Sunday 24 March 2024

The Morning Shift

Motorway service stations are rarely a high point of anyone's journey.  They sit close to the carriageway, sometimes spread over the traffic, a halt for a pee and a sandwich and then out again.  Any romance of the open road has long gone.  Their facilities are frequently old and overcrowded.  Their forecourts are expansive and badly laid out.  

At five in the morning, you can, if you squint, get a bit of glamour out of them.  I walked out of the Tamworth M42 Travelodge and there was a silence ahead of me.  The only lights were an orange glow from the KFC.  There were no people.  Cars were stilled.

I turned away from the parking area, towards a hump of grass with a couple of picnic tables optimistically strewn across it.  I'd stayed overnight, walking out here from Wilnecote, having a Burger King in my room with a bottle of Coke before getting an early start.

This overnight was, at heart, the reason for my three day trip to Leicester.  I could've got the other stations any time.  Polesworth, however, could only be collected at one particular point.

Polesworth railway station was never that popular.  Its position on the West Coast Main Line meant it was in the way.  Fast trains needed to get by; they didn't need to be held up by a stopping service.  It got fewer and fewer trains over the years until it closed temporarily during the modernisation of the railway in the early 21st Century.  

You can't simply close a railway station forever; it requires an Act of Parliament.  However, during the modernisation works, the footbridge to the southbound platform was taken away... and never replaced.  The number of trains able to serve the station halved immediately; there was no way on or off one of the platforms.  As a consequence, a not very popular station became largely useless, and the timetable was altered to reflect this.  You can't close a railway station, but you can run the bare minimum service to it as a token effort.

One train, at 06:48 on weekday mornings, to Crewe.  That's it.  That's the only service Polesworth gets any more.  

Getting there from the Tamworth services meant turning away from the motorway - obviously, I wasn't about to walk down the hard shoulder - and disappearing onto a long closed back road.  Lots of service stations have these secret exits, put in place for emergency access, but frequently closed in recent years as locals became wise to them and started using them as unofficial junctions.  This one was a dark tunnel of trees at the back of a warehouse.

I'd planned ahead and bought a small pocket torch from Asda.  Without it, I'd have been in absolute darkness.  I felt the prickle of anxiety as I walked, not knowing what was ahead for me, mixed with a thrill of being alone.  I love it when I feel outside of the world.  It may have been a tarmacked back route now mainly used by dog walkers, but at that early hour, it was my empire.

Too soon I reached the barrier closing off the road to traffic and I was on the pavement in the hamlet of Birchmoor.  I lowered the beam of the torch, in case I accidentally swung it into a bedroom window and scared some poor old dear into thinking the aliens were landing.  The houses were quiet.  I crossed over the motorway and got a giddy glimpse at the traffic below.

If you're one of those people who comes to this blog for the photography; firstly, who hurt you?  And secondly, I'll have to apologise.  At that time in the morning, in that level of darkness, my poor camera was useless.  With a flash, without a flash, all it produced were blurry disappointments.  I had to fall back on my iPhone which, presumably, has a whole series of microprocessors working away to try and make sense of what you're pointing at.  It means that some of these pictures have a romantic wash to them that is nothing to do with the reality of the scene and is instead Tim Cook making every photo Insta-ready.

As I turned onto the main road, all the street lamps came on, instantly, at once.  I felt that little frisson of excitement, the idea that I might be magic and that I'd turned on the lights with some hitherto undiscovered superpower, a notion I get every time this happens.  I checked the time: exactly five thirty.  I turned right at a pub which I absolutely must inform you is called The Game Cock Inn - sounds like a wonderful way to pass an afternoon - and on to the outskirts of Polesworth.  A single car passed me, the first one I'd seen since the motorway, and I saw the driver give me a questioning look as he went by.

The stilled village swam up around me.  The road descended slowly down a hill.  Some of the houses were starting to show life now; bedroom and bathroom windows illuminated, the residents not yet managing to make it downstairs.  A man appeared with an enthusiastic dog - the first time I shared a path with a human all morning - and he nodded a hello before disappearing down a side road with the deeply unattractive name of The Gullet.  

