Sunday 28 October 2012

Mountains and Sunsets

Yes, that is Conisbrough.  For some reason - presumably to fox outsiders - there's an "o" missing.  Sneaky.

I'd passed back through Doncaster, and I was now on the line to Sheffield.  I wasn't going to do the whole of the line, mainly because I think Sheffield deserves more than a cursory passing through.  Plus, it's got a bloody tram, so I have to have a go on that.  Instead, I was just going to do a couple of stations, then turn round and head back the way I came for the last remaining line out of Doncaster.

For the first time, I felt like I was properly in Yorkshire.  So far today there had been very few moors or hills, and absolutely no men in flat caps walking their whippets.  The latter point would sadly elude me completely, but at least here there was a bit of landscape.  The railway line and the river Don intertwine with one another in the valley below, but the road hugs the ridge above, giving me the occasional glimpse of a tree lined drop as the houses parted.

I don't suppose a town is in rude health when the Working Men's Club is closed and shuttered, but Conisbrough was doing its best.  Much of the regeneration was related to the Earth Centre, the lottery-funded enviro-theme park nearby that for some reason, no-one wanted to visit.  People aren't daft.  Who'd want to pay to be lectured about all the horrible things we're doing to ruin the planet when you could spend the money at Alton Towers instead?  The ecodisaster closed in 2005, but it has at least left a legacy of pleasing wooded walkways and bits of random artwork.

An old cinema was now the Empire Gym; a pub had become a Balti restaurant.  There was a sign advising me that Balfour Beatty's mains diversion works would continue into 2002.  I'm guessing they were related to the new Bambury Bridge, which crossed over the river by an Asda Supermarket - probably another doomed attempt to make the Earth Centre accessible (though you weren't meant to drive there, you carbon spewing heathen).

I paused for a moment on the bridge, just to look across the valley.  It was really quite beautiful.

My OS map reckoned there was a pathway down to the river just beyond the bridge, but I couldn't see it: someone had built a housing estate in the way.  It was, naturally, a development of "luxury apartments and town houses", still under construction, so that the 4x4s and BMWs had left sand tracks up to the front doors.    For hundreds of years, no-one had built on the island in the river, and there was probably a good reason for that.  Shame the Earth Centre was closed, as I'm sure they'd have had a nice educational diorama on "rising tide levels" and the dangers of building on flood plains that the builders might have learned from.

So instead of a stroll along the river, I went up, travelling into Mexborough.  This was a proper Yorkshire town, with grey stone miner's cottages in rows.  Normally I'd bitch about having to climb a hill after all the walking I'd already done, but here I was happy for it, because it felt like part of the town.  The landscape was serving it.

The town suddenly took a turn for the worse with a massive, divisive dual carriageway through the centre.  There must have been a powerful road lobby working in the North of England in the Seventies, because so many otherwise perfectly decent towns have decimated their centres with ugly bypasses.  Pedestrians were forced onto narrow footbridges while the engines of the relentless traffic barked.  As I walked along it, two boy racers in souped up Subarus burned down the tarmac, using it as their own personal Silverstone.  The only plus side was being raised up above the traffic gave me another great view of the valley.

Coltran, incidentally, went into liquidation last July.  That dominating sign is now tainted with sadness.

The train station is on the "wrong" side of the dual carriageway, so now it's separated from the town centre.  I didn't have high hopes for it.

There was a scrap yard on the road to the station, and then there was a station building.  I was glad it was still there - Conisbrough's is long gone - but I've been fooled by this before.  Just because there's a building, doesn't mean it's in decent shape.

How wrong I was.

Mexborough's had a load of money thrown at it fairly recently, and the result is a good, lively station that works.  It's got a waiting room, a ticket office, a toilet.  There's even a fish tank!

Alright, the fish tank is a bit much.  But the principle stands.  Instead of closing up all these station buildings, why not make them into waiting areas?  Why not make them pleasing places to be?  Why not have a man there to sell you a ticket?


Sorry, I'll stop now.

The train took me back through Doncaster for the last time, and onto my final spur, the line to Leeds.  The afternoon was getting on now, and as I arrived at Bentley, I was met by schoolkids lazily wandering home.  They were excitable, boisterous at the end of the week and ready for the half-term.  Damn them and their youthful energy.

Bentley's principal attraction for me that day was an old railway line.  The Hull and Barnsley and Great Central railway line was a freight line which was built as a bit of a punt; there were hopes of a new coal field being found outside Doncaster which never materialised.  The line closed and was left unmourned, but its route now exists as a cycleway known as the Doncaster Greenway.

There was a voyeuristic thrill in passing behind people's back gardens, staring into houses that were only meant to be glimpsed in passing from a train.  The tunnel of trees and lack of companions only added to the feeling that I was in a secret, unseen world.

The end of the path emerged onto a busy main road, and the spell was broken.  The broken bridge was passed unnoticed by pedestrians, faded into the landscape and unquestioned, but acting as a tangible piece of railway history.

I skirted the edge of the housing estate, crossing onto a path that acted as the border between humans and nature.  The scruffy fences and litter were very human, but in amongst the empty tin cans were fairy rings of mushrooms, and a tiny mouse dashed into the trees in front of me.

