Saturday 12 April 2014

Day Four (Continued): Suzy Hang Around

During my travels, I've seen railway stations in many different architectural styles.  Victorian Gothic.  Brutalist concrete.  Baronial manor house.  Decommissioned public toilet (take a bow, Luton).  Gargrave station was, to the best of my recollection, the first mock-Tudor railway station I'd ever seen.

It didn't work.  It wasn't just that the wooden struts were in need of repair, and the white paint was flecked and yellowing.  It was also inappropriate, a bit of time shifting that didn't work.  Having a Tudor station building doesn't work for the same reason a cave wouldn't work - the clash with the modern trains is just too much.

Also, I personally loathe mock-Tudor in all its guises, so there's that.

It wasn't a station now, at any rate.  The building had been made into the offices of Reliant Installations, "experts in silos and tanks", and there was a busy industrial yard alongside in what must have once been the goods facilities.  The workers at the unit watched me as I left, as though seeing a passenger at the station was some kind of unique event.

I'm not sure why they looked at me like I was an alien being because Gargrave struck me as a perfect little commuter village.  If it was in Surrey or Kent every one of the houses would be jammed full of stockbrokers and bankers, because it was pretty, it was well appointed, and it had a train line running right through it.

Cottages hustled against the street, intermingling with larger double-fronted houses and barn conversions.  Ivy clambered over the old stone frontages.  On the wall of the parish church, a neat blue plaque stated that it was the final resting place of   "The Right Hon Iain McLeod MP, 1913-1970."  I texted the BF with a picture of the plaque - he's a massive politics nerd - along with the question, "One of yours?"

He replied immediately with, "No.  Tory bastard."  So you might get some idea of his political leanings.

I had plenty of time to kill.  I had four stations to collect over the course of the rest of the day, and all of them were miles away from their neighbours.  It was a case of get the train to the station, hang around for a bit, then get another train onwards.  Or, as I put it on the spreadsheet I use to plan these trips, loiter.

Fortunately, Gargrave is a lovely place to while away an hour or so.  I soon crossed the River Aire and was in the centre of the village.  It's squeezed in the gap between the river and a canal - the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, as it happens.  It seems to follow me around as I travel all over the North.  I'm sure if I added up all my time walking alongside it I've done about half the entire route.

Gargrave was once the site of a Roman villa, though there's nothing left of it now; the parish council have still erected an impressive metal board detailing its history under the legions.  Today it's all a lot more modern - a few pubs, a ladies clothing shop called Dapper, the Bollywood Cottage.  I was charmed by what I thought was a genuine, old fashioned Victorian sign over the pharmacy; the presence of "homeopathy" on its list of available services gave it away.  The presence of "homeopathy" also took away its right to call itself a decent pharmacy, too.

I did a circuit of the village then headed back towards the station.  I needed a pee; that lager in Long Preston was having its effect on my peanut sized bladder.  Fortunately, and slightly unbelievably, I spotted a public toilet on the green so I nipped in for a widdle.  There was a laminated, A4 sign directly in my field of vision as I walked in:
THE COST IS £8,500 a year
Gargrave needs 
to keep these 
toilets open
Thank You
I'll be honest; I suddenly wished I'd gone behind a tree.  I only wanted to excrete urine, I didn't want a guilt trip into the bargain.  There was a little slot above the sink with HONESTY BOX printed above it.  How much is a pee worth, I wondered?  It used to be a penny, of course, but this is 2014 - a penny won't buy you anything.  The ones at Lime Street are 30p, but they were larger, cleaner and warmer.  In the end I slipped a 10p piece in the slot and spent the rest of the day wondering if that was too little.

I hadn't been looking forward to Skipton.  It's the end of the Airedale Line, the high frequency route from Leeds, and it's got one of those names that drips northern-ness; Come to Skipton - Come to Whippet Country.  That kind of thing.  I guessed it would be another former mill town that's fallen on hard times, and I'd need to hole up in a rough pub for a while out of lack of anything to do.

I was almost immediately proved wrong.  "Almost", because I first had to walk from the station past a 1960s fire station and a group of large buttocked ladies in leggings who absolutely refused to interrupt their gossip to let me walk by; I stepped into the gutter so I could negotiate their enormous rumps.  Then there was the back of Morrison's, and a DIY store, and then a furniture shop which featured a wooden Tintin in the window.  I'm normally a big fan of the Belgian boy reporter, but for some reason they'd carved it from a very dark wood, making it look like he was in blackface; frankly, Herge did enough racist crap in his time without turning Tintin into Al Jolson.

But soon I was crossing the Leeds and Liverpool again, and entering the centre of Skipton.  It's been voted one of the finest high streets in Britain, and it's easy to see why.  A long wide boulevard leads up the hill to the Holy Trinity Church and the castle; it's lined with neat Georgian terraces and attractive shops.  It's a mishmash of medieval streets with Victorian grandeur, and it's gorgeous.

