Friday, 22 August 2014

The Furthest Reach


There's a unique alchemy at work in near empty railway stations.  I was in Newcastle Central not long after it opened.  Most of the shops were closed.  The ticket barriers were unmanned, their gates folded back.  There were no trains passing through.

That's where it became magical.  A railway station without trains is holding its breath.  Each part of it is ready to spring into action; it just needs the first grind of a train to make it happen.  Platforms offer promise.

I clacked across the tiled floor, my walking boots echoing in the empty space.  The other people about were still half-asleep.  They wanted to be somewhere else, at home, in bed, being cuddled.  It was too early to be lively.  The exception was two lads sat on a table outside Costa, fizzing with excitement and energy. They had backpacks at their feet and were playing cards, whacking down hands, laughing, ready for their adventure.


My train was waiting for me on the platform, but it was dead.  Silent and cold.  I bought myself a chai latte from the sole open store - Costa - and took a seat by it.  After a few minutes, the driver arrived, and he coaxed the Super Sprinter into life.  The diesel engines coughed, a thick gruff clearing of the throat, then it began to throb.  A pulsing clatter over and over.  I felt a strange moment of nostalgia for it.  Electrification means that these diesel workhorses are going to be pushed to the edges of the network; they'll be on the fringes and won't visit the big cities any more.

A flicker and the white fluorescents of the carriage came to life.  They were the brightest light around; yellow downlights pooled subtly on the shiny floors, but the train was a bar of glowing phosphorescence.  Then another kind of light: the orange circle around the "door open" button.


This was the 0555 service from Newcastle to Chathill, and I was the only passenger.  Not surprising.  It's a token service that no-one really uses.  The train travels over the East Coast Main Line, the route from King's Cross to Scotland, and there are larger, faster, more important trains that need to use the rails.  A dinky stopping service calling at quiet Northumberland villages is an inconvenience, but no-one has the heart to kill it completely.  Instead they run a token service: one train north in the morning, one in the evening, and the same going back.  A loop just beyond Chathill lets the train reverse.  It's useless to all but the most committed commuters.

The guard checked my ticket with disdain before heading to the front of the train and staying there.  I guessed that he and the driver saw this as a nice easy way to start their day with no passengers getting in the way.  I pictured them sat in the cabin sharing a flask of tea.


As we tore out of Newcastle and into the countryside the skies changed from violet to grey.  Night receded to leave the odd glimpse of sun behind thick clouds.  It felt as though we were travelling impossibly fast.  The engine was a constant drum in the background as the train was pushed to its maximum; InterCity speeds being wrestled out of a rickety old lady.  The driver must love it.  This is why he became a train driver, not to pootle around brown suburbs, but to burn through the countryside.

A level crossing whizzed past, barely more than a track and a gate.  Morpeth came in a blur of flat roofed extensions and conservatories.  The wheels protested loudly at being forced to stop.  There were no passengers, just as there had been none at Cramlington before it.  Two stations down, two to go.  Then we were out at maximum again, the driver doing whatever the railway equivalent of foot-down driving is.

Alnmouth appeared alongside, embarrassingly pretty, a tiny town huddled on a curve in a wide estuary.  The station brought the first sign of other passengers - on the opposite platform, mind, but it was nice to see some life.  On a distant hillside, a herd of cows clustered, determined to create dramatic silhouettes against the morning sky.  The second East Coast train of the morning crashed by; the line was beginning to fill up, and soon there wouldn't be room for this little purple interloper.  I pictured furious Scottish 125s stacked up behind the Sprinter, tapping their wheels impatiently, shouting for it to get out the way.


"This is Chathill, where this train terminates."  It was the first time the guard had spoken - he'd seen my ticket, he knew where I was going; there was no point in announcing the other stations.  Chathill is as far north as Northern Rail goes.  It's not the furthest north station in England - Berwick-upon-Tweed, nudging up against the border, holds that distinction - but Northern aren't allowed to go there.  Only the fastest trains, electric ones, are allowed past this point.


