On Merseyside, it's simple. If you want to hop on and off public transport, get a Saveaway. £4.70 and you can go anywhere. If you're just going by train, well, there's the Day Saver, but that's only 10p cheaper so you may as well get the bus and ferry options in there as well.
Head to West Yorkshire though and you get a whole bunch of different options. DayRover, MetroDay, train only, bus only, bus and train, bus and train and pack horse, bus and train and pack horse and the back of a man named Stuart. On top of that, it's all much more expensive. The Saveaway equivalent is £7.10, fifty percent more expensive than its Scouse brother. (I'm not even going to start to try and comprehend Manchester's ticketing system. There are scientists at CERN who have that on their to-do list after they've uncovered the secrets of the multiverse).
Grumbling slightly, I forked over £6.20 (SIX POUNDS TWENTY PENCE) so that I'd have the run of West Yorkshire's railways. I was going for a very specific strip: the section of the Penistone* Line from Huddersfield to Denby Dale. This is the entire length within the county border, so at least I'd get some value out of my £6.20. SIX POUNDS TWENTY PENCE.
At Lockwood, a subway under the tracks has been blocked off forlornly. Looking at it, I'm guessing that was a nice, open gateway, until someone realised that rubbish and leaves could get through the bars. Instead of tidying up the debris, or modifying the gates so it didn't happen, they just clamped a big heft of steel across the front and left it. Sometimes this country can be soul crushingly ugly.
I headed down the hill into town. Despite the weatherman's worst predictions, it was a warm and pleasant day, dry for once. I didn't think it was warm enough to take my shirt off, but an extremely well built Asian man I passed disagreed, and bless him and his pectoral muscles for it. The hill was almost vertical, the type where you realise your feet are at an acute angle to your body, as it plunged down into the centre of Lockwood. Down there, the River Holme was bridged amongst small shops and restaurants. A shop named How Bazaar won the prize for Place I'd Shop At Just Because Of The Name; a pun always wins me over. It wasn't all gentrified though. A large double fronted store sold workmen's equipment, a dummy in the window modelling a high-vis overall next to a display of helmets in a variety of fetching colours.
I crossed the bridge and started making my way up the hill on the other side. I realised that this was a dreadful prediction of things to come. As I conquered the Northern Rail map I was going to be spending an awful lot of time just staggering up and down hills. I might need to invest in some kind of ankle support system.
I was fascinated by the way builders had dealt with this geographical nightmare. Rather than adapting to the contours of the hill, they'd just ignored it, and had built up to a flat surface for the house's foundations. They just dismiss Mother Nature out of hand. It means that the streets have a weird, slightly terrifying air of being close to collapse the whole time. A row of houses looks perfectly normal until you come to the driveway in between, and you can see that it plunges down a sixty degree slope to a parking spot about four miles away. There are gouges in the tarmac where generation after generation of exhausts have clonked their way over the top, trying to find a piece of flat ground.
In the distance, like a strange mythological tower, is the Lockwood viaduct. It rises up out of the trees and just begs for the Hogwarts Express to ride over the top. We were both taking roundabout routes to the next station, just on opposite sides of the river.
I passed pretty cottages, grouped around tiny front lawns, and then more modern suburban homes with proper drives and garages. A family were in the process of moving house, and had paused to grip mugs of steaming tea and say goodbyes to neighbours over the fence. The youngest child chased me making gun noises and aiming two fingers.
Berry Brow was a bit more downmarket, a bit less special, but still had that commanding view over the valley. Its houses were workmen's cottages, its pubs were stout and square, with plastic lawn chairs outside for the smokers. Just before the station high rise flats emerged above the treetops; the view from the top floor must be like being God.
There's a layby for the station, which was being used by a taxi driver as I passed, playing with his PSP between calls. I took the station sign pic quickly. I'm not keen on the Metro logo - that M is just too plain for me. It's utilitarian rather than understated.
Down below, there's a platform and a bus shelter and, pleasingly, an ironwork noticeboard. The Penistone* Line Partnership are extremely dedicated, and throughout my trip I'd see the fruits of their work - a signpost here, an ad for music trains there, some guided walk brochures.
