the rest of the day wondering if that was too little.


I hadn't been looking forward to Skipton.  It's the end of the Airedale Line, the high frequency route from Leeds, and it's got one of those names that drips northern-ness; Come to Skipton - Come to Whippet Country.  That kind of thing.  I guessed it would be another former mill town that's fallen on hard times, and I'd need to hole up in a rough pub for a while out of lack of anything to do.


I was almost immediately proved wrong.  "Almost", because I first had to walk from the station past a 1960s fire station and a group of large buttocked ladies in leggings who absolutely refused to interrupt their gossip to let me walk by; I stepped into the gutter so I could negotiate their enormous rumps.  Then there was the back of Morrison's, and a DIY store, and then a furniture shop which featured a wooden Tintin in the window.  I'm normally a big fan of the Belgian boy reporter, but for some reason they'd carved it from a very dark wood, making it look like he was in blackface; frankly, Herge did enough racist crap in his time without turning Tintin into Al Jolson.


But soon I was crossing the Leeds and Liverpool again, and entering the centre of Skipton.  It's been voted one of the finest high streets in Britain, and it's easy to see why.  A long wide boulevard leads up the hill to the Holy Trinity Church and the castle; it's lined with neat Georgian terraces and attractive shops.  It's a mishmash of medieval streets with Victorian grandeur, and it's gorgeous.


There's clearly money in Skipton, with a House of Fraser and various clothing boutiques tucked into chi-chi courtyard developments.  There was also a preponderance of cafes and gift shops and, sadly, a branch of my nemesis, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, international signifier of a place full of people with too much time and money on their hands.  I walked up as far as the church but as I reached it, the heavens burst in a hail storm.  I hunkered my hood up and to avoid my ears getting stoned from the side of my face.


Passing the Carnegie Library ("site given by the trustees of the Skipton Mechanics Institute") I entered a narrow pedestrianised area, with pavement tables hoping to ensnare passing tourists.  I saw a sign pointing to the canal basin, so ducked down a side alley, coming out in another shopping court.  This one was on harder times than the others, with a couple of vacant shops and one store leaving its mezzanine level empty; the bunting seemed almost sarcastic.


I have an inkling about why this part was failing while the rest of Skipton seemed to be in rude health.  There was a little square at its centre, and in that was a circular pavilion which sold New Age decorations - dream catchers, tea lights, crystals and gems.  Wind chimes hung from every part of the roof and the result was a cacophony; an endless, arrhythmic clattering of wood and metal that was just a noise.  It sounded like someone had pushed Dame Evelyn Glennie off a cliff and she'd crashed into every outcrop on the way down.


There's a reason why wind chimes are popular in places like California and Mexico; they don't have any wind there.  A tinkling chime in those environments signals a moment's respite from the baking hot summer.  This is Britain.  We are a surrounded on all sides by water, we're incredibly hilly, and we have more weather in an average afternoon than Los Angeles gets in a year (as though to prove my point, the hail had stopped as quickly as it began).  If you put up a wind chime in this country it will always, always be clattering and clanging and it will slowly drive anyone in the immediate vicinity off their loop.  Trust me, I'm speaking from experience; my neighbours have both a wind chime and a yappy dog, and there's been many an Autumn evening when I've felt like nipping round with a pair of sharp scissors and solving both problems at once.

My point is, it's hard to window shop when you're being accompanied by what sounds like a symphony for My First Fisher Price Xylophone played by over stimulated toddlers; it gets you right there and you have to make a hasty retreat before you grind your fillings to dust.  If I were a neighbour I'd ask the Council for a discount on my Business Rates.


Fortunately, the canal basin beyond provides a far more calming and tranquil spot.  There are boat tours in summer, and I made a small note to return on a hot day to cruise the waters.  There's also a statue to Fred Trueman, erected in bronze and pleasingly, partly funded by Northern Rail.  I believe he was - checks Wikipedia - a cricketer.  I'm not a sporty man, and even if I was I don't think I'd be interested in cricket (too long, too boring, too incomprehensible - the BF watches it endlessly in the football off-season and I still can't quite grasp the rules), but it's a nice enough statue.


Back over the canal, my attention was caught by a London Underground roundel; this one had been renamed "Pie Stop" in a TfL-copyright violating manner.  It was an advert for the Skipton Pie and Mash shop, and even though I wasn't actually hungry, I decided I had to have pie and mash.  It sounded ace.  Sadly, it was operating on its winter hours, and had closed about twenty minutes earlier, meaning I couldn't sit on the bench outside "reserved for pie eaters" (which sounds like a polite way of saying "fat bastards").


Basically, I was in love with Skipton, and that was even without mentioning its board and collectible card game shop or its nicely redeveloped mill buildings or its proper historic bits, which I didn't get a chance to look at.  It's also without mentioning its station, which I shall now do at length, because Skipton station is also bloody lovely.


It manages to combine being a great, solid stone building, full of history and grandeur, with modern 21st century facilities.  The waiting area and ticket office have been tastefully restored, with not too much purple, and with a small shop/cafe inserted into one side.


I bought a tea from the chirpy lady in the shop and headed out onto the platform.  There are clean, newly painted glass awnings here to shield you from the rain, plus plenty of benches.  I sat on one dedicated to the memory of Railwayman Jimmy Bewes - Forty Seven Years Loyal Service With LMS & BR.  In the distance, under the soaking wet clouds, I could see the green hills of Yorkshire again.


The train that arrived to take me to my next station was another of those sexy electric ones that run from Leeds out into the peaks.  It was smooth and elegant and fast; I sincerely hope we're getting something similar on Merseyside when they finally finish the electrification of the Manchester line.