I put a line through the station name on the Northern Rail map I carry around in my head.  If I achieved nothing else that day, I'd done this, one of the most obscure, most difficult to reach stations.  Job done.


The station building is a private house now, of course.  I tiptoed by and out onto the road, not wanting to make any noise at such an early hour.  I crossed over to the southbound platform to have a look in the shelter.  Normally these quiet stations have nothing much in the way of facilities - you're lucky if you get a seat - but Chathill has a proper shelter, with a heavy sliding door to stop the birds from nesting inside.


Inside, the locals had put up British Railways noticeboards and filled them with pamphlets for local attractions.  There was a history of the line and the station, and a small book exchange (mostly historical romances).  And there were postcards.  Robert visited the station a couple of months ago, and so I was forewarned that I could buy a souvenir of my visit; there were only two left in the plastic wallet.  I put some coins into the envelope and crossed back to the house ("drop it through the letterbox").


There was a train back into Newcastle in a few minutes; I say "a train", it was the one I'd come on.  I wasn't getting it.  I'd decided to walk to the next station along the line, just twenty miles or so away.  Surely it couldn't be that hard?


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Unexpected Places

Here is a view of the street outside Flowery Field railway station:


You know what are conspicuous by their absence?  ANY FLOWERY FIELDS.  I assume this was some sort of con perpetuated by the local transport executive.  "We could call it 'that bit of Manchester just down the road from Hyde, but if we call it Flowery Field more people might use it!"  Other names suggested were 'Lovely Place', 'Really Pretty' and 'Honest, It's Absolutely Gorgeous, Just Jump Off The Train And See For Yourself.'


It shouldn't exist anyway.  Hyde North is within spitting distance, at the point where the Hyde branch breaks off from the Hadfield line.  The sensible place to put the Hadfield platforms would have been alongside the non-electrified ones to create a nice big interchange station, but instead, they built Flowery Field.  There's a sort of suggestion that maybe they should get round to putting those platforms in sometime, but as with most railway projects in Manchester, it's very far down the list.  They've got their trams to play with.


I pushed through Flowery Field's defiantly non-flowery streets.  There was a brief moment of old world charm, where the George and Dragon pub and a farm shop combined with a cobbled square to form an almost rural scene; this was immediately ruined by the cars parked haphazardly all over it and the nasty font on the pub.


The edges softened the further on I walked; the countryside made a valiant attempt to break in.  The houses distanced themselves from one another and the streets seemed to breathe again.  A recreation ground seemed to stretch right the way to the Pennines.


I passed over the railway tracks at a busy crossroads and descended down the steep Commercial Brow.  The railway remained at the same level though, slowly rising up above me on a viaduct behind one of the side streets.


Sadly "Free Off Licence" doesn't mean you can just wander in and help yourself to a bottle of Jack Daniels.  I did check.

I turned towards the station, past a small homeware store with a parade of fountains spurting outside.  The proprietress paced back and forth, no doubt trying to find something to occupy a boring afternoon, but in the process creating an less than welcoming image.  I hurried past to the station with an almost apologetic nod of the head for not being interested in her shop.


Newton for Hyde (the last couple of words were added to differentiate from a station in Scotland - you see, Network Rail, you can do it when you try) has a tiny stone station building clinging to the embankment.  I'd resigned myself to it being another boarded up mess like Guide Bridge, and as I rounded the corner, it did seem to be similarly closed and shuttered.  There was nice metalwork but no sign of it being active.


Round the corner, however, I got a pleasant surprise.  There was a wide side entrance to the ticket office, barred only by a gate, and I got a great view of a charming tiled waiting room, with a red stone floor and a fireplace.  It was closed - the station is only staffed until lunchtime on a Saturday - but it was lovely to see.


