Monday 30 December 2013

The State We're In







The map above shows all the stations on the map, with those highlighted yellow already crossed off.  There's a big patch in the top left that's uncollected.  Staffordshire and Derbyshire still have some holes.  The North East is also very patchy, and the Grimsby line is completely untouched: partly the fault of a landslip blocking the line for ages, partly due to the fact it's miles away.

In terms of the Passenger Transport Executives (the coloured areas) - well, I've completed Merseytravel, obviously.  West Yorkshire is the most tarted of the other PTEs, with 64% of its stations under my belt; next is Greater Manchester with 56%, South Yorkshire with 52%, and Tyne & Wear with 33%.  That last one sounds impressive, but there are actually only 6 stations in the orange area.

Other essential stats, for those of you who like that sort of thing:

MOST POPULAR POST OF 2013: This rather sniffy one about Northern Rail's Movember, which makes me think I must turn up on some Google hit somewhere. 

MOST POPULAR POST WHICH IS ACTUALLY ABOUT ME: The tally of all the stations I visited on the Cumbrian Coast Line, which makes me think you people only come here for the bullet points, and my carefully crafted prose is distinctly unimportant. 

MUSICAL ACTS WHO HAD THEIR WORKS APPROPRIATED FOR BLOG POST TITLES: The Zutons, Steeleye Span, Kylie Minogue, Blur, Oasis, Status Quo, T-Rex, Lady Gaga, Doris Day, Girls Aloud.


BAFFLING GOOGLE SEARCH WHICH KEEPS RESULTING IN BLOG HITS: "Penelope Keith's tits".  While I am a great admirer of the former Margot Leadbetter, I'm sorry, you're not going to get anything of that sort round here.

NUMBER OF CORPORATE FREEBIES AND/OR INVITES TO CHRISTMAS PARTIES I'VE RECEIVED FROM NORTHERN RAIL: None.  Not a sausage.  Not so much as a single purple flip flop.  Obviously I'm not in it for the gifts, but come on guys, how about chucking a Northern Rail biro my way or something?  Look at all the free publicity I give you!  I'm almost always nice.

SUGGESTIONS RECEIVED FOR WHERE I SHOULD VISIT NEXT: Antwerp station, Ireland, Wales, every station in the United Kingdom.


BEST STATION OF 2013: Redcar British Steel, obviously.

WORST STATION OF 2013: Pickering - not because it was particularly awful, but because it was on the map when it shouldn't have been there (it's a heritage station!) and so I object to it on principle. 


Which seems like an appropriate place to stop.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Narcissism (Part Two)

I'm back for more ramblings about myself.  Like a tramp muttering about everyone who's wronged him under a motorway overpass.


Obviously the big news as the Summer got in full swing was that I went abroad.  Only to Belgium, but it counts.  I had a slightly disappointing trip on the Eurostar then got all goose bumpy at the Brussels Metro (its logo is still rubbish).

In fact, it was a surprisingly busy month all round, as I also visited a village fair, was a gooseberry in Dewsbury, and splurged all over West Yorkshire.  Not like that.


If I'm honest, I think the heat got to me in August.  How else do you explain blogs about my favourite Northern Rail tweeters?   About me seeing naked women where they didn't belong?  Or posting pictures of myself at 19?   Frankly, I was teetering on the edge of sanity, and going off to Humberside clearly didn't helpI quite liked Hull though.  Is that further evidence of madness?

Clearly I needed a break, so at the end of the month I took myself off to Middlesbrough for another Epic Journey With Little Purpose.  I got to follow in the footsteps of Dame Victoria Wood at Battersby Junction, I romped over moors, and I was singularly unimpressed by a trip back in time.  The biggest, most important event however was a visit to Redcar British Steel, which I'm still pleased by four months later.  Some people want to visit the Taj Mahal or Machu Picchu: I get all excited by an underused halt in the middle of a steelworks.


This was the month I came over all Halle Berry, as I was shortlisted for the Blog North Awards.  It provoked a mild panic as I realised I'd have to actually do some stuff for the blog, so I ran round Cheshire like an idiot.  I was basically whoring for votes.


Fat lot of good it did me.  I ended up in second place in my category.  I'm going to let Ron Swanson speak for me, because he is always correct.

