Thursday 24 April 2014

An Appeal For Calm

On Tuesday, I went out for the day with Ian.  Our day was pretty much as it always is when we meet up: a lot of trains, a lot of cooing over brutalist architecture, a lot of cups of tea (look out for our forthcoming book, Carriages, Concrete and Caffeine: A Spotter's Guide).  His company was of course excellent, and the experience was a delight.

There were, however, a series of minor incidents that cast a slight shadow over the day.  In increasing order of unpleasantness:

  • a drunk homeless man invited the entire carriage to snuggle with him under his duvet, before necking vodka from the bottle
  • two men collided slightly in the crush between people getting off and on the train; this resulted in a bellowing, furious row
  • a woman pushed a blind lady out of the way so that she could board more quickly; it was spotted by the ticket inspector and, after he remonstrated with her, she shouted angrily at him, leading to her being barred from getting on altogether
  • a bunch of teenage lads piled on a smaller boy, making him cry; when fellow passengers intervened, they turned on them, leading to one of the Good Samaritans getting bitten on the hand  

It was a weird, discombobulating series of events that seeped into us.  It caused us to become a little bit anxious, a bit subdued.  It made things unpleasant.

It's stuff like this - and the recent controversy over "Women Who Eat On Tubes" - that makes public transport a nightmare.  It knocks you out of sorts.  

When we all board a train together, we become a community.  I'm not saying we should all immediately join hands and make a caring circle; that would upset me just as much.  We are British after all.  But we're all trapped together inside a little tin tube for five, fifteen, five hundred minutes, and everyone wants that experience to be as painless as possible.  Read your book.  Have a chat with your friends.  Listen to music on your headphones.  But always keep one mantra in mind: is this polite?

The incidents above weren't polite.  They invaded the community of passengers, and sent a little shudder down the train.  People's moods shifted.  That incident made ripples, expanded in the tight space, raised blood pressures and tensions.  We were all trapped together - we could reach up and touch the ceiling, reach out and touch the walls, and none of us could leave until we reached another station.  The people who disembarked had a slightly higher heart rate and a slightly frazzled brain and went and spread that around a bit more.

Just be polite on trains.  If there's a delay, remember that everyone else is delayed as well; your appointment is not necessarily the most important one on the train.  If you missed your breakfast, and need to eat en route, perhaps consider a granola bar or a sandwich rather than a Big N Tasty Fried Breakfast Smorgasbord that'll stink out the carriage and make everyone else's stomach rumble.  If you need to text someone, make sure you have the keyboard sounds switched off.  If you have to beat someone up, have the decency to take it out onto the street, instead of clattering around a train.  Little things.  Think about other people.

In an ideal world, of course, we'd all have individual pods that swept us to our destination, like those tiny trains they have at Heathrow Airport, and we wouldn't have to deal with other people at all.  It won't happen though.  We live on a small, busy island and we're just getting closer to each other all the time.  Why not make life better for everyone?  Before you discuss your faulty uterus across the carriage, or cut your toenails, or see what every ringtone on your phone sounds like (and yes, I have witnessed all these things) ask, is this polite?  And then tuck your clippers away and take out a book and start reading.

Just a tiny thought.  Just enough to make everyone feel a little better.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Birds, Barges, Bunnies, and Bridges

For reasons far too dull to go into here, I found myself in Manchester with a few hours to kill.  As always, my thoughts immediately turned to railway stations.  Mind you, my thoughts are often with railway stations.  I start to hyperventilate if I'm more than ten miles from one.

The question was, where should I go?

Greater Manchester's rail network is a spaghetti run of services and stations.  There are high frequency lines mixed in with isolated country stations; it stretches out into other counties and cities.  It's a bit of a mess, to be honest, and it's underlined by the ticketing situation: there are System One Tickets, Manchester Day Rangers and Wayfarer tickets, and they all cover different transport methods, different stations and different routes.

