Apparently the 5th of January is "Divorce Day"; the first working Monday after the New Year when people rush to the lawyers to get rid of the spouse who's been driving them mad all through the holidays. I'm normally cynical of these supposed "event dates" (BLACK FRIDAY ISN'T A REAL THING IN THIS COUNTRY) but I got a bit of experience of this back when I worked for the Council. We'd get an awful lot of people phoning up to let us know that they were now single - "and the date your circumstances changed?"
The BF and I decided to take no risks. Our relationship wasn't under any strain - it helped that I spent the entire Christmas period at my mum's - but best not to tempt fate, eh? One tug and those gossamer thin threads holding everything together fall away. We decided to spend the day apart. He'd drive us to Huddersfield, then he'd go and see his friend Peter and I'd get to collect a couple of stations. Our actual time together would be minimised and we wouldn't have to find a solicitor.
The advantage of this idea was that I'd get to start my journey in the wonderful surroundings of Huddersfield station. It's a massive Classical temple of a building, with an attractive square laid out in front and pubs either side. The station building is completely out of proportion for the town around it - and if I'm honest, the stuff behind the portico isn't anywhere near as impressive - but it's always a joy to pass through that grand entrance.
My actual schedule consisted of only two stations - Slaithwaite and Marsden, mill towns tucked in amongst the Pennines. They were the only two remaining halts I hadn't visited on the Manchester-Huddersfield line, so it would be a nice way to close the line off and would give me a bit of a walk to get rid of those holiday pounds.
The platforms at Slaithwaite are splayed either side of a road bridge, the local Passenger Transport Executive's best way to get round a bad lot. There was a Slaithwaite station here for decades, but it was closed in 1968 and the site was largely built on. Only fourteen years later, there was enough passenger need for the station to be reopened, so the new platforms had to be wedged in where they could - one on the site of the old station, one on the site of the goods yard. In other words, more money was probably spent rebuilding the station than if they'd just left the damn thing open for those fourteen years.
Now I'm all for community engagement with local transport, but what the eggy fig is going on with this plant holder? "Moo Poo"? "Steel Dreams", under a picture of a smug dolphin? I stood staring at it for far too long, trying to work out its true meaning. I'm guessing it's something to do with "the environment", but I'm open to any explanations.
The road plunged steeply down from the station to the centre of the village, a drop I had to lean against to try and stay straight. Poking through the trees was the hefty bulk of the old mill building, its yellow lettering still advertising Globe Worsted Co Limited, but surrounded by empty windows. I could see right through it to the hills on the other side. A vast, unused hulk in the very centre of Slaithwaite.
The town seemed busy, a mix of people working and looking furious and people still on holiday looking smug. A father corralled two lively children across the road with a facial expression that said "when do they go back to school?". I turned onto a side road, past the Dri-n-Wash Washeteria with its slightly wonky "T", and onto a spit of land between the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the River Colne. The two bodies of water run parallel through the valley, feeding and challenging one another, the wild river counterpointed by the stillness of the canal.
There was another mill along here, converted into an indoor playground for children and an ice cream shop and furniture makers, and then Slaithwaite just seemed to stop, and I was in the countryside. The yellow brick of the mill was suddenly replaced by low walls, furred with moss, and the towpath became a slick of mud and puddles.
I had a couple of other walkers accompanying me, two stout ginger women who marched through the mud in well-used wellies. They radiated bluster and self-reliance, making me afraid to overtake them. There wasn't much room on the towpath, and they looked like the kind of ladies who would attack a potential sexual predator with a swift knee to the kidneys and then a forceful shove into the canal. I made as much noise as possible as I approached and swung past with an apologetic smile, before putting on a decent lick of speed to take me away from them before they karate chopped my shoulder and rendered me unconscious.
January sludge splattered against the backs of my jeans. It really is the most miserable of months, isn't it? At least February - which shares a lot of the same characteristics - is only 28 days long. January just clings on, a hangover we feel the need to repeat every year, where everything is grey and dead and damp. Winter, but not the good kind, the kind with snow you watch fall from inside country pubs. January is drizzle and low sun in the afternoon and dark clouds that threaten but never come through.
The sleeping trees rolled back to reveal undulating hills. Above me, threadbare grassy slopes rose to ash coloured skies. To my left, the Colne gurgled and churned, heavy with the last few days' rain, occasionally supplemented by overflow from the canal.
I passed lock after lock after lock. No wonder there weren't any boats in sight; it must be incredibly tedious working your way up and over the Pennines. Rise up into one lock and you can see the next in the distance. This is before you've reached the Standedge Tunnel, just beyond Marsden, a 16,000 foot long passage that's so dark and narrow you can only pass through it with a specially booked guide. No wonder railways were embraced so heartily.
There hadn't been much sign of habitation around. The occasional farm house, a barn or two. The distant noise of traffic coming from somewhere in the distance. A TransPennine Express train would occasionally burn through on its way to Piccadilly, the only reminder that there was a railway somewhere in amongst the folds of the landscape. It was a surprise to come across the hulk of yet another mill, this one in the worst condition yet. Windows were smashed, with those on the lower levels bricked up altogether. Outbuildings had been knocked down. Razor wire had been erected over the top of the wall to the canal, though I doubt that's where the vandals were coming from. I fantasised about buying the mill and turning it into a vast home for myself. Smashing through the floors to make colossal, triple height living rooms, an eyrie in the tower, a garden running down to the river. Then I thought of how isolated I'd be and how it would be the perfect venue for a slasher movie and I huddled swiftly on.