A humpback bridge took me over the Coventry Canal, nothing more than a black streak at this time of day.  I'd reached the centre of the village now, with a fire station and a cross roads, sprawling wide over.  I crossed leisurely, wondering how busy it got in the day, then took the bridge over the River Anker.  I could hear it, rather than see it, the thrash of water in amongst the dark of the flood plains.  

This seemed to be the traditional heart of the village, with half-timbered buildings and historic pubs.  The Red Lion featured a slightly camp sign, with an image that looked less like a proud lion and more like a poodle begging for a bit of your tea.  There were signs for the chippy, and a police station converted into a home, the blue lamp still outside; is that allowed?  Isn't that like impersonating a police officer, but with your house?

Commuters were starting their Fridays, driving through the village a little too fast, taking advantage of the empty road.  The gap between cars got shorter and shorter.  Now there were lights on downstairs in the houses on the road, with the occasional resident visible in the front room, shuffling about in a dressing gown.  Enormous flat screen televisions flickered on walls as breakfast television caught you up with whatever atrocities had occurred while you slept.

The road rose again, another gentle hill, and then I turned off into a network of slight cul-de-sacs and semis.  There was, to my surprise, a sign pointing to the station; I'd have thought they'd have taken that down to avoid disappointing weary travellers.

The tracks became visible as I walked and then, finally, I was at Polesworth station.  It was tucked away at the end of Orchard Close, with a turning circle in front.

I walked up to the gate and pushed.  It didn't move.  My heart sank.  I'd been scared of this.  Polesworth might theoretically get a service, but that didn't mean London Northwestern had to look after it.  I pictured them locking and unlocking the gate either side of the scheduled service, one man hovering for ten minutes with a key to let any potential passengers in or out.  Or maybe they didn't do that?  Maybe they left it locked up.  The odds on anyone using the station were so slim - why not gamble?

Perhaps there was a keypad, or a "press here to contact us" button?  Nothing.  I paced back and forth, panicking.  My main worry had been that the train wouldn't stop at all; now I was worried I'd watch it stop from the other side of the fence.  Time ticked away.  Five minutes.  Ten.  No sign of anyone to unlock it.

And then I thought... it is locked, right?

I walked back and pushed.  It resisted - but there was no padlock.  I reached through and grabbed the bolt.  It slid aside easily and allowed me access.  

For a moment I stood on the platform, calling myself all sorts of names.  I'd nearly lost Polesworth entirely thanks to my own stupidity.  But now I was here, waiting for a train I really hoped would stop.

As the dawn crept over me, I wandered up and down the platform (there were no benches).  I was surprised that the station was in such good nick, to be honest.  The lights were LED; they were painted in the green corporate colours of London Northwestern.  The noticeboards were filled with up to date notices.  It felt like it was being taken care of, far more than some stations I've been to with much better services.

It was so nicely maintained, in fact, that I wondered why they'd not bothered restoring the station to a fit state.  Polesworth village has a population of about 10,000 people, a fair few of whom I'll bet would appreciate a service to Stafford and Northampton.  The local council has vaguely suggested a new station with a car park so that people can commute - the M42 passes close by, after all - but other than making it an aspiration the plan hasn't got any further.  

Then, something unexpected happened: more potential passengers arrived.  Two men walked onto the platform and stopped in shock to see me waiting there.  They stared for a moment, then started to pace up and down the platform, chatting away, and not paying me any mind.

I realised, from the brief snatches of conversation I heard as they passed, that these were also Men Who Liked Trains.  There were a total of 188 people using Polesworth in 2022/23, giving it a certain frisson of notoriety as one of the least used stations in Britain, and as such it attracts a disproportionate amount of interest.  I was a little disappointed, as I'd hoped that there would be one person using Polesworth as an actual regular station for their commute.  I felt a bit bad for ruining the men's exciting visit.  They were going to be Kings of Polesworth and they weren't even the first people on the platform.  I wondered if they'd also stayed at the Travelodge, and had been half an hour behind me the whole time.  Imagine going all that way just to visit a railway station; what a pair of nerds.

