Wednesday 29 July 2015

The Bridge And The Ridge Near The Wressle And The Hessle

Sometimes, when I go on trips for this blog, I'm going somewhere new and exciting that I'm genuinely thrilled about.

And sometimes, I'm just mopping up bits of the map I missed out on last time.

Wressle was firmly in the second category.  I'd planned on visiting it back in August 2013; unfortunately, a bout of depression took away my enthusiasm for station collecting and I just gave up on it.  It left it as an uncollected spot, along with its neighbour Howden, and since it was quite literally on the opposite side of the country and only gets half a dozen trains a day, I never really got round to doing it.

Finally I bit the bullet and took the three trains necessary to get to this quiet little halt in Yorkshire.  I was the only person to get off the train.  My eye was drawn to a cottage further along, a riot of colourful flowers, with blooms on sale for passers by.

Actually that's a lie.  I mean, it was a very pretty cottage, don't get me wrong, but the only reason I saw it was I'd walked the wrong way.  After five minutes of gentle strolls I checked Google Maps and realised I was going in the wrong direction.  This seems to be happening more and more often lately; my normally reliable internal compass seems to need recalibrating.  Perhaps I'm just getting old.

A 180-degree turn and I was going the right way again, past some railway houses; number 1 was named "Norty Korner" and I think it's a sign of personal growth that I didn't immediately kick the door down, murder everyone inside and burn the house to the ground.  Instead I continued on my way, grinding my teeth down to the stumps, crossing the road to enter Wressle village.  Quiet roads curled by brick cottages.

I left the perfect English village behind and walked out into the perfect English countryside.  It was a warm day, just the right side of hot, with dramatic clouds hovering over the flat landscape.  Pregnant grey skies, heavy with rain, promised to douse the landscape with a storm.

There was no pavement, so I wandered into the middle of the road.  There were no cars, no trucks to drive me into the ditch.  The only sound was the whispering of the trees, leaning in close to murmur about me as I walked by.

The alien noise of a siren broke the silence.  Somewhere behind me a level crossing had activated, then, a few moments later, a TransPennine Express train to Hull sped through.  A blue and purple streak amongst the greenery, then it was gone, and the sirens stopped.

I took a right turn, towards Brind, behind a tractor cutting the verges.  More silent lanes with dew-wet grass.  A cathode ray TV had been dumped in the hedge, face down, a piece of technology so out of date it actually looked more at home in the countryside than in a modern front room.

I checked the map on my phone, because I was sure I should have reached the village of Brind by now.  Turns out I was actually right in the middle of it; the i in Brind was right over my head on the map.  It was a single road lined with old houses and redeveloped farmyards; one house was called The Farm House Lane Farm, which made me imagine a war between a couple of homeowners over who Farm House Lane was actually named after.  There was a phone box; inside was a notice from BT advising that they were considering removing the kiosk due to low use.  I wondered if the low usage had anything to do with the fact that there wasn't actually a phone inside?

A field of pigs cheered me immensely.  Who doesn't love pigs?  In the world of livestock, they are easily the cutest and most fun, better than lambs even.  They seem so jolly and happy; in fact, one pig padded over to the fence as I passed, almost as if he wanted to say hello.  Also, they taste great.

Another right and I was on a B road, normally a quiet country lane, but after the silent streets I'd been walking it may as well have been the M6.  There were suddenly cars burning past me as I walked along the grass verge, past more farmhouses and black bags on the front drive by a sign saying Manure: £1.  There was a caravan site which proudly advertised it was "adults only"; I immediately thought of all sorts of Carry on Behind-shenanigans involving strippers and swinging.  Admittedly, a great deal of that thought was motivated by Elke Sommer, one of those minimally talented 1970s dolly birds with whom I have a bizarre obsession (see also: Anita Harris, Aimi Macdonald, Lorraine Chase - basically anyone who sat on the bottom row of Blankety Blank).

A wail of sirens signalled another level crossing, and more importantly, Howden station.  It was a couple of platforms and a signal box either side of the road.  I was twenty minutes early for the train, but the pub next door (the Barnes Wallis - he worked on airships near here) was resolutely closed.  I remembered the strange opening hours from the last time I was on this side of the country.  It was almost like they didn't want people to get drunk in the middle of the day.

There was a sign pointing to the town centre, but a quick look at the station map revealed that the town was actually about half a mile away, so I took the sign picture then lodged myself on the platform to wait for the train back to Hull.

One disappointing sandwich on the platform at Hull Paragon later and I was on my fifth train of the day - pleasingly, one named after Barbara Castle.  I was on my way to Ferriby, a village turned commuter town on the banks of the Humber, and my train was full of tired looking office workers on their way home.

