Saturday 20 July 2013

The Cheap Date

This blog costs money.  It costs me to travel all over the country, trains here there and everywhere.  It's not like when I was "doing" Merseyrail, and all it cost was a fiver for a Saveaway.  Going cross country to Newcastle can be expensive.  Day rangers are usually about twenty quid.  Staying in Travelodges so I can get some of the really obscure stations - it all adds up.

And have one of you bastards sent me a cheque?  No.  You just come here, take your free entertainment, then complain in the comments because I've misidentified an engine.

I KID OF COURSE.  I love you all.  And spending money on train tickets gives me pleasure.  I'd only spend it on heroin or prostitutes or something otherwise.

I do try and minimise my costs where I can.  I use RedSpottedHanky, because, despite their twee name, they usually have good deals and they give you loyalty points.  I've got about fifteen pounds of free train travel sitting in my account.

I also leap on any cheap deals when I see them, which is how I got a trip to Leeds at eight quid each way.  The downside was it was a six fifteen train from Lime Street.  My fellow passengers all had that dazed, slightly out of it look of people who aren't entirely sure why they're there.  It was like they'd been woken roughly by a policeman, given a briefcase and bundled onto a train before their brains had switched on.  Bleary eyes stared incomprehensibly at laptops, trying to make sense of spreadsheets and e-mails.

As you may have guessed from the picture, I got off at Dewsbury.  It saved me the effort of going into Leeds and going back out again, and it was a new town I'd never visited before.

The station's only two platforms, but they've been built to accommodate the longest of trains, giving it a strangely lopsided look.  It feels a lot larger than it actually is.

I headed over the footbridge and down into the nicely turned out ticket hall.  I needed to buy a day pass, so I went to the counter and asked for a West Yorkshire Day Rover.

The woman behind the glass eyed me suspiciously.

"They're not valid until 9:30, you know."

"Yes, I know," I said cheerily.  "I've got some things to do before then."  This was a lie - I had nothing to do - but I felt like I should have a reason for buying the ticket now.  She had that cold interrogative look to her, like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, except in a FirstTranspennine uniform and without Ilsa's natural warmth and joie de vivre.  After a moment's pause - perhaps she was wondering where she'd left her cat o' nine tails - she deigned to print me out a ticket.  She still clearly thought I was lying and I'd immediately try to board a train without permission, because she got out her biro and wrote on the back:

That told me.

Dewsbury station dates from 1848, but only half of it is still in use for railway business.  The other half - the prettier half, of course - is now a pub, the West Riding Refreshment Rooms.

While the railway station is almost hidden by an ugly portico and a taxi rank, the pub part is covered with ivy and advertising its real ales.

Obviously I approve of this change of use.  I'd rather it was still part of the station, of course: the passenger facilities are now a glass box on the platform, not some mahogany panelled waiting room.  If it must be turned over to private enterprise, though, a place that serves good beer is top of my wish list.

Now I just had some time to kill until my ticket was valid.  Dewsbury was always associated in my mind with an episode of Victoria Wood's playlets, The Library. Valerie Barlow (aka Anne Reid) goes on a blind date in a museum but is afraid of being molested ("he may be a pervert.  He might have come here with the specific purpose of rubbing up against a scale model of Saxon fortifications") so she gets Victoria to tag along.  Valerie Barlow's date - Dennis Tanner (aka Philip Lowrie) notes this with, "Now if you were from Dewsbury, you'd be a goosebury from Dewsbury."

And that is the sum total of my knowledge of Dewsbury*.

What I found was a great little town.  Dewsbury's initial wealth came from wool, and its buildings had a refined charm.  Warm Yorkshire stone fronts with interesting carved features.

I wandered through the central precinct, completely empty at that time in the morning, with the shops shuttered.  Workmen filed into McDonalds for a breakfast of grease; street cleaners manoeuvred their robot carts over the paving slabs.  An Asian man, dressed head to toe in white cotton, leaned back on a bench outside the Town Hall to let the morning sun soak in.

There was a statue there, too, which was supposedly a representation of the Good Samaritan but looked more like an entry for Viz's Up The Arse Corner to my filthy mind.

The elegant Victorian arcade was sadly half empty.  Most of the shops had deserted fronts, interiors covered in brick dust.  The only sign of life in it were some builders having their morning tea.  Outside, though, in the main square, flowers bloomed in planters and a tiny coffee stand doled out cappuccinos to council workers headed for the Town Hall.

It's also the home of a combination gunsmith/florist, called - yes! - Guns & Roses, which put it in the Premier League of shopping destinations as far as I'm concerned.  I can't tell you how many times I've wished I could buy crysanthemums and a pump-action Wetherby in one transaction; it means you can buy both the murder weapon and the With Sympathy bouquet without paying too much for parking.  There should be more two for one retailers like this - a pet store next to a canal that also sells puppy-sized burlap sacks, or a kebab shop that also houses a branch of WeightWatchers.

