Saturday 25 August 2007

Map! Part Deux

As an update, here's where we are so far with the Merseyrail map. Two branches are completely done, which is pleasing, but the Southport line hasn't been touched at all, and even though I travel on it every day to work, the only station south of Birkenhead Park that's been tarted is Bache. 18 are done, leaving 49 to go, and I've been doing a lot of easy ones so far. Plus with the Mysterious Train Wheel Problem, services have been cut down - so going forward, things can only get more difficult.

Overflated Opinion of Oneself

I'm sorry, I really am. I had no idea that my galloping round the railway network of Liverpool would cause such damage. No sooner had I started my little quest than Merseyrail trains immediately start going mad ( The network operators are baffled as to what is causing all this; I'm choosing to believe that it's my legions of fans following my trail and riding the rails in hope of a glimpse of the MerseyTart.

Clearly under such circumstances I should cease and desist from using the network. I feel guilty now. Especially as I only went out last week. If you are the type of person who copies stuff they read on the internet, stop reading now! You're putting lives in danger!!!

I'd been thinking; my trip along the Northern Line previously had ended at St Michael's, in the south of the city. A little consultation of my trusty A-Z told me that finishing off the last few stations on the southern branch of the line wouldn't be too difficult - a couple of hours work, maybe. So I trotted out last week.

Unfortunately, I forgot about Sunday services. Grr. Trains only on the half hour, instead of fifteen minutes. The upshot was that I ended up loitering in Liverpool Central's bowels for half an hour while I waited for the next southbound train. To add insult to injury, a girl came and stood next to me and consumed what looked like half a tonne of fried chicken. It smelt repulsive. I could practically hear the cholesterol swimming into her veins.

I was glad when the train finally turned up and spirited me off to Aigburth (actually pronounced Eggberth, obviously). I have only limited experience of this end of the line, so I didn't really know where I was, but I was pleased to see that we had another Victorian country station building - one which had been carefully modernised, with automatic doors, but still retaining the charm. It also had an ALF.

I'm starting to get a bit bored of birds now. After the double whammy of Moreton & Leasowe's Evil Crane Type Things (note: I am not Bill Oddie), a slightly bemused looking seagull is not much of a draw. Otterspool Promenade is a relatively breezy strip of parkland beside the river, and while it's very pretty, seagulls are not really a feature worth seeking out. I'm tempted to write to Merseytravel and see who comes up with these things, and to ask if they have more reference material on their desk other than The Big Book Of British Seabirds.

The weather was excessively grey and threatening to rain, but it was warm, too, as I strolled along. The soundtrack for today's trip was Madonna's Erotica; either this signalled that I was going to spend my Sunday afternoon plunging into a world of kinky sado-masochistic sex, or alternatively, I was just enjoying the contrast between the straight laced Victorian surroundings and Madge's potty mouth. (It was on this trip that I first realised that Waiting finishes with the lines Next time you want pussy/Just look in the mirror baby - which I have to say I found hysterical).

I wasn't entirely sure where Cressington station was - wherever possible, I prefer to follow my nose, only turning to my A-Z when I feel lost. I have quite a good instinct for geography, with an inbuilt compass, though it occasionally gets me into trouble. I once walked from London Bridge to Bermondsey station on the Jubilee Line, not long after it opened, and I found myself in the centre of an estate of high rise flats with absolutely no idea of where I was. I trusted my instinct, and kept walking, and ended up almost bumping into Bermondsey station, but it was a slightly nervy time up until then.

I kept walking, assuming there would be a sign pointing me in the right direction, and there was. But it was a bit confusing; it seemed to be pointing into a park. Intrigued, I wandered through the elaborate Victorian gateway and into what turned out to be a private estate and a conservation area.

Apparently, during the 19th century, wealthy Liverpool businessmen established Grassendale and Cressington Parks, then built themselves some large, exclusive villas in the middle. I was simultaneously delighted to find this little suburb and annoyed. Delighted, because the architecture was lovely; big, attractive mansions, on tree lined streets. Annoyed, because of the signs like the one above, which struck me as just horribly snooty. I received some extremely dirty looks from an elderly couple climbing out of their car to go inside as they clearly disapproved of the riff raff who had the temerity to wander into their estate. Newsflash: public transport is for the public, and even if it isn't a right of way, technically, I absolutely have the right to wander into it. Live with it.

Fortunately Cressington Station made up for it. As was to be expected, it was a lovely little building, in keeping with the estate around it, and better still, it was utterly deserted. Not even a ticket inspector. I had a little wander around, taking in nice little features like this old water fountain, and the overbridge, which felt impossibly high because of the cutting, and induced a little vertigo attack in me.

