Thursday 19 July 2012


Holidaymakers have helped make some railway stations become more than they deserve.  Small towns, towns that anywhere else in the country would have a couple of platforms and a tiny ticket office if they're lucky, end up with completely out of proportion behemoths.  Scarborough's station was colossal, compared to the quiet little town around it.

Filey, meanwhile, is an even tinier town, but it has an impressive roof and a forecourt and an ironwork bridge.  It was the home of a Butlin's, and all those people needed to be kept dry and warm while they waited for the train home.  The holiday camp closed in the Eighties though and now Filey has an out-of-proportion station it doesn't need.  But bless them for keeping it.

It's not perfect though.  The absence of all those Butliners means that they've had to cut back on facilities.  You can't buy a ticket here, as you can see from the subtle, understated signage on the ticket window above.

From the outside, the low frontage has a subtle charm.  It's marred by a badly tarmacced forecourt, and its position behind a dodgy row of shops.  Step out of the station and instead of a pleasing vista of the town you get to see fire escapes, service entrances and extraction fans.

It would have been nice to have visited Filey itself; head into town and have a root around.  But I had places to go, stations to collect, so instead I turned left out of the driveway, crossed the tracks and walked out of town.

I quickly got an estimation of what kind of town Filey was: old.  Not architecturally or historically, but demographically.  The houses on the way out were bungalows and semis.  They all had impeccable lawns and driveways, garlanded with ornaments of all sizes - wishing wells, gnomes, rustic bicycles with flowers in the baskets.  The cars outside were sensible Renaults, polite Vauxhalls, neat little Ford Escorts with shiny windows and the gleam of a well waxed paintwork.  They were all being maintained by nice old men and women filling up their days with busy work.

I passed the high school.  It was just called Filey School, which amused me; it reminded me of those ads you got by the side of the pitch in Billy the Fish - "drink milk", "eat food", "smoke tabs".  It was utterly prosaic.  I suppose in a town full of the elderly there's not too many kids around to attend.

Avoiding some idiot who had parked his Range Rover on the pavement, because he drove a Range Rover and therefore ruled the earth, I left the town.  Now I was striding into proper countryside, the genuine, rich world of Yorkshire.  I had images of Emmerdale Farm and James Herriot in my head; cows mooing while Nick Berry arrests a loveable scamp for shoplifting a Gerry and the Pacemakers 45.  I crossed a roundabout and stepped onto a public footpath, excited at my first glimpse of scenery.


A thick, rutted track ran in a straight line beside a grotty hedge.  I'd managed to pick the one day in the whole week where it didn't rain, but the comprehensive drowning the nation's suffered meant that the path was still wet and slippery.  White stones embedded in the ground to help the tractors get purchase didn't help me.  My Doc Martens skidded on their too-smooth surface, and I realised it was easier to just walk on the grass in the middle, even if I did spend most of my time hopping over stacks of dog shit.  I can only conclude that the dogs of Filey are all about four metres tall, judging by the piles of excrement they left behind.

I could see Hunmanby, my target, off in the distance, so all I had to do was walk in a straight line in that general direction.  It was a bit dull if I'm honest.  No curves or twists.  The only moment of interest was when four teenage girls came in the opposite direction, their wellington boots at odds with their tiny shorts and high ponytails.  They sulked past me, not meeting my eye, clearly planning what bitchy remark to make about me once they'd passed.

I clambered over a stile and met with this sign:

I wasn't sure how to react to that.

It didn't say Don't cross this field.  It was just letting me know there might be a bull around.  I couldn't see it so I assume this was a pre-emptive strike against anyone who tried suing the farmer after they were gored.  "You were warned," he'd say over the hole in their lower abdomen (in my head, all farmers act like Farmer Palmer from Viz.  Viz shapes a lot of my perceptions about the world).  What was I meant to do if a bull charged me anyway?  Was I meant to stand my ground or run?  I couldn't remember.  I once had a horse charge at me and I stood my ground; it ran around me.  Mind you, horses don't have an enormous great pair of horns sticking out of their forehead.  Is there a Country Code app I can download for my phone?