Meanwhile the underpass carried the same tilework, only here - sigh - the Purple Gang had been at work.  A wide band of corporate colours had been painted along both sides.  I mean, can you just not sometimes, Northern?  Lamp posts and woodwork and shutters and benches - all fine.  Gorgeous, historic tilework that's sat there unmolested for a hundred years?  No.  It's just wrong.  My only prayer is that it will easily come off if someone decides to restore the underpass (or, more likely, a different franchisee wants to impose their corporate identity on the station).


The tilework continued up the stairs to the platforms, beneath a pretty buttress.  The Manchester platform has a pointed roof and stone entrance; on the Hadfield platform though, there was a flat roof.  I wondered where its stonework had gone.


One very quick train ride later and I reached Godley (no Creme required).  After the architectural joys of Newton for Hyde we were back to a couple of platforms and a shelter.  It seemed completely uninteresting.


I had something of a shock when I trekked down the stairs to the street and realised I was on top of a huge and very impressive brick viaduct.  The high trees and embankments at track level made it seem quite ordinary but from below it became something special.


Also unusual was the station sign.  Transport for Greater Manchester - or GMPTE as it was - has gone through so many different corporate identities over the years it must have a graphic design firm on a permanent retainer.  This sign still had the orange logo, which I believe was two logos ago - maybe three.


Manchester was really reaching its limits now.  The Mottram Road was wide and empty, with fields and trees either side.  Houses hid in hollows behind wooden fences and walls.  A new entrance to the Kerry Foods factory stopped me from fully believing it was a rural idyll, but it was still pretty pleasant.

New homes began to appear.  The steep hills proved difficult to tame for the housebuilders; they'd ended up putting in huge blank walls as foundations, a compromise that reminded me of SimCity when the computer can't cope with the idea of sloping gardens.  Terraces spring up across the hillsides, making your town look like a paddy field.


Wheezing a little - when will I learn to do the hilly stations first? - I turned into Hattersley.  It was built in the Sixties as a Manchester overspill estate, and a lot of the houses are still from that era.  Privatisation of the stock has meant that a lot are now being either demolished or refurbished; there used to be tower blocks, but these were demolished a decade ago.


To me, it seemed like a clean, well-kept post war estate.  I sensed that it probably had its problems, but it didn't seem like a bad place to live.  A bit of research beforehand would have told me that this was where Myra Hindley lived, and where she and Ian Brady had killed their last two victims (the house has since been demolished); I'm glad I didn't know about that beforehand, because I would have prejudged it.  Hattersley was also home to Shayne Ward; again, it's lucky I didn't know that prior to visiting either.

I'd reached the centre of the estate, a pub and some shops.  It was clear that the new parade had replaced an underused precinct - you could practically smell the paint in the supermarket - but it was clean and bright, and a new block of sheltered housing had been erected next door.  The Harehill Tavern, meanwhile, wasn't actually one of Jon Dryden Taylor's Flat Roofed Pubs (FRPs) but you felt that it was definitely a cousin.  It wasn't a place for a casual pint and a G&T with the chaps round the corner; it was a place to get drunk in, possibly followed by a fight, probably followed by vomiting.


I bought another bottle of water and a packet of Doritos from the shop - I hadn't actually eaten since breakfast, and I was feeling a bit light headed after all that walking - and pushed on along the road.  Perhaps I was only seeing the good side of Hattersley but it seemed a decent place to live to me.  There was a good mix of housing - old people's bungalows, low blocks of flats, semis and terraces.  I could see fields and even horses at the end of some of the roads.  Wide expanses of verge, patches of grass to enjoy instead of places to park 4x4s, made the streets feel casual and relaxed.  And then, just in the distance, the raw beauty of the moors.


As if to prove my point two boys, about ten, emerged from the copse of trees to my left.  They were picking at bits of grass and had that laid back look about them that hits all outdoorsy children about the third week of the summer holiday.  I imagined they'd spent the afternoon building a base in the woods, using twigs to make a hideout, dug for worms and spiders.  In all probability they'd actually been sniffing glue, but I'll try not to think about that.