I went to the TfGM Travel Centre in Piccadilly Gardens to get myself a Wayfarer ticket.  This is probably the best one to go for if you've no idea where you're going; it covers rail, bus and train, and extends outside the PTE boundaries to the end of the line.  The woman behind the counter graciously interrupted her conversation with her colleague long enough to take my eleven quid and issued me with my ticket.

I'm not the kind of person who collects their rail tickets, not least because I'd have to build a new wing on my house to accommodate them.  I used to.  I used to stick rail and bus tickets in my diary whenever I went somewhere but, as with my diary taking skills and my youthful optimism, I lost the habit as the years passed.  If I were the kind of person who liked to keep mementos of their trips, I'd be really bloody disappointed with that pathetic scrap of paper.  I took that picture about ten minutes after I bought it, and it was already creased and folded.

I got the tram to Piccadilly - someone was already sat on the hinge seat, so I stared at them sulkily for the entire trip - and had a look at the departure board.  There was a train for Buxton leaving in a few minutes, so I took it as a sign and jumped on board.

I collected Buxton itself on a previous time-wasting trip, so this time I got off at Chapel-en-le-Frith.  It was still the best part of an hour's journey to get out there.  Because it's in Manchester's orbit, I sort of imagined it to be "just down the road", but actually I had left the city far behind and was firmly in the middle of the Peak District National Park by the time I disembarked.  In fact, large black name boards on the platform advertise Chapel-en-le-Frith as "Capital of the Peak."

It's also the home of Ferodo, as you can see.  I had no idea what Ferodo was: I only knew it from its appearance in The Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopedia as "a company that spent its entire advertising budget painting its name on railway bridges.  Not to be confused with Freddo."*  A bit of research reveals they're a company who makes friction related products, and who were the first to realise you could use asbestos for brakes.  It seems like a weird combination for tourist signs; on the one hand, "we're a really pretty centre for exploring the National Park", on the other hand, "we are the international home of brake pad manufacturing."

It is a pretty little station.  Sited on the side of a hill, with the railway line on an embankment, thick woods rise up above the Manchester platform.  Hanging baskets swayed in the breeze.  There's a blue plaque on the buildings, commemorating driver John Axon and guard John Creamer, who died in a collision at the station in 1957.  Axon was driving a train whose brakes failed, but rather than abandon the vehicle to plunge down the line, he stayed on board to try and slow it down; it crashed into the rear of another train and killed him and Creamer.  Axon was awarded the George Cross posthumously for his bravery and his dedication.

I exited the station at the end, where a footpath crosses the tracks and disappears into the woods, and followed the road down the hill.  The station's a fair way from the town - it's a fair way from anything, in fact.

A hailstorm suddenly whirled up from nowhere, battering me to pieces and forcing me to shelter by a hedge so I could pull up the zip on my coat.  The road from the station curved lazily, taking its time to get down the slope, and running parallel to a second railway line on the way.  It's a freight line that branches off from the Sheffield line, and between here and Buxton it intertwines with the passenger line, threading over and under like a knotted rope.

About halfway down the hill - at roughly the point where I wondered if the road would ever end - I realised I hadn't taken a picture of the platform sign.  I'd assumed there would be a proper, British Rail sign on the main road, but that was before I knew there was an endless march from the station to humanity.  It could be like many of the stations I'd found on the Settle & Carlisle, and been unmarked.  I weighed it up: the tedious trudge back up the way I'd come to take a photo I might not need, or a gamble that I'd find what I wanted at the bottom.  I gambled, mainly through laziness, but partly because I'm never happy with a platform sign anyway.

I passed the Chapel Camp Site - a field with a single solitary caravan in it - then under a stone railway bridge and down towards the main road.  Huzzah!  A station sign!  Which in retrospect was absolutely necessary, because otherwise, you'd have no idea it was there.

I decided not to explore the town itself, and instead turned east along Meadow Lane for the walk to my next station.  I crossed a bridge over a raging hill stream, angrily bashing at the riverbed and careening over rocks, and then began the steady climb upwards.  The town receded into the distance as I got further into the national park.

