A couple of weeks ago I visited a friend in a midlands city and having spent some time with her and one of the men in her life I walked back to the railway station.
My friend’s city boasts two railway stations and after I had admired the very rare model K8 telephone kiosk I asked the ticket office clerk for details of my journey home. Much to my delight I was advised to change trains in Gloucester and then join a direct train back to my city. Gloucester has one of the longest railway platforms in the UK (it’s built so that two full length trains can sit at it end to end) by my real delight lay in the route of my “direct” train home from there.
The railway has had a romantic fascination for me ever since I was a child. When I was ten I was sent to school as a weekly boarder, and a couple of years later our mode of transport was changed from road to rail. In those days the trains were of a similar style to those that were built before World War Two. There were wooden interiors and bouncy seats, and on the railway line between Salisbury and Exeter passengers could take advantage of a “proper” restaurant car. Those trains that I rode on as a child only exist now in museums. Time has moved on, and so has the world.
I started travelling independently on the railway when I started earning money, and as often as once a week I would go out on a trip – typically to London. I could never see the fascination with collecting engine numbers (I literally couldn’t see the numbers) but I did start “collecting” railway stations. Very often I would scan the railway map and see if I could mark off a few more miles of unexplored railway. Today I have probably only covered a quarter of the railway: the Isle of Wight Line with its underground trains converted to mainline use, and the Sheffield to Manchester railway with its views of Kinder Scout spring to mind.
I hope to eventually have travelled on all of Britain’s railways and so it was almost with a sense of glee that I boarded the train home from Gloucester. The service describes a zig-zag pattern as it trundles through the west country, but it also travelled along a stretch of railway that I had never visited, and in the natural course of events never would. Three hours after I left Gloucester I was home – marking off more railway stations on my map.