Hattersley station was at the base of the hill, at the point where the road and the railway line just kissed before parting again.  Another reason to live here: a fast, frequent service into the city.  The car park was undergoing refurbishment so I picked around the fencing to reach the ticket hall.


Not quite in the same league as Newton for Hyde.  It was covered in brightly covered posters done by local schoolchildren, which I've slowly grown more and more cynical about the more I've explored Northern Rail.  At first they seemed like a delightful idea to involve the local community, but the more I travel round, the more they seem to be the only idea to involve the local community.  And they all look the same - too many clashing colours, too much weirdly angled writing, too many squished up faces.


It was all quiet.  I used a futuristic feeling hexagonal walkway - the kind of walkway that you felt could quite easily fit in a space station, if it wasn't painted bleeding purple - to reach the island platform.  It was pleasingly symmetrical.  A canopy ran straight along the centre, simple but practical.  It was built out of cheap metal rather than the elegant concrete you'd expect on, say, the Underground, but it would be enough to cover you from the rain, which is all you need.


Part of me wanted to carry on to Broadbottom, not least because of the comedy name.  I'd run short of time though and besides, the final triangle at the end of the line deserved more attention than I could give it.  I took a seat - avoiding the carton of red wine kindly left by a previous passenger - and started on my Doritos.


Monday, 11 August 2014

Eastlands and Down

For reasons far to dull to go into here, I found myself in Manchester with a few hours to kill.  The last time this happened to me I ended up wandering round a couple of building sites masquerading as railway stations.  This time I decided to go somewhere where there were actually trains.


The Hadfield Line seemed like an easy win.  It goes from Piccadilly out to Derbyshire, it's got a mix of stations, and a regular on the half hour service.  I figured I could just keep going until I ran out of time then turn round and head back into the city.


My first stop was Ashburys, just where the line to Sheffield breaks off.  There's no actual place called Ashburys; it was built by a rolling stock manufacturer whose factory was next door, so they got the honour of naming it too.  They moved to Birmingham around the turn of the century, leaving a railway station name that means nothing.

However, in recent years, it's been given a new importance.  The 2002 Commonwealth Games were held just down the road, and after they left, the land was given over to a massive regeneration project.  Former quarries and factories have been levelled and now there are new roads, sports facilities and shops, plus loads of homes.  Its most recent arrival has been Network Rail.


It looks impressive but really it's just a posh signal box.  A really big signal box, admittedly; one day this will control all the railways in the North West.  I like to imagine that inside it looks like Ops in Deep Space Nine - lots of blinking lights and touch screens and serious people staring intently at their consoles.  Perhaps a couple of Bajorans too.  I bet it doesn't; I bet it's just four floors of open plan offices that could be anywhere.  Health and safety posters and people complaining about Sarah in Finance refusing their expenses claim and collections for Luke who's doing a triathlon that you don't really want to contribute to but you don't want to look tight.

I crossed over the rusting footbridge and headed down to street level.  It seemed baffling to me that such a rickety station was allowed to continue.  On match days the station must be heaving with Manchester City fans, but there weren't any crowd control methods; none of the elaborate ramps you can see at Aintree, for example.  And the way from the street to the trains is via a single vertiginous concrete staircase.


Now that Network Rail are right next door I hope they look into improving things.  At the very least, its passenger numbers are going to shoot up, as all those rail workers use their free travel passes to get to work.  No, I'm not jealous that I don't have a free rail travel pass, NOT.  ONE.  BIT.


Pottery Lane became Alan Turing Way (I muttered a quiet benediction for the Enigma Martyr) and I got a good look at the new world springing up in this part of the city.  There was a new Sixth Form College, ready to open in September, a new health centre, and a new leisure centre, complete with elaborate boastful hoardings to entice you inside.  Behind them, almost unnoticed, groups of 1960s social housing carried on doing what they had done for fifty years, not even slightly upwardly mobile.


