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10:00.

Today I’m heading back to Southport, the town where I grew up to see my sister and (belatedly) celebrate her birthday. Needless to say, I’m going by rail, so stay with me and see how the day goes as I’m stopping off on the way (albeit briefly) to visit the friends of Hindley station and their Xmas Fayre…

10:58.

Having walked down to Sowerby Bridge staion and picked up my coffee from the Jubilee refreshment rooms (in one of their fully biodegradable cups) I’m ready to roll.

Shame the train isn’t. The 11:06 is already 4 mins late. Still, it could have been worse. I could have been waiting for the 11:22 to Chester. That’s been cancelled!

11:10.

In the end the 11:06 turned up just a couple of minutes late. It’s worked by a schizophrenic Class 150. Number 109 was transferred to Northern from W Midlands Trains. It still bears their livery on the outside but on the inside the seats have the new Nothern mocquette! A 2-car on a Saturday is less than ideal. It’s already full and standing with several busy stations to call at before arrival in Manchester.

12:15.

I’m still on the same train as it was late into Manchester, so I missed my connection. We’re currently trundling along the old Lancashire and Yorkshire main line from Manchester to Wigan via Atherton. Once four tracked, it passed through a landscape studded with collieries. Now all are gone. I’ve been traversing the route for half a century and remember how industrial the area once was but little remains to stand out now other than the odd red-brick cotton mill.

12:38.

Having changed trains at Wigan Wallgate I’m now doubling back to Hindley aboard one of an endangerd species. The Northern Rail ‘Pacer’…

This one’s in original condition with the small destination blind and bus-style seats. Personally, I’d rather have one of these than a Class 150, but I know I’m in a minority here!

14:05.

I’ve had an interesting couple of hours in Hindley. It’s their Christmas market today, so I popped in to say hello to Sheila Davidson of the station friends group, who was looking after a stall there. The community spirit is still strong in this former mining town , as anyone who’s ever met Sheila and the friends of Hindley station will know.

The Xmas market was really busy. There were fairground rides for the kids. A stage on which a young girl with a decent voice was belting out tunes, an inflatable pub and dozens of stalls. One that caught my eye was the Mayflower brewery who’re based in the town. They do a variety of locally themed bottled beers with names like ‘Douglas Valley’ and ‘Wigan Bier’! I tried the Douglas Valley, which is a light, hoppy pale ale and ended up buying some.

My visit was fleeting and I’m now on the train to Southport. One thing I did notice about Hindley was how choked with traffic it was. Cars were queuing all the way from the centre of town as far back as the railway station.

The train I’m on now is one of Northern’s refurbished Class 150s. It’spart of a pair and it’s already in a bit of a state. The seats are dirty, there’s empty beer bottles strewn around and the disabled toilet is out of action – which doesn’t bode well for a Saturday night service!

21:00.

I’m now onboard yet another Class 150, making my way East to Yorkshire after a lovely afternoon catching up with my sister and an unexpected appearance by my elder brother John. It was far too long since we’ve been together, but life often puts obstacles in the way.

21.53.

I’ve changed trains at Manchester Victoria, where it’s the usual Saturday night mayhem as passengers (many inebriated) search for their trains. The information screens add to the chaos. I’m now stood on the 21:58 to Leeds, only the PIS was advertising it as the 22:04 to Blackburn until a few minutes before it left, causing the dispatch staff loads of hassle…

22:13.I’m stood in a 75mph ‘Dogbox’ (a single car class 153 to the uninitiated) tacked onto the rear of a 90mph Class 158. Not that it matters much on this route as 90 mph is purely aspirational!

Needless to say, the train’s full – even after calling at Rochdale, but the atmosphere’s jolly. Unusually, nany folk are doing the unheard of nowadays. They’re actually talking (even to strangers) rather than staring, trance-like at their Smartphones.