I took up residence in the shelter and continued listening to my audiobook, Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman. Astute readers will have noticed I am not, in fact, female, but it doesn't matter: the book is frequently hilarious, often obscene, and thoroughly thought provoking. It got me riled up in feminist fury, even though, as a man, I could have just spent my time being thankful that I never had to get to grips with Tampax. When a teenage girl arrived on the platform I wanted to grab hold of her and demand that she not give in to societal pressure to wax her vagina. I didn't of course, because I'm not mental. Well, I am mental, but I'm sane enough to know what things will get me arrested for sexual harassment, no matter how much you shout "I was trying to save her from the patriarchy!"
Fortunately a train arrived and saved me from all this, taking me to Honley. Again, the Penistone* Line Partnership had been at work, decorating the fence with textiles from local schoolchildren. (They were framed of course - they hadn't just scattered a load of old hankies about).
Like Lockwood, there was a closed off subway. While that was ugly and basic, the gate here was red-painted and pretty. It was the difference between town and country; the assumption that the people in the city didn't deserve nice things.
Having said that, Honley doesn't have a proper station sign, but Lockwood does, so I think Lockwood wins.
Instead of going up and over the hills this time, I walked down into the valley, following the course of the river. Civilisation had clustered into the narrow gap. Houses and factories wedged themselves into the space beneath the hills and the shore, with a spindly road threading between them.
Further along, I was reminded how this pass would have been exploited. There was a toll bar, listing the charges for the turnpike road through this area. Because really, where else would you go? You had to pay the charge whether you wanted to or not.
The prices were broken down according to what transport you were using, how it was powered, and whether you had livestock with you or not; looking at the complicated series of charges, I began to wonder if this was where West Yorkshire Metro got the idea for their pricing structure.
My next station was Brockholes, which is Anglo-Saxon for "badger anus". It was located at the end of a modern housing estate, its access alleyway barely visible between the executive garages.
Inside, that lopsidedness reared its head again. The working platform at Brockholes is modern and clean; red and silver steelwork, plenty of seats. Nothing exciting.
Across the way, though, it's 1954.
Brilliantly, frustratingly, whoever bought the old station building has decorated the train-side part of their house with old enamel signs and railwayana. They've made their home into a time capsule. And all us boring commuters can do is look across the track and wish we were over there, perhaps smoking a pipe in the General Waiting Room and chewing on Spratt's Ovals (I assume they're some kind of sweet?).
They say the grass isn't always greener on the other side, but in this case, the other side was most definitely a better place to be. I almost resented my platform for being so rubbish.
Stocksmoor tried its best to make up for Brockholes' deficiencies, giving me a second platform and two tracks. This is the point where trains are able to pass one another and, sure enough, another train arrived on the opposite platform a moment after mine.
An excitable grandmother kissed her grandson goodbye and scampered abroad while a dozen hard hatted workmen disembarked. They all headed up to the top of the ramp before huddling for some kind of briefing. I was too embarrassed to get any closer to the sign, in case these intimidating heaps of masculinity noticed me and took the mick.
There are quicker ways from Stocksmoor to Shepley, routes that are more direct. I had to make a detour to visit this place though:
How could I not? It sounds utterly epic. It's impossible to say THUNDERBRIDGE without doing a deep-throated voice like a man off a film trailer.
It wasn't epic of course: it was just another pretty Yorkshire village.
What did surprise me was how quickly it became wild. Stepping out of the village was like crossing into a wilderness: trees sprung up around me, high cliffs rose into the sky. There was no traffic, no sound at all, except for the gentle soft rustle of the trees and the bark of random birdsong.
It was entrancing and not a little bit intimidating. I was a single human amongst a threatening, dark nature. We think we've tamed the planet, cut it back, bent it to our will, but we're nothing next to the trees and the plants. I thought back to those abandoned platforms, already choked with weeds, the concrete cracking as new trees burst through them. Another fifty years and they'll be gone completely. Forests frighten us, the dark mesh of trees that lean in to hide the sun. They huddle and scare.
I was glad to step out of the darkness and onto a much busier road, where the council kept the branches cut back and neat grass verges had been carved into the sides. No-one else was walking this way. There were plenty of buses though, one, two, three, choking out thick diesel fumes in my face, followed quickly by heavy trucks. A chain of motorcyclists were playing out Easy Rider fantasies in our green and pleasant land: it was hard to believe they'd be listening to Born to Be Wild on their iPods when they passed cute little country pubs.
I hit the suburban crawl. This part of the country had very definitely been wrangled into shape with polite lawns and 4x4s. They'd commemorated the Millennium in their own way:
Either that or someone really old was buried on the village green.
