There's a couple more on their way down the pipe - Low Moor and Ilkeston, for starters - but right now, the newest railway station in the UK is Kirkstall Forge. It opened on the 19th June, after what seemed like years of delays.
Of course, it's not completely new, because nothing on the UK rail network ever is. There was a Kirkstall Forge station that closed in 1905, when a realignment of the tracks meant it would have to be rebuilt, and nobody could be bothered. It took just 111 years for the station to reopen, which is good news for towns still suffering from the after-effects of Beeching - another sixty years and you'll be sorted!
I was the only person to get off the train, which wasn't really a surprise. For decades this spot was occupied by industry - the ironworks that gave the station the "forge" part of its name. That finally closed in 2002 and has been cleared to become a "new community". It's still a fair way off actually happening though.
Two liftshafts; that was the only sign of the urban village yet to come. The hoardings promised that these were the first phase of a Grade A office development, opening Autumn 2017, but the site seemed quiet. The only workmen I saw were a pair of signwriters pasting slogans on the boards around the site. It used to be that you could sell a housing development by putting up a sign and saying "these houses are quite nice, do you fancy buying one?" Now they're packaging up a lifestyle. One of the boards promised the development was:
For all the towpath strollers, the lounge-at-homers
The joggers, bloggers and woodland roamers
The commuters, empire builders and business risk takers
See? It's more than just a housing estate!
To be fair, what they've done so far seems to be of high quality. The station's black overbridge is sleek and different, though they've not bothered with a ticket office; it's completely unstaffed. The car park seemed busy too.
Outside, there were iron benches - no doubt built out of Chinese metal - and high quality paving alongside the river Aire. At some point, there will be terraces for families to stroll and promenade, but right now it was just a load of steelwork dangling off the side of the river bank.
It all seemed very optimistic and jolly but the nagging thought registered at the back of my head: what will they all do? The forge employed hundreds of workers: two office blocks and a couple of restaurants will be a fraction of that. It's pouring people into a space and hoping they've already got jobs somewhere else. I guess that's why the station is here; to take you away to your job in Leeds or Bradford. This place will just be somewhere to sleep. A vaguely apt bit of marketing speak was the last thing I saw as I left the Forge site:
Start a new journey
let curiosity be your guide
Open your mind, arms and heart
to new places and new people
I'm not sure the BF would be too keen on me opening up my arms to new people. He's already convinced I have a secret lover in Leeds because I've spent so much time getting trains there.
The Leeds I saw outside the site was much more to my taste: a mix of old and new, unpretentious. Stone walled gardens and the occasional close of tight homes - though they could do with a bit of imagination on the streetname front:
I slipped into the centre of Horsforth, a busy strip of shops and cafes. Workmen were parked up to get sandwiches from Subway. An old couple, charged with looking after their granddaughters in the summer holidays, held hands as the girls played stepping stones on bollards. There was a nice surprise - a gold postbox for Alistair Brownlee, the triathlete. The Rio Olympics had been reminding me of how great Britain had seemed during 2012, how optimistic and happy and welcoming we were, instead of the nasty self-destructive nation we are in 2016. Things are so grim now I wouldn't have been surprised to see that the gold post box had been melted down for scrap.
On the far side of town were the restaurants, an Indian, the Istanbul Grill, one that promised both Greek and Turkish cuisine, which shows that food can unite even the most entrenched enemies. It was all very pleasant, but I was busy being annoyed by a bus route. In amongst the traffic were buses named "The Pulse". I quite like these branded bus routes - it's not just the number 12, it's the Galactic Thruster or some such. It's a bit of colour. What annoyed me about the branding was the wording on the front:
Up to every 10 minutes or better. Well, which is it? Is there a bus up to every ten minutes - a maximum of six an hour - or is there an even better service than that? BECAUSE IT CAN'T BE BOTH. Honestly, that slogan set my teeth on edge every time it went by, and since there was a bus up to every 10 minutes or better, that was a lot of frustrated grinding.
I turned onto the A6120, Leeds' ring road; on the opposite side of the city, this is the road that passes right by Cross Gates station. Here it was just a long straight road between green fields and trees. Semi-rural, if you ignore the scream of cars and motorbikes; a bird of prey circling overhead, the body of a fox by the side of the road, its fur still orange and vibrant.
There was a van by the side of the road, selling flowers out of buckets, and I did my best to ignore it. My heart is mostly a lump of impenetrable marble, but there are some things that can cut straight to its centre. Battersea Dogs Home is one. Another is anything that involves people selling things by the side of the road. I find it heartbreaking, the person just waiting, hoping, that you'll buy some of their wares, as a thousand cars stream by. It's why I always have to fast forward through Feed the Birds in Mary Poppins; that poor old lady has spent her life sat there, waving bags of crumbs around, making meagre pennies and... if you'll excuse me, I just need to leave the blog for a moment or two.