The Sparth Reservoir opened up the landscape for a bit, with a little expanse of water to fill the canal, and then the woods returned. There were houses too, backing onto the canal with rough fences and brambles, as I moved into the edge of Marsden. They had big oil tanks propped up on bricks; we were out of the way of gas central heating here. The crazy, up and down nature of the terrain sent streets shooting into the air above me while access roads seemed to have suffered terrible landslips. Horses had come through here and churned up the towpath into a kind of thick porridge.
I re-emerged onto tarmac at a bridge over the canal. Across the way, a couple of pensioners were blithely stood in the road, catching up without regard for the lack of pavement or the cars trying to get by. I walked by a couple of small industrial units, including a musical instrument maker who advertised themselves as "the first FSC certified wind instrument manufacturer in the world". Is that really a problem that needs dealing with? Are entire swathes of rainforest being cut down for oboes? Are clarinets responsible for global warming? It seemed an overreaction to me, but that's probably because I'm utterly selfish and hate the Earth.
I reached the centre of Marsden and was immediately filled with a powerful, overwhelming emotion. Disappointment.
I must say this wasn't Marsden's fault. Marsden is a perfectly charming Yorkshire village. It's set in amongst beautiful hills, it has lovely buildings, there's a real sense of community. No, my disappointment was down to the fact that I'd been here before and I hadn't realised. It was back in July 2012, when I'd finished off a day visiting the stations on the Penistone Line with a meal with the BF and Peter. We'd driven out of Huddersfield and ended up at a charming little pub/restaurant overlooking the river, where we'd had a lovely meal. It was only slightly spoiled by the fact that I had a panic attack near the end, and I had to go and stand by the river and breathe in deep lungfuls of air to recover.
Well, there was the pub/restaurant. There was the river. There was the little bridge I'd stood on for ten minutes trying to get my breath. It was all as pretty as I remembered it, but the point was, I'd already seen it.
This isn't a blog about grand discoveries and epic journeys: it's about little bits of England. But it's about finding those bits of England with new eyes each time, so coming across somewhere I should, by all the signs, have adored, only to realise it was old hat, left me with a deflated feeling.
I wandered up the scenic high street. Marsden seemed to be a thriving place, with plenty of small tea rooms and bric a brac shops to distract you and any passing tourists. There wasn't much to it - one street leading up to a main road through the valley - but what was there was interesting. One downside: the public toilet was locked up, and I was dying for a pee. I had to find somewhere to go.
What? I needed the loo and it would have been rude to just use a pub toilet without buying anything. Besides, I knew for a fact that the Riverhead Brewery Tap was a good pub so I may as well take advantage of it. I settled down in the corner with a pint of Yorkshire Blonde (£2.60, just to make all you London types jealous) and listened to the chatter of the regulars and the quiet parade of music in the background. After Benny and the Jets then Billy Don't Be A Hero then Brown Eyed Girl I realised that someone was tracking alphabetically through their AOR playlist on their phone, and I put my headphones in before By The Time I Get To Phoenix turned up. That sort of ordered list trips directly into my OCD, and I'd have spent the rest of the day sat there trying to guess what the next song would be.
I finished my pint and headed out of the pub, past the Millennium Project model of the village outside, and over the river to the old market place. I knew from my last visit that there was a set of stocks over there, now slightly incongruously in the grounds of a retirement home. The plaque underneath alleged that they were medieval, but I wasn't convinced. They seemed in far too good a condition to be six hundred years old, and Marsden wasn't a real community of note until the 19th century. I can't seem to find anything on the web to back up the claim, either.
Still, it's a nice little feature for the tourists, if you go with the image of stocks as a hilarious way to punish miscreants by pelting them with rotten fruit. I read an article once that said it was a horrible punishment, and that people often took advantage of your prone state to do all sorts to you - up to and including raping your unable to move rear end. Think of that next time you watch a Robin Hood film.
The station's high above the village, so I trudged up the hill to reach it, passing a pub called the Railway en route. Idly, I thought: I wonder how many pubs there are called the Railway? I wonder if anyone's visited all of them? Hey, I'll need something to occupy myself when I've visited all these stations. It's either that or lie in bed crying.
Marsden has a curious layout - three platforms (it used to be four) and each one accessed separately by its own entrance. I'd wandered up to platform 3, only to find I needed number 1 and I had to turn round and go back the way I came. As I crossed the road bridge the voice of a demon burst into the silent air and chilled my blood. Oh, wait: it wasn't the voice of a demon, it was one of those "be careful on the platform" warnings which, for some reason, Northern have read out by small children. It's like having a Midwich Cuckoo whisper in your ear, and is quite terrifying; the lispy voice of a young girl turns an innocuous safety announcement into a threat (be careful near the platform edge, because I'M HIDING NEARBY). I don't know whose idea this was but they need to be shot. Or left on a country platform in the dark listening to the announcements over and over.
I boarded the train back into Huddersfield, and had another pint in the pub at the station there while I waited for the BF to finish with his friend. He picked me up outside the station and we headed home. I'm happy to report that Divorce Day didn't result in the irreparable destruction of our relationship, but hey: there's always next year.