At exactly 06:48 the train slid into the platform and stopped.  I didn't have to signal for it or anything; the driver did his duty correctly.  I boarded, delighted, and joined a lot of half-asleep people on their way to Crewe.  Nobody checked my ticket, which was disappointing.  I wanted to produce my single from Polesworth.

Although I should register my complaint that there's no totem sign outside.  I had to settle for a platform sign to prove I'd been here.  Ignore my downcast face: I was absolutely thrilled inside.

With that station collected, the only real block to me finishing off the map was gone.  Polesworth was a station that involved a certain amount of hassle - overnight stay, early morning walk, limited service.  Now I've got it, the rest should be easy.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my Ko-fi.  It really helped pay for this little trip.  If you feel like donating, you can find the link here.  Don't worry if you don't. 

Wednesday 20 March 2024

A Tale Of Two Cities (Actually Small Towns)

Harry Beck was, obviously, a genius, and the way he redesigned the London Underground map to be diagrammatic rather than geographic was game changing.  Having said that, it also lead to a lot of absolutely filthy lies being inflicted upon the public.  I had two more stations to visit, in Hinckley and Atherstone, and they looked reasonably close on the West Midlands Railway map.  About the same as South Wigston and Narborough, only across rather than along.  

The reality is the two stations are at least eight miles apart, nudging ten depending on your route, and the path is mostly along the straight as a die Roman Road slash dual carriageway.  It is, in short, not worth doing.  I'll happily walk for three hours at a time if it's interesting or scenic or historic.  Lolloping along Watling Street for an afternoon with nothing to look at except the backs of Romanian delivery trucks?  No thank you.

I decided it would be easier to treat both towns as one offs, getting a look at their high streets then returning to the station for the next train out.  Hinckley was first.

I'm always pleased to visit a station and find it's still got all the trappings of a proper halt; the building, the awning, the footbridge.  Hinckley's footbridge doubles as a right of way across the railway and I crossed the tracks opposite a lot of people with shopping bags heading home after a visit to the town centre.

From the station it was a steep walk up a hill to the town itself, past residential streets and a couple of pubs.  Hinckley's newest shopping centre, The Crescent, loomed over the road.  I'm not sure why councils are still permitting this sort of development.  For one thing, it was an incredibly ugly block, as the five screen cinema meant there was a requirement for large black boxes and it didn't matter what it looked like on the outside.

Then, of course, you've got the fact that this is a brand new shopping development that isn't alongside all the other ones.  It's a draw away from the traditional retail heart and it's unfortunate.  This is a leisure based development (plus a Sainsbury's) but it's a separation; you have a Prezzo there, not with all the traditional stores.  Perhaps I'm being unfair - the road to the station in a town is rarely the top priority, and I'm sure it's nicer from the other side.

Besides, Hinckley didn't seem to be doing too badly.  I continued along streets that seemed to be filled with businesses, then past a primary school with a playground of excitable kids.  It was World Book Day and the mix of outfits was a joy.  I'd have been a lot stricter about the criteria for dress up if I was a teacher, though.  There were a few too many Marvel superheroes for my liking, which, ok, you could say are in books, but I don't think that's quite in the spirit of the day.  I pictured some poor girl dressed as Amy March leaning against the wall because her bustle and corset meant she couldn't sit down while fourteen Spider-Men made pew pew noises as they shot their webs at one another.  Amy will be the winner in the long run, of course, because she has an enquiring mind that appreciates great literature, but there and then in that playground she'd have felt a right loser.

There's something a bit odd about that sign celebrating "Entrepreneurial Hinckley" with a top hat on it.  It's probably meant to make you think of thrusting imagination, like that Stephen bloke on Dragon's Den who won't invest in anything unless they mention TikTok and use pointless buzzwords, but it actually comes off as more Alf Roberts.  Rotund shopkeepers stood in back rooms with glasses of sherry chatting about potholes.  