Incidentally, did I mention I'm up for another one?  There's a subtle link in the top right corner.  I don't have very high expectations for this one, because it's a national award and this blog is pretty niche, but all support is much appreciated. 

Still, it got me in the Guardian (or rather, a suggestion from the lovely Carrie did) next to a bunch of other weirdos.  Plus Jamie got me in the Wirral Globe.  I don't think I got many blog hits from my sudden media fame, but it was all very exciting.  And I got to go to Stalybridge with Ian and Manchester United Football Ground (just the station, mind) with Robert.  Definitely a high point for the year.


I purged a few demons in November, on a trip into Cheshire and the back end of Greater Manchester.  I also saw TV Funnyman Les Dennis on the platform at Wilmslow station, briefly giving the blog an aura of showbiz glamour it sadly couldn't maintain.   


This just happened.  In fact, this month is still happening.  Do you need me to go over it again?  Mormons in Chorley pigeons in Sheffield, public toilets in suburbs.  I've yet to hear from Merseyrail about my proposals for the new trains, but I assume it's just a matter of time. 

And that was that.  Twelve fairly exciting months.  I'll do one more blog post with all the number crunching for this year, stations visited, tea drunk, that sort of thing, and then it'll be 2014 and we can forget all about it.  Hurrah!

Saturday 28 December 2013

Narcissism (Part One)

I had thought that my end of year post would be in the form of a thoroughly hilarious parody of those old Clive James New Year's Eve shows.  There would be puns, out of context photos, a glamorous assistant, "Miss Yasmin Arafat!", all the best kind of jokes that would mean nothing to anyone born after about 1989.

The thing is, there's a very good reason why Clive James is a genius and a legend, and I am not.  Clive can write complex, clever, funny sentences that are filled with truth and accuracy without breaking into a sweat.  He is a hero.  After a couple of attempts at opening paragraphs that were hollow, cold, and worst of all, not funny, I abandoned the plan and settled on a straight down the line, recap of the year.  It's a recap that I'm going to divide in two, with a little numbers post at the end, for the simple reason that I've written 97 blog posts in 2013 (my most productive year ever!) (well, if you call this "productive") so if I write three more it'll be a nice round 100.  That's the kind of quality you can expect round here - stuff padded out to breaking point just to fill a slot.  Think of me as a blogging version of ITV.


I headed down south because it was my Mum's - well, let's just say it was a significant birthday, shall we?  It meant I got to experience the joys of Milton Keynes Central, a great glass slab of a building in the middle of a great big slab of a town.  I overcame the misery of the City without a Soul by spending my birthday at the National Railway Museum, rubbing up against the Mallard and buying a metal tally counter which has since mysteriously disappeared.  I suspect the BF may have had a hand in this after I began clicking it absent-mindedly while watching telly.  I also got to go to Weatherfield, the Quay Street set which has just been decommissioned, where I was given one of Norris's lollipops.  That's not a euphemism.

I did do some proper tarting though, trudging through the snow to find the Poppleton station garden and the epic grandeur of York station.  I haven't been back to that pub yet.  Yet.


I went off-piste this month, failing to collect any proper Northern Rail stations and instead heading to Birmingham.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  And while Moor Street was a delight, New Street was a hole and the trams were terrible, so I shan't be rushing back (or getting a job with the West Midlands Tourist Board).  


Back on track (do you see what I did there?) this month with a jaunt to West Yorkshire for the World Heritage site at Saltaire and the more down to earth charms of Bingley's canal system.  I also threw in a trip to Buxton, though I sadly missed a performance of Little Voice at the Opera House with Beverley "Liz McDonald" Callard (on the plus side, I met La Callard in the flesh later that year).  I also got quite angry about some works at Aigburth station, which turned out to be a load of fuss about nothing, which will teach me for believing everything I read on the internet. 


In April I did a bit of wandering round the fringes of Greater Manchester, but the big news was the first of this year's two Epic Journeys With Little Purpose: the Cumbrian Coast Line.  Some of the quietest and most isolated stations in England, squeezed between the hills and the Irish Sea.  I lost a little part of my heart to Barrow-on-Furness, went in search of radiation-twisted freaks, got quite depressed in a field, and sang a hymn of joy to the station tea room at Millom.  Then Northern Rail went and added Dalegarth to the map, meaning I'm going to have to go back to Ravenglass some day. 


