Tuesday 24 July 2007

Islands In The Stream

An island platform when you have no idea where you're going is such a tantalising thing. One platform, two routes, and each is equally open to you. That's how I started today, at Bidston on the Wirral Line. I had decided that today was just going to be a day of MerseyTarting, but I didn't know which way to go. At Bidston, there's one island platform: trains to Liverpool one way, trains to West Kirby the other.

I decided I would just take the first train that came along. What was the first train that came along? One to Wrexham. Yes, even though this service is a frequent as a pleasant smell in a sewage works, a Wrexham train turned up before anything else. This train forms part of the Borderlands Line. How do I know this? ALF Alert!

The Borderlands Line is so called because it goes from England to Wales. This is rather disappointing, as a name like that sounds like it should be in East Germany, a hotbed of spies and skullduggery, with people being shot up against barbed wire fences for listening to 99 Luftballoons. It does have a couple of stations on the Merseyrail map, at Upton and Heswall, but I'm afraid that if I visit them I'll end up in a Stasi cellar somewhere being tortured with Men of Harlech.

The ALF, incidentally, depicts Bidston Observatory, which is on a hill not far from the station. This was once home to an Oceanographic Laboratory but is now seemingly destined to be (yawn) luxury flats. How imaginative.

Bidston station itself is thoroughly odd. As you can see, it's not exactly state of the art; but within a few hundred yards are a Tesco the size of Bridlington, a large retail park, and a junction of the M53. You could have a great big park and ride here, with a decent bus interchange, and links into the retail units, but they don't seem to have bothered. It just sort of sits in the middle of a field, difficult to get to, with pedestrian crossings taking you across big dual carriageways into nothing. It could be a proper transport interchange.

Anyway, a Liverpool train turned up, so off I went to Liverpool Central to change to the Northern Line. I was careful not to leave the station, hence the lack of pics of it - that's for another day. Instead, I went to the Northern Line's island platform and boarded the first train I saw - one to Kirkby.

I had a vague plan in my mind. I didn't intend going out to Kirkby, but I had seen on the map that Rice Lane and Walton were quite close to one another. I figured I would go out to Rice Lane, then walk to Walton and get the train back again. Simple enough. So here's Rice Lane collected:

The station itself was utterly unmemorable; just crammed beneath a bridge. I trotted out the exit, then turned left, with a vague idea that Walton was somewhere that way. It was. In fact, I could see it down the road, about twenty yards away! How ridiculous is that? There can be no possible good reason for having two stations that close to one another. It must be a hangover from the days of privatised railways, when stations were inefficiently placed purely to satisfy shareholders instead of passengers (any satirical tone detected in that sentence was entirely deliberate).

There's the sign anyway. A bit up the nose, but there you go. I was concerned about taking too many pics as the prison is just over the road, and I didn't want a load of burly men to suddenly wrestle me to the ground because they thought I was planning a mass break out.

Incidentally, regular readers may recall that I wondered what the ALF at Walton would be (http://merseytart.blogspot.com/2007/07/its-pronounced-baytch.html). Sadly, they don't have one at all, which is missing a trick, surely. I think I may write to Merseytravel and suggest something sawn off shotgun related.

Back into Liverpool I went, with a swift change at Moorfields for a train to Hunts Cross to take me further south. The train took me through Liverpool Central, and then through old, rocky tunnels with occasional gaps of sunlight to carry me to one of the newest stations on the network: Brunswick. This was built as a regenerative tool for the local rebuilt docks and office villages, and was opened in 1998. I've always had a sneaking fondness for this station for two reasons: (1), it has a large sandstone wall outside which is nicely ostentations and modern- viz:

The second reason is it has a connection to that most wondrously named of Liverpool districts: Dingle. Knotty Ash and Tuebrook come close, yes, but how can you say "I live in Dingle" and not smile? Actually, how can you say, "I live in Dingle" and manage to resist the urge to dress like a gnome? It's lovely.

I have however gone off Brunswick a bit as it has the most boring ALF I have seen yet.

What's wrong with Brunswick for Dingle, eh? Eh? I'm outraged. Especially since there are plans to demolish that business park and build an enormous tower on the site instead. A Business Park is most definitely not an Attractive Local Feature, and I'm shocked that they can pretend otherwise.

Since it was a lovely day, and since I hate to go back on myself, I wandered along the riverside to get to my next destination. The road here is wide, and empty, and all along it are brick 90s style developments, interspersed with car showrooms and odd retail units. It's all a bit random, and doesn't look like much thought has gone into the planning - it looks like the council were just glad that anyone wanted to build something round here, and so weren't too picky about what they threw up. The route also has two sad reminders of Things We Have Lost.