Hinckley's long, straight main street was remarkably well stocked, and even on a weekday afternoon there were plenty of shoppers.  There were the usual names but also local businesses with their own USPs.  I was particularly taken with a dessert shop offering 12% off collection and dine in.  That 12% fascinated me.  I'd love to see the accounting that lead to that particular number.

Hinckley reminded me of Wigan.  No, wait; hear me out.  There was something about its long pedestrianised street on a steep hill that made me think of Greater Manchester.  While Wigan has pies, however, Hinckley has stockings and socks, having been a centre of the hosiery trade for centuries.  I love finding out a town has a proud past as purveyors of an incredibly niche item, which probably comes from having a home town that was once famous for making hats.  I sadly couldn't find a specialist store where I could purchase some Hinckley Socks, but that's probably for the best as I have a sock drawer that is already begging to be edited.

The pedestrian zone ended but the shops continued, though they became a little more specialist.  A European food store had a graphic in the window informing me that French Hot Dogs Are Available Here!  I'd never heard of a French Hot Dog, and having discovered what they are, it's very fortunate that the doctor told me about my high cholesterol before this trip, otherwise I'd be suffering a coronary right now after consuming fourteen of them in a row.  I turned off into a side road, past a shop that sold dance wear and a vinyl shop called Nervous Records, and began the descent back down the hill.

This is in no way a slur on the people of Hinckley who are, I'm sure, a fine and proud community of home owners.  But as I walked past their houses I noticed there was a certain tendency to flamboyance in their exterior decoration.  It was as though the town's residents had a competition among themselves to make their houses as individual as possible.  Artex.  Coloured paint.  Mock-Tudor beam work.  Shutters.  Up and under garages with fake hinges at the side to try and make a slab of steel look like a wooden gate.

Every other home seemed to have a twist on it.  It certainly gave me something to spot as I walked parallel to the railway line.  A long row of homes had been squeezed in here, but they looked like good, decent houses, even if their view was a train line on one side and factories on the other.  

It was a bit of a surprise to find myself back at the station; I'd not really taken in that I'd done a complete loop.  I took it as a sign that I should go to the next town and, after a change in Nuneaton, I was alighting at Atherstone.  I was pleased to have reached here via London North Western; after a few Cross Country's it was good to return to the actual purpose of this blog.

Across, on the opposite platform, was another fine railway building, with a little more pomp than the one at Hinckley.  I was on the Trent Valley Line now, the section of the West Coast Main Line that avoids Birmingham, so it was unsurprising to me that it had a little more zhush than its predecessor.  The boarded up windows were a disappointment, mind.

I left the platform and ducked under one of the lowest railway bridges I've ever walked under; the clearance was 6' 3" according to the warning notice, but even I, at a lowly 5' 9", felt like the top of my head was grazing the ironwork.

I emerged on the other side, mad keen to take a look at the station itself, but was disappointed.  It turned out the building was no longer used for railway purposes and was instead a vet's surgery.  The access to the platform was via a narrow alleyway at the side rather than through the far grander building.  What a let down.

On the plus side, the station is a lot closer to the town than Hinckley, and soon I'd reached the appropriately named Long Street.  Atherstone was a convenient spot to stop on Watling Street, the route from London to Wales, given that it's virtually at the centre of the country, and the sheer number of pubs along Long Street would attest to this.  The sad thing - particularly for an old alcoholic like me - was that none of them looked very welcoming.  One in particular had a tranche of old men sat in the window giving the kind of looks to passers by that could technically count as a hate crime.  There was also a pub called The Clock, which was all well and good, except the clock was showing the wrong time; I cannot support such behaviour, even if I was gagging for a pint at that point.

