You may have noticed that, while I've talked about collecting the whole Esk Valley Line, I've actually missed some of it out. I went from Middlesbrough to Great Ayton on one day, then to Kildale on the next. I was basically ignoring Marton, Gypsy Lane and Nunthorpe.
There were two reasons for this. The first is that section of line gets a far more frequent service than the rest of it. There are trains (roughly) every hour in that part, with most of them turning back at Nunthorpe. It's not as difficult to collect those stations - I could nip on a train from home to Middlesbrough and pick them up with ease.
The second reason is there's actually a station under construction on that stretch of line, serving the James Cook University Hospital. That opens next year, so I may as well get the whole lot rather than having to come back for the new stop.
That train back from Commondale gave me the chance to cross one off my list, however, so I picked Nunthorpe. Partly because it was the next one up the line, so it kept things neat, and partly because I'd been intrigued by it as I passed through.
The platform had been decorated by the local children as part of "Nunthorpe in Bloom", so there were plant pots, windmills and scarecrows. Scarecrows are a thing now, aren't they? There seem to be scarecrow festivals all over the place. They're the countryside equivalent of those "city picks an animal and decorates 50 versions of it and scatters them around the town" projects. Sort of arty, sort of community based, sort of touristy. The only thing scarecrows don't seem to do any more is scare crows, but that's probably because the birds have evolved and are very blasé about old hats and jumpers now.
I'm not sure if that's another scarecrow or a voodoo doll.
There was a little row of shops beside the station, so I took the opportunity to replenish my supplies. I'd met up with Robert the weekend before and we'd got to talking about Lucozade (more specifically, Gareth Bale's promotion of the beverage). I couldn't remember the last time I had Lucozade; it was almost certainly in a glass bottle with bobbles round the top. I certainly hadn't tasted these new "isotonic" drinks that were "better than water". Since they were on offer in the local Spar I bought a couple of bottles. Do you know what they tasted of? Orange squash. That's it. Nothing exciting or glamorous or sexy, just weak orange squash. We're being conned, people. I certainly didn't end up being so hydrated my eyeballs drooled, or whatever it's meant to do.
I trotted back to the station and took up a seat. Nunthorpe is suitable for turning back trains because there are two tracks and two platforms here, as well as a staffed signal box. It's also the last part of urban sprawl before you hit the countryside. If the plans for the Tees Valley Metro are ever put in place - a scheme to introduce far more regular services across Darlington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, possibly with tram-trains - a Nunthorpe Parkway station will be added between here and Great Ayton, and trains will reverse there.
The PA system was malfunctioning. The computerised voice was announcing delays due to a problem in the Middlesbrough area, but the National Rail app showed no such problems, and our train turned up on time. She repeated her warnings every two minutes, the same wording every time. Worse, the computer couldn't handle the word "Middlesbrough", and mispronounced it every time. Mid-Les-Bruff. Mid-Les-Bruff. Each syllable enunciated as a separate phrase. I suddenly got a picture of the pure hell of living in the house next to the station and hearing that all day. Perhaps you just tune it out. Perhaps you just buy really thick double glazing.
The people who lived at Castleton Moor station didn't seem bothered. They were in their front garden, tending to their plants, and took my sudden appearance in their stride. Another downside of living on the station - strangers wandering past while you're trying to water your azaleas. It would definitely stop you from doing any nude sunbathing, no matter how infrequent the service was.
I tripped down the gravel and through the gate to the road. Sadly, there didn't seem to be a totem sign, so I had to squat down for the evidence of my visit; railway paraphernalia fetishists will be pleased to see that the Regional Railways branding has partly survived out here. And note that it's listed as "Castleton" station, not "Castleton Moor"; presumably there was a name change to differentiate it from the much less scenic station in Greater Manchester.
Instead of going down into the valley I walked up the hill to a bridleway. This would skirt the bottom of the moors and take me away from the main roads, a much more pleasant walk. After a short string of houses, little cottages with bottles of gas and tractors in the yard, I passed through a gate and was in open land.