I went all map obsessed again in May.  Firstly, Merseyrail issued a new map that somehow managed to forget to show Liverpool Central, the busiest station on the entire network.  Secondly, Northern Rail reissued their map, adding six new stations to it for seemingly no other reason than to annoy me.  They probably have someone beavering away in the graphic design department trying to find others to add just to wind me up ("would adding Penzance be too cruel?").

In actual travel news, I got to visit Tyneside for the first time ever.  I didn't get to go on the Metro - I've got that penciled in for 2014 - but I did visit George Stephenson's home village and Hadrian's Wall Country


An extended complaint about Victorian inefficiencies heralded my visit to Bradford, quickly followed by me getting lost on a moor and ending up baht hat in Ilkley.  Far more pleasant times were had when I went to the end of the Metrolink with Ian and Robert, and we ended up walking around South Manchester talking about the noise trains make before an announcement.  In case you were wondering, yes, they are both single, and yes, the BF occasionally wishes he was too. 

That's enough navel gazing for the time being, I think.  Another six months to come in a day or two.  I mean, another six months' work of linking to come; I haven't found a way to compress time.

Monday 23 December 2013

All Good Things...

Nothing lasts forever.  This is a basic fact.  Everything must die.

I accept this, but I don't like it.  Some things should go on and on and never stop.  Like Bond films.  And Bernard Cribbins.  I sort of know they're going to finish eventually, but I'm happy not knowing where or when it'll happen.

When there's a finite limit, I become anxious.  I get sad.  I get moody.  It's the difference between knowing you're going to die and knowing when you're going to die.

I bring this up because Ian is at number 149 in his countdown of 150 Great Things About The Underground.  One more to go.  One more wonderful, carefully written, thoughtful piece about something I love.  

Ian and I have become friends over the last couple of years, entirely through the power of blogging and the internet.  You could say that I'm biased, but our friendship is based on the fact that I love his writing.  It was only later that I found out he's a top bloke as well.  I'm still annoyed that he abandoned his Twenty Five Years Ago blog.  His music is also fantastic - he has a whole album of great, soulful songs you can listen to here.  

Ian told me that he knows what number 150 is going to be, but he won't tell me what it is.  I don't want to know.  Part of me never wants to read entry number 150.  While it's incomplete, it never ends.

Read the whole of the tribute to a transport titan here -

Thursday 19 December 2013

A Train of Thought

Merseyrail want YOU.

Don't get all excited; they're not in the market for a new Chief Exec or anything.  No, Merseyrail are touting for public opinion about their trains.  A consultation has been launched to find out what people want from their trains when they get refurbished next year.

I didn't even realise they were getting refurbished, so this is quite exciting news.  I thought we'd have to continue with what we had until the new trains arrived, somewhere around the turn of the next century.  They're concentrating on five areas:
  • Seats
  • Internal walls
  • Doors
  • Fixtures (for example, bins)
  • Signage
Cosmetic details, perhaps, but it's nice that they're asking.  I was pretty pleased with the last refurb - the one that gave us the purple and yellow interiors - and it was a vast improvement over their 1970s yellow and green predecessors.  Some bins would be handy, because it's quite depressing spending the whole trip back from Chester next to a Wotsits packet.  Doors between carriages on a strong hinge would be good too, so that people passing from one car to the next don't leave it open and banging for the rest of the journey.

I have drawn up a more detailed plan for the refurbishment, which Maaaaaaarten  Spaaaaaargaren is welcome to contact me about any time (click for a better view):

Key features of the new look Merseyrail train:
  1. Private, locked cabin at the front of the train for my own personal use;
  2. Russell Tovey serving champagne;
  3. Me, on a throne;
  4. All the other passengers in a walled off section at the back.
I look forward to hearing from you, Merseyrail.

If you have any ideas of your own, you can send them to Merseyrail here.  Though obviously they won't be as good as mine.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Low Winter Sun

There are rumours that Darnall railway station is marked for closure.  It's not hard to see why.

Some stations fail because of their location, or because of neglect.  Some fail because they're abandoned.  Some just don't feel right.

Darnall has a single, wide platform in the centre of two running lines.  There's no ticket office and there's no human presence.  Just a long strip of concrete and a lonely shelter.

