Wednesday 21 November 2007

Thin Blue Lines

This is how obsessed I am now; I took a day off work so I could Tart Sandhills. Surely there's something wrong with me somewhere? Without thinking, without even consulting anyone, I took the Monday off so that I could get to Sandhills before it closed. Please remember - this is a train station. It's a train station that will be open again one day, albeit in a different form. I was treating it like Doctor Beeching was going to turn up with a napalm gun unless I attended. OBSESSED.

But sod it; I enjoyed myself. The closure of Sandhills gave me the opportunity to polish off certain aspects of the Northern Line. For these jaunts I was venturing into territory which was known of by reputation. I had been to Kirkby once before, for a job interview, and so I knew the gauntlet of death that stretched from Kirkby station to the town centre. Yes, this is a hopelessly patronising middle class reaction to being inserted into a working class world of high unemployment and low expectations, but damn, I don't care; I was scared. Kirkby was a scary town. It was built as a new town for Liverpool, and by "new town" what I mean is "dumping ground". The BF has family from Kirkby, and he talks of it like it's one of the rings of hell; to a poncy southern poof, it's really rather frightening.

But it's on the map, so I had to collect it. I took the train from Moorfields and poured myself out there. The thing is, Kirkby is a dead end in every sense of the word. Not only is it the end of the branch of the Northern Line - to change for a Wigan train, you have to walk down the platform and board a different train - but it's also miles from anywhere. Kirkby is cut off completely from the rest of Liverpool by the M57, so there was no chance of me wandering down the line to the next station. Kirkby therefore became a hop on, hop off kind of place.

I hopped off and took a pic of myself in front of the naff 80s box of a ticket office. One day, this might change, and the line will be extended to somewhere called Headbolt Lane; I like to imagine this is where Frankenstein's Monster lives (arf!). I had wracked my brain, trying to think what I could do in Kirkby for fifteen minutes until the next train came along. Fortunately, it turns out that the train has a massive dwell time before it departs again, so I was able to nip back on it a moment later and ride out to the next station.

Can I say that I love Fazakerley? Firstly, it sounds like something Worzel Gummidge would say. It's got too many consonants; if only you could use proper nouns in Scrabble - it would be worth a bomb. And secondly it has an ALF, and it's ages since I had one of those - I missed them.

Ok, it's a crap ALF. Don't use a road sign on a train platform - it's just wrong. Perhaps a broken limb or two, or maybe some MRSA bugs; something with a little joi de vivre. It's better than nothing though, so I happily snapped it and moved on.

Longmoor Lane runs from Fazakerley to Walton, and it's another of those wide roads that Liverpool seems to be blessed with. Sadly it's a little more run down than most. There were quite a few "no win no fee" solicitors in the shopping parades en route, but I was strong and managed to resist the temptation to chuck a brick through the windows. No win no fee is a blight upon society, and I reserve the right to be extremely indignant about this until the day when I suffer terrible whiplash in a car accident.

As I hit Walton I actually passed a little Goth/Emo couple who had been snogging on the steps at Kirkby station. I'm afraid, being hopelessly aged and out of date, that I'm not sure whether kids of today find being called a Goth insulting. Personally, I have never met a Goth I didn't like; they're tremendously lovely people, and I sadly fell out of touch with a particularly nice specimen a few years ago (Eve, if you're out there, I'm sorry! Get in touch!). Emos seem to be the 21st century version of Goths; they like the make-up, and the morbid fascinations, but their music is particularly rubbish, and they seem to want to combine a mortal depression with owning a Wii and getting a good job in the City. Doesn't seem right somehow.

Anyway, the point is, this little pair of teenage EmoGoths (why weren't they in school? Anyway.) obviously recognised me from Kirkby station, and a look of befuddlement crossed their face; they clearly couldn't understand why I was walking along a street in Walton when they'd plainly seen me get off the train in Fazakerley. I'm afraid to say I grinned at them as I passed; though I didn't look back, I like to think they rolled their eyes in a dismissive teenage way. (In a moment of lovely local colour, they were listening to the same iPod, one ear bud each; I like to imagine it was some Robert Smith or Siouxie Sioux, but I have this horrible dread feeling it was Nickleback).

I was in Walton so I could use Orrell Park station to get me back on track (hoho). Regular readers (hello you!) will remember that I was delighted to find a man cleaning the platform last time I was here. On a crisp - some might say chilly - November morning, I was even more delighted to find that there were actually two men clearing the platform of leaves today. I also noticed for the first time that there are flower boxes on the platform. Orrell Park, I salute you and your hard working staff.

It was doubly nice because the next station was Kirkdale. This is the point where the Kirkby and Ormskirk lines split. Collecting this station made a whole branch of the Northern Line disappear forever, so that was good. Also good was that Kirkdale is another redeveloped station, with that somewhat pedantic Merseyrail habit of listing exactly how many steps there are to the top; there was also a glamorous glass lift that was packed full of lazy train workers from the nearby depot for whom 48 steps is apparently a struggle.

