One aspect of railway stations that's often overlooked by planners is the sense of arrival. As the decades have worn on it's become more important to make sure you can park outside, or find a bus stop, or spend your money in a shop. The idea that this is a welcoming space, this is your hello, your first impression of a new city, has only recently become a consideration.
Some cities get it right. Walk out of Lime Street and you're smacked in the face by St George's Hall. King's Cross now has an impeccable pedestrian square out front. But a lot don't, and this seems to be particularly prevalent in seaside towns, for some reason. Imagine arriving for your holiday, hot and sweaty from a train journey, carrying suitcases and crying babies, and getting a wonderful welcoming view. A real inspirational, happy hello, something that makes you glad you've finally arrived. It seems to happen very rarely. Southport station is a dark concrete cavern. Blackpool North empties you into a car park in a bowl. Morecambe is an apology behind a Morrison's.
I bring this up because Great Yarmouth could be lovely, but it isn't. The tracks climax in a terminal building at the nose of a promontory where the River Yare meets the River Bure; it's got water on three sides. Imagine walking off the train and seeing, in the distance, the glitter of sun on water, a view out over the quays.
Great Yarmouth doesn't do this. It has a large roofed concourse to accommodate holiday crowds but it's dark and unwelcoming. And the exit is to the side. You're chucked out into the car park, with the road to the Asda running past, and a high A road towering above as it crosses the river.
I took the back streets this time rather than walking through town. I thought about the only other time I'd been to Great Yarmouth, nearly twenty years before, on the boating holiday from hell. We'd arrived late in the evening, having only just made it across Breydon Water before the tide turned, and tensions were running high. We went to the town's sole gay bar to try and relax and were delighted to find there was a pub quiz going on.