Sadly it was too early in the morning for me to stock up on ammo and azelias so I headed towards the market hall.  I thought markets opened at the crack of dawn, but it seems the one in Dewsbury operates during working hours only.

Another place that was closed, though rather more permanently, was Dewsbury Central station.  It was built in 1880 by the Great Northern Railway, but that man Beeching came along and shuttered it in the sixties.

For years the building simply crumbled away, until, in the 1980s, it found a new use - as the country's most elaborate flyover.

The Dewsbury Ring Road was installed into the spot where the tracks used to run, in a metaphor for British transport policy so trite it would get thrown out of a Hollywood script meeting.  Still, it's nice to see that they used the building as the road's foundations rather than simply knocking the whole thing down and sticking a couple of concrete posts pillars in its place.

I passed the redundantly named Station Hotel and under the bridge for the walk up into the hills.  It was a straight road, but the angle was ridiculously steep, and even at that early hour the sun was baking.  The reward was a great view across the town.

It was coming up to nine o'clock and so the streets began to fill with children walking to school.  They were excitable and noisy, the combination of the good weather and the end of term making them buzz.  Two primary school girls walked arm in arm, whispering gossip to one another, while their mum followed behind at a respectable distance.  Her sari floated in the morning breezes from across the valley.

Once I'd passed the school gates I was heading downhill again, under a massive viaduct that carried the Leeds line over the valley.

There's only one train an hour from Batley station so I walked into the town.  It was like entering a post-apocalyptic landscape.

I don't think I've ever been to a town as sad and unloved as Batley.  Everywhere I turned there were magnificent Yorkshire stone buildings sitting empty, collapsing, with trees growing out of their roofs.  Windows were boarded up and litter bunched up in doorways.

It was as if a virus had swept through the town, killing off most of the residents and leaving the shops and offices vacant.  It was neglected, ugly and depressing.  The Mill Outlet Centre was a rare moment of life, but it was one of those behemoths that's filled with all sorts of things you don't need at a combination of outrageously cheap and eyewateringly high prices.  I was thoroughly unsurprised to spot an Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop at the entrance; my retail nemesis, the symbol of a truly awful shopping centre.

Past the admirably daffy Gothic arch (it has bats on it, because BATLEY) I hit what remains of the town centre.  There was only one business making any money here: Tesco.  There was a Tesco Extra so huge it had a bridge to get pedestrians into it over the mammoth car park.

I think we need to stop blaming Tesco for destroying towns; we need to turn around and look at what's been done to the town before they arrive.  The people at Tesco are just preying on carrion, like vultures.  As I walked round Batley I realised that this place had been dead for a very long time.  A big supermarket was just the final death rattle, a fifty thousand square foot gravestone.  Tesco were effectively shagging Batley's still warm corpse; it's not classy, it's not admirable, but if they weren't there it'd still be dead, so what does it matter?  They may as well get something out of it.

I got about halfway up the high street before the pessimism and misery took me over completely and I had to leave.  It was a dark, ugly place, and I didn't want to be there any more.

I walked back to the station, past a Wetherspoon's that already had customers smoking on the doorstep with pints of beer in hand.  The station's at the end of a run of particularly derelict buildings, giving any visitor to the town a great idea of what it's like without them having to walk too far.

The station's not terrible.  It's an early building, low and unsentimental, but pleasingly symmetrical.  The car park outside has been left cobbled to add to the heritage feel.

There aren't any facilities as such - no ticket office of course - but the interior's brightly painted and pleasant, and a rooflight allowed the sun to light the corners.  It felt airy and well-appointed.  Northern Rail had done a good job here of convincing you that there was someone who still cared about Batley.

I crossed over to the southbound platform via a dark underpass.  There was still about twenty minutes until my train so I found a bench in the sun to have a bit of a bake.

The station sign was sponsored by the Mill Outlet store, because of course it was.  It was another ugly garish blight on the town.  This one wasn't even very well done, and was coming away from its moorings; I was severely tempted to rip it off and throw it in a bush somewhere to try and bring a bit of respect back to the station.

Naturally I did no such thing.  I just sat in the sun and listened to my iPod and looked forward to a train taking me away from there.

*The Library also contains one of my favourite Victoria Wood jokes ever:

Dennis Tanner: Now, call me a dashingly romantic sentimental old softheart, Vicky...

Victoria: I haven't got time.


David said...

Your efforts are appreciated. Let me know when you're doing the Esk Valley line and I'll mail you my copy of the Esk Valley Walk booklet, which connects the stations via a mix of lovely footpaths and (occasionally) roads.

Scott Willison said...

I'm actually doing that whole line at the end of August - one week and it'll be done in one go!

David said...

Send me your address and I'll post it to you if you like.

David said...

at theoldtigerinn@gmail com would help!

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