I had the path to myself, which was surprising.  It was just like the fields near where I grew up, with the same network of paths and copses.  We spent most evenings up there, building "bases" and playing spies when I was younger then, when I was older, just hiding in amongst the trees to chat and laze and drink cheap cider.  There were brief contacts with emerging ideas - the odd porno mag found torn to pieces in the bushes, a memorable game of "strip poker" where no one really took anything off beyond a sock or a jumper.  It was an adult-free world, successive generations of children annexing different parts then passing it on to others.  Sometimes it lead to disaster - one of my schoolfriends, experimenting with smoking, accidentally set light to miles and miles of crops - but most of the time it was a secret, much cherished place of pleasure.

It wasn't completely devoid of kids though.  I surprised one young lad on his scooter, whistling round the corner and having to suddenly brake to avoid hitting me.  And a graffiti'd bench hinted at a place to hang out and drink whatever kids drink these days - WKD?  It was an odd bench, etched with the name of the Flying Scotsman; even if you knew that it had been built at the Doncaster works, a distant pathway in the countryside seemed an unlikely place for a tribute.

I was soon in Adwick-le-Street, whose pretentious name hinted at a social divide.  To my eyes, it looked like another post-war housing estate, and not a particularly nice one at that.  If you believed the stickers on the gates, half the homes were shared with bloodthirsty dogs lusting for the rump of a home invader.  It was the kind of place where "Welfare Road" seemed like a particularly apt name.

Cross Doncaster Lane, though, and you hit old Adwick; the houses here were gated and rich.  The church was medieval, not a red brick hall, and the pub ("The Foresters Arms") was double fronted and advertising its guest beer.  A wealthy couple, she wrapped in a pashmina, he in a soft brown leather jacket, went in, a tiny handbag-sized dog scuttling along behind them.

I imagined the divide between kids from either side of the road; the sneers when people found out which part of the village you came from.  I wondered if there were skirmishes on the border.

Adwick station is similarly divided between the old and new worlds.  The original station was opened in 1866 and lasted for a hundred years before being closed and sold off.  The pretty building remains, now a private residence, and teasing us with hints of a railway world lost through short-sightedness.

Because, it turns out, a station halfway between Wakefield, Leeds and Doncaster is something of a boon.  The passenger demand was still there, so in 1993 the South Yorkshire PTE built a new station on the other side of the road.

What a colossal waste of money.  I mean, building the station was obviously a good thing, but they had to re-erect platforms in a different place because the old ones were all gone.  Ridiculous.

Architecturally, the new station can't even slightly compare with the old.  That's less a railway station, more a community centre, and the less said about the footbridge with its small branch of Aldi towers, the better.

Still, it was at least there, with ticketing facilities and all that.  I shouldn't moan too much.

Such a Tefal head.

I took up a seat in the waiting shelter next to a man and his daughter.  She was excitable about something - probably just being nine - and he was doing everything he could to ignore her.  He had headphones in, and was playing a game on his mobile, studiously refusing to engage with her constant chattering.  I began to doubt they were even together, until his phone rang and he arranged for a lift to pick him up from outside.  "Come on," he said, meeting her eye for the first time, and they left hand in hand.

My Daytripper ticket was valid for anywhere in South Yorkshire, but it also included a couple of stations just over in West Yorkshire.  It was getting late in the day, but I knew I had to get these two stations to really finish my blitz.  It meant that instead of a southbound train, I boarded one for Leeds.

The line here has been electrified, and it was a revelation riding on a whisper quiet train after a day of noisy diesels.  The sooner they are rolled out across the whole country, the better.

Even though I'd gone north, I'd ended up in the south - South Elmsall.  I had a relatively tight connection to get, so I had to dash across the town centre to its other station at Moorthorpe.

It was a busy little town, just getting ready for a Friday night.  The chippies were full, the pubs were starting to acquire bouncers.  Girls tottered past me on impossibly high heels, barely covered in wisps of fabric that exposed belly buttons and thighs.  Some of them had bottles in their hand already; one particularly classy lass was swigging from a litre bottle of Lambrini.  They were raucous and jolly.

I started to get a bit concerned that I was running out of town.  Darkness seemed to be coming far too quickly, and I was worried that I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere and I was going to end up in the middle of nowhere.  I tried to check my position on my phone, but according to Apple Maps, Moorthorpe station doesn't exist.  Sigh.

And then there it was; lit with the orange of the dying evening, a little station sign.

Just in time.  A few minutes later and I would have had to use my flash to take the picture, and trust me, you don't want to see that face glowing in a white hot blaze of light.

Moorthorpe station had been refurbished to such an extent it didn't look real - the bricks had been scrubbed so hard they looked like Lego.  The main building was now a cafe, which was obviously closed at that time of night, but there were ticket machines and next train indicators and all the other signs of a good station.

Not enough benches, though.  I was forced to lean up against the wall to wait for my train.  One day, eleven stations; I was pleased with myself.  It was a massive chunk of the map just wiped away.  It's a weird achievement, I suppose; but to me, it's an achievement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Bentley (Hants) also has an old line, the Bentley and Bordon Light Railway.