I don't know if you were aware, but the Peak District is actually quite hilly.  I was walking up an incredibly steep gradient, one that forced me to gasp for air and made my forehead burst out in rivulets of perspiration.  I had to keep pausing for breath, clambering into a hedge so that I wasn't just stood on the tarmac where a passing HGV could swat me like an insect.

As I got higher, the skies turned blue, the hailstorm of earlier forgotten and a new wave of warmer weather slipping in across the peaks.  It was a different world to the greyness of Manchester I'd endured an hour before, getting rained on in back streets and dodging minicabs.  It is another of the reasons why I love living in the north - the way you can go from urban sprawl to natural wilderness in a single short journey.

A farmer on a quad bike appeared over the horizon.  There was a yellow plastic trailer attached to its rear, and he drove into a field of sheep.  Excitedly, obediently, the livestock all ran towards him, and then performed a little conga, following the trail of his quad bike as he dropped feed onto the grass.  He hadn't closed the gate behind him, but the sheep were uninterested in escape.  They had their eyes on their dinner.

I was heading downhill again now.  In the distance I saw the epic scarring of the Cemex quarry, huge white tears in the green landscape.  It was on a scale almost unimaginable, great huge terraces torn out of the rock by machines, bluntly fascinating.

The village came up to meet me: the village of Dove Holes.  It's not just me, is it, who finds that a singularly unattractive name?  I expect it means "a place where doves live, like a dovecot."  What it actually sounds like is "bird anuses."  Not nice at all.  I passed a cul-de-sac of sheltered accommodation and a faded sign for "Dwarf baby bunnies" and found the station at a curve in the road.

I had a choice now.  There was a train to Buxton in a few minutes, but I'd been to Buxton before.  Alternatively, I could wait a couple of hours on the platform for the train back towards Manchester, and that way I could collect some new stations.

Really, the choice was obvious.

Fitzgerald's Bakery in Buxton was a very odd little cafe for me to while away my lunch in.  It had been decorated in a vaguely 21st century style - lots of leather seating and chalk pictures of coffee cups - but at heart it didn't want to be Starbucks; it wanted to be a caff.  It was a bit down at heel and scruffy, with a bakery counter that didn't have savoury muffins, but did offer corned beef pasties.

The strangest thing about Fitzgerald's was how silent it was.  There was no music in the background, no chatter of Radio One or Two to provide an underscore.  There wasn't the noise of industry or the hiss of a cappuccino machine.  There wasn't even conversation.  My fellow patrons sat in utter silence, occasionally trying to eat their toasties quietly.  The staff - two formidable looking middle aged ladies who you sensed had been here since the Falklands War - stood behind the counter, staring out, not working or chatting or doing anything.  Just waiting.  It was a very strange little place, but the tea was good, and cheap, and the seats were comfortable.

As I walked back to the station a mineral train clattered over the viaduct at the far end of Buxton town centre.

Whaley Bridge has been pleasingly restored.  Its station buildings are cleaned up and well-painted, its footbridge is short on rust.  There are even railway company crests etched into the glass on the platform buildings, though it's slightly spoiled by the bars over the windows.

Meanwhile, the village itself was a little gem.  A busy high street twisted between shops and cafes, with houses looking down on it all.  I paused in the car park to take the station picture then went for a bit of a wander.

Of course there's an old red phone box.  And of course there was a couple of tempting pubs, and a chip shop that belched delicious fatty smells into the street, and a community noticeboard that was brimming with exciting local events.  It was a proper village.

I was heading for the canal.  As its name implies, Whaley Bridge was an important crossing point on the River Goyt, and in the late 18th century the Peak Forest Canal was built alongside it to help transport goods from Derbyshire to Cheshire and Lancashire.  At Whaley Bridge there's a basin, and a warehouse for storage; this was once accompanied by its own railway, the Cromford and High Peak.  This wasn't what we'd recognise as a railway today, more of an iron way to help stock get to the canal more easily, but the wagons were carried by a combination of steam engines and horses.  It was a pioneering effort, but nothing remains.