A turn in the road and I was heading back down hill again, down towards another bridge. There were lovely large houses, a lot of them now old people's homes, but some had been upgraded with entryphones and electronic gates.
Shepley's another one with two platforms, though in this case they're splayed awkwardly either side of the road bridge. The Huddersfield-bound platform featured artwork by local children; but the platform I was going to, the Penistone* bound platform, was just plain and a little bit dull.
There was a slight moment of patented social awkwardness as we pulled into Denby Dale. I waited by the exit doors with two other passengers, a young girl and an old man. The button lit up, and the old man pressed it, but nothing happened. The girl and I exchanged looks. We didn't want to reach past this clearly frail old man to push the button properly and humiliate him, but, you know, we did want to get off the train. We stood awkwardly a little longer, before the girl reached up and pressed it. Still nothing happened. Now the conductor was looking at us, and we sheepishly concluded the door was broken and hurried off at a different exit.
As I left the station, the guard himself pushed the button and the doors sprang open obediently. Hmmm.
Denby Dale sounds like it would only be visited by Thomas and Friends. It's quite difficult to take seriously but, as it turns out, the village had a lot to offer. There was a proper village centre with banks, shops, cafes. Even a little second hand bookshop. I also read - on one of the many information boards - of the town's fame for its pies. Apparently, Denby Dale likes to commemorate momentous incidents in history by baking an enormous pie - the last one was for the Millennium. Personally I would rather have a massive amount of pastry over a boring old monolith, SHELLEY.
I love pies: I love really hard, crusty baked pies filled with hot steaming mounds of meat. I love the gravy soaked under crust too, still slightly stiff but every pore is filled with flavour. I will not countenance, in any way, the "pot pie", where someone just chucks a lid of pastry over the top of a bowl of filling. THAT IS NOT A PIE, and I will not stand for it. I felt the residents of Denby Dale would agree with me - it is, after all, the home of the Pie Hall (the village hall, paid for by a giant pie in the Sixties).
I was just wondering where I could lay my hands on a decent meat and potato pie when the summer decided to give up the ghost. With a crash, the sky collapsed, and soon the village was being drowned by a downpour of Biblical proportions. I took solace in the nearest dry place:
The "gum tray" is a nice touch. Shows you how classy they are.
Denby Dale was the end of the line for me anyway. It's the Hough Green of West Yorkshire PTE, right on the border with South Yorkshire so passes from both sides are valid here. If I wanted to carry on down the Penistone* Line I'd have to buy another ticket, and it had taken me long enough to work out which one to buy already. So I leaned back in a comfortable leather chair, sipped my beer and stared at the hot Northern builder who was eating chips in curry sauce two tables away.
I'd hoped the rain would have let up by the time I'd finished my pint, but it was still relentless, so I braved it out and dashed through the village. I did have an overcoat, buried at the bottom of my rucksack, but I figured that by the time I'd got it out and pulled it on I could have been at the station anyway. I almost ran through the village - not going the whole hog for the sake of my dignity. I will say this for Denby Dale, if I ever need to buy a fibreglass sheep for my lawn, I'll know where to go.
I'd gone a different way to the station this time, via the main road, and so I got a better view of the village's largest landmark. Sadly, it's not a two hundred foot high monument to Champion Pie Eater Desperate Dan, but is instead the Denby Dale Viaduct, which carries the railway over the River Dearne. Silhouetted against the swirling, tumultuous grey clouds it took on a Satanic edge; it became a pathway for demons to cross the sky. Quite a change from the bucolic charm of the Lockwood viaduct earlier that day.
I settled into the shelter on the platform alongside other similarly soaked pedestrians. I didn't mind. The plus side of the BF being back in Huddersfield was that I could get him to take me and Peter out. I knew I had an evening of good food and wine ahead of me. Frankly, I felt I'd earned it.
*There is still absolutely nothing amusing about this name.
That's a very stylish-looking DayRover ticket. Really, the Saveaway should be a special Merseytravel design rather than standard orange stock, it would help bus drivers distinguish them.
The price of a Merseyrail day saver is a gripe I've had for a while now. While Merseyrail get 77% of the Saveaway pot, this isn't reflected in the price of a day saver. Until they reduce the price for an all zone to £4.00 or thereabouts, I will just carry on spending the extra 10p and getting a Saveaway, just out of spite!
nice gratuitous shot of the builder, mmm
Spratts Ovals are dog biscuits.
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