Beyond that were plenty of other shopping options, though Atherstone didn't have the breadth of Hinckley.  The constant traffic down the centre of the street detracted from the atmosphere too - I dread to think what it would've been like if they hadn't built a bypass - but I still found myself charmed.  It was another busy, thriving little community, and I felt as though people would enjoy living here.

The market square, with the church at one end and a tavern on the corner, was a classic of its type.  The scrawled chalk paintings by the local kids on the flagstones added to its appeal.  I went back down Market Street ("formerly Butchers Row") and tried to ignore the strong smell of fish and chips wafting over me.  High cholesterol, remember.  

I walked as far as the Conservative Club (or the "Connie Club" as it called itself on a chalkboard, giving it a chumminess that no doubt dissipated the second you saw a framed portrait of Margaret Thatcher) then turned and walked back.  On one corner, there was a sudden scream from a woman with two friends; she dropped her shopping bags and began thrashing at her head in a panic.  "It went in me bag!"

Her two pals watched with a mix of amusement and mild horror.  Clearly something had fallen on her and then plummeted into the carrier.  They backed away from it, then slowly approached, before gingerly feeling around for whatever terrifying wildlife had launched itself at her.  The first woman burst out laughing.  "It were a bit of grass, you twat!"

I veered off the main drag for a little wander, spotting the constituency office for the local Tory MP (there was a To Let sign on it, but that seemed to be for the shop underneath; give it time).  The bus exchange sat opposite some more modern flats, and there was a 1970s bulk of red brick council offices.

Once again, I had the feeling that the town was "done".  It was pleasing, inoffensive, probably lovely to live in, but I couldn't see myself rushing back.  I wandered back towards the station, annoyed that I'd not been more inspired, annoyed that I'd not found a decent pub.  Then I noticed an A-board by the entrance to the station: The King's Head - A Warm Welcome To Customers Old And New.  It turned out Atherstone did have a decent pub; it just wasn't with all the others, but instead sat by a canal with a pleasing outdoor terrace and a nicely refurbished interior.

Let's not dwell on the fact that there were only two people in there, and one of them was me, shall we?

I had my pint - then another one, to be sure - then rolled back for my train.  That was the last station of the day, but there was one more to visit on this trip.  It would just be a bit more difficult to collect.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Rambling Thoughts

Leicester doesn't have the station it deserves.  It's been dealt the misfortune of being on the Midland Main Line, the red-headed stepchild of the British rail network, constantly on the verge of getting electrified but never actually happened.  Oh, they'll announce it, they'll make plans for it, then another branch of Government will turn up and say "this might cost some money - perhaps we could do nothing instead?"  Theoretically it's going to be wired up to Sheffield at some point, but I imagine if you live in Sheffield you're permanently in a Jennifer Lawrence OK GIF state.

Leicester's a horizontal station, spreading across the tracks below, with most of its space devoted to a cab rank.  It's ostentatiously marked ARRIVALS and DEPARTURES and is reasonably attractive.

Not so much inside.  The cab rank has been shortened, taking up only half the space, but the remainder is dominated by stairs and a ramp.  It's a nothing area.  There's a little coffee shack but that's it.  The ticket office, meanwhile, is small and cramped and dark.  And worst of all, there's no station sign on the outside, which seems insane, especially as the area around the station has clearly had a recent makeover.  I was forced to loiter inside, which is disappointing.

I headed down to the platform level.  There are only two islands, with four tracks; it's a through station with no terminating spaces.  It doesn't feel big or busy.  Of course it is - five million passengers a year - but it feels like a pass through place, rather than a destination, or somewhere to change trains.  Sheffield, which has a similar position on the railways, is far more lively and exciting.  There are plans to rebuild it, with a new entrance to the side and a pedestrianised plaza and, yes, a proper station sign, so maybe things are about to change.  (Please see the earlier paragraph about the Midland Main Line).

My plan for the day was to cross off the stations between Leicester and Nuneaton, with a side dish of Atherstone on the Trent Valley Line.  Staying overnight in Leicester meant I could slice them all off the map in one go, rather than getting them piecemeal at the end of a long day of travelling from Merseyside.

