Sunday, 18 June 2017

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

So, like any normal person, I decided, on the hottest day of the year, to spend several hours on a bus to visit a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland. Yes - that's right: Middlesbrough!

The journey did not start well - the 93 was packed with pensioners, of course - one particularly irritating specimen, with teeth like old wax crayons, repeatedly announcing to anyone who'd listen that she "lives near the seafront you know". Thank heavens for headphones.

Once I'd blocked the surrounding chatter, I was fine. From Robin Hood's Bay as far as Whitby a very attractive young hiker came and sat beside me - he had very good legs - and then Gotho boarded in Whitby. The mood was lightened even further by a very jolly dog on the seat in front, who wanted to make friends and kept poking her head through the gap, like an excitable child on a school trip.

Not entirely sure about this
Once in the 'Boro, we exchanged some black (of course) jeans in Primark - the main purpose of the trip - and wandered up to the riverside. The Transporter Bridge was once again closed for lunch, but we decided to wait this time, and had a stroll along to the big sculpture thing that looks a bit like a giant version of one of those bags oranges come in. Not quite sure what it's supposed to be, but it's quite impressive all the same.

Back from the Grand Canyon
Once the Transporter Bridge had finished eating its sandwiches, we boarded. I hummed the music from Swan Lake, but it was completely lost on Gotho, as evidently he has never watched Billy Elliot. It's 60p each way, and is a surreal experience. It's not so much a bridge, as a ferry dangling on strings - very smooth and a lot quieter than I expected.

Pleasantly rural
Over the river, in what I presume is (or at least was) County Durham, is the old railway station at Port Clarence. It's been closed to passengers for decades now, but there is still a freight line running past at a slightly higher level, towards chemical works at Seal Sands. It's an odd place - minutes away from Middlesbrough town centre, but like a remote village from a different time altogether. There's the station building, a tiny little cafe selling bacon sandwiches, a row of railway cottages, and The Station Hotel, offering a week's B&B accommodation for £75 quid. Bargain.
Port Clarence

Old signal post
On the Big Tile Map, Port Clarence is at the end of  a branch line, with only one intermediate station - Gotho agreed we could walk along the main road and see if there was any evidence of it.

By this point, it was like standing in front of an oven. Gotho went in to a Londis with bricked up windows and bought a bottle of Goth Juice (well, Sprite, but Goth Juice is funnier). We passed a war memorial, a couple of rows of council houses with the requisite handful of shirtless chavs, and the odd dreary bus shelter with interesting graffiti - apparently whoever "takes it up the shitter" doesn't want this fact making known so has gone to the effort of scratching off their name...
Haverton Hill
Tumbleweeds just out of shot

And so it was 'til we reached Haverton Hill. The station remains consist of a bridge, and a bit of wrecked goods yard. Parts of the coal drops still stand, like some ancient relic - a bit like Haverton Hill village, most of which was demolished when it was realised all the industry thereabouts was poisoning the land under people's feet. Hurrah for the '70s!

Anyway. Photos taken, we retraced our steps - flying once more o'er the silv'ry Tees on a cat's cradle of blue ironwork...

And went to the pub. Goodo.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

A Bit More

Just a couple of extra bits from last weeks trip North of the Wall.

First of all, Wednesday 7th June:

You may or may not know, but Gotho rather likes history. Basically if something has a connection to the Duke of Wellington - however tenuous - he's all over it like a Russian in a bread queue. With this in mind, it's quite easy to get him to accompany me to random rural locations, despite his hatred of mud and long grass, if there's a castle or ruin of some sort in the vicinity.

In rural Northumberland, you literally can't go to the pub without tripping over some sort of ancient stonework, so this PlatformCat Quest was a no-brainer. In Ye Olden Days™, this part of England was always being fought over, so there are castles and such like all over the place. The locals needed them to stop Mel Gibson sneaking over the border from Scotland, and flashing his bum at the local populace. Or something like that.

So anyway, Gotho and myself, went down to Alnwick bus station, and waited patiently for the 418. When it arrived I was surprised to discover that the driver's uniform consisted of jeans, a Metallica T-shirt. I'm not sure his enormous beard was standard issue either. After some confusion over our intended destination - it may have been the Northumbrian language barrier, his hearing aids, or the fact we were the first ever passengers not travelling with an OAP bus pass - we were on our way.
Across the valley

10 minutes later, the bus trundled away into the hills, and we were alone on the hillside, with a magnificent view across the valley. First stop was the tiny village church - built in Saxon times, and barely altered since. I was particularly pleased with someone's ingenuity - instead of lighting candles, and the inherent fire risks involved, this church offered the opportunity to poke a glow stick into a bowl of sand instead. I feel I have seen the future.

Note the sneaky viaduct, hiding in the bushes
But yeah. The castle was our next destination, down the lane at the side of the graveyard. It's English Heritage, but it doesn't have a gift shop, ticket booth, cafe etc. They sell a leaflet about it in the church (50p to church roof funds. Are there any churches in Britain that don't leak?) It's in a fairly rough state - a whole chunk on one side is doing a good impression of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, with only a couple of rusty poles stopping a few ton of dressed stonework smashing down and demolishing a few sheep. It was nice to explore though - made me feel like I was on episode of Knightmare.

Now Gotho was all full of history, it was time for my hammer-blow: Walking through long grass... Behind the castle there is a viaduct. It's on private property, but there is a public right of way a few hundred yards away, which offered possible views. "Possible" if you bring a hedge trimmer...  The actual trackbed is clear and you can walk onto the viaduct itself, if you ignore the Private Property: No Public Access signs. Of course, I would never commit such a dreadful and heinous act...

Of course, up to now I had still not taken a crap photo of myself at the old station, which was back across the other side of the river. We retraced our steps back to where the bus had dropped us off, and walked northwards along the roadside verge. The station building - Edlingham - is now a private house, and you can't get particularly close to it. I walked as far down the owners' drive as I dared (The local area is quite popular with the hunting and shooting set, and I didn't fancy getting an arseful of lead) and took a few rubbish selfies. Here is the least bad:

The next day was very different. The weather was, in a word, shite. Myself, Gotho and Mum didn't want to spend the day cooped up in the house, so got the bus to Amble - my logic being that it's a holiday resort, so even in the rain there'll be a lot of things to do. How wrong I was. The highlight was the lobster hatchery.

I don't want to do Amble too much of a disservice - I'm sure on sunny day it's lovely - but after an hour or so of wandering we decided to sack it off and go to the pub instead. I took a photo of myself by the old station - or at least I hope that's where I was standing... There's nothing really left of it, as it closed to passengers in 1930, and has been obliterated in the intervening years. My OS map of the area said "dismtd rly", on an area of open space, so I located that down a back street and tried not to get my phone too wet...