Then a train came up, and spoilt my fun, and took me to Liverpool South Parkway. Never mind Doctor Who; this was a trip from the past into the future with just a train ride. From Victorian to modern Elizabethan in one trip, Liverpool South Parkway is only a year or two old, and it screams modernity from every pore. Built to serve the airport, it's like an airport itself, with soaring glass and massive metal braces. The station was built by combining Garston (on the Northern Line) with Allerton (on the City Line) into one complex, and it was strange to see. I once worked near Garston station for a time, and took the train there daily; it was another nineteenth century relic, tucked away down a back street - not a gleaming epic of Norman Foster-inspired transportation. I loved it, but I suspect I'm in a minority about this, because frankly, the thing was deserted. This massive transport complex - as you can see, there's a bus interchange outside - was playing host to around a dozen passengers. There were members of staff just milling, aimlessly. Well, not completely aimlessly; they were also eyeing up my photography with suspicion, as though I were a potential suicide bomber planning where to set off my waistcoat. Which is why the shots are a little blurry - I was snapping them quick, before fifty armed SAS men descended.

And from there, I went to Hunts Cross, walking around Allerton cemetary and through fag end suburban streets. It couldn't help but be a disappointment after the two previous stations, and it was; the station building you see behind me in the pic is now a pub, and was filled that afternoon with Liverpool fans getting hammered loudly. They had spilled out onto the pavement - the downside of the smoking ban is that this kind of drunken behaviour has now been carried out onto the street so they can have their Silk Cut and their Becks - and so I snapped a pic and hurried to the platform through the disappointing 80s box of a ticket office.

The station was drab, the end of the line in all senses, and frankly, I was glad to be going home before the rain finally gave in and hammered down. The plus side is, I've crossed off the branch from the map - so I'll never have to see it again...

(And a quick thank you, by the way, to Sue the very lovely Tubewhore herself, who gave me a gratuitous plug on her site!)

Monday 13 August 2007

Unexpected Historical Tarting

This, chaps, is the moment when this website takes over my life. Read it and weep.

It's a pleasant Sunday and the BF suggests we go out somewhere. "Where do you want to go?" he asks.

This is where I suggested.

It violated every part of the MerseyTart ethos. We drove there! There are no trains! It's not even on Merseyside! And yet, and yet...

Hadlow Road used to be part of the Hooton to West Kirby railway that I mentioned in my last post - the one that was lifted in the Sixties. Most of it was turned into a long linear park, the Wirral Way, but here at Hadlow Road, they preserved the station as it was in the 50s. It was very pretty, though sadly the ticket office was locked up; we squinted through the windows and could see a genuine Railway Children-esque waiting room, complete with fireplace.

There was also a signal box. Can't get excited about signal boxes I'm afraid. I'm taking that as a positive sign that I'm not a real trainspotter. Still, at least now I have pics of me on here that don't just give you an intimate interior view of my nostrils!

This is not establishing a precedent. I need to stay focused!

Saturday 11 August 2007

Seascape With Figures

I love flexitime; what a great idea. Work hard and we'll give you a day off. Well, work, anyway; you don't have to work too hard, just be there for a long time.

Where am I going with this? Ah, yes. A flexi-day. And what better way to use my time than to get out there and get tarting.

After last time's sort of aimless meandering, I decided to get a bit of purpose to my next trip. This time, I'll wipe out an entire branch of one of the lines. There were a few dinky little branches that seemed suitable, but I plumped for the West Kirby branch of the Wirral line in the end. It was a nice sunny day, and referring to my A-Z, I reckoned I'd be able to hop on and hop off the train and walk between stations.

From the usual start of Birkenhead Park, I was off to Leasowe, and the first level crossing of my tarting. I have a strange, completely irrational dislike of level crossings, and I wish I could explain to you why; I suspect there's a part of me that thinks they just couldn't be bothered building a bridge, and I resent their laziness. Certainly if I was a local it would drive me up the wall having the barriers close every fifteen minutes.

Leasowe station itself was a bit run down, fabricated out of concrete in a style I was rapidly going to become familiar with. Two little waiting shelters, a booking office, and - yes - an ALF:

I snapped the usual exterior pic then wandered off in search of Moreton, the next stop. Little did I know that I was taking my life into my own hands. What seemed to be a nice 1930s housing estate, with a green and semi detached houses, was in fact a teeming cess pit of hazards and perils. How do I know this? Because the Council have signposted the fact:

Oh, the humanity! I poked my head down the road, but I didn't dare venture too far. Yes, it looked like a normal suburban street from where I stood, but no doubt halfway down there was a minefield, probably manned by man-eating lions. The residents of Danger Lane must be trained stuntpeople, who borrow cups of TNT from one another. With their hair on fire. And possibly on unicycles.

Certainly Danger Lane was the most interesting thing so far. Without wanting to be overly critical, Moreton was a mess. A strip of grim, unpleasant shops, most of which had windows covered with mesh even during the day. I was happy to take my picture and scurry down to the platform.

Moreton further blotted its copybook with its ALF.

Look familiar? Fair enough, it's advertising exactly the same feature, but still; there's more to the Wirral coast than a couple of birds. A little feature board on the platform told me that the Wirral Coastal Park featured Leasowe Lighthouse, one of the first brick lighthouses in the world, dating from the 18th Century; a worthy ALF, surely? Or how about Leasowe Castle, a hotel on the sands which has parts dating back to the 16th Century? My friends Mike and Kirsten were married there last year, so I've got plenty of pics of it, if Merseytravel want to get in touch. (Their replacement of Birkenhead Park's board after my criticism has got me feeling bolshie). Certainly anything would be better than those slightly evil looking birds. Orange eyes? Is that necessary?