The ducks barrelled across to me hopefully as I circled the canal basin and crossed the bridge to the towpath.  A weir fed the water down into the river.  For the rest of my walk I was accompanied by the river, a canal, a road and a railway, all squeezed into this narrow gap and taking turns at precedence.

Over the last few weeks the BF and I have been entranced by Great Canal Journeys, the tv programme where Timothy West and Prunella Scales travel over the nation's waterways.  They're great company, and it's a quiet, dignified travelogue, not rushing anywhere, as slow as the flow of water.  As I walked along the towpath I fully expected the two of them to appear on a barge, guzzling wine and calling each other "skipper" and "mate".  If they had turned up, I would probably have been quite embarrassingly fan boy about it.  Especially if Sam West was also there in a tight black t-shirt.

Under a new bridge, concrete, metal and stone were illuminated by reflected light to create a magical atmosphere.  Even the hammering of traffic over my head couldn't distract me from the flickering flecks of white.  It was with great sadness that I came out from under it and realised it was the access road for a hideous white plastic Tesco superstore.  They've given up all pretence of being a good neighbour, haven't they?  At one point, they'd have built a faux-country barn in this spot, brick walls and a little clock tower, and I'd have hated it for its tweeness but at least it was trying to fit in.  This was a box, constructed in a factory and assembled on site, an oblong whose only purpose was to chew you up and swallow your money.

One of the canal boats was for sale - £19,950 o.n.o, with a new bottom plate and a safety certificate until 2016.  The BF loves boating - he adores the Norfolk Broads, and we've holidayed there a few times - but I'm not so keen on canals.  They're too much like roads for me, always busy, always occupied.  I never feel like you can lose yourself and drift on because there's always another person coming up ahead, or walkers on the towpath, or a lock to negotiate (or if you're Timothy West, a lock to send your possibly dementia-suffering wife out to negotiate.  Honestly, man, can't you do it yourself?  Poor Pru was struggling to push some of those gates open, and all you're doing is standing behind the wheel giving instructions.  I love you both, but if Prunella Scales had told him where to stick his skipper hat, I might have cheered).

The houses that backed onto the canal all fell down to the water's edge.  They'd built terraces, staircases, rickety docks to carry their gardens down to the canal and to provide little seating areas for hot summer days.  Two men passed me, one wearing a map bib, and I decided that I definitely wasn't going to invest in one as they both looked quite the twit and a half.  I didn't want to be part of a club that would have people like that as members.  In the distance, a Sheffield-bound train tore across the other side of the valley.  It's bright colours were alien.

A series of little allotments signalled another village, this time Furness Vale.  Some of them had little tin kettles dangling from sticks, ready for emergency cups of tea.  I trekked up onto the main road again at a whitewashed bridge, as a man in tight lycra and with an iPod strapped to his arm began his jog along the towpath.  He chuffed over and over, like a puffing billy.

The railway station was almost next to the canal, but I carried on into the village.  It wasn't as pretty as Whaley Bridge, with a far more business like feel to it.  There were industrial units, and an Indian takeaway, and a lot more traffic passing through.  On the other hand, it had one of the best named pubs I've ever seen:

Who doesn't love Soldier Dick?

It was getting to late afternoon, so I thought I'd best head back into town.  Four stations was a nice little haul anyway.  I wandered back down to the station, which straddles a level crossing, with a neat wooden signal box alongside.  I'd seen the signalmen changing shifts earlier, one striding out whistling with an empty lunchbox tucked under his arm.

A Buxton-bound train arrived, depositing a few commuters who'd got an early dart, and a few shoppers who'd finished their day, laden with bags from Primark and Marks and Spencer.  I sat on the platform and jabbed my hands in my pockets; the weather had changed again, and a wind was whistling along the valley.

The journey back was only slightly marred by a guard on the train who told me, quite firmly, that my Wayfarer ticket wasn't valid outside Manchester.  "Yes it is," I replied, feeling myself turning pink.  "It's valid out to Buxton."