The landscape was beginning to intoxicate me. Clean, far reaching views of trees and fields, green and alive. I wanted to consume it. I paused to pee into the ferns. Someone on Twitter had complained about men urinating in public, saying that it was territory marking. At the time I'd dismissed it as a woman misunderstanding what was just a basic procedure - men have the physical means to wee pretty much anywhere they want, without having to squat or wipe, so we do - but suddenly I got it. I was urinating down the hill, with all that majesty in front of me, and it did feel like I was claiming my space. There was a part of me that was getting territorial.
I hastily buttoned up before I started trying to annexe the Sudetenland and made my way into the woods. A hush fell. The trees and high ferns muffled nature, even breaking the hot sun into pieces over my head. I stepped over thin streams that ran down from the moor to the Esk below. They ran languorously, the lack of rain on the upper slopes meaning they were peaceful trickles.
The trees ended and I was back in open country. Farmers had marked out their land with walls, enclosing seemingly random squares. It became a patchwork of ownership. Down here I could hear the clicking song of grasshoppers in the foliage. I tried to spot one but I didn't have any luck; the lunchtime heat had probably driven them into the shade. Only foolish mammals were moving about in this warmth.
I sipped at my weak orange drink and pushed on over the hills. There were more streams here, even thinner, rust brown with soil from the moor. The thistles alongside me were white balls, breaking out seeds with each tiny breeze. I felt restful. I'd been up for seven or eight hours by that point but I wasn't tired. I just felt tranquil. Each step seemed to drive a stress out of my skull.
The path folded into a lane for a short distance, then I was back across sheep fields, heading down the hill towards Danby. I clambered over a stone wall and I was on the edge of the village. There were some nice middle aged ladies lined up in front of some bric a brac, their ample forms covered by Cancer Research tabards. Idle tourists picked at second hand books and eyed up odd sticks of furniture.
Wandering round the village it was impossible not to think of All Creatures Great and Small. Danby's not technically in "Herriot Country" - it's too far east - but it all looked so familiar. I hummed the theme tune as I walked up the main street, waiting for a little van containing Peter Davison to come swinging round the corner. One of the sadnesses of this trip was I was never able to find some truly awful Christopher Timothy merchandise (not James Herriot: Christopher Timothy. It was important to me that it was the actor not the real man). Unfortunately, it seems I was mainly in Heartbeat Country. I hadn't really been a fan of All Creatures Great and Small, but at least I had fond memories of it being on in the background while I wrote stories on a Sunday night. Heartbeat didn't appeal in the slightest, so I wasn't excited by the prospect of a 2014 Calendar with full colour pictures of Nick Berry and Anna the Polish prostitute from Brookside.
Danby's home to the Moors National Park Centre, with all sorts of historical information about the region. Plus a gift shop. I should have gone there of course, so that I could properly write an indepth travel blog that neatly summarised the park. I was mulling over whether to go when I saw an ivy-covered pub called the Duke of Wellington...
...and that was the end of that plan.
Alcoholism is an illness, people. I was getting medication.
It was a wonderful little pub. Wooden beams and a fireplace, horse brasses and an evening menu with Whitby scampi and game pies on it. Beer mats for the dozens of guest beers they'd hosted over the years were pinned up on the walls. The barman looked at my dishevelled state and said, "You been out walking then?"
"Yes. From Castleton." (For some reason I pronounced it with a short a, like I was a Northerner or something. This happens to me sometimes; it's pretty offensive. A couple more days and I'd have probably been saying ee by gum to people and they'd have given me the glass they clean the toilet brush in).
"Not far then," the barman replied, and I felt crushed. You were meant to be quietly impressed, I thought. You were meant to find my physical dexterity amazing, and perhaps give me a free pint to buck me up. It was a proper hike you know! There were MOORS!
The only bad thing about the Duke of Wellington was it was home to one of the worst Pub Bores I have ever encountered. He was loudly, continuously talking on a variety of topics and being thoroughly objectionable about all of them. I'd only been there ten minutes and he'd already covered crime ("If you chopped off one of their hands, they bloody well wouldn't do it again"), jet boating (he's a fan) and the inconsiderate tourists parking in the village ("they cover the whole pavement"). The barman wearily agrees and says, "What they need to do is get a picture of someone disabled who can't get by, and send a picture of it to the council."