I was the only person to get off the train from Sheffield.  As it departed, I was left in a hollow centre.  Even though there were houses and flats all around me, they felt miles away, because the railway lines isolated me.  It was quite disconcerting.

Worse, the only way off the island platform is via a dark, unwelcoming subway.  Northern Rail have managed to save themselves a few quid by not turning on the lights during daylight hours.  On paper, this makes perfect sense; it's only four or five metres long, it's not a high traffic area, there's wide entrances at either end that should let the daylight in.

In reality you descend from the platform into a black hole, with a blind corner to negotiate.  I was intimidated, and I'm a reasonably healthy man; I wouldn't want to be a lonely woman, or a pensioner, and using that exit.  The CCTV cameras were no reassurance - they're only good after the fact, so the police can put the pictures of your murderer's face on Crimewatch.

I hurried up the exit ramp and into Station Road, a strip of red brick terraces, for the sign picture.

A quick right, a dart across the ring road, and I was on my way to the next station.  The road rose gradually as I moved out of the Sheaf valley.  At the end of the streets there were more parks - it really is a very pretty city at its best - but here, at the roadside, there was choked up traffic and litter.  A 4x4 swung onto the pavement ahead of me, narrowly avoiding running me over, apparently under the impression it was just a fancy form of off-road parking.  Further along, a man was unloading the boot of his car, balancing as many carrier bags as possible on his arms before he trekked up the high steps to his front door.  Those Yorkshire peaks might make the city look attractive but it means there's almost a vertical climb from the kerb to your kitchen.

The sun sparkled in my eyes, as high as it was ever going to get at this time of year, warm but not hot.  It cast the right hand side of the road into moody silhouettes.

I passed garages and back gardens before reaching a flyover.  The Sheffield Parkway crashed past on its way to the M1 with an impressive junction; impressive for cars, that is, but not so good if you're a pedestrian trying to cross.  I darted across the entrance and exit ramps, convinced that I was about to be knocked down by a truck.

On the other side, a strip of undistinguished houses were punctuated by a blue plaque: In a cottage close to this site BENJAMIN HUNTSMAN invented Crucible Steel in 1742.  His invention helped make Sheffield rich, the home of steel and industry.  Beyond that, an Asda started off a strip of shops, car showrooms, a McDonalds.  There were flats and houses in amongst them: on a noticeboard, the South Yorkshire Police advised that community forums had been cancelled "due to low attendance".  A closed public toilet had a "for sale" sign on it, and I tried to imagine who on earth would buy it.  "I've got the most amazing bargain - it's eight square metres of urinals on a busy main road!  It could be our dream home!"

Still, there was a definite upward swing in the social class of the area, one that became even stronger as I crossed the lights by Kay's Kabin.  The houses were bigger and greener.  Some were raised up above the road on little terraces of their own; meanwhile, green pathways lead through to recreation areas and playgrounds.

I turned away from the main road to head for Woodhouse.  It was originally a little farming and mining village, until redevelopment in the 1960s saw it turned into a new suburb for the city.  Now there were long streets of square houses, grass verges, and oblong schools advertising their Ofsted results.  Flockton Park advertised itself as the home of Woodhouse Juniors FC, Enjoying football since 1962.  The South Yorkshire fire service had their HQ here too, in a building that looked an awful lot like my old high school; giant tanks of flammable material for training purposes were temptingly close, making me wish I had a match so I could indulge my pyromaniac side.  I'm not a psychopath, honestly.  

Woodhouse village itself had been ruthlessly stripped of any charm; Market Street ran behind maisonettes and past a parade of ugly shops.  The old village's market cross, weathered and green, looked out of place.  I headed for Station Road, where the nursery had just chucked out its "morning only" attendees; young mums stood around chatting while hyperactive toddlers bashed into one another.  The houses here were a little older, and round about the station they were properly Victorian.  The Junction pub stood beside it, closed and empty.

For some reason, even though there's a bridge right over the line, the actual station is a couple of hundred yards further down the track.  It means you have to get to the Lincoln-bound platforms via a path round the back of people's gardens, which feels wrong, like you're treading on their personal territory.