My first stop was... hmmm, where was it again?

The platforms at South Wigston are splayed either side of a pedestrian bridge and the walls of it have been painted by a local community group.  It's very "inspiring", very "motivational", with messages about "kindness" and "love" and I'm afraid my cynicism circuits just overloaded.  It's all very nice for the people painting it, I'm sure, but has anyone ever seen one of these murals and thought "I was going to murder someone today, but thanks to that child's picture I've decided to embrace happiness instead".  I suppose it stops the local youths from layering the brickwork with obscene graffiti, so there's that.

The north side of the footbridge was suburbia, semis with cars on the drive, but I headed south, into a tight net of terraced streets.  The corner shops had been converted into houses, and there were an awful lot of Ring doorbells with built-in cameras, but otherwise the houses looked more or less as they had done for a century.

I passed a small municipal car park and was surprised to see that I was now in the Borough of Oadby and Wigston.  Leicester station is actually the only station in the entire city, which seems mad.  The railway is long and straight and goes from one side to the other and they couldn't find space for one or two suburban stops to help commuters?  Even more mad, South Wigston only opened in 1986.  

I turned south, past "The Midlands Friendliest Training Centre" (yes it does need an apostrophe), and turned at the traffic lights to walk out of town.  It was eerily quiet.  Perhaps it was the layer of mist blocking the horizon from sight, but Wigston felt silent.  This was, allegedly, a B road, a major through route, and yet there were hardly any cars, and definitely no pedestrians.  Even a high school seemed deserted.  

A sign informed me that I'd entered Glen Parva, which is a magnificent name for a district.  It sounds like a distant Roman outpost for particularly unruly centurions.  This was very much the edge of the village, the southern fringes, with the main body on the other side of the railway line.  That was where the also magnificently named Eyres Monsell estate was, as well as the huge HMP Fosse Way.  Here it was semi-rural, the edge of the city, where you detected there were drab fields hiding behind back gardens.

There was a noticeboard, with photos of the local councillors smiling at the camera in a pub somewhere, and a telephone exchange in grey concrete showing its age.  It looked abandoned so I was surprised to see BT vans parked at the side.  I wondered how much of the exchange was actually in use now we live in an age of digital switching and fibre optics.  A bridge took me across the canal, walking in the opposite direction to a pair of bickering dog walkers, and then the traffic ground to a halt for some roadworks, undertaken by a firm designed to taunt me, specifically.

The firm in question was King Industries, and as you're a normal person and not a 007 obsessive, I should explain that King Industries is also the name of the villain's company in The World Is Not Enough.  They're building an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean, and several scenes are set at their worksites and headquarters.  And here's the thing: that's the logo they use in the film.  That one, up there, on the side of that van.  

See?  There's Sophie Marceau being all villainous with the logo right behind her.  It's identical.  I couldn't decide if they were being cheeky and simply copying it (the company was founded in 2008, nine years after The World Is Not Enough was released), or if some graphic designer had charged them good money for something he ripped off a DVD.  Either way, I was incensed.  I felt like phoning Barbara Broccoli to tell her someone was exploiting her intellectual property and she should charge them (she needs the money, you see); at the very least I thought I should warn Leicestershire County Council that their highway works may be a front for a nefarious scheme involving oil rights and King Industries might be about to explode a nuclear bomb underneath Blaby.

Who knew that a blog about railway stations could somehow get even nerdier and more tragic?

I walked through the last dregs of Glen Parva, a road with houses on only one side, a retirement village, then a turn south towards Blaby.  I was mildly intrigued to spot a steam engine on blocks in a field.  Because this is 2024, and everything is on the internet, I can report that it was "WG Bagnall Works 2370 0-6-0F", and therefore sound a little bit like I know what I'm talking about for once.

I enjoyed the detail on that link above that the train was rumoured to be there to support reopening Blaby railway station, only for the owner to say no, I just like it.

