Wednesday 24 July 2013
It's what I call a mad run of stations: a splurge. Sometimes I spend a great deal of time in a place, and collect only a couple of stations. Other times I burn through a line at a mad pace.
This was one of those occasions. I'd already got Dewsbury and Batley; time to finish off the rest of the line. I thought I'd cross off every station between Leeds and Brighouse. That constituted a nice clear run. It also meant that I had the stations to Halifax neatly bunched together to collect at a later date without having to double back on myself. It's extremely satisfying to be able to put a line through an entire tranche of the map.
After the misery of Batley I was happy to be anywhere else, even if Ravensthorpe didn't give the greatest first impression. It was a couple of platforms wedged between industrial units, and there was a strong smell of metal in the air, as if it was filled with aluminium shavings from the factories.
I followed a teenage goth over the footbridge and out of the station. The station noticeboards obscured the name when I stood directly in front of the sign, and from the other side, there was bright sunshine wiping out everything. I ended up in a half-crouch, pressed up against the fence, just to try and get something usable.
Crossing the river bridge took me to the glamorously named "Ravensthorpe Gyratory". There aren't enough gyratories these days; it's one of those words, like "precinct" or "flat", that have taken on a connotation of unsympathetic grimness. A gyratory has become a concrete slab in our head, a traffic dominated wilderness that pedestrians are forced to scurry beneath in piss-stained underpasses, when in fact it's just a name for a perfectly ordinary piece of road design. The Ravensthorpe Gyratory was at heart, a very large roundabout that made it easier to get into Morrisons. That was it. There were no flyovers or footbridges, just a bit of green and a retail park.
Ravensthorpe has an extremely high proportion of residents from immigrant families, and this was reflected in the shops: a plethora of takeaways, groceries specialising in national cuisines, Chaudhry Travel with its Pakistan International Airlines accreditation. The little Yorkshire stone shops were now housing Asian businesses and opening their doors to women in hijab.
There was still an English presence though; the Co-op, the Bulls Head (PINK TRIBUTE ACT - Tickets £5). It was a mix, like an exotic Persian rug in the centre of a front parlour.
I passed a small estate where everything was called "Fir" - Fir Avenue, Fir Walk, Fir Parade and Fir Grove - and felt a pang of sympathy for the residents, who no doubt spent all their time getting the wrong mail. The bend in the road coincided with a bend in the river Calder, and I got a glimpse of the cool wide water and soft meadows. I'd hoped to walk along the riverside to the next station, rather than through the town, but there was no footpath that I could see.
Four or five horses had gathered together by the wall of their field to get some shade, and I patted their soft noses and stroked their necks. Too hot to object, they let me coo over them, barely moving. I was now entering Mirfield, which, as though keen to differentiate itself from its ethnically diverse neighbour, immediately threw a cricket club at me. Fat men lounged on the terrace of the pavilion, waiting for the bar to open no doubt.
Mirfield is where Patrick Stewart was born and brought up, explaining Jean-Luc Picard's quite strong "French by way of Yorkshire" accent. Its buildings were grander than Ravensthorpe, reflecting its agricultural rather than industrial roots. A fine church had its doors propped open to allow a draught inside to the coffee morning, a group of unhappy looking people gathered around a trestle table. In the heart of the village, what had no doubt once been a hotel/pub was now a Tesco. They kept the pub sign though, just to really make sure you knew what you were missing.
I crossed over the small marina to find the station. It was a wide, flat expanse built above the road, with three platforms instead of the boring two I'd been used to.
It had clearly seen better days. There were tiled white walls under the bridge and on the staircase, but no sign of a station building, and rough weeds grew all over. Most surprisingly, you can get a train to London from Mirfield. Grand Central stop here, and I spotted one of their sinister black trains pulling out as I arrived.
I took up a position on platform three, alongside two girls in hotpants and low tops who'd annexed the bench. They kicked at the red metal, bored, playing with their nails and their hair. If they were this unenthusiastic now, imagine how they'll be in six weeks when the real hell of long summer holidays has set in properly.
My next station was Brighouse, but when I got off the train, something was wrong. For starters, all the signs read "Deighton".
My keenly-honed mind realised that I must have got on the wrong train. This wasn't, in itself, much of a problem, as I hadn't collected Deighton station yet anyway; in fact, it would have been the only uncollected station between Huddersfield and Leeds otherwise, so in a way it was a bonus.
The main problem was that I had no clue where it was, or how to get to Brighouse. I could've just got on a train going in the opposite direction, but the very idea was offensive to me, so I pulled out my phone and called up Google Maps. A few taps and it had worked out a route for me, one that actually looked quite pleasing and scenic.
I headed out of Deighton, passing a closed up police station and a bus stop full of old ladies. This was a real corporation district, big wide council houses, and most of the residents I saw were pensioners. Probably the original tenants. I was sad to see the post office shuttered and for sale.
The road threaded past a thick woodland. I knew that Brighouse was on the other side of those woods, somewhere, but I didn't trust myself to go wandering in them without Uncle Google holding my hand. Instead I persisted with its routing through baking hot streets, deserted of pedestrians. A postman was sat under a tree, taking a moment's rest in the shade and texting.
I turned at a closed up pub and followed a wide avenue towards an industrial estate. Google seemed to want me to take a right somewhere, but I couldn't quite fathom it. I passed the golf course and realised that I was being sent up a narrow road behind the houses.