Pub Bore takes umbrage. "You seem to forget that I am technically disabled."
His audience is a neat middle aged couple who seem to have been pinned against the far wall and are trying to work out how to escape. They're very Howard and Hilda, drinking coffee from a shared cafetiere and looking as though they're made of papier mache. You can almost sense their relief when another couple join them, a much older pair who also live in the village and who've come in for a nice cup of tea. I seem to be the only one drinking alcohol.
Hilda started talking about her visit to the Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard. Not the nature side - that goes unmentioned - but the cafe. "They had the best apricot frangipani I've ever tasted!"
Pub Bore corrects her pronunciation. "Frangipane."
"What is an arboretum?" asks the old lady, in a way that implies she probably hasn't left the village since about 1977.
"It's a posh way of saying 'wood'", says the Pub Bore, and guffaws. Harold bristles.
"It's more than that," he says, with a hint of testiness. "There were sample trees, and butterflies, and..."
"Apricot frangipane!" Hilda giggles, unaware that she just managed to emasculate her husband with two words.
"Meths? Poison?" adds her husband, clearly the joker of the group, and clearly a man I would not be able to spend more than twenty minutes with. I imagine a long weekend with him in a caravan outside Whitby, and wonder how long it would be before I pushed his head down the chemical toilet. The pub doesn't do lunchtime meals, so they stock up on crisps ("Do you do Scampi Fries?" "Afraid not. Will Mini Cheddars do?").
I wish I'd stayed here instead of Middlesbrough Travelodge. The chain hotel's alright, I suppose - it was clean, it had been recently refurbished but not so recently it smelt of paint, and the manager was ridiculously attractive - but this place seems so much more homely and pleasing. I check the rate card and discover that the nightly rate is only a couple of quid more and includes breakfast. That greasy Sausage and Egg McMuffin rises back into my throat as I picture the freshly cooked full English I could have consumed instead. I have to have another pint to wash the taste away.
At the bar I notice pictures of Prince Charles visiting the pub, pulling that daft face he gets when he's trying to get along with commoners. He's holding a pint of beer like it's an unexploded bomb, perhaps waiting for a footman to wipe away some of the froth. I imagine Camilla stood outside, bumming a fag off the photographers and wishing she was back at Clarence House. I didn't sign up for this shit, she's thinking. I thought being married to the future King would be more fun. I didn't realise I'd have to hang around the North East patronising landlords. And then Charles takes a swig of bitter, and the pub applauds and laughs as though this is the most entertaining thing in the world EVER, and Camilla rolls her eyes and chains a second cigarette from the first.
As I sit down the Pub Bore leaves, bellowing "a jolly good day to you chaps and chapesses!", and I resist the urge to stick out a leg and trip him up as he passes. He's wearing shorts, revealing a big patch of excema on one calf, and I wonder if that's his technical disability.
With the second pint inside me I have a wander over to the wall to check out the local notices. There's a missing beagle (Bailey), a pirate festival in Whitby, a production of The Three Musketeers in the village hall. You hear about pubs being the centre of the community but here it seemed to actually be true. There were locals, tourists, passers by, people talking about the village cricket match the day before and posters for football games in the Evostick Northern Premier League. It was a comforting place.
Two of the Southern women re-enter and approach the bar. "Another gin and tonic for Debbie, do you think?"
"No. She gets too full of herself when she's had a few of those. Half a lager."
Danby station is exactly what you'd expect from the rest of the village: clean, well preserved, cared for. There's a car park beyond the gates, and the owners of the station house haven't made it into a fortress to protect it from passing travellers. Amusingly, Northern Rail have been doing a bit of territory marking of their own, with railway property firmly under the auspices of the Purple Gang:
I took a seat on the bench, the scent of roses wafting down from the climbers over the house. Dandelion fur danced through the air, and childhood memories of capturing it and making a wish came back to me. I snatched at the air but missed. The thing about childhood is you generally didn't try catching these things after a couple of pints of bitter.
Three more stations done. Three more to go.