Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Getting There...

Let me start once again with the becoming traditional apologies for lack of recent updates. It's not because I don't love you, dear reader, more that I'm just really disorganised.

But anyway, due to a rota-related cock-up by my idiotic co-worker (who shall, of course, remain nameless) I had an unexpected Monday off yesterday, so I decided to put it to good use. After a hearty feast of a McDonalds sausage & egg McMuffin, I got the 08:45 bus to Middlesbrough. I like travelling before 9am, as it means there are no freeloading pensioners cluttering the place up with shopping trollies, small well-behaved dogs, and knitting. Perhaps the knitting is an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

I arrived in the 'Boro, and had just under an hour free before my train to Marton was due to depart. Luckily I had a trusty ancient map with me, so easily navigated my way to the nearest walkable abandoned station; Newport. I headed out of the bus station, and immediately lost myself in a maze of factories and chemical works, belching toxic fumes... Except it was nothing like that! It was like a normal town - clean air, ordinary shops, trees that weren't dead - it looked a bit like parts of Exeter. I was quite disappointed.

I found Newport station. Or more to the point, I didn't, 'cos it's not there any more. It closed in 1912, and there's no obvious evidence it was ever there. There are still tracks through the site, it being on the main line west of Middlesbrough, but the only notable feature is now the Newport bridge, over the Tees, which I didn't expect to be painted red.
The next part of my plan was to catch a train to Marton, on the Esk Valley line, so I made my way back towards the town centre. And then it went a bit pear-shaped...

Middlesbrough station forecourt is currently undergoing building work, so I had to follow the road a fair way round before I could find an entrance that was actually open, and run up a flight of stairs. There was a queue at the booking office windows, and while I was trying to locate the curiously invisible ticket machine, I saw my train trundling away. No matter - I could nip across the river, and have look at the Port Clarence branch.

But no! Once again, the gods were not in my favour - who would have thought that in the 21st century, a piece of transport infrastructure, in a city, closes for lunch? This isn't Spain!

Oh well, Port Clarence and Haverton Hill can wait 'til another time - maybe I'll drag Gotho along and combine it with a trip to the Institute of Modern Art, or perhaps Primark.

I headed back to Middlesbrough station, through a slightly unsettling landscape. It's a bit like somebody has started building a model town, and bought a few public buildings, such as a bank, and a church, but then run out of cash, covered the gaps in scenic scatter, and chucked some horses about in the hope nobody would notice. Very odd.

I had half an hour or so to wait before the next train, so I had time to admire the interior decor. It reminds me quite a bit of St Pancras, circa 1997 before it got all Eurostarified. It's all dark wood, pointy arches and mock Tudor panelling. They've even made WHSmiths look quite attractive. The subway is nice too - like a medieval crypt - but sadly the platforms themselves are not. Unfortunately, Middlesbrough station roof was smashed to bits by the Luftwaffe in 1942, and the 1950s replacement canopies are just naff. They're all stained concrete and plastic light fittings. 

On the plus side, there's still an original copy of the Big Tiled Map, on platform 2. I ate a coronation chicken baguette in its honour, before boarding the 12:49 to Marton.

"Marton?", I hear you cry, "What is this Marton?" Indeed, there is no Marton on the map. Until 1982 it was called Ormesby, but the powers that be decided to change it. Not entirely sure why - Ormesby Hall is right next door, so I think they're missing a trick. Apart from the name confusion, there isn't really much else to say about the place - it's just a small leafy halt, with quite a rural feel considering it's only 8 minutes from the town centre.
Ormesby. That's what the map calls it, and so shall I.
I watched my train creep away into the woods, and then I was alone. Nobody else got off, and there were no cars in the car park. I'm not entirely sure who uses the trains here. Maybe nobody does?

Certainly nobody uses my next destination, or at least not nowadays, but more anon... I walked down the ramp, turned under the station bridge and strode out along the main road. Ormesby Hall grounds were to my right, and pleasantly dull suburban houses to my left. I passed a parade of shops, which were open and inviting-looking. There were no boarded up houses, no stolen cars in flames - clearly my idea of suburban Teesside was false. How very disappointing!