The traffic in Blaby was directed down a dual carriageway bypass, but I pushed on, into the town centre itself.  It was spread around a crossroads, with more coffee shops than you'd expect, and not one but two shops named after people called Bott (Bott Handmade Sofas and Barry Bott Jewellers).  There is of course nothing amusing about this whatsoever.

At the centre I turned right, passing a Chinese restaurant called Double Dragon which I assume is full of twins kicking the crap out of each other, and soon found myself back at the bypass.  I managed to get round an oversized roundabout, passed a mobile butcher, then followed Enderby Road and its stream of houses.  A line of traffic queued patiently for the recycling centre but I continued on the narrow pavement.

My plan had been to follow this road all the way to the next station, but my attention was grabbed by a Public Footpath sign pointing across a nearby field.  Not only did it look like a shortcut, slicing the corner off my walk, it also looked a lot more interesting than the current route.  I clambered over the stile and started trudging across the extremely wet and muddy field.  It wasn't the smartest decision in the world, kicking brown sludge over my jeans and stopping myself from sinking too far into the earth.

I was actually walking across the former site of Enderby's water mill, and the stone Packhorse Bridge there dates from the 15th century.  A six hundred year old structure sitting quiet and unnoticed in a field in Leicestershire.  This is why you should always wander off the beaten path.

On the other side I clambered over one of the highest stiles I've ever encountered - I think my leg had to go full can-can to surmount it - and then followed a small alley round the back of some houses.  A thought suddenly popped into my head: what if I get mugged here?  I didn't really know where I was.  I didn't know the area.  It looked like a boring residential district, but who knew - this could be the Leicestershire equivalent of South Central LA, with crack addicts lurking in every nook.  It says something about my complete lack of self-esteem and personal value that my first thought wasn't "what if I'm hurt or killed?" but was instead "what would I do about the blog if they nicked my camera?"  I mean, I'd still have actually visited all these stations.  But without the photographic proof, did it actually count?  Would I have to come back to Leicester and do it all over again?  I made a mild mental note to see if there's such a thing as a camera that constantly backs up to the cloud.

There was a printed notice on a lamp post asking me to Snub the Hub.  This was the third one I'd seen; emotions were obviously running high about something.  A little light Googling reveals that there are plans for a new logistics hub in Enderby and the locals are furious about it.  I thought they might have a point; I imagined that little stone bridge I'd walked across being picked up and replaced by a massive warehouse.  Perhaps they could sell it to an American, like London Bridge?  Looking at the actual proposed site, however, it turns out to be further north, near an existing business centre, next to a park and ride, and backing onto the M1.  It is, in short, exactly where you should put logistics hubs, and I'm afraid I'm unsympathetic that some people are going to have a little less grass to look at.

Walking under the motorway brought me to Narborough, as evidenced by a pretty village sign.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I initially thought those reeds at the bottom were sausages.

Narborough was the most charming of the districts I'd walked through so far; I could see why it had retained its railway station while other towns on the line had lost theirs.  (Actually they did lose it for a couple of years in the sixties, until public pressure forced British Rail to reopen it).  This was a proper little town, with all the amenities you'd expect, and good houses that would appeal to commuters to Birmingham or Leicester or Coventry.  A stone parish church peeped over the rooftops while walkers paused on the pavement to chat.

At the centre, past the village hall and pub, was another crossroads, and then the road lead to a level crossing.  

Narborough station was well cared for.  It had artworks at the entrance to the car park - a multicoloured fibreglass fox as part of the "Foxes Trail" and the rather more classy emblem of the village's French twin town.  The footbridge was clean and brightly painted; there were flower planters on the fences "provided by Narborough Parish Council"; the station building was still in use (though the waiting room was locked up, leading to a teenage girl pushing on the door then pretending she never wanted to go in there anyway).  

I took a seat and quietly picked the mud off my jeans while I waited for the train.  That was the last of the walking really.  From here on I'd be killing time between trains rather than trekking.  I hoped there was a pub.