"Nope," he said, and swung his ticket machine round to the front, ready to flog me a pass I didn't need.

"It is," I hissed.  "I've been using it all day."  Now, I don't deal well with confrontation at all, and I don't like to argue with authority figures.  But if I know I'm right I will defend my position up to and including physical violence.  In this case, I knew that dodgy little bit of paper was valid for this entire railway line.  I would not be buying another ticket.

I think the cold acid in my voice, the absolute certainty and refusal to compromise, took him by surprise.  He decided it wasn't worth arguing.  He did a little pantomime with the slip and said, "oh, it's a Wayfarer ticket.  I didn't see that.  Fair enough."

(Please refer to the pic of the ticket at the top of this blog, the one with the word Wayfarer printed in inch high letters on it.  Either he needs a test for cataracts, or he was talking bollocks).  

Now that's a good way to end a trip.  Not with a bang, not with a spark, but with a feeling of smug self-righteousness.

*I'm paraphrasing, because frustratingly I can't lay my hands on my copy of perhaps the best piece of 1990s comedy series tie in merchandising there is.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Epilogue: When All Is Said And Done

I know some of you come here just for the stats, not for my lovingly crafted prose, so here it is: the final tally.

Number of stations visited: 19
Total miles travelled by rail: 310
Total miles walked: 19

Best station (architecturally): Hellifield
Best station (facilities): Skipton
Best station (location): Dent

Worst station (architecturally): Long Preston
Worst station (facilities): Giggleswick
Worst station (location): Clapham

Place I will need to visit again because it's just so goshdarned lovely: Skipton
Places I wouldn't mind returning to someday: Settle, Clapham, Kirkby Stephen, Ribblehead
Place I'd only return to as part of some kind of hostage situation: Wennington

Best Pub: The New Inn, Clapham
Best Pub for Train Nerds: The Station Inn, Ribblehead
Best Pub for feeling uncomfortable and out of place: The Black Horse, Hellifield

Best cafe: The Mulberry Bush, Kirkby Stephen
Best place to commute with the mystic earth Mother: Long Meg and Her Daughters
Best Member of Staff: the Northern Rail guard who chatted about his need for a pub on his hols

Facts learnt during this trip:

  • Station signs are apparently a commodity in short supply
  • The Forest of Bowland is not actually a forest
  • There are few more pleasing experiences than drinking a cup of tea on a station platform with no-one else around for miles
  • Victorian engineers were very clever, but not very interested in the passenger experience
  • You can name a whole series of blogposts after Abba songs and only one person will notice
  • The Settle & Carlisle is astonishingly beautiful but there are too many people using it, thank you very much
  • Zumba is massive in village halls
  • For all its tourists, the Settle & Carlisle really could do with a few more station tea rooms
  • Wind chimes are an evil that must be destroyed
  • Drink driving really isn't that much of a fuss in the countryside
  • Ancient man really knew how to build a stone circle
  • Northern can run decent trains with trolleys if it really wants to
  • Map Bibs are the new Ugg boots
  • This country has more history than it knows what to do with
  • Marks and Spencer ready meals make everything better.  Also bacon sandwiches
  • Mock-Tudor really is horrible
The Journey in Full:

Useful Links

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Day Five: Disillusion

I'd packed up my stuff at Kirkby Stephen, and sent the BF home in his car with my dirty washing and the uneaten provisions from the kitchen.  One last train down the Settle and Carlisle.  I was back in Settle, not to pick out a new home for myself, but instead to walk out to the town's "other" station, Giggleswick.  The line branches after Long Preston, so instead of trains for Morecambe and Lancaster passing through the busy town station for a convenient interchange, they go via a little village a mile away.  Sometimes I wonder if Victorian railway engineers actually realised that human beings would be using their routes.

The west side of Settle was not as attractive as the east; whereas the previous day I'd passed old farmhouses and wild countryside, this time I was walking along suburban streets.  There were allotments and a Land Rover showroom, then the River Ribble and a load of cul-de-sacs.  It was silent and grey.