So back to stations, or in this case, lack-of. The Eston branch line closed to passengers way back in 1929, so apart from a line of grass, there's very little left to be seen. The station site - conveniently located on Station Road (so imaginative) - is marked by a line of trees, and seems to be the official dog shitting area for the whole of Cleveland.Suppose they have to do it somewhere though...
Eston. I think I was listening to Simon & Garfunkel, if you're interested.
From Eston, I turned north, back towards the river. The buildings were still suburban in character, but gradually, almost imperceptibly, got seedier-looking, and more depressing the further I went. It was bit-by-bit - the lawn slightly more unkempt in the odd garden, then perhaps some faded broken toys on a cracked concrete path, a sprinkling of shattered car window in the gutter. It was like a build up to the distant hideous grandeur of the steelworks, looming on the horizon.

I'd actually been quite worried about this part of the walk - Grangetown -  expecting at least some mild taunting from hordes of feral teenage chav, but I was mistaken. There was virtually no-one around; I saw one guy who appeared to be painting the inside of his car engine (is this a normal thing to do?), and a guy in a camo jacket looking sad, but apart from that I was alone on the footpaths.

There was heavy traffic on the road leading to Eston Grange station (renamed after the Big Tile Map as Grangetown) as it is also the main route to the docks at Teesport (Note to self - that would be a good name for a golf shop), but no pedestrians, despite the oddly broad pavement. The station closed in 1990. The line is still open towards Saltburn, and there's still a large signalbox surveying the scene. The closest I could get to the old platform was by standing on a set of steps over a large pipe - what it carries, I know not - part of "The Teesdale Way"...

Eston Grange: Unknown chemicals beneath my feet
... Makes it sound quite idyllic, don't you think? But alas, I couldn't follow it, as it has a temporary stopping order, due to the demolition and subsequent decontamination of the adjacent ICI works. Nice...
I retraced my steps for half a mile or so, and then turned onto a dual carriageway - maybe the A66? I'm not entirely sure; trunk roads always look a bit samey to me - alongside an industrial estate, and it started to drizzle. The rain got heavier, as I passed "The Tyre Station", a yard full of shipping containers, and a bus graveyard, before arriving at the bleak and windswept South Bank.

Now, you may be wondering why the picture to the right hasn't got my big potato face in it, despite South Bank station being on the Big Tile Map. Fear not - there is a reason. The current South Bank station only opened in 1984, replacing another South Bank station in a different location, a few hundred yards further east. Luckily for me, the Teesdale Way runs right next to the line from this point - and is actually open - and consequently I was able to take a picture of myself in the "correct" place.
South Bank: Look how happy I am
The footpath is sandwiched between the railway tracks and, firstly, a selection of factories and industrial units - one of them looked like a 1960s-futuristic space age power plant, and smelled incongrously like an air vent at the back of a Chinese takeaway, followed by another stretch of dual carriageway.

After around a mile, the road veers off, and my route crossed a small bridge over what may have been a drainage ditch, or maybe a small canal. It was surprisingly peaceful - like a rural towpath - there were trees getting their first leaves of spring, and a family of ducks sailed by. Soon I was at my last station of the day - Cargo Fleet - which closed in 1990, and like the previous two, has been almost totally levelled. I took a photo at approximately the site of the entrance to the platforms.
Cargo Fleet
It seemed odd that a station which has closed so recently can have vanished so completely, then I remembered that 1990 is actually 27 years ago, and thus isn't  actually very recent at all. Time is a very scary thing.

From there, it was only about a mile back to the bus station, but it was still quite an interesting stroll. By what was the station forecourt entrance, there's still a fine old signal box by the level crossing, some tramway-type track set into the road past the pub - The Navigation Inn ("Sorry no away supporters"), and an attractive, but derelict, house which looks vaguely connected to the railway. Maybe the stationmaster lived there, or a crossing keeper? I'd have loved to have looked inside, but alas all the windows and doors have been sealed up with breezeblocks.

And that was it for the day - just time to buy a sausage and cheese turnover from the bakery on the bus station before getting the 16:20 back towards home. After all those miles of legwork, the cheap leatherette seats of the Arrive 93 have never felt comfier...

Thursday, 30 June 2016


My explorations of Yorkshire are still incomplete - one often forgets quite how big it is. I wonder how it compares in size with, say, Luxembourg?

Anyway, yesterday saw me and los parentos, driving about the moors in the rain. First stop was nothing to do with trains, but still quite interesting all the same...

After a very damp trip along the A170 through Pickering and Helmsley, with the assistance of 1933 map (I say "assistance", but the cartographer's skills were once again somewhat lacking - particularly around Snilesworth), I directed us as fair as Whorlton.