The buildings got even bigger as I hit the centre of SportCity, the legacy of the Commonwealth Games.  Although now it has a new name: the Etihad Campus.  Manchester City took over the stadium once the Games were over and, after a few years of calling it the "City of Manchester Stadium", they flogged the naming rights to a Middle Eastern airline.  I find corporate renaming of sports venues tacky anyway, but taking something that is actually built for and named after your city and slapping an airline's logo on it is positively offensive.  I guess when you have money you can do anything.  I hope the City Council were given one hell of a pay off as compensation, given that they built the damn thing in the first place.


I crossed over the road to have a look at the stadium.  Though I don't like sport, I do like sport venues.  Big, confident stadia that bellow out pride for their team.  The Etihad (urgh) was curved and organic, with a crown of trusses carrying delicate cables to hold up the roof.  It was showing its age a little - the concrete on the access ramps was stained in places - but it was still impressive.


As I wandered around it a father was showing his son the stadium, pointing out bits of it and running through Man City's footballing glories.  When I mentioned this to the BF later, he snorted.  "I bet that didn't take long."  Twenty four hours later they were comprehensively hammered by Arsenal in the Community Shield, so perhaps he had a point.

I walked back up Commonwealth Way.  It's now been interrupted by a long white footbridge, which arcs over the road junction and into the plot opposite.  At one point that was going to be the site of Britain's Super Casino, the first Las Vegas style gambling establishment that was bafflingly handed to Manchester over Blackpool or the O2.  When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister he promptly cancelled the entire scheme, leaving the site derelict for a few more years until Manchester City decided to build its Academy and training facilities there.  The footbridge is presumably so that the cosseted players won't have to actually use a pelican crossing, the poor dears; I give it three months before they're demanding to be driven over the bridge because the walking hurts their feet.


I crossed over to the vast Asda superstore to buy a bottle of water and then exited near the tram stop.  Metrolink came to the east of the city in 2013, and the sight of the yellow trams whizzing past the white steelwork and wide boulevard gave the crossing a futuristic air.


I had a "rail only" ticket, otherwise I'd have leapt on the first available tram to carry me along the Ashton New Road.  Instead I walked, making only a slight detour to catch a photo of the National Cycling Centre across the canal.  This is the venue we largely have to thank for the British dominance of the sport over the past decade, so I bowed my head in thanks for Sir Chris Hoy and, more particularly, this picture of Sir Chris Hoy.


The regeneration area stopped almost immediately after that.  Presumably the council realised that people heading for the Commonwealth Games would get there from the city centre, so anything beyond the site was unimportant.  A row of small shops ended in a restaurant, which promised "orgasmic Italian flavours"; I hope there was a mistranslation there.  The tram reappeared for Clayton Hall stop, which was currently being used as a climbing frame by two lads.  They leapt from the top of the ticket machine across to the back of the shelter, then climbed on its angled roof and spread themselves out to take in the afternoon sun.

A Conservative Club was a surprise; do they even have Tories in this part of the world?  Then there were rows of brick houses, numbered in the hundreds, and mixed in with car washes and garages.  Outside one home, a boy of about four was selling loom band bracelets from a trestle table with his mum.  I found this terribly upsetting.  I have a weak spot when it comes to children selling things; I want to gather them up and take them to the nearest theme park to have fun instead of getting involved in horrible commercial activities.  He looked enthusiastic, and his mum had a look of benign indulgence on her face, but I still hurried past and tried not to think about it.


More cheery was Alan Bradley Funeral Services; for Coronation Street viewers that name immediately brings up memories of Rita Fairclough's abusive boyfriend who ended up getting run over by a Blackpool tram.  Even more amusingly, the Metrolink line went right outside - I hope the proprietor looks both ways before crossing.