There's clearly money in Skipton, with a House of Fraser and various clothing boutiques tucked into chi-chi courtyard developments.  There was also a preponderance of cafes and gift shops and, sadly, a branch of my nemesis, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, international signifier of a place full of people with too much time and money on their hands.  I walked up as far as the church but as I reached it, the heavens burst in a hail storm.  I hunkered my hood up and to avoid my ears getting stoned from the side of my face.

Passing the Carnegie Library ("site given by the trustees of the Skipton Mechanics Institute") I entered a narrow pedestrianised area, with pavement tables hoping to ensnare passing tourists.  I saw a sign pointing to the canal basin, so ducked down a side alley, coming out in another shopping court.  This one was on harder times than the others, with a couple of vacant shops and one store leaving its mezzanine level empty; the bunting seemed almost sarcastic.

I have an inkling about why this part was failing while the rest of Skipton seemed to be in rude health.  There was a little square at its centre, and in that was a circular pavilion which sold New Age decorations - dream catchers, tea lights, crystals and gems.  Wind chimes hung from every part of the roof and the result was a cacophony; an endless, arrhythmic clattering of wood and metal that was just a noise.  It sounded like someone had pushed Dame Evelyn Glennie off a cliff and she'd crashed into every outcrop on the way down.

There's a reason why wind chimes are popular in places like California and Mexico; they don't have any wind there.  A tinkling chime in those environments signals a moment's respite from the baking hot summer.  This is Britain.  We are a surrounded on all sides by water, we're incredibly hilly, and we have more weather in an average afternoon than Los Angeles gets in a year (as though to prove my point, the hail had stopped as quickly as it began).  If you put up a wind chime in this country it will always, always be clattering and clanging and it will slowly drive anyone in the immediate vicinity off their loop.  Trust me, I'm speaking from experience; my neighbours have both a wind chime and a yappy dog, and there's been many an Autumn evening when I've felt like nipping round with a pair of sharp scissors and solving both problems at once.

My point is, it's hard to window shop when you're being accompanied by what sounds like a symphony for My First Fisher Price Xylophone played by over stimulated toddlers; it gets you right there and you have to make a hasty retreat before you grind your fillings to dust.  If I were a neighbour I'd ask the Council for a discount on my Business Rates.

Fortunately, the canal basin beyond provides a far more calming and tranquil spot.  There are boat tours in summer, and I made a small note to return on a hot day to cruise the waters.  There's also a statue to Fred Trueman, erected in bronze and pleasingly, partly funded by Northern Rail.  I believe he was - checks Wikipedia - a cricketer.  I'm not a sporty man, and even if I was I don't think I'd be interested in cricket (too long, too boring, too incomprehensible - the BF watches it endlessly in the football off-season and I still can't quite grasp the rules), but it's a nice enough statue.

Back over the canal, my attention was caught by a London Underground roundel; this one had been renamed "Pie Stop" in a TfL-copyright violating manner.  It was an advert for the Skipton Pie and Mash shop, and even though I wasn't actually hungry, I decided I had to have pie and mash.  It sounded ace.  Sadly, it was operating on its winter hours, and had closed about twenty minutes earlier, meaning I couldn't sit on the bench outside "reserved for pie eaters" (which sounds like a polite way of saying "fat bastards").

Basically, I was in love with Skipton, and that was even without mentioning its board and collectible card game shop or its nicely redeveloped mill buildings or its proper historic bits, which I didn't get a chance to look at.  It's also without mentioning its station, which I shall now do at length, because Skipton station is also bloody lovely.

It manages to combine being a great, solid stone building, full of history and grandeur, with modern 21st century facilities.  The waiting area and ticket office have been tastefully restored, with not too much purple, and with a small shop/cafe inserted into one side.

I bought a tea from the chirpy lady in the shop and headed out onto the platform.  There are clean, newly painted glass awnings here to shield you from the rain, plus plenty of benches.  I sat on one dedicated to the memory of Railwayman Jimmy Bewes - Forty Seven Years Loyal Service With LMS & BR.  In the distance, under the soaking wet clouds, I could see the green hills of Yorkshire again.

The train that arrived to take me to my next station was another of those sexy electric ones that run from Leeds out into the peaks.  It was smooth and elegant and fast; I sincerely hope we're getting something similar on Merseyside when they finally finish the electrification of the Manchester line.

Cononley was the last station on the Airedale Line I still had to collect.  I got as far as Steeton & Stilsdon last March.  Actually, going back to my Dalton and Lazonby station collections, should I count this as (Sean) Cononley?  No.  That's a bit desperate.

Still clutching my station tea, I went for a wander round the village.  Theoretically I could have got straight on a train back to Skipton.  There's a service every fifteen minutes here, so I'd have only had the smallest of waits before I could be back in the bosom of my new love.  Also, if I'm honest, Cononley didn't look promising; there was a large, semi-vacant mill looming over the station, and it didn't look friendly.