There isn't much of a village in Whorlton. Most of the residents died of bubonic plague several hundred years ago, but they left behind a rather nice small castle. It's not owned by English Heritage -there was no entrance fee, no toilets, and no opportunities to buy a packet of overpriced biscuits in the shape of Henry VIII's wives. Luckily I had no need for such things, and it more than made up for it in clambering opportunities. Luckily I was wearing jeans, so the nettles in the undercroft did not faze me!

The only other remnant of the village is a ruined church a short distance away. I think it was called Holy Cross, but my memory may be playing tricks on me. Its graveyard is still in use - the most recent headstone I saw was dated 1998. It has very impressive yew trees, and was very atmospheric in the pissing rain. 

According to a small sign attached to the chancel door (the chancel is the only part still with a roof, and is still occasionally used for services), it's been virtually abandoned since the 1870s, when a bigger church was built in the next village of Swainby - using stones nicked from the castle! Those Victorians were so enterprising.

But I digress. Back to railway business...

Those of you who travel about on Britain's major arterial roads on a regular basis will surely have seen trucks passing with the curious name "Preston's of Potto", and I have now seen their spiritual home! Potto village is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it place, but slightly further north, by the side of a disused level crossing on the former Picton to Battersby railway line, is a big depot, where the lorries sleep overnight. I think they're like a provincial Eddie Stobart.

Despite the goods yard being so-utilised, the old station building is now a house, with a fairly unglamorous view. I hope they've got double glazing, or maybe the reversing beeps fade into background noise after a while...

The next station eastward, on the way to Stokesley, was located roughly halfway between the relatively significant (for North Yorkshire) towns of Carlton-in-Cleveland, and Hutton Rudby, In there wisdom, the North Eastern Railway decided not to name it after either of them though, and chose that of a small obscure hamlet nearby. I imagine there was a lot of sniggering in the planning office that day.

The station building is now, again, a private house. The owners obviously like their privacy, as it is surrounded by a very high hedge, and large gates. Sensibly, they have chosen to call it "The Sleepers", rather than reference the actual name of the place, to stop the postman giggling.

I expect it's probably a very old name, with Saxon or Norse origins perhaps. Who knows? (I haven't checked on Wikipedia). But anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, I hear-by present to you...

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

More railway related ramblings...

Another day off today. JP and Mum fancied going for a drive again, so whizzed over to Ampleforth Abbey, for snacks. I had a very pleasant toastie, and they both had teacakes - after, of course, having stopped in Helmsley for a Chelsea bun for JP. It's the rules.

Coxwold signalbox
I had my Bartholemews touring map (circa 1933) on hand to ask as a satnav,so after drinking about 62 cups of tea, I directed us to the old railway station at Coxwold, a couple of miles west, on what was formerly the line between Malton and Thirsk. It has a signal box, nicely restored as somebody's shed, with a couple of tail-lamps in the window, and a small bungalow-type station building...

From there, the ancient map (and I) directed us past the entrance to Newburgh Priory (some sort of stately home, not open on a Tuesday) and its associated topiary and lake, along some windy narrow lanes - very good array of roadkill, towards the next station on the line - Husthwaite Gate (the last before the junction with the East Coast Main Line).

Platform foundations
After quite a while circumnavigating the village of Husthwaite - we passed the church at least four times - due to the vagaries of 1930s cartography, I eventually found a place with 4G so I could locate us on Google Maps. Turns out we should have turned into High Street, rather than Low Street. Oops.

Husthwaite Gate station was an odd one. The main building was separated from the platform by a level crossing. The platform has now been demolished, but the foundations remain, alongside a neatly strimmed public footpath on the trackbed leading back towards Coxwold.

The station building has been tastefully extended over the years - it closed to passengers in the 1950s, before closing completely in 1963 - and is now a private house. The station yard is a camp site, and some of the old outbuildings are used as the site Reception. It's all very pleasant. Quite remote, but very floral. They sell strawberries and eggs, and have an honesty cafe out the back.

Husthwaite Gate
I've been to an honesty cafe before, at Naburn (just south of York) but this was a vast improvement. The Naburn one was somewhat grubby, with a hippyish atmosphere, but this was like walking into a page of Country Living magazine. Very tasteful paintwork, candles and stuff on sale, and a good array of teas and things. And to JP's delight they even had a serve-yourself pick n mix counter! Bought him 20 pence worth of flying saucers and foam shrimps. 

They also had WiFi. Coxwold's station was niggling at the back of my mind. The single storey building just didn't seem quite right to me, so I had a look on Disused Stations, and my fears were confirmed. That was merely a crossing-keeper's cottage! Bah!

