It's the last day of December, so, like every other blogger on the planet, here's a summary of the year. I say "every other blogger" but there's fewer and fewer of us around. Everyone's pivoted to YouTube or TikTok, or they're sending out Substack emails that you have to pay for. I will never do that because I am too unphotogenic for YouTube, I don't understand TikTok, and the pressure of subscribers would send me into a tailspin of anxiety; I don't think anyone really wants to read emails called here is a list of train stations that exist, I got them off Wikipedia, I really needed some content this week be kind.
Anyway. The point is that this has been a bit of a year on the blog. After a few weird periods with pandemics and endless stuff going on with me at home, 2023 was surprisingly down to earth. Me, some railway stations, and some walking. Usually on a towpath. I'd not realised, until I went back over the posts, quite how much time I'd spent on towpaths this year. Even when the blog went abroad it went to a city full of canals. This is not part of a rebrand; this is not round the canals we go. That bloke on BBC Four has got that market sewn up anyway.
As the West Midlands Railway project reaches maturity, it's inevitable that the stations are less centralised, more peripheral. I'd not noticed as I was doing them quite how peripheral they were. Wem, Penkridge, even as far as Long Buckby - I've seemingly only coasted round the distant corners of the map. When I did go into town, admittedly, it was to beneath Spaghetti Junction, which is about the most urban location you can go to (and another towpath), but other than that there was a lot of striding across fields and through country parks. For a blog that's really about cities and towns, it was surprisingly green.
That wasn't deliberate. It's just me trying to spread myself about. If I do the west of the map one day, I like to go somewhere at the opposite end the next. I don't want to go to the same regions over and over. I am starting to run out of options though. I've visited two thirds of the West Midlands Railway map now, and so a lot of the stations left are the big hitters - Leicester, Northampton, Rugby, the central Birmingham stations, which need to be covered properly. I've also not done any of the tram stops, though that's partly because I'd been waiting for them to finish the Wolverhampton station extension, which finally opened in September. (It also means I can finally visit Wolverhampton station itself). There are also some complex stations to visit, with very limited services. I reckon, however, that I might be able to polish the whole thing off in 2024. Five years of hard work done (sorry, that should be "work").
The true highlight of 2023, for me anyway, was the trip round Amsterdam's Metro. It didn't seem to do much for the blog in terms of visitors or comments but I don't care. Carousing around Amsterdam was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life, once you get past the terrible first day of flight cancellations and Luton Airport hotels. For two days I wandered around a beautiful city, using its fast, efficient, reasonably priced transport network, visiting places I'd never been before and would never normally get a chance to see. It was absolutely bloody brilliant. The only thing is it slightly ruined me for my return to the UK, where everything is seemingly broken or expensive or broken and expensive. I don't think I'll get a chance to do another foreign city, but that hasn't stopped me planning it. I have Excel spreadsheets detailing how I could collect every station on both the Rotterdam and Stockholm Metros, if any eccentric Russian oligarchs want to chuck few grand in my Ko-fi.
Closer to home, Merseyrail finally got its new trains... sort of. The roll out has been slow and patchy - I went out the other day and three of my four trains were rattly old ones - and their reliability hasn't been great. Headbolt Lane finally opened, but the battery trains kept going out of service, meaning it's still not at its full potential. People won't use a brand new station unless they can be sure they can get a train. And construction on Baltic station isn't due to begin until 2025 at least, so I'll probably be pushing 50 when I finally get there. Possibly from the other side.
That was a bit of a downer to end on, wasn't it? Instead let's finish with a thanks to you, the reader. You don't have to read this load of old guff and yet you keep coming back. I'm touched and honoured and I still get excited when somebody comments. I rarely comment back because part of me thinks that's really vain, like I'm revelling in the attention, but be assured they're all appreciated, as are the random Ko-Fi donations (especially the anonymous person who has bought me a coffee every single month - you are loyal and a delight). Rest assured, I will carry on churning out the nonsense, and even if you get tired of it, if you see one more towpath or rant about the Government and decide you've had enough and leave, I'll still be here. I've nothing else to do, quite frankly.