I'd just about entered Tameside when I turned right, onto Edge Lane.  A man came out of a side road with four excitable boys in football shirts.  He was striding purposely but the boys were dallying, talking to one another, finding fun in kicking an empty bottle about, staring into the windows of houses as they passed.  They were very definitely not paying attention to the grown up.  He barked instructions - "Kai!  Will you tell your brother!" - but it wasn't having much effect.


I followed two ladies and their four yapping dogs through an industrial estate, where a factory hummed mechanical noises, and emerged by sports centre.  There was yet more corporate intervention on offer here; it wasn't just a leisure centre, it was Barclays Sporting Edge Community Sports Centre.  I shook my fist impotently at the sporting equivalent of a hooker on all fours in an Amsterdam window.


The doorway to the pub across the way was filled with fag smoking middle aged men, unwilling to actually go outside and miss some of the chat.  I carried on into Gorton.  A park with an empty playground provided a welcome breath of air.  I tried not to peek into the gardens as I walked by - not least because the sun had brought out the residents - but I couldn't help but notice the house with MOORES BAR (sic) in the back; a shed painted blue for your outdoor alcohol needs.

Past Electo Road - which sounds like it was named after a particularly democratic superhero - I reached a triangular space with a war memorial.  It might have once been a village green, but the trees and concrete seating didn't make it a great spot for a picnic.


I'd drunk my Asda water so I nipped into the corner shop across from the Little Chippy (which sold English Fish and Chips, as opposed to the unpleasant Japanese Fish and Chips) to replenish my supply.  A teenage lad was stood behind the counter; he greeted the woman in front of me by name, and tapped at the till with barely a glance.  Above him, some portly Asian gentlemen were doing some furious overacting on a small flatscreen tv.  I thought about enquiring about the shop's sole sandwich, as advertised in the window: what flavour was it?  What size?  How much?  Was that photo the actual sandwich in question, or just an artist's impression?


I doubled back to Gorton station, just as a train came in and unleashed a horde of shoppers with carrier bags.  The station actually has a ticket office, which is a rarity in Greater Manchester and a handy way to gauge the social make up of the surrounding area.  Generally speaking, the poorer and rougher the area, the more likely it is that there will be a ticket office at the entrance.  It seems that the well off residents of the city can be trusted to buy a ticket on the train, but the lower orders need to be apprehended before they board.


Please note the narrow passageway that funnels you past the ticket window, meaning you have no excuse.


I settled down to wait for my train.  I was glad of the rest.  The afternoon was deceptively warm, and I was sweaty and weary.  It was good to have a seat and sip my Volvic.


I was barely on the train before it was time to get off again, at Fairfield.  As I paused to take my usual picture, a train came in at the opposite platform.  I can therefore present to you a glorious picture of two sterling examples of Northern's rolling stock in one shot.


HOT.  TRACTION.  ACTION.

Unsurprisingly snapping pics of trains on the platform was a solitary role, and I was the only person left.  Almost the only person: two women were trying to carry a baby buggy up the steps to the street.  Well, one was fine with it, the redoubtable looking grandmother of about fifty.  Her twenty something daughter was a different story.  She was wailing about how heavy it was, about how hard it was, about how difficult it was walking backwards up the stairs.  Goodness knows what she was like when she actually gave birth.  I'm guessing the nurses wanted to belt her after the first labour pang caused her to have a screaming hissy fit.

Being a gentleman, I obviously offered to help.  "Thanks," said gran.  "Take over from t'young un."  A tiny moment of doubt dinged in the back of my head - what if it was too heavy for me, too?  That would be embarrassing - but it wasn't, and we deposited the still sleeping baby at the top of the stairs.  Both women were grateful to me, but as soon as they walked away granny started lecturing mum for making such a fuss.


That's a slight aura of smugness you can detect around me for performing a good deed.