The town sort of petered out, not ending, just dragging to a halt, and leaving me walking amongst waterlogged fields.  It had rained heavily overnight, but now it was just drizzle, persistent wetness that dripped from your eyebrows and the end of your nose and chilled your ears.  Scraggy looking sheep watched me pass, slightly judgemental.

Giggleswick is brilliantly named, of course, but it's little more than a hamlet, and the busy A65 bisects it neatly.  I darted across the road and crossed the car park to the station, wondering what sort of accident had befallen the phone booth to leave it at that angle.  I'm guessing the last train after the pubs have closed and an inebriated 4x4 driver.

It was just a couple of platforms with no station building to speak of.  A small information board told me that I was in an area of wetlands "of national importance", so I felt a bit guilty for dismissing it as a bunch of soggy fields.

Giggleswick, in short, was a disappointment.  It was plain and dull and it didn't even have a decent signpost, which is bizarre considering it's right next to a busy main road.

There is no amount of Frizz Ease shampoo that can tame my 'fro in damp conditions.  I always end up looking like Dennis the Menace or, more likely, Gnasher.

My next station was Clapham: no, not that one.  Can we not form some kind of consensus about railway station names?  There are a bunch of stations in the Clapham area of South London - there's absolutely no need for there to be one up north as well.  We need to eliminate these rogues that just confuse everyone.  It's like Waterloo on Merseyside; we already have a perfectly good Waterloo station, thank you very much.  There are two Swintons and two Adlingtons on the Northern Rail map, just to thoroughly fox the man in the ticket office.  One of the Swintons should probably be renamed "Tilda", as a tribute to the polyamorous androgynous Oscar winning legend, while an Adlington can become "Rebecca" after the gold medal winner.  Job done.

There's not much point in this one being called Clapham anyway, because it's a twenty minute walk from the village of the same name.  I had three hours to kill here before my onward train, so I set off.  I had no desire to sit in a draughty shelter getting a cold.

More fields, more sheep, more rain.  There wasn't a footpath, again, but I only saw one car during the whole walk.  I passed Crina Bottom Farm, and allowed myself a childish snigger at the word "bottom", and then I was crossing the A65 again and entering the village of Clapham.

Unlike its southern counterpart, this Clapham is a pretty, quiet village, with absolutely nothing in the way of cruising grounds for Kevi[name deleted on legal grounds].  I don't think so anyway.  It was actually something of an outdoor hub.  It's an ideal spot from which to explore the nearby cave systems, so the village has a couple of shops selling parkas and crampons where you'd expect butchers and bakers.  There's a few cafes and pubs too, plus B&Bs and a campsite.

If I'd had more time, I might have been tempted to wander up to the Ingleborough Cave to have a look; there were guided tours every hour.  It was another mile and a half further on though so by the time I'd got there I'd have had to turn round again.  Plus the presence of a "Cave Rescue" base put a seed of doubt about its safety in my mind.

Instead I installed myself in the New Inn (est. 1745, so God knows how old the Old Inn was) with a pint of beer in front of a warm fire.  It was almost completely deserted, which I think made the barmaid suspicious; she spent almost my entire visit staring at me through narrowed eyes as though I was about to run off with the cutlery.  I admit that if I could have slipped the incredibly comfortable leather chair in my backpack, I might have been tempted.

As I slowly decompressed, a couple with an enthusiastic spaniel came in and sat by the door.  They sat in complete silence, staring off into the distance, not at each other, until the landlord came over with a couple of menus.  A third party suddenly energised them, and soon the man was interrogating the owner about where he'd come from - "Is it South Africa?"

"I'm from Clapham," said the landlord with a laugh, but the man persisted with Farage-like tenacity.  "Yes, but where are you from originally?"

It turned out the landlord was from Australia, and he launched into a long, heartfelt soliloquy about the beauty of the local countryside, about how safe it was, how friendly it was.  It was quite touching, until he climaxed with, "I've lived in cities all over the world.  Whether they're called London or New York or Sydney, they're all shitholes."  Nice.