As far as I was concerned, the best thing about Woodhouse at that moment in time was its warm, enclosed waiting area.  Even though it seemed bright and the skies were blue, it was shockingly cold, a sneaky chill that you only notice once you stop moving.  I dashed inside the platform building and ate a sandwich with shuddering fingers.

The local transport executive have clearly spent a little bit of money on the station, bringing it into the 21st century with nice floors and glass doors.  No ticket office, obviously - the information board informed me that the nearest manned station was "Sheffield - six miles", just to rub it in my face - but certainly a better place to wait for your train than Darnall.  I was particularly taken by the shiny red paint used to cover the platform buildings, a glossy clay colour that seemed invulnerable.  It looked less like paint, more like a kind of sprayed on red Kryptonite.

My train finally arrived, with a chirpy guard singing to himself, and dropped me off at the next station, Kiveton Bridge.  It was a lot better used than the two previous stations, with well-to-do ladies disembarking with department store carrier bags.  They flirted with the guard as they climbed down onto the brick platform.

I get the feeling that Travel South Yorkshire can't really be bothered with their train stations.  They always seem a bit abandoned and unloved.  I suppose it's like Manchester; they've got a load of trams to play with - why bother with boring old trains?  It's an irrational prejudice, but when you get up to the street and find that someone has half-unpeeled the station sign, it doesn't fill you with pride.  Perhaps it would help if they didn't make their signs out of sticky backed plastic.

At some point I'd crossed from Sheffield into Rotherham, and I have to be honest, you could sort of tell.  Kiveton seemed a bit more down at heel and grim than the areas I'd walked through earlier that day.  Rotherham is doomed to forever be in the shadow of its bigger neighbour, I know, but as I walked down Station Road, I thought there might be a good reason for that.

There used to be a colliery at Kiveton Park, but it closed twenty years ago, somehow surviving Thatcher to finally shut up shop in 1994.  Now it's just another commuter village.  Slowly the houses began to disappear, and I had to check Google Maps on my phone: was I actually going the right way?  I'd read that Kiveton Bridge station was built because the council thought that the older station, Kiveton Park, was too far from the village; I didn't realise they meant it was in an entirely different district.

Soon I was on a country road.  I could hear the noises of industry echoing up from the valley below, but I couldn't see it; all I could see were hills and misty fields.  I wondered if this was the same mist I'd seen in Dore that morning; that it was so cold and damp out here the low winter sun hadn't been able to drive it away.

I was still unsure whether I was going the right way when I rounded a corner and practically walked into the station.  The council definitely had a point; Kiveton Park station is no good for anyone.  There was a pub over the road, but sadly it was closed for refurbishment.  Apart from that, the only neighbours were a canal and a cement works.

I killed a bit of time by wandering along the towpath, but it didn't seem to go anywhere interesting, and I was put off by the sign from the local anglers saying that "no firearms" were permitted.  I wondered if this was a big problem; if they'd had a spate of fishermen with double barreled shotguns trying to blast the sticklebacks out of the water.

I headed back to the shelter.  There was a sealed area, with a door, but it didn't have any seats in it, just a pole to lean on.  This was no doubt to discourage anti-social behaviour, but it just seemed mean to me, a passenger who had half an hour to wait for his train and who didn't fancy getting cramp in his arse.  Still, if the anglers are wandering around with Uzis, who knows what the local scallies carry with them; probably best not to give them somewhere to loiter.

Last trip of the year, I thought sadly.  Funny how it stopped being "something to do" and became "something I really want to do."  I wandered over to the Northern Rail map.  Where to go for the first trip of 2014?

Saturday 14 December 2013

Time and Motion

You probably didn't care.  You probably shouldn't care.  Time, the measuring of time, is an artificial concept.  Calendars aren't universal, aren't definitive, aren't anything except an attempt by humans to bring some order to the fourth dimension.

I did care though.  When I realised that Wednesday was the 11th of December - that is, 11/12/13 - I had to go out.  I meant to go out on the trains one more time this year, before it all got too dark and miserable, and 11/12/13 seemed like an auspicious date for my final trip.

I decided on South Yorkshire as my destination for two reasons.  The first is that the 06:47 service from Lime Street to Norwich via Sheffield includes a stop at Dore & Totley, for some reason.  I'd be able to cross off a station without even needing to change trains.  The second reason was that last December I traveled on the Sheffield to Lincoln line with diamond geezer, and I liked the repetition.  Basically, between that fact and the whole date thing, my OCD and desire to slot events into neat little patterns was working overtime.

