Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Station Hopping

One technique I like to use when exploring the area around a holiday base - the current Caravan and Motorhome Club site - is Station Hopping. I identify railway stations in interesting places, especially if they are in picturesque countryside, and plan a route to take them all in. It generally involves driving Fiona along lush valleys, over bleak moorland, and down meandering country lanes. I will typically pull in, park, walk onto the platform, take a few shots, and then drive off to the next station. Sometimes I see that a train is shortly due (I'm quite lucky with this) and so I'll linger to shoot the arrival and departure.

But usually it's just me and the station and peaceful sunshine, and nothing else happening. I like these moments, in between trains, when everything about the station - its bucolic setting (quite possibly with a fine view), its mellow buildings of Victorian vintage, the weeds between the tracks, the sense of suspended time, all ease the mind of concerns. There are often extras: a local railway society, or a gardening group, has taken the place in hand and added historical information and flowers to enhance the experience. Within a National Park, there will certainly be official posters recommending walkng or cycling routes and nearby tourist sights not to be missed. Stations seem to be cherished nowadays: so different from the run-down and dingy places they were before 1980 or so. In the last days of British Rail, in fact. There is much talk now about 'renationalising the railways', but I'm afraid it would simply lead to a return to the bad old days when the railway was starved of cash and left to rot. So please don't ever vote in Mr Wacky Corbyn and his old-fashioned notions.

While I like to visit photogenic stations in lovely locations, I am also interested in more workaday stations that serve a town or city but have been ruthlessly modernised. Big City stations tend to have lots of money spent on them, and may resemble important airports, in atmosphere at least. This generally means that an elegant nineteenth-century shell - certainly the roof and porticoed entrance - will have been preserved, but the interior has become aggressively twenty-first century, as have the sleek expresses that glide in and out. But even a bare suburban platform, with only a 'bus-shelter' as its 'buildings' can have a mystique. All stations are places of transit, where people of all kinds briefly stand and wait for a train that might, just might, take them on an unexpected adventure. Having photographed the departure of a train, I often contemplate what I could have experienced, if, on impulse, I'd got on board and just seen what happened. One day I'll do that, although I will make sure it's at a station that has a return service on the same day. I mean, it would be no good (for instance) getting on the Saturday-morning train at Pilning (near the Severn Tunnel), which sees only one train a week...

I've rather gone overboard with Station Hopping on this present holiday. Here's the list of stations visited since 7th June, in order of seeing them:

Haydon Bridge
Whitley Bay
Dunkeld & Birnam
Lazonby & Kirkoswald

I'll most certainly try to work in a few more when I leave the Lake District (where I am just now) and move on to the Lincolnshire Wolds. I have Barrow Haven, Thornton Abbey and Thorpe Culvert in my sights! But while in Scotland I should have made a point of visiting Breich station, which I've just discovered is likely to be closed because only three passengers a week are using it. Oh well, maybe that'll get me back up to Scotland all the sooner.

All stations are called something, and some have most evocative names. The list above has several that sound intriguing, even if the on-the-ground reality is more humdrum. I've photographed many a dull station in unattractive surroundings - South Bank on Teesside springs to mind - but I will give any station a chance if it has a name that calls to my imagination.

Obviously I go to many other places while on holiday, for entirely usual reasons that any tourist would recognise. Mere scenery is often the draw. Or a cathedral in some city, or an abbey in some town. I wouldn't base a holiday completely on visiting railway stations. But one couple have. That's Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, who I've mentioned before in these chronicles (see my post The ghost train of Newhaven Marine on 5th January 2014). They have used crowd-funding to raise the money to visit all the 2,563 stations in the country. Geoff is a professional video producer, and his excellent productions can be viewed on YouTube (just search for 'All The Stations'). They started at Penzance on 7th May this year. There seems to be a team of project helpers in the background (see http://allthestations.co.uk/team/) and the crowd-funding website, which explains what they are about, is at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/562621903/all-the-stations. Impressive. But I think I'm doing quite nicely on my own. There are now 434 Britsh stations in my personal collection, all with photos taken by myself at various dates from 1973 onwards. From Penzance to Wick, and from Fishguard Harbour to Lowestoft. I've also got quite a few taken abroad, such as in New Zealand. I keep them all on my laptop, backed up of course.

Gosh. I don't think Geoff Marshall was even an embryo in 1973, and Vicki's mum would have been still a teenager. Makes you think!

1 comment:

  1. Some are evocative... A couple of brothers in the family are train enthusiasts and have some original station signs. One was pleasantly surprised at the hundreds of pounds each price tag he was told his were worth, until he was told the thousands his brother's "Boat of Garten" sign was worth...

    I miss the classy old signs. Just another example of progress being in reverse.


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