Thursday, 20 June 2013

Riccarton Junction

I did get to Riccarton Junction, as part of a long day out in the course of which I drove 140 miles in a roughly anticlockwise direction from Powburn, via Wooler, Jedburgh (stopped off to view the Abbey), Carter Bar (one of three Border places I encountered, high up, with sweeping views of the Cheviots), Saughtree (the old station, from which my hike to Riccarton Junction started and ended), Kielder (for a pit stop, a pint of iced soda water at the Anglers Arms pub), Kielder Water (a huge lake, and where Fiona reached 50,000 miles on the clock - well done Fiona!), Bellingham and Rothbury. It was sunny and warm throughout. So much so that the tramp to Riccarton Junction was a bit more gruelling than I'd reckoned on.

I anticipated several problems. First, parking Fiona so that she didn't invite attempted theft. Fortunately, the stoney track that led up to Slaughtree station began with a high-walled river bridge, and I was able to position her so that she was invisible from the south, and unnoticeable if descending the valley from the north. Not that there was much traffic on the road anyway (the B6357), but parking Fiona, a posh car and the apple of my eye, is always worth taking trouble over. Second problem: Saughtree station might nowadays be someone's home, and my way could be blocked, with a barking dog to chase me off. But nobody was living there. Third problem: past experience with railway walks had shown that stout waterproof footwear was needed - the chipped stone ballast was often still there - and that where rainwater collected in cuttings, it might be boggy. I'd brought the Dubarry boots for these things, and although they were unnecessary much of the time, the mire in the cuttings was indeed deep enough to swallow ordinary boots, let alone red high heels, if you were so inclined to walk the high hills in those. But the boots sneered at the mud, and I made triumphant progress. Fourth problem: Riccarton Junction would be devoid of facilities, and I must take a backpack with water and something to eat in it. The backpack I keep in permantly in Fiona contains wet weather shell clothing, fresh socks and a compass. I added my water bottle, a packet of dried apricots, my phone, my purse, and my tablet (with the local map on it). But idiotically I forgot to pack any tissues. Luckily my nose didn't drip, and I didn't need to pee. Fifth problem: mad axemen and violent men intent on rape. They could be behind every bush, certainly lying in wait in one of the cuttings; but in my haste to get going, I foolishly left my stick in Fiona's boot. I resolved to Die Hard.

The route itself, a former railway line, was a doddle to follow, but it was by no means level. As I left Slaughtree station, it struck me that southbound trains had a stiff gradient to get up. It did level off a bit later on, but I'd read somewhere that the old Midland Railway Company had had a small-engine policy, and I could imagine how much harder that would make steaming on this hilly line. Presumably the Waverley express from Edinburgh to London had been double-headed. Maybe a bit easier in diesel locomotive days, during the last years of the line.

On I trudged, thinking that although Dubarry boots are trendy in winter, they are jolly hot in summer, and eventually (after an hour, and without being pounced on by lurking murderers) I reached a green open space overlooked by some holiday homes some distance off on a hillside. It was deserted, and there was almost nothing to be seen. I saw the red-painted building. It was locked and the contents suggested a sudden abandonment. Back in 2005 or so, it had been the working HQ for a preservation society intend on restoring Riccarton Junction to its former glory. But it had all gone wrong. Personally, I think they had much too little left to restore. British Rail had demolished almost everything. The information board next to the red building showed photos of what once was, including the village where the station staff and their families had lived. Most of that had been razed. I took a dozen photos of what could be seen, and will post them up when I get home. My advice: look at them, and then save yourself a hot walk, because a personal visit is hardly worth the effort. You'll see only two crumbling platform faces, the old generator house (that red brick building), a chimney standing amid ferns some way off, and no view like there used to be, because massive fir trees have been planted that limit your vision to the station area only. But I wasn't disappointed. I'd reached and savoured a destination not often seen by Sussex residents!

After half an hour, after a swig of water and some dried apricots, I set off back to Saughtree. I was now feeling distinctly tired and footsore, my winter boots being not at all ideal for striding in. The sun was behind me, on my back, and the cooling breeze had dropped. The gates across the trackway all seemed harder to open than before, and heavier. The sheep seemed more aggressive, or at least complained more. I still met no-one. I was so glad when the downwards gradient increased, and Saughtree station came into view. I wondered how the local trains managed to stop for the short platform when the rails were wet or frosty. I paused to inspect the intact buildings, the short length of track laid, the platform, the little engine, the wagons and brake van. It looked like Saughtree had absorbed nearly all the society's money and energies. I wondered why they hadn't created a car park, and at least opened the place up for afternoon teas, with a standing train and a moorland view thrown in? Perhaps they had thought of it, but got insufficient passing trade. Perhaps that was really the basic problem with preserving this line: it was too remote, and no part of it was near a tourist town. It wouldn't generate enough money.

I was relieved to see that Fiona was unmolested. As I approached, almost limping, I opened the powered tailgate by remote control. I eased my boots off, noted the heat rash on my lower legs, slipped on my flats, closed the tailgate, and sank into Fiona's soft cream leather driver's seat. Before all else, I locked the doors. Then I planned my route back to Powburn. I was a long way from the comforts of the caravan. First priority: a cold drink. I fired Fiona up, and on my way back enjoyed some of the best scenery in Southern Scotland and the North of England. At the Club site I chatted further with the couple on the pitch next to me, Helen and Douglas. I then had a wonderful cup of tea, a hot shower, and cooked the sea bass. It was heavenly. But my feet felt tender. I'd overdone it.

6 comments:

  1. I've now learned that Saughtree station was on the connecting line up from Kielder, and not on the Waverley Line. However, the main line was just as hilly and difficult for steam locomotives. Here's a great website article on Riccarton Junction: http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/r/riccarton_junction/index.shtml

    Lucy

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  2. After a few thousand miles driving on the continent we are always amazed at how lush deserted and beautiful the Scottish borders are. If it were not for the speed cameras, situated on so many of the steep hills where gravity can quickly have even the most sedate motorists going over the limit, we would spend holidays down there too.

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  3. Perhaps you are trying to do too much Lucy. I hope the rash doesn't spoil the rest of your holiday.

    Shirley Anne x

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  4. I've now discovered that the restorations at Saughtree have nothing to do with the fiasco at Riccatton. It's an independent project.

    Two preservation endeavours, quite separate, so close together in such a remote spot! How strange is that?

    Lucy

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Lucy Melford