Taking that OCD a bit further, I downloaded a digital clock app to my phone that included seconds, then set an alarm so that I could observe the exact moment when it was 08:09:10 11/12/13.  I stared at my phone, watched the seconds tick over onto :10, felt a slight moment of giddiness, tried to take a screenshot, pushed the wrong button, blacked my screen, tried to bring it back, and dropped my phone on the floor.  I then had a few moments of undignified scrabbling before I could get it back.  The woman in the next seat didn't seem amused, but I didn't care, because I'd put up with her unselfconscious yammering all the way from Liverpool South Parkway.  She was even less amused when I decided to get out of my seat before Sheffield (thanks to her loud mobile conversation I knew this was where she was getting off) and she huffed and sighed as I meekly said "excuse me".

Dore & Totley was a bit of a surprise.  I'd expected a suburban station, a couple of platforms and a car park in the middle of a housing estate.  Instead I stepped onto the station's sole platform, deserted, amongst foggy woodlands and empty space.  It felt like an abandoned out of the way halt.

Round the corner though, everything changed.  There was a stream of traffic, building works, a packed park and ride facility.  A CrossCountry train wailed past behind me, shattering that rustic illusion quite firmly.

It was just Dore station for years, the Victorian suffix being dropped in a British Rail efficiency exercise that also singled the track and removed the southbound platform.  As with many of BR's decisions at the time, it was ridiculously short-sighted, and left a bottleneck on the edge of Sheffield.  Now they're campaigning to have the line redoubled and another platform put in; in the meantime, Northern Rail restored the Dore & Totley identity when the Purple Gang were let loose in 2008.  I like the full name better: Dore is tedious, while Dore & Totley sounds like a music hall double act.

The station building still bore the scars of its previous life as an Indian restaurant.  I'm hoping that this little round of investment means it'll go back to being a ticket hall again, but I'm not holding my breath.

I avoided the first station sign I saw, because there were a load of builders milling around it, and instead crossed the car park and took my snap further down the road.

I have to confess: I'd already decided I'd like Sheffield.  My previous visits had been limited to changing trains at the station and a brief visit to Meadowhall in the late 90s when I was staying with my friend who lived near Rotherham.  There was something about the city that had always appealed to me though, just based on its reputation and its alumni.  It's the city that produced Pulp, for goodness' sake.

As I walked down a wide road, sandwiched between trees and parkland, I was charmed.  Sheffield is famous for its parks; it's as though the city planners couldn't quite abandon the Peaks around them.  They knew they had to build houses and factories, but they insisted on pockets of green to remind the residents that they were still part of nature.

It was still relatively early.  The rush hour was just finishing, but it was too cold and misty for people to want to leave their homes.  The greens and tennis courts were empty; only the odd dog walker and extremely brave jogger brushed past.  A single pedalo floated forlornly in the boating lake.  Beside it, the cafe was lit up extravagantly, not yet open, but still burning every Christmas light in their repertoire.

The city began to close in on the suburbs.  The houses became smaller and tighter together, the traffic more insistent.  There were shops and pubs - not the high class hotels I'd seen round Dore, advertising their suitability for weddings, but low Victorian buildings with "function rooms".  Beauty salons - Shellac Gel Hands: £10 - and butty shops.  A phone shop with a laser printed sign advertising mobile accessories and "fancy goods", which made me think they had a stock of tiaras and furs among the novelty Nokia holders.

Now and then an Asian supermarket would offer up a welcome slice of colour, with racks outside displaying fruit and vegetables.  The big supermarkets were just closed off boxes - a Morrison's Local was so unfriendly looking I couldn't actually work out how you got into it - but these grocers actually looked like shops, their produce begging to be touched and bought.

And still there were trees, pocket parks, gardens.  The River Sheaf was shadowing my route, occasionally visible under bridges on side streets.  I continued past the curiously named I've Gone Mirror Mad and up a bit of a hill.  A gorgeous wreck of a cinema was quietly crumbling, its previous life as a snooker hall sadly over.