All was not lost though. Mum suggested I could walk back along the old line, and they'd drive and meet me there. Splendid.

The weather was still nice and warm, if a little overcast, so I strode off into the countryside. The path isn't hugely exciting - just a grass strip between hedgerows. The only feature of note was a bridge were trains used to pass over a farm track, It offered views of grass, and a couple of horses.

Suddenly (how dramatic) there was a ridiculously heavy rain shower. Luckily I was under a tree when it passed over, so it merely resulted in me seriously needing a piss, rather than getting soaked to the skin. It was then just a few minuted walk back to Coxwold's actual station buildings, hidden away round the back of a row of pretty stone cottages. It too is now someone's house, but their gate was open so I confidently wandered into the middle of their drive, and took the required photo, and here it is:
Coxwold - excuse the wet hair

Friday, 24 June 2016

Exceedingly good

So anyway, I have returned to Yorkshire. On Wednesday, les parents and myself were all at a loose end. The weather was pleasant, so Mum suggested going out for a drive - she's very good like that. I suggested Kipling Cotes, on the old railway between York and Beverley, as it was somewhere I had never been before. I didn't have any OS maps with me, but saved a screenshot on my phone from the excellent Disused Stations website, with a small map so I could work out directions from an atlas in the car.

We arrived, after a very nice sunny journey, and it was all just about the same as when it closed back in 1965, the only thing lacking being the rails. The main building is a private house, the goods shed is a furniture shop - which also sells snacks and drinks - and even the signal box is still there, now housing a small artist's studio.

Just by the signal box is an information board, detailing the history of the line, with opening and closure dates, and general facts and figures about the area. The trackbed through the site is part of the Hudson Way.

Mum suggested I'd like to walk to the next station along. I guessed it was about two miles or thereabouts, so agreed, and they would drive there and pick me up. But first, a crap blurry selfie was in order!
Kipling Cotes
It was a nice walk. The first section was along a broad embankment, with scenic views out into the southern Yorkshire Wolds. It being something finally resembling summer - it is June after all - the hedgerow flowers were all in full bloom, the birds were singing, crickets hopped around me... I was surprised there weren't more people making use of the path, I only passed a couple of elderly cyclists, but it was good - I could enjoy the roses and orchids as if they were all just there for myself.

After half an hour or so, my phone rang. It was JP - he and Mum were lost. Obviously abandoned railway stations are not in the SatNav, and they wondered where I was. Unsure. He asked if I could see any landmarks. By now I was in a cutting, so my honest answer was "nettles", and "Oh, there's a bridge in the distance." Not much help.

A little later - clearly my estimate of two miles was a bit short of the mark - another phone call... 
"What can you see?"
"More nettles"
"We've found a pub."

I carried on under two more bridges. I could see a church, and a lady with a dog walked past. I'd been walking well over an hour by now, but to be honest I wasn't particularly bothered. I was having a great time, and if they'd found somewhere that Mum could buy wine I knew they'd be ok.

Eventually I reached Cherry Burton's former station. It too is now a private house. The platforms have been fenced off to create a sort of sun terrace for the owners, and featured a pair of irritating small yappy dogs - terriers of some kind maybe? I don't know. I prefer cats.
Cherry Burton. What the fuck is my hair doing?
Former station entrance
I managed to navigate my way out of the station area. The footpath leads from the back of the platforms, as the former forecourt is now a private road, with no public access, and headed towards the village - very nasty bit of main road to walk along, with no pavemen - and found Mum and JP safely ensconced in The Bay Horse. 

We drove back to their house via a sandwich at Burton Agnes Hall, then called at B&Q in Brid for some paint (Wednesday is pensioners' special day). I spent the evening painting their shed in a very fetching light blue and ivory. Very seasidey. Coincidentally British Rail North Eastern Region's colours. No connection at all. Obviously...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Great Escape: Part 5

17th June 2016 

Fast train to Berwick this morning. Gotho was a little disappointed that the railway company all those years ago had found it necessary to demolish the castle to facilitate the building of the station. I personally am quite entertained that the Great Hall is now the site of platform 2, but I think that highlights the difference between us...


Went for a cheapo breakfast at The Leaping Salmon - you can't be a Wetherspoons for its volume/price ratio, then fortified with coffee, headed out on to the Elizabethan town walls. Luckily for mum and her fear of heights, they're quite wide, and only about as tall as the top deck of the 121 to Brid, so they're not overly scary. I think her 2 double espressos helped too.