This is a genuine piece of transport history; under that arch was the terminus to the Liverpool Overhead Railway, an elevated railway that once ran from its station here at Dingle past the Liver Building and all the way past the docks. Sadly, this is one of the few remaining signs of the system. It was heavily bombed in the war, and then the iron supports were found to have corroded to such an extent that repairing it would have cost a fortune. The "Docker's Umbrella" was closed in 1956 and replaced with a (gah) bus service; the rest was sold for scrap. That makes me genuinely upset, that such a useful, innovative transport system was allowed to die through lack of motivation and investment. If it were still here today, it would be a tourist attraction in its own right.

This was the entrance to the International Garden Festival that was held in 1984. This was a wizard wheeze by the Tory Government at the time: rather than help a city by giving it jobs and assistance, bung a few flowers in and that will sort it out. To be fair, this massive site was a success back then, turning a landfill site into a thing of beauty - I can still remember seeing items about it on the news - but unfortunately, it was all temporary, and there was no money provided to keep the thing going. It fell into disrepair and ruin. Bits of it were moved off elsewhere (the "Yellow Submarine" from one of the gardens is now at the airport, and I believe the giant Blue Peter ship is now outside the Police HQ) while the large Festival Hall was turned into "Pleasure Island". I visited it years ago, and it was a mess - a bowling alley crammed into a derelict site. Unsurprisingly it went bust.

There are plans now on the table, which are apparently going to move forward, to build (guess what?) luxury apartments on the site, with much of the gardens restored as a new public park. Does any developer ever build bog-standard apartments, instead of luxury ones? And what happened to flats? Whatever they build, it would certainly be welcome for the site to at least be opened up, instead of CCTV and razor wired up.

Anyway, I turned away from there and went somewhere a lot nicer: Lark Lane. This is a boho district of the city, and I love it - lots of little cafes and restaurants, with big Victorian villas leading up to Sefton Park. One of my friends used to live near here with his (now thankfully ex-) fiance, and I was so jealous; I wanted to live that magic life of waking up on a Sunday morning and wandering down to one of the lazy cafes with wooden floors for a quiet coffee and the papers. Perfect living.

Once I was done wishing I was living in an advert for a building society, I turned back to get the train into Liverpool from St Michael's station. This was another place I had fond memories of from visiting Mike, and I wasn't disappointed: the little country station building and feel were all present and correct. It's tucked down a back road, surrounded by trees, and is quite lovely - please, go and visit it. Nice stations should be encouraged wherever possible.

I turned back into Liverpool, but disembarked briefly at Moorfields for a quick tart of the Old Hall Street entrance to the station, which has its own ticket office (and even a shop). Sadly, the whole thing was in shadow, so I couldn't get a decent shot of the main entrance - but I spotted this sly little entrance round the side, and I was in there!

Have it!

And the final train home to Birkenhead Park brought a wonderful surprise. Regular readers (plural?) will remember that last time I visited, they were fiddling with the ALF boards so I couldn't get a picture. At the time, I bemoaned the inappropriateness of telling visitors to Birkenhead Park that this was the station for the Docks. Well, they have listened - the reason they were fiddling was they were installing this:

Yes!!! And what's even better, they've left the orginal as well:

Two ALFs for the price of one! I was too excited, really. In fact I was so excited I threw caution to the wind. It had always slightly bothered me that my first tart had been represented by the platform sign, rather than the exterior. Well, I was so buoyed by the Double ALF Experience, I dashed out across the road and took this:

Who cares if I look slightly disturbed? Who cares if the local scallies looked like they were about to rip the camera out of my hand and shove it into an orifice of their choosing? Birkenhead Park is properly tarted and I'm so pleased. That's another five stations off the list, and I had a nice wander around. The project's moving along!


Ian Jones said...

Just a note to say how much I'm enjoying exploring your blog and to thank you for generously linking to my own hapless efforts regarding the London Underground. I lived in Liverpool for 12 years so reading your adventures bring back loads of memories. St Michael's was my local station for about five years and I never grew tired of its quaint and subtle charm. I also spent a few years living in Gateacre alongside the old Liverpool Loop Line, which as you know is now a footpath. Close by there used to be an old British Rail trespass sign from the 1960s; it was still there when I came back to visit a few months ago. Anyway - keep up the good work!

Scott Willison said...

I've been enjoying your blog just as much, so it's a mutual appreciation society!

I'm still mulling over whether to give the Loop Line a go. On the plus side, it's a load of historic stations to be captured (I believe that a couple of the buildings are even still there though in use for other things). On the minus side, it has a bad reputation for rape, muggings and general unpleasantness, so there's some hesitation there.