I'm glad I did, because while it wasn't the best place I'd visited that day, it was perfectly acceptable.  There was a pleasing river running down the centre of the village, a pub (which only opened evenings), some nice looking houses and shops.  There was a hideous parish church which seemed to have built out of breeze blocks - given that it dated from the Forties, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn it was constructed by resentful atheist POWs - plus a few little shops.

I staggered up to The Institute - like a village hall, but somehow more terrifying - to look at the events, as is my hobby.  There was a talk about Renaissance Florence for the Skipton Italian Circle, Pilates classes, yoga and a WI; there was also a "wine and cheese party" on Friday the 11th.  Is that a euphemism?  Is wine and cheese party a polite way of saying "wife swapping"?  I wonder if you turned up there on your own, they'd give you a slice of Brie and a warm glass of white and then send you on your way, while all the couples stayed behind looking suspiciously giggly.  Or perhaps I just have an over active imagination.

After a few minutes of wondering whether "Oriental May", the Chinese takeaway, was named after an Asian spring (pretty!) or the lady who ran the place (ethnically insensitive!) I trotted back to the station for my train into Skipton.  There was a little boy there with his nan, giddy with excitement as a Leeds-bound train pulled into the platform.  He laughed and clapped his hands.  Unfortunately, a goods train then barrelled through in the opposite direction, rattling noisily and startling him; he burst into tears and hid in nana's skirts.

It was raining by the time we got into Skipton.  I made my way to wait for the Morecambe-bound train so I could collect my last station while water hammered on the glass roof over my head.  It was early evening now and my train had brought with it a group of tired looking commuters.  We stood in silence, reading our Kindles and our Yorkshire Evening Posts while music pounded in our headphones, islands on the island platform.

Hellifield station was a surprisingly popular place for people to alight.  I found myself in a scrum, almost carried off the train and onto the platform.  I decided I would come back to look at it properly once I'd seen the village; what I saw seemed worthy of detailed attention.

Remember, about 800,000 words ago, when I thought Skipton was going to be grim?  And how delighted I was when it wasn't?  Well, Hellifield provided the grimness I'd missed out on (I suppose the clue was in the name).  I walked along grey streets lined with low stone houses while the rain drizzled down the back of my neck.

Twilight was setting in as I reached the village centre.  A girl with a duffel coat over her pyjamas made the dash to the chip shop; a beautician advertised its Boogie Babe Wig with a paper lei and an excessively excited photograph.  Aherne's was brightly lit, a clothes shop that specialised in "Masai clothing"; sadly, this turned out to be a particular manufacturer, and not a shop that catered for Yorkshire's huge population of African tribespeople.

There were two pubs, dead opposite one another, and I picked the Black Horse after an extensive vetting procedure (eenie, meeny, miney, moe).  It was a barn of a pub, and almost completely empty; the only customers were two workmen at the bar who didn't bother to disguise their snickers as I dripped on the carpet.  The barmaid was a black-eyelinered rock chick who didn't seem keen to serve me.  Once I'd sat down in the corner, I realised why; I'd arrived right at the end of her shift, and I'd made her serve one last pint.  Her similarly dressed mate came in and they sat with the workmen at the bar, eating chips and affecting disdain.

All that - plus a Playground road sign which was in the wrong font, a surprisingly disquieting sight - should have been enough to push Hellifield to the bottom of the day's visits.  It had an ace, though.  Hellifield station is a joy.

Once you've entered through the admittedly, terrifying looking subway, you rise up a ramp to the platform.  It curves upwards at a gentle slope and brings you into... magnificence.

Hellifield used to be just a tiny station, like the one at Gargrave, but when the Midland Railway made a connection here they built a station around the junction.  The result is a beautiful piece of railway architecture.  Long, stone buildings stretch out beneath filigree glasswork.

The canopy covers the whole station, almost the entire length of the Leeds platform: a better amount of cover than some far busier and more popular stations.

In the ironwork there are reminders of the railway company that built it, over a hundred years ago.

The sadness is that this epic construction is barely used.  The line through here gets twenty-odd trains a day; not a bad service, but nowhere near enough to justify such a large station.  The buildings are closed off for most of the day, with a little cafe operating limited hours, but otherwise that stretch of platform is deserted.  A fence bars you from crossing over to the privately owned section.

It's a terrible shame that the only people who get to use the full expanse of the station are workers on the freight lines, changing shifts here.  I wandered up and down, admiring it from every angle, and full of frustration that I couldn't get close to those wonderfully restored structures.

Darkness closed in.  I hadn't really thought about how late it was.  My stomach rumbled.  I curled up on the sole bench on the station, the only passenger, until a train finally came in to take me back to Kirkby Stephen.  By the time I got off, again the only person on the station, I was tired and achey.  I thought of the tin of soup that was my dinner with a glee completely out of proportion to its actual nutritional value.

There was a car parked outside the station house, the engine idling, illuminated by the security light.  The BF got out with a carrier bag full of Marks and Spencer food and a bottle of wine, bought at one of the motorway service stations on the way up.  He smiled.  "I brought provisions."


All aboard said...

Scott following the above link to bring back 11 seconds of joy!

Scott Willison said...