At the Cowport, we descended to ground level again, and had a look around St Mary's Church. It was built during the rule of Oliver Cromwell apparently, and is thus quite unique.

Mum lit some candles (technically I did actually, as I had a lighter). The Lady Chapel reminded me of a WHSmith railway bookstall.

We crossed the road, and went into the barracks to dry off for a bit. There's three museums in the complex. The first one is a bit weird. It has a giant walk-round model of the Laidley Worm. It's a large fabric and metal tube, with a face and a tail, lit inside with Chinese lanterns. We went in the wrong way, so effectively climbed into its arse...

The second museum was a bit boring. It was something to do with the history of war? Wasn't really paying attention.

The third I found quite emotive. It was all about the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. I think the clothes got me. All the uniforms on display were roughly my size. Really got me thinking. A very moving experience.

We headed back out onto the walls, after Gotho had bought the requisite English Heritage fridge magnet (he'll need a bigger fridge soon), and spiralled round back towards the town centre.

Gotho was very cold and wet now, but Mum and I were still caffeinated, so we sent him back to the pub and we crossed the Tweed looking for a further station photo opportunity.

Opposite Berwick, on the south bank of the river, is the imaginatively named Tweedmouth, which until the late 60s had a station all of its own, being the junction for the line inland to Coldstream in the Scottish borders. It's been almost entirely erased from the landscape now, with the site occupied by a scruffy industrial estate. One of the units appeared to be closed so a small occurrence of trespass gave me a perfect photo opportunity.


The time was now right to rejoin Gotho, and return to Wetherspoons once more. Having visited the two most northerly locations of the North Eastern Railway, I ate the only suitable option...

The Great Escape: Part 4

15th June 2016

On the bus back from Bamburgh castle today, I realised I was quite close to a disused station on the East Coast Main Line. I rang the bell, and got off in the fairly dull-looking village of Longhoughton. The station was just around the corner. Alas, most of it has been demolished, but I took a photo of myself anyway.

Rather than walking direct back to Alnmouth, I remembered an episode of Coast from about 10 years ago, where they reconstructed a Mesolithic hut, and it was nearby. Thought I'd have a look, but sadly that has disappeared too...
This was a roundhouse. Not so much now...

However, the coast path south was lovely. The sun was out, the sky and sea were blue, and it was even warm enough for me to take my jacket off. Hurrah!

Summery :)

Eventually made it back to Alnmouth, after passing a dead seal (I poked it with my foot to check it was dead. Perhaps it's lack of eyeballs should've been a giveaway), aWorld War 2 bunker, and a couple of golf courses. Time for wine now I think...

Oh dear.

The Great Escape: Part 3

14th June 2016: Part 2

After a day of medieval history, looking around Dunstanburgh Castle, I thought that was probably it, with no chances for railway based activity. However, that was all to change...

Called in at Alnwick on the way back, for some cava at Barter's, then returned to Alnmouth. Ate a selection of meats and cheeses, then went out for a stroll.

Headed out on the estuary road, but turned off by the cricket club, up a footpath to  Lesbury. Saw a nice cat.

Walked through Lesbury, past the church and the pub. Passed the tollhouse, over the old bridge (the new 1960s one is stupid looking), then cut off onto the footpath along the bank of the Aln.

The main purpose of the walk was to see the viaduct carrying the East Coast Main Line across the river. Not sure what it's called. The sign underneath calls it Alnmouth...

It's pretty old. I think it was built in around 1846/7. I tried to count the arches but one end is rather obscured by trees. I took a couple of photos, and amusingly the exposure times erased the electric wires from the top. Retro!

I really ought to have been heading back en famille by now, but didn't. Carried on walking up the Aln, to Bilton Mill, then turned off up the valley side, towards the nearest road. Crossed the old Alnmouth-Alnwick branch line via a couple of stiles, by which point the mist had closed in again.

The footpath led to a farm track, then joined a minor road which eventually led back to Alnmouth station.

Alnmouth - apologies for the blur on the lens. Fingermark. Oops.

There's a plaque on the up platform (platform 1), detailing a bit of history of the railway. The station opened  1849 as Lesbury, was renamed as Bilton at some point, then became Alnmouth, and since 2003 has been Alnmouth for Alnwick. That's probably not what it said at all, but by this point I was tired.

I hung around long enough to watch a train arrive - quite surprised it still has a signal box - and then it was just a walk back to Alnmouth for wine. All this walking is making me feel remarkably healthy this week...