I drank up and began the trek back to the station.  I'd probably be hopelessly early, but I needed a decent buffer of time before the next train for my own psychological health.  On the way I passed a sign informing me I was entering the Forest of Bowland, the ancient royal hunting grounds owned by the Duchy of Lancaster.  The Queen apparently named this as the place she'd most like to live in if she didn't have to go round meeting ambassadors and pretending to enjoy native dances; definitive proof, I think, that she is at heart one of those fearsome country matrons who organise the WI tea dances and throttles a chicken with her bare hands for the Sunday lunch.  No wonder she's so unwilling to give up the throne to Charles - he's positively effete in comparison, the kind of man who complains because he's got mud on his Barbour jacket.

A train finally rattled in - the prestige stock definitely goes to the Settle & Carlisle - and took me along the line to Bentham.  This is the nearest thing to a metropolis on the line, and so gives it its name; there's a 1960s station block and long concrete platforms.  Poppies fluttered in baskets.

Bentham, it transpires, has a very active gang of Friends supporting it; they'd really gone to town decorating it with flowers, drawings from the local schools, signs about the history.  There was also a scrolling LED display with news and the time, provided by someone in the society with a bit of technical nous until Northern got round to putting up one of their own.  It was pleasingly eccentric.

I headed out to the main entrance, right next to the whitewashed factory of Angus Fire, and took my sign snap.

It seemed that while the Friends of Bentham Station were busy putting up a pretty display about the local sights and sounds, the youths of the village had some signwriting of their own to do.

Who says satire is dead?

I carried on into the centre, pausing in the tiny town hall to use their public toilet facilities.  A display board outside had a giant OS map of the local area, with the word TIP written over the top of High Bentham and an arrow pointing at the centre; I couldn't work out if this was the local graffiti artists at work again or if this was genuine Council information about where the waste disposal facilities were.

The High Street was busy, busier than I would have expected a small town to be of a Friday afternoon.  The shops seemed to be doing a decent trade, and there was a healthy mix of stores.  A chartered accountant's called Brosnans caught my eye; the Bonds were definitely shadowing me.  There also seemed to be higher proportion than usual of hairdressers and beauty salons.  At a bend in the road, the historical society had struck again, with a "then and now" photo; pleasingly, it looked almost exactly the same.

I carried on past the Horse & Farrier pub, and a sign on a lamp post with "SELL YOUR USED COMPACT DISCS" and a mobile number, while High Bentham quietly turned into Low Bentham.  My eye was caught by a little hole in the wall, with what looked like a plaque over the top.  I darted across the road and found a typewritten sign, with the screws rusting onto the paper, and the heading "Plague Stones":

Tradition holds that this stone was used as a trading point during times of pestilence when villagers would place coins in the vinegar filled hole, in return for provisions supplied by outlying farmers.  The stone itself may have originated as the base of a boundary cross in pre-Dissolution days, but its re-use as a Plague Stone would be circa 1597.
I'd never heard of a plague stone before; it was a charming piece of history, tucked away on the grass verge.  Thanks for the lesson, pupils of Settle High School in 1988!

Low Bentham's main street was even twistier than the High version, so narrow that pavements vanished altogether.  A noticeboard held a faded pamphlet detailing the attractions in the village; apparently "the year really gets going in February with the panto", which is a nice way of saying "don't bother coming outdoors while it's dark".  Who goes to a panto in February anyway?

It took me a few moments to realise that the sign in the window wasn't missing a couple of letters; it was genuinely called AndTiques.  How annoying.

Past the village post office (opening hours: Wednesday and Friday, 10:00 -12:00) the river Wenning made an appearance, looping round under the road and the railway line.  Bridges carried them across, only to have to do exactly the same thing a little further on; it doesn't seemed to have occurred to anyone to simply go round the loop.