It had a pretty looking station, and there were some jolly women having an earnest discussion on the platform, but I didn't have time to hang about.  I had an hour to walk the three and a half miles to my last station, Hessle, or I'd miss my connection at Hull to get home.  I dashed over the footbridge, took my sign pic, and dashed back again.

The front gardens of the houses down to the river were filled with notice boards demanding that we Save North Ferriby.  It seems that the village was protesting against new developments on some former industrial land, though as usual, it seemed to be the people in the newest houses who were objecting most vociferously.

I found a badly signed footpath at the side of a house, and ducked down it.  I always find this curiously thrilling; following back alleys and rights of way that are ignored by the locals.  I followed the path between a high fence and roughly maintained trees before the vista suddenly opened out and I was staring out at the river.

The Humber is a strange, maudlin waterway.  So wide and silent, a crack in the side of England.  As it approaches the North Sea it becomes so vast and empty.  The tide was out and it left black stones and thick mud behind while the water rolled by.

I turned east, following the waves and getting my first view of the mighty Humber Bridge.  So huge and delicate, black traces of concrete and steel threading against the sky.  Even from a distance it astonishes.

I followed the path on a recently reinforced ridge above the waterline.  The coast here was reinforced by the Environment Agency to protect against flooding; the railway line to Hull was on the other side of the path, and so a rising water level would cut Hull off from the rest of the country.  Even more than it already is.

I was glad the tide was out; I'd spotted the coast path on the train earlier and it had looked a bit anxiety-inducing.  I didn't actually think I'd be swept off to my death in the river, but the gap was so narrow, it would have been a constant concern.

The path left the riverside as I closed in on the bridge.  I surprised two teenagers snogging under the trees; he was white and she was Asian and I immediately wrote an entire novel about their love across the cultural divide and how they had to sneak off for furtive fumbles.  The path gave way to the car park of the Country Park Inn, a bland looking building that seemed to exist mainly for wedding receptions and funeral teas.

But what a fantastic spot.  I walked under the bridge, awe-struck, totally captivated by it.  When I'd done the stations on the other side of the river I'd seen the bridge, of course, but I hadn't got this close.  Its bulk and its efficiency was inspiring.  I bitterly regretted that I'd not actually crossed it, and now that I was finishing off the Hull line, I'd have no excuse to come back and do it.  Why didn't they put a railway across the bridge as well?  Why didn't they slot in an extra deck, so that you could have a sort of Far East Coast line from Grimsby to Scarborough?  Instead there are stations either side and a bus to take you between them.

I suppose, in the Sixties and Seventies when the bridge was planned and built, rail travel was the past.  It was the motor car that was the future, so why build for a dying technology.  I wish I could say things had changed now that rail passengers are at a new high, but the Mersey Gateway bridge lost its second deck for public transport only a couple of years ago.  Short-term win for long-term loss.

There was a tiny development of new cottages under the bridge, and I thought how romantic it would be to live there.  Wake up every morning to gaze at that colossal piece of engineering.  Of course, the traffic noise would soon drive me mad, and the clunk-clunk of each car passing onto the bridge deck would give me a nervous tick, and the stream of tourists taking a look would mean I'd have my curtains closed permanently so they couldn't peek in, but the point is, for a while I dreamed.

Back up the hill towards Hessle station.  A couple of big old Victorian houses had been converted into flats; one was called Dykes House, which I only mention because I'm incredibly immature.  The road had been superseded as the main route by the Humber by a busy dual carriageway which roared to my left.

The local rugby club was marked by a poster begging the local dog walkers to keep their pets off the pitch; it brought, unbidden, an image of men diving for a rugby ball through a mound of dog turds and I felt quite ill.  I crossed the dual carriageway via a narrow footbridge and came down to land by Hessle station.

It was a surprisingly old fashioned station.  The former ticket office sat above the platform - a beauty company had failed to make anything of the building, and now it was advertised for let again - and then ramps ran down to track level.  It felt like a really early station, like Edge Hill perhaps, where the same lines were used for goods and passengers.

I whispered a small prayer of thanks that I wouldn't have to walk across that rusting hulk of a footbridge and instead leaned up against the wall to wait for the train.  I was joined by a couple of young men in suits, probably from the solicitor's over on the other side of the road.

On the opposite platform a man who was old enough to know better performed tricks on a BMX, bunny hopping and twisting around the big empty space.  He'd occasionally stumble and fall over, and every time I imagined him falling onto the tracks and a train neatly slicing his head off his body.  And then my train would be delayed, and I'd end up stuck in Hull overnight.

That was another line crossed off the list as complete; everything between Leeds and Hull was gone from my map.  Not long until the end now.

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