The road of semis that backed onto the railway line crested a slight hill, and I was able to get a view into the Peak District.  Again I marvelled at how lucky cities in the North are to have magnificent nature just a mile or two from their borders, accessible to anyone with a rail or bus ticket.


The railway line and the M60 both pass through a low valley, and the road I was following passed over them both.  In a narrow gap between them builders were constructing a new development of homes and apartments named "Kings Grange".  Such a fanciful name for a bunch of rabbit hutches that would be entertained with the sound of passing cars 24 hours a day and the rattle of a Pacer every half an hour.  There was a sort of decent view, if you ignored the HGV's, but you'd be looking at it through closed, triple glazed windows.


I'd looked at the map before I set out, and I'd looked forward to a scenic walk after the M60.  The road skirted the north of the Audenshaw Reservoirs, three vast lakes constructed by the Manchester Corporation in the 19th century, and I'd hoped for a waterside stroll.  Unfortunately, when I got close, I was greeted by this:


It turns out the whole facility is fenced off and barred from access: no strolling, no swimming, no fishing.  While I can understand banning swimming - reservoirs are notorious death holes - I can't see the harm in allowing the locals to parade around the edge.  Other reservoirs make quite a tidy living as marinas, sailing clubs and nature reserves.

Dejected, with only a tiny glimpse of water to fulfil me, I carried on along the road.  There was a prettily tiled bus stop, but it wasn't enough.  I paused at a marker stone in the wall:


For a moment I indulged myself in the romance of imagining the submerged village; the church steeple scraping the surface from beneath, the houses now filled with weeds, fish swimming through broken glass.  It was a tantalising image.  The Red Hall Chapel was replaced by Trinity Church in 2008, a tedious brick building that contributed nothing to the road.

As I walked along the road I became aware that there were, in fact, people by the reservoir, on the other side of the fence.  A dog walker, a BMX biker, a man with a flat cap.  Then the couple up ahead of me, strolling hand in hand with a Sainsbury's bag full of picnic, vanished from sight.  They'd ducked into a narrow breach in the wall, and were following the fence looking for what must be a locally known hole.  It pleased me that people had still found a way to enjoy the reservoirs.


Through Audenshaw, then the theatre/industrial unit welcomed me to Guide Bridge (next production: Abigail's Party).  It was a tight little community, exactly the kind of place you'd imagine would have a thriving Am Dram scene.  It wasn't all Margo Leadbetter and smoked salmon sandwiches though; by the motorway was a dark heavy industrial building, the kind that would make a guest appearance in Channel 4's hilarious sitcom The Mill.


I was delighted to turn the corner and find a great, old fashioned brick station building.  Guide Bridge station was actually on a bridge, which pleased me no end.


As I got closer, I realised there was something wrong.  The windows were boarded up and the door was shuttered.  It looked a lot more than just a closed ticket room here.  It turns out that Guide Bridge was destroyed by fire in 2006; arson was blamed, but no one was ever caught.  The waiting room, ticket office and footbridge were obliterated and so the building was abandoned.  Since then a new ticket office has been built on the Manchester platform, next to the car park; it's perfectly fine, but it's not a beautiful tiled relic of Victorian architecture.


I headed down to the eastbound platform.  Guide Bridge is also home to a depot, and the new way to the trains is along the road that accesses it.  It doesn't feel right; it feels like you're trespassing.  I was waiting for someone to turn me away.


The staircase to the old building is still there, locked and gated.  I wonder what will happen to it all now?  The new ticket hall has removed any need for it to be restored.  It's in an inconvenient spot for a commercial property - maybe a cafe or a newsagent, but there's no parking and you're outside the centre of Guide Bridge.  I'm guessing it will be allowed to slowly decay until someone sets fire to it again, and it's demolished.


It was a sad fate for the station.  I was glad I'd taken the sign picture in front of the old building, while it was still there.