My mind wandering I pushed through a copse and came out on the edge of Hunmanby.  There was a bench (In Memory of Peter Reed) so I took a seat and sipped some water.  Across the road a tiny old man, as wide as he was tall, was mowing the lawn with a machine that looked like it had been invented  to attack German soldiers on the beach at Normandy.  His braces held his grey woollen trousers high on his round stomach, lining him round the middle and making him look like a Pokeball with a head.

At first, Hunmanby could have been anywhere in Britain.  There were 1950s corporation houses, some of them with the front drive paved over to accommodate a second car.  A postman dashed up the driveways, iPod in his ears, keen to finish his round as quickly as he could.  Three people stood on the  path, gabbing, a Jack Russell lying at their feet with his head resting on his paws.

Rounding a corner, however, I found perfection: the halcyon image of England.

Pub.  Church.  Red phone box.  White painted fence above green grass.  The gentle incline of hills in the background.  The only thing that could have made it more perfect would have been Steed and Mrs Peel coming round the corner in a Bentley.

I was grinning.  It's weird being somewhere that looks like it's imaginary.  Is this what it's like at Disneyworld?  Real, and yet fake?  Of course the people here were far more convincing - not actors who trained to do Pinter and are trying not to let you see the despair in their eyes as a four year old clambers all over their Cinderella frock.

Past the pub it opened up into a wide village green surrounded by cottages.  The war memorial was sat at the edge, next what must have been the only two Goths in Hunmanby trying to look miserable even though they were clearly living in a dream.

I walked through the whole length of the village to get to the station, and it didn't let me down in any way.  It was pretty from every angle.  A Co-op inside a converted church, a B&B covered in flowers.  Even the residents seemed happy, as two old dears emerged from a shop and headed for their car, hand in hand like teenagers.

"Are you driving, then?" he said when she firmly stepped to the right hand side of their Peugeot.

"I think that would be for the best, don't you?" she said, intriguingly.  I wondered what he'd done.  Had he nearly mown down a child on the way in?  Was he really drunk?

The Old Station House was now definitely a private home, but they'd done it with respect, unlike some people who seem to buy houses next to railways and then complain about all those annoying passengers.  The fences were discreet and the house was well maintained: a gate into the garden from the platform was marked Private in a sign shaped like a British Rail lozenge.

That station house was nothing compared to the one at Bempton, next along the line.  It was painted white and ridiculously grand.  I couldn't work out why such a lowly halt had such an impressive structure built for it.

The rest of the station was resolutely unimpressive - just a single platform with a shelter.  It didn't even have a decent sign.

If I hadn't just come from Hunmanby, Bempton would have been charming.  As it was, it seemed perfectly decent but disappointing.  The pub was being refurbished; the post office was on an inconvenient bend; the shop was up for sale.  It was nice enough but not the vision of perfection that was the village next door.

There was a petrol station selling free range eggs from an honesty box under the road sign.  In fact, there had seemed to be an awful lot of places selling free range eggs from the roadside.  There must be a national egg overstock I didn't know about.

Isn't that a bit... racist?

I could have walked from Bempton to Bridlington.  It was a fair old way though, and once I arrived, I didn't think I'd have much time to have a look round.  So I got a bus.

I lowered the average age of the passengers by about thirty years when I boarded.  It had seat belts, which was a new one for me, and left me unsure; was I required by law to wear them, or was it just a hint?  I didn't bother in the end.

A cheery couple got on as we entered the outskirts of the town - "off for a walk down the prom", they told the driver.  They carried a thick smell of cigarettes with them, a smell that was embedded deep in their clothes, and spent the whole trip into town hacking and spluttering.  I felt like taking them to one side and explaining where "emphysema" and "lung cancer" came from.

The bus did a tour of the town centre before it reached the station, so I got a good view of it in passing. I wasn't enamoured by what I saw.  Pound shops and faded storefronts.  Peeling paint amongst a strange one-way system.  I headed for the front and found Scarborough's evil twin.  While that had been classy, elegant, pretty, this was unapologetically brash and common.

I went to the sea wall and followed it to the end.  Grim-faced teens necked luridly coloured bottles of alcopop as I passed.  The air stank of chip fat and cloyingly sweet toffee.  The dodgems had just one car in motion, two tiny little girls piloting their car round and round in a circle.