As I left the village, I spotted a whitewashed house with a slate board on the wall.  I was, apparently, on a Private Road, with charges for conveyances and a list of tolls.  Somewhat surprisingly, the sign was dated 1932, and there didn't seem to be any indication of when they stopped taking tolls.  Fortunately there didn't seem to be a charge for pedestrians; in any case, I'd left my shillings in my other trousers.

The railway was now on my right, on an embankment about 10 feet above the ground - it hardly seemed worth bothering with.  There was no pavement again, and so I spent my time ducking into hedges to avoid being knocked sideways.

It was all getting a bit tiresome.  I had that "end of the holiday" feeling.  It's hard to relax and enjoy yourself when you know that the end of the day is going to be a whole load of long train journeys home.  I think I was getting station overload, too.  Bentham had been my eighteenth station in four days, and none of the day's stops had really fired me up.  I was feeling a bit bored if I'm honest.  I was impatient to get it all over and done with.  Rest assured, this was just a temporary blip, but at the time, there was a definite part of me thinking, "whose bloody idea was this?"

At the next railway bridge, there was a warning sign for potential flooding and an indication of why they'd built that tiny embankment.

Those markers are in feet; a decent flood would have been a good few inches over the top of my head.  I praised Cthulu that we'd had a relatively dry March.

A sign was soon welcoming me to "City of Lancaster: Wennington".  It was the end of the school day by now, and a couple of minibuses filled with hyperactive children pushed me into a ditch.  A teenage boy, in his school uniform and looking surly, seemed to freeze when he saw me.  I had an immediate panic that I was about to be either assaulted for my mobile or accused of being a paedo, but no, a Rover estate swung alongside him and he got his lift home.

At a junction, the familiar brown signs for campsites and caravan pitches had been joined by a smaller, less official one, saying Hot Tubs.  It didn't clarify whether these were hot tubs for sale, or a sort of jacuzzi theme park, but I figured it was too chilly anyway to sit in bubbles in my speedos with a group of strangers.  Maybe in the summer.

Wennington brought with it the narrowest roadway so far, a triangle of green and... that was it.  No, really.  I'd got two hours to kill before my train and there wasn't even a village shop, never mind a nice tea room or a country pub.

I plonked myself on the bench to gather myself together.  This was it.  End of the line for my Epic Journey With Little Purpose.  Stuck in an isolated station with nothing to do.  In a way, it was an appropriate end to the week.  I'd spent so much time just loitering.  The stations were all too far away from one another, too isolated, so I seemed to have spent my whole week just killing time.  Sometimes that was alright - I'd happily go back to Skipton and kill some time there any day - but most of the time I was somewhere cold, and wet, and with a pub that didn't open until six pm.

It wasn't me.  Part of the pleasure of this blog is the inbetween parts, the walks across country to get from one station to the other.  I resolved to go to some places where I could do a decent bit of walking for a while.  Get all this loitering out of my system.

Wennington station was just over the river, and was as bland as you'd expect.  Perhaps the most interesting part was the green and yellow, rather than purple.  No idea why it was there, but it made a change.

At least it gave me a very small prize.  As I stood on the platform, surfing Twitter to kill some time (thank goodness it had a decent mobile signal!) Northern Rail's resident quizmaster, Tim, initiated a giveaway - "post a Northern selfie!".  I replied with the picture below, and the comment "#northernselfie is my middle name", and I got a free #getaticket ticket wallet out of it.  More importantly, Northern Rail finally decided to follow me on Twitter, after all this time giving them free PR.  I was starting to feel slighted.

Yes, that is a prize-winning gurn at the camera.  Think on that.

An idle check of the timetables revealed that, even though my train west wasn't due for another two hours, there would be a Leeds-bound train passing through in a matter of minutes.  Sitting on a warm train had to be better than hanging around a breezy platform, so I calculated on the timetable where the crossover would be; if I got a train heading east, where would I have to get off to get the train back again?  I smiled when I saw the answer.

Of course.  It had to be.  The best station on the line, my favourite on the whole trip.  What a lovely way to end it all.