Phew. There's another instance of roadside peddling in Goldfinger, and that one's got children in it, which makes me even more uncomfortable. Goldfinger buys what looks like a Scotch egg off them and then gets back in his Rolls-Royce while some peasant girl holds a bit of lavender hopefully. It's the hope that gets me. Oh dear. I need another break.
Speaking of 007, it seems that he's keeping himself busy between films, because there was a sign by the side of the road for the Bond Letting Agency:
I'm pretty sure that's not an officially licensed (to kill) tie in, and I feel like I should inform the Ian Fleming estate and Barbara Broccoli about this gross violation of copyright. It did lead me off on a mental path of wondering what a James Bond estate agent would be like, though: some poor family looking for a nice three bed semi and being told the closest they have is a Ken Adam-designed concrete modernist apartment with split levels and a lot of sharp angles. "Yes, I know the piranha tank isn't ideal for young children, but there is a school with an Outstanding Ofsted rating just round the corner, so..."
I left the ring road to wander through the charming village of Calverley. It was as English as you could get: pretty pubs, winding lanes, trees. There were public gardens, with a plaque to let you know the iron railings were put in to commemorate the Queen Mother's 100th birthday. I'm sure she was thrilled. A4 laser printed signs advertised the cricket club's open weekend - live music, bouncy castle, ice creams. It said there would be a Guinness World Record attempt: I looked it up, and apparently they did 734 overs in 8 hours. I've no idea what an over is, or whether that's an impressive feat of endurance, but well done. (Also, can we go back to calling it the Guinness Book of Records?)
I mounted the hill, then descended down the other side, away from Leeds and into Bradford. You couldn't tell the difference, to be honest, it was just a sign halfway along the road, but I'm sure it was very important to the locals which side of the border they were on. Apperley Bridge was a little less charming than Calverley, but it had an Asda and a Sainsbury's, so you know, it wasn't all bad. It was definitely more working class than Calverley; the liberal club had a washing line in its front yard with the tea towels hanging out to dry, which I quite liked.
That church, incidentally, had this banner on the railings outside:
I'm sure Ladies' Evening is actually dedicated to gender-based discussions of scripture, but that saucepot gives a very different impression. She looks like she's discussing the filthy secrets of the verger's wife and dropping in a few scandalous hints that Mrs Finnemore's hair colour came out of a bottle. Basically I want to go for an evening of wine drinking with her, and I don't mean the Communion type.
The space by the canal that had once been filled by factories and warehouses had now been colonised by town houses and apartments. Tall, hefty blocks in yellow stone. They looked decent enough, even if the undulating landscape had forced them into some odd positions to find level ground. Their gardens overlooked the water, a wonderful spot for your afternoon tea.
I was getting a bit peckish myself. It was late lunchtime, and I hadn't eaten since a raisin Danish on the train over (yes, of course I went First Class). I thought about eating at a cafe by the bridge, but its awning had "expresso" written on it, so that ruled that out; I thought about a pub close to the station, but it had a blackboard inviting Christmas bookings, so that ruled that out. Some might say that I was being fussy; I just like to give my custom to businesses with good standards. Instead I just headed for the railway station, past the overgrown remains of Crag Road FC. I may not know much about football, but I do know you can't play on a pitch covered in foot high weeds, so I'm guessing they're not at Premier League level.
Apperley Bridge is almost as new as Kirkstall Forge; the two stations got funding at about the same time, but Apperley Bridge's construction was easier, so it opened last Autumn. Once again, there used to be a station here before, in a slightly different location, but Beeching put paid to that. Looking around at the busy community that accompanied the line - a line that connected Bradford and Leeds, so not exactly a backwater branch - I was surprised it was closed at all. Such was the malevolence of the Doctor.
It feels as though they finished it only yesterday, with sparse wildflowers and clean tarmac. I walked up Station Approach - a great choice of name for the new road - and found a bus turning circle and a busy car park. Clearly Kirkstall Forge was a prestige station, so it got a lift and a fancy overbridge and landscaping. Apperley Bridge was rather more modest.
No ticket office of course, just a machine, and the platforms were either side of an existing bridge that had been co-opted into the station complex. There were two more stations in West Yorkshire I still hadn't collected, and I thought about skipping them altogether. I left it in the hands of the schedulers. If there was a Bradford train due, I'd collect the other two stations; if there was a Leeds train due, I'd head back into the city and find a pub until my train back to Lime Street.
There was a Bradford train next. I headed down the maze of ramps to the westbound platform and settled onto the metal bench, warm from the day's sun.
Back when I started the Northern Rail phase of the blog, these two stations didn't even exist. It was just a stretch of railway line with no reason for me to visit. I'm glad they exist now. New stations are always a good thing. New stations that get me to places I'd never otherwise go to are even better.