A whizz along on another train, and I'm at Meols. This town was the bane of my life when I first moved to the Wirral. I could not remember how to pronounce it, ever. Go on, take a guess; you'll never get it. (The 'o' is silent - it rhymes with Shells). For some reason I could not get this pronunciation stuck in my head, and I would cycle through every possible variation before I got to it. This seems to be a Liverpool area habit, possibly to confuse Southerners like me who move here and to mark us out as strangers. I used to go out with someone from Gateacre, which is pronounced Gattaca; I didn't know this until I told a taxi driver to take me there. And the second K in Kirkby is silent, for no apparent reason.

Anyway: Meols. This is where the Wirral Peninsula starts getting a bit posh - it's certainly a step up from Moreton, anyway - and so I was fully expecting an ALF proclaiming some sort of piece of natural beauty. Nothing. I recovered from my disappointment though when I spotted this -

which isn't an ALF, but is an Attractive Local Feature, if you see what I mean. I was surprised to see any kind of gradient indicator, to be honest, as the land round here's pretty flat, as it ambles down towards the Irish Sea.

A further wander along the busy and only semi-attractive Birkenhead Road took me to Manor Road station. I almost missed it though. Unlike all the other stations, this one wasn't on a major thoroughfare, but was tucked away at the end of a street of Victorian villas. And when I say tucked away, I mean tucked away; the entrance to the station was down a narrow alleyway between the last house and the tracks. Hence the slightly constricted look on my face as I try to take a pic with the sign in it.

However, I had just missed the train, so I was left loitering on the platform like a slightly dodgy pervert or a trainspotter (the two things are, of course, linked. And yes, train station spotters are a COMPLETELY different thing. Ahem.) In an homage to my route today, I was listening to local boys The Coral and their Magic and Medicine album, which kept me interested, and I decided to knock off a long distance shot of the station itself - the Manor Road station sign is just noticeable in the background, for MerseyTart pedants:

You can see the house style for this branch of the line in that shot. Apparently, according to Wikipedia (and if it's on the internet it's true; I am that gullible), the stations were refurbished in 1938 when through services to Liverpool started, and you can see that Agatha Christie, clean look in the finishes. It's just a shame that beside getting the silver and yellow corporate paint job, none of the stations seem to have been maintained to much of an extent.

And a trip to Hoylake showed exactly why. This station was tarted up last year when the Open Golf Championships were held at the Royal Liverpool course down the road, and it is a stunningly beautiful station.

Ignore the dodgy businesses in the shop units, and take in that deco sweep, and the London Underground, Charles Holden-esque drum over the ticket office. The ticket office itself is a lovely rotunda:

Yes, there's one of those annoying level crossings at the end of the station, and quite unbelievably, there's not a single ALF on the platform, but that couldn't dispel my pleasure at finding such a gem of a station. Which is why I look so chuffed in the MerseyTart pic, and why I am even more convinced that when I become an eccentric billionaire, I will spend all my money restoring train stations.

It was a shame to leave it, but I had to get to West Kirby (note the lack of a second K!). The houses here were enormous, astonishingly expensive Victorian and Edwardian mansions, built for rich Liverpool merchants and bankers. The contrast with Leasowe's somewhat rundown Danger Lane and its environs was stark. The many golf courses in the area have kept this area of the Wirral severely moneyed.

Its location has also helped. I finally reached West Kirby town centre, and I decided to take in the beach before I got the train home. It was a bit windswept, and though it was warm, it wasn't actually sunny (though in true British style, there were a number of daytrippers out in shorts determined to make the most of the day whatever the weather), but it was beautiful.

A stirring sky above the Dee estuary, and those are the mountains of Wales in the distance. When you say "Liverpool", or "Merseyside", to people, all they think about is crime, or poverty, or industrial ugliness. They don't realise how scenic it is, how it has all this natural beauty to too, and how lucky people who live here really are. Even the beaches are wide, and clean, and sandy, and rarely crowded. I love it here.

Finally I tore myself away from the salty tasting air and wandered back to the station. As you may be able to spot from the photo, the station's fallen on hard times now. It was built as a terminus, and designed as such, but times change, and now the shop units that once lined the entrance are sadly empty. West Kirby station was once even bigger, with a second station next door for a line to Hooton, but that fell prey to Dr Beeching and now there's a leisure centre built on it. But West Kirby does have a little ALF, and bless it for that.

I sat on the platform, tired from my wanderings, but actually pretty happy. I've crossed off an entire branch now! The state of play map is looking pretty good after only a month or so (see below) - in fact, I'm a bit worried I may finish too soon. I'm enjoying this, and I don't want it to finish too quickly. Perhaps I should reconsider my decision not to do the City Lines...