Kirkdale also has a nice new sign, which is different to the flat and boxy ones I'm used to. This is where the good things about Kirkdale end, because, God help us, it's in a really not very nice area. At least Kirkby had trees. I walked from the station along some frighteningly grim streets of terraced houses; broken glass was all over the pavements, and the new housing that had been built in the 60s carried the grim tint of despair. This is where dock workers once lived, and once the docks went, so did the reason for living here; the people who remain are not there through choice. I rushed through here, along Stanley Road, in search of Bank Hall station.

My expectations were low. The area was just the wrong side of horrible. I had read on Wikipedia that Bank Hall is extremely underused, because of its remote location. My friend Barry's ex-boyfriend's brother (are you keeping up?) used to work here, and he said "Bank Hall" like it was the Hellmouth. It just didn't seem like a tantalising prospect.

This just shows why preconceptions are rubbish. Bank Hall was wonderful. I can't describe how pleased I was by it. The ticket office is a perfect little Victorian gem; as you can see from my grin in the pic, I was utterly charmed before I even stepped inside. A flight of steps took me down into a dramatic space, a single island platform between long curving lines under a high brick wall. And it had something better than ALFs. It had art. Proper, decent, platform art.

Spaced along the platform were three concrete posts, each of which was inlaid with metal figures. At first, the sun, then at right angles to it, the moon; at the next, a fish, with a squirrel alongside; and finally, a representation of industry, accompanied by a copper sailing ship. I'll show you these features before I continue.

How wonderful are they?! There were no signs to show what this art project was for; how it came about, or what it represented. I can see the land/sea links, how the area was guided by the common themes and so on; but usually there's a plaque somewhere talking about it. Even better, while I was waiting, more people arrived on the platform, and another traveller took as much of an interest in the art as me. My terminal shyness prevented me from saying anything, but I was unfeasibly pleased to see how it was appreciated; he did the same as me, touching the cold metal, seeking out each image, and half-smiling to find such an unexpected diamond. I love you Bank Hall, and I'm not afraid to admit it; what better way could there be to break my Southport line duck?

After all that, Sandhills couldn't help but be a bit of a let down, even if it did have less than a week to live. It's a breezy station, a couple of platforms perched high on a viaduct in the middle of industrial estates; its principal interest is that you can get a train to any Northern Line destination from here. When it's completed this will be a modern transport interchange, with lifts to the platforms, and finally a decent shelter so you don't freeze your knackers off while you wait - in the meantime, I'll preserve it for eternity in digital form.

Sandhills also provided the opportunity for a lovely bookending ALF trip. In my last post, I recounted my disastrous misadventures on the Wirral Line, which saw me collect Birkenhead Central. In all the shenanigans, I wasn't able to get Central's ALF. To make up for this, I started today's trips at Birkenhead Central, and so I managed to get a great compare and contrast as all Merseyside's professional football teams are encapsulated in the form of ALF boards.

Birkenhead Central's Auton is a bit scary, I have to admit. I also don't like the fact that the town centre is relegated to an afterthought in comparism to a bus to Tranmere, but still. In my OCD fashion, the idea that I'd started and ended my journey with footie-related ALFs was a great way to bookend my trip.

So: another five down. For the first time, I had travelled on all three branches of the Northern Line, and I've knocked another branch of the list. The only stations remaining on the Ormskirk line are the three Lancashire ones, but I have the whole of the Southport line glittering before me...


Anonymous said...

Hey there guy. :)

I found your site when looking for a map with 'West Kirby' written on it.

To be honest, I'm absolutely amazed that you're taking as much interest as you are in the Merseyrail network... although I suppose Merseyside has to have some kind of interesting feature. The only thing in New Brighton is the... um... clown. Yep.

You could make Mersey-tart top trumps trading cards!

What's left in your list? Maybe I'll see you there. :P (Although we've probably walked past each other many times. Eerie!)

Good luck with your adventure!

Anonymous said...

An Adventurer Is You!

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a combination of boredom, a love of train station architecture and the fact that I need an "all areas" railcard to get to work and I want to get my money's worth! I am fascinated to find whole bits of Merseyside that I didn't know existed, or to link up bits that I knew of in my head.

I've still got most of the Southport branch to do, the bottom end of the Wirral Line, and the Lancashire stations of the Ormskirk line; plus I'm starting to eye up the City line trains. I swore at the start I wouldn't, but I have friends who live on it, and they're all trying to sway me to come and visit and combine it with a tart of their station!

Thanks for the comments though, and if you see me about, wave; I always wanted to be famous ;)

Anonymous said...

I wonder whatever happened to Garston station... will there simply be a large canyon where the station once stood?

Scott Willison said...

Hmmm, I can't remember; I'd meant to look out to see what was at Garston but I forgot! I may have to revisit to find out now...

Scott Willison said...


I was actually in South Liverpool at the weekend and so I was able to take a dodgy shot of the former Garston through the railings. Coming soon to a blog near you!

Anonymous said...

To Mr.D

You know like, Rock Ferry used to be a terminal for different stations.

Garston station is still there. But it's not called Garston anymore. Where Garston was had a multi million pound renovation to make it 'Liverpool South Parkway', they wanted to connect it to the city line and make a terminal point to travel to Liverpool John Lennon airport.