It was horrible.  It was as though someone planned a seaside town, but decided to suck any sense of fun or charm out of it.  And it was packed!  There were people striding up and down, most of them wearing too few clothes, enjoying this single dry day.  But no-one looked like they were enjoying it.  No-one looked happy or smiled, except for the very youngest of children.

I decided that most of these people were here on that most British of notions, the enforced holiday.  That instead of waiting until they could afford to go somewhere decent, or until the weather was better, they'd just booked a week away "because it's better than being here."  They'd gone to Bridlington because it's next to the sea and it's got some amusements and an arcade that'll keep the kids quiet so what more do you want?  It was just a change of scene, a break, a week without work.  That was all they wanted.  It hadn't occurred to them to go somewhere they might want to go.  It was just "this'll do."

I had two hours to kill.

I did another tour of the front, but frankly it was getting me down, so I found a pub, the Hook & Parrot.  It was all nautical themed, with the walls covered with nets and pictures of sailing boats.  The barmaids were gathered around a clipboard inside, loudly debating their shifts.  There was a surplus of mammaries; acres of heaving breasts made me think that perhaps the staffing policy was based on cleavage rather than competence.  I grabbed a window seat with my pint of beer, but soon moved as dozens of tiny flies battered against me, trying to fly out of the bright window.

They were playing a CD of soundalikes - close enough to the original to fool you, but saving on the expensive royalties.  At first, I thought that was  Marti Pellow doing Love is All Around, until I realised the voice was too harsh and cruel.  The Scottishness was being affected.  The Paul McCartney doing Pipes of Peace was too high, and as for Karen Carpenter... The real Karen Carpenter was in possession of a voice so smooth you could have tobogganed down it.  This woman was having a good try, but she was harsh on the top notes.

In the corner, a man slammed down his hand and crushed another fly.  "Well done," said his wife.  Then they went back to sitting in silence.

The bar manager checks with a man at the bar eating cheesy chips.  "£7.99 for a bucket of five bottles of Fosters.  What do you think?"

"Yeah, it's good.  Wetherspoon's do that an' all."

"No they don't."  She looks suddenly doubtful.  "Do you think I should make it £6.99?"

"Cheaper than Wetherspoon's that way."

I couldn't stand it any more.  I finished my pint and left, passing two women with pushchairs ordering double vodka and cokes.  It was a grim, miserable place, and the only good thing was this:

...because they got the font right.

I decided I'd rather wait on the platform for an hour.  The station was a fair way out of town, tucked behind a Tesco, and I didn't have high hopes.  The sign was out by the road, on a level crossing, with a dowdy looking fence and weeds.

It turns out Bridlington station is bloody marvellous.

Well done.

As befits its holiday destination status, Bridlington has a larger than usual building, and it's been restored with a great deal of care and love.  While Scarborough has been updated, Bridlington has been enhanced, with the Victorian elements cleaned and given respect.

They've installed a glass wall at the far end of the waiting area, and it gives the station a balmy, Winter Gardens feel.  And I always love it when you see a sign for the "Buffet" in a railway station.  Not "shops" or "restaurants": a good, old fashioned, station buffet.  The fact that the one here is railway themed and all sorts of pretty is just a bonus.

I'm considering a job with Northern Rail just so I can work in there.  And look!  A working clock!  It's not that hard, is it?

It was all so adorable.  I wandered around with a wet grin on my face, loving every moment.  In a way, I was glad the town was so awful, because it drove me to the station early and gave me plenty of time to look round.

I crossed to the far platform and took up a seat in the sun.  It had buoyed me, rescued the trip from an ignominious end.  The warmth baked my face.  There were more stations on the Yorkshire Coast Line to get, all the way down to Hull, but this seemed like a suitable place to stop.  End on a high.


Anonymous said...

Butlins Filey had its own station, on a short branch off the Hull-Scarborough line. Check it out on :

I went with my nan in 1967, taking the train from Manchester Exchange !

Anonymous said...

This post really is vintage Merseytart. Sparkling prose and great observations throughout. I especially loved the line 'acres of heaving breasts made me think that perhaps the staffing policy was based on cleavage rather than competence'

So many British travel books imitate the Bill Bryson model of 'England is a bit crap so let's have a laugh at the natives'. Most of this lot (with the exception of Mike Parker's stuff) are not in the least bit entertaining.

Why haven't you got a book deal?