Cononley was the last station on the Airedale Line I still had to collect.  I got as far as Steeton & Stilsdon last March.  Actually, going back to my Dalton and Lazonby station collections, should I count this as (Sean) Cononley?  No.  That's a bit desperate.


Still clutching my station tea, I went for a wander round the village.  Theoretically I could have got straight on a train back to Skipton.  There's a service every fifteen minutes here, so I'd have only had the smallest of waits before I could be back in the bosom of my new love.  Also, if I'm honest, Cononley didn't look promising; there was a large, semi-vacant mill looming over the station, and it didn't look friendly.


I'm glad I did, because while it wasn't the best place I'd visited that day, it was perfectly acceptable.  There was a pleasing river running down the centre of the village, a pub (which only opened evenings), some nice looking houses and shops.  There was a hideous parish church which seemed to have built out of breeze blocks - given that it dated from the Forties, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn it was constructed by resentful atheist POWs - plus a few little shops.


I staggered up to The Institute - like a village hall, but somehow more terrifying - to look at the events, as is my hobby.  There was a talk about Renaissance Florence for the Skipton Italian Circle, Pilates classes, yoga and a WI; there was also a "wine and cheese party" on Friday the 11th.  Is that a euphemism?  Is wine and cheese party a polite way of saying "wife swapping"?  I wonder if you turned up there on your own, they'd give you a slice of Brie and a warm glass of white and then send you on your way, while all the couples stayed behind looking suspiciously giggly.  Or perhaps I just have an over active imagination.


After a few minutes of wondering whether "Oriental May", the Chinese takeaway, was named after an Asian spring (pretty!) or the lady who ran the place (ethnically insensitive!) I trotted back to the station for my train into Skipton.  There was a little boy there with his nan, giddy with excitement as a Leeds-bound train pulled into the platform.  He laughed and clapped his hands.  Unfortunately, a goods train then barrelled through in the opposite direction, rattling noisily and startling him; he burst into tears and hid in nana's skirts.


It was raining by the time we got into Skipton.  I made my way to wait for the Morecambe-bound train so I could collect my last station while water hammered on the glass roof over my head.  It was early evening now and my train had brought with it a group of tired looking commuters.  We stood in silence, reading our Kindles and our Yorkshire Evening Posts while music pounded in our headphones, islands on the island platform.


Hellifield station was a surprisingly popular place for people to alight.  I found myself in a scrum, almost carried off the train and onto the platform.  I decided I would come back to look at it properly once I'd seen the village; what I saw seemed worthy of detailed attention.


Remember, about 800,000 words ago, when I thought Skipton was going to be grim?  And how delighted I was when it wasn't?  Well, Hellifield provided the grimness I'd missed out on (I suppose the clue was in the name).  I walked along grey streets lined with low stone houses while the rain drizzled down the back of my neck.

Twilight was setting in as I reached the village centre.  A girl with a duffel coat over her pyjamas made the dash to the chip shop; a beautician advertised its Boogie Babe Wig with a paper lei and an excessively excited photograph.  Aherne's was brightly lit, a clothes shop that specialised in "Masai clothing"; sadly, this turned out to be a particular manufacturer, and not a shop that catered for Yorkshire's huge population of African tribespeople.


There were two pubs, dead opposite one another, and I picked the Black Horse after an extensive vetting procedure (eenie, meeny, miney, moe).  It was a barn of a pub, and almost completely empty; the only customers were two workmen at the bar who didn't bother to disguise their snickers as I dripped on the carpet.  The barmaid was a black-eyelinered rock chick who didn't seem keen to serve me.  Once I'd sat down in the corner, I realised why; I'd arrived right at the end of her shift, and I'd made her serve one last pint.  Her similarly dressed mate came in and they sat with the workmen at the bar, eating chips and affecting disdain.


All that - plus a Playground road sign which was in the wrong font, a surprisingly disquieting sight - should have been enough to push Hellifield to the bottom of the day's visits.  It had an ace, though.  Hellifield station is a joy.


Once you've entered through the admittedly, terrifying looking subway, you rise up a ramp to the platform.  It curves upwards at a gentle slope and brings you into... magnificence.


Hellifield used to be just a tiny station, like the one at Gargrave, but when the Midland Railway made a connection here they built a station around the junction.  The result is a beautiful piece of railway architecture.  Long, stone buildings stretch out beneath filigree glasswork.


The canopy covers the whole station, almost the entire length of the Leeds platform: a better amount of cover than some far busier and more popular stations.


In the ironwork there are reminders of the railway company that built it, over a hundred years ago.



The sadness is that this epic construction is barely used.  The line through here gets twenty-odd trains a day; not a bad service, but nowhere near enough to justify such a large station.  The buildings are closed off for most of the day, with a little cafe operating limited hours, but otherwise that stretch of platform is deserted.  A fence bars you from crossing over to the privately owned section.


It's a terrible shame that the only people who get to use the full expanse of the station are workers on the freight lines, changing shifts here.  I wandered up and down, admiring it from every angle, and full of frustration that I couldn't get close to those wonderfully restored structures.


Darkness closed in.  I hadn't really thought about how late it was.  My stomach rumbled.  I curled up on the sole bench on the station, the only passenger, until a train finally came in to take me back to Kirkby Stephen.  By the time I got off, again the only person on the station, I was tired and achey.  I thought of the tin of soup that was my dinner with a glee completely out of proportion to its actual nutritional value.

There was a car parked outside the station house, the engine idling, illuminated by the security light.  The BF got out with a carrier bag full of Marks and Spencer food and a bottle of wine, bought at one of the motorway service stations on the way up.  He smiled.  "I brought provisions."