Soon I was walking through green fields on a back lane. There was no traffic, until a Ford took a corner rather too quickly and had to slam on his brakes when he saw me; I saw the driver's shock at there being a pedestrian out on this track. Another turn and I was in a blessedly cool thicket of trees. I passed a couple of ramblers, and exchanged a polite smile and a "morning", and then I hit the M62.
Six lanes of traffic burned underneath me. It was a wide footbridge, and perfectly safe, but I couldn't get the idea that I might be sucked off the edge and under a lorry out of my head. Halfway across I realised that I was making a noise, a kind of low moan through gritted teeth, like a dog aware of danger but not quite sure where it was going to come from. I staggered to the other side and paused for breath. I'd long thought about walking across the Humber Bridge when I collected Hassle station; maybe I'll just take the bus instead.
With nervous sweat now adding to my general, day-to-day sweatiness, my t-shirt was now soaked through. There was no-one about, and the weather was scorching hot - it would have been the perfect circumstances to take my shirt off. I couldn't do it though. It wasn't just the thought of my pallid, flabby body being on display that stopped me; it was the impropriety of it, the rudeness. I would never thrust my nipples in the face of people who didn't ask to see it; the only places I could go without a layer of clothing would be a beach or a pool. (On the other hand, gratuitous nudity for other people is perfectly fine; in fact, I encourage it).
I trudged on, the fabric of my shirt clinging to my skin. I finally left the countryside behind and stepped out onto a busy road into Brighouse. It was lined with fine Victorian mansions and comfortable detached homes - I'd risen up the social scale even further. Fortunately the walk was all downhill now, and soon I was in Brighouse town centre and looking for somewhere for a drink.
I'm not sure why it was the place to be, as, to my eyes, it seemed like a perfectly ordinary little market town. There was a pretty river threading through the centre, some grand old buildings, and a fair amount of shoppers, but it didn't seem like any kind of mecca.
I picked a pub more or less at random, for some lunch and a pint. I ordered a chicken wrap, which arrived slathered in barbecue (or, more likely, Bar-B-Q) sauce, and haphazardly stuffed with onion rings and lettuce. The chicken at the centre was in breadcrumbs, but it crunched a little too hard, snapping in my mouth instead of softly pulling apart. It was impossible to eat without making a hideous mess, smearing thick brown sauce all over the plate. It wasn't good. Fortunately, the pint of Grolsch was.
Admittedly, by that point I was so thirsty I'd have probably enjoyed a glass of Sarah Miles' morning tonic, but that's not the point.
Full, if not satisfied, I headed back out across the bridge for the railway station.
Brighouse gets a service to King's Cross as well, which just seems wrong. It's a town of only 30,000 people, and yet it has a direct connection to the capital. Birkenhead doesn't get that.
Even more bizarrely the station only opened in 2000. It had closed in 1970, though the line had remained for freight, and it was only through the efforts of West Yorkshire Metro that it reopened again. Seeing how busy it was, how thriving the town was, and how frequent the services were, it baffled me that anyone would want to close the station in the first place. It shows what a low point the railways were at in the late sixties and seventies.
The train took me back over the stations I'd already visited that day before dropping me off at Morley.
I clambered up the steep hill to the street, passing an enormous man who looked like he could have been Brian Glover's twin. He stared at my camera and my snapping with undisguised amusement. I waited until he was safely round the corner before I took the sign photo.
It was another station with a background soundtrack of power tools and industry. The mills close by had been converted into flats for commuters but as I closed in on the town centre they were workshops and garages. I caught glimpses of plastic wrapped shapes through open doorways.
I was in the furthest tentacles of Leeds now, at the very tip of its outstretched arms. I turned at an old church and avoided the hesitant Kia trying to make a right; he missed at least three chances to turn just as I passed, leading to a white van overtaking him on the inside to get by, blasting his horn as he did so. The pensioner paid no attention. I'm guessing he was used to it.
I'm not sure why they have a vomiting mermaid as the symbol for their village.
I was actually on Elland Road now; even I, a football ignoramus, had heard of that. I hoped that I'd pass the Leeds United football ground, but it turns out Elland Road is really long. The closest I got was a brief glimpse of the stadium through a gap in the houses.
I passed the Rainbow Rooms club (now sadly closed) and another Tesco. They'd actually demolished the pub to build this one, but they'd left the sign for some reason. That's just setting yourself up for disappointment.
Under the railway line and a left, onto the Cottingley estate. It had that empty, unloved feeling that the worst of town planning can throw up; tower blocks at the centre surrounded by cul-de-sacs and footpaths. Great in principle. In reality a warren of blind corners and alleyways to make even the stoutest man tremble.
I stuck to the perimeter road. The railway station appeared on the horizon, but first I had to avoid two exuberant dalmatians, straining to get at me on their leads. At first I thought they were being playful - my aunt has had a series of adorable, lovable dalmatians over the years - until they started barking. It was clear these were unfriendly dalmatians, which just seemed odd. I wondered what had happened that overturned their naturally sunny personalities.
The station has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. This manages to simultaneously credit and damn the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive; it's great that they opened a station on the route into Leeds, but shouldn't they have done it twenty years before, when they built the estate? I looked at the newer houses to the side of the station and I concluded that the station was only deemed feasible when there were private residents in the area.
I had half an hour until my train arrived so I sat cross legged on the platform - it's strangely short of benches - and rubbed at my sore feet. I had a blister coming, I knew it. Still it was worth it: I'd conquered eight stations that day - a hell of a splurge.