The mist made everything look glamorous: nature's version of Vaseline on the lens.  There was a soft focus to the distant city centre, and the green hills in the background looked mysterious and tempting.  I turned a corner and was surprised to find a large mosque, a proper one with minarets and a dome.  There should have been something odd about this proud, tall building on a street of terraced houses, but it didn't feel strange; it was a lovely building, right in the heart of its community.

I followed the ring road, instead of going into the city centre.  I wanted to visit it properly, on a day when it wouldn't be filled with panic-stricken lunatics Christmas shopping, and maybe ride the tram as well.  I didn't want my impressions to be spoiled by a load of feverish people streaming into Marks and Spencer and screaming for bargains.

That's St Paul's Tower, a 32 storey apartment block that doesn't really fit the city centre at all.  I don't see the point in building high just for the sake of it.  In places with limited space, fair enough, but I'd passed plenty of brownfield sites that could have been redeveloped with ease.  In regenerating cities, the more people are spread about the city centre the better.  It makes the place lively, encourages movement, creates neighbourhoods.  Hundreds of people trapped in a single tower isn't the way to go.

The remains of the Platform 3 Restaurant signalled my arrival at the station, and at a piece of regeneration that Sheffield definitely got right.  Sheaf Square was carved out in front of the station by simplifying the road network, and it's a real triumph.  Water cascades down steelwork, while clear pedestrian routes send you down to the restored station frontage.

I love these new open spaces in front of railway stations.  Not car parks or cluttered taxi ranks, but places to wander and talk and think.  A place that welcomes you to the city and gives you a fond goodbye.

Sheffield station was restored at the same time as Sheaf Square was built, and the result is a light, airy building that you can't help loving.  Of course, they had a good foundation; the low frontage, with pointed arches and a glass roof, is pretty and understated.  The 21st century works just improved on it.

Inside there's a bright and clean concourse.  East Midlands Trains have gone a bit mad with the queuing barriers - there is a bit of a hamster in an experiment feel to it all - but it's clearly laid out and simple to find.  You can't really miss the BUY HERE sign with a giant illuminated orange ticket next to it.

I wandered over to the Caffe Ritazza for an Earl Grey to warm myself up.  Behind me, two middle aged ladies said "it's a lovely station, isn't it?" with a slightly surprised tone to their voices.

As I waited for my turn the manager suddenly exclaimed, "some bugger's left a muffin out!" and dashed away from the cafe.  I turned to see two pigeons sat on a table, pecking away at the leftover pastry like paying customers; he shooed them away and chucked the muffin in a bin, but I noticed that the pigeons only flew onto the roof of WH Smith.  They knew there'd be more food for them soon enough.  I pictured them at the station entrance every morning, tapping their feet and waiting for the doors to open so they could go in and get some breakfast.

(Incidentally, if you haven't got a Bite Card, you really should get one.  20% off at station food and drink outlets, and it's free.  Just tuck it in your wallet - it's dead handy).

Tea in hand, I crossed over the footbridge, internally tutting at all the people ignoring the "no entry" signs and walking down the up staircase, and headed for my platform.  I'd got myself a "Travelmaster" ticket, giving me unlimited travel on the trains, bus and tram; the tram stop was temptingly just at the end of the bridge but I managed to resist.  The Travelmaster is printed on a hideously garish bit of card.  It's so 80s it should really have a perm and deely boppers.

At platform level Sheffield's a bit chilly; there's no overarching roof, and as a through station, the wind tends to whip through from one end to the other.  There are enormously long platforms everywhere, divided up into A B and C to ensure that confusion is always just under the surface.  I almost got on a Leeds train when it arrived into my terminal platform ahead of the Lincoln train; you just don't expect two services to stack up like that.

I wandered down to the end of the platform to get a look at Park Hill, the brutalist icon that overlooks the station site.  It's a magnificent slab of concrete and colour staring down at you, uncompromising, proud.  The regeneration works have softened its edges but it's still a bit of Le Courbusier in South Yorkshire.

I resolved to visit it when I returned to Sheffield.  But then, there's so much I want to revisit in Sheffield.  I'd short changed it this time.  Tell you what: let's all meet up in the year 2000?  Be there, 2 o'clock, at the fountain down the road...

(Yes, I know the fountain's gone now.  And it's 2013.  Don't spoil it.)