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.