Yes, I know the title of this blog’s 180 degrees about face but it got you looking didn’t it!
I’m about to leave sunny Southport to head back to Yorkshire, which gives me a rare opportunity for a rolling blog. It’s a long time since I’ve travelled anywhere by train on a Sunday so I’ll be sharing my impressions and experiences of the journey – along with a few pictures.
I’ve enjoyed my time here exploring and catching up on some childhood memories of the place where I grew up although so much has changed in the intervening half-century! Much of what I remember has disappeared, including many of the old corner shops. Napoleon supposedly once called the English a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ but if that were ever true it’s certainly not any more, a nation of supermarket shoppers, maybe.
Here’s an example. This was an old sweet-shop on the Corner of a road where one of my Aunties lived whom I used to stay with as a small child.
Mind you, it’s not just the shop that’s disappeared, behind the row of bungalows on the opposite side of the road was the direct railway line via Blowick which closed in 1964, sandwiched in between them was a abattoir where cattle used to be delivered for slaughter by rail. I can still remember hearing their pitiful mooing as they waited for the end. The abattoir must have closed in the 1960’s too. Now that whole area is covered by a housing estate built in the early 1970s.
One other memory that came up was due to walking over some of the old pavements in the area that are still tiled rather than tarmac’d. The 9′ blue tiles came from a company in North Wales and were a feature of the town in streets laid out in the Edwardian era. My ‘Nana’ invented an educational counting game where we counted the letters G of E that were embossed on some to mark the location of Gas pipes or Electric cables. I found plenty of E’s, but could I find a G?
Right, time to begin my travels, see you soon…
I’m currently sat on the 11:38 Southport to Blackburn which is made up of a Class 156/158 lash-up. I did try the lead 158 which was almost empty but the wifi was up the spout so I’ve transferred to the 156 instead where it’s working fine and I’m typing this. Both sets are refurbished with new seat mocquette, passenger information system and USB chargers but no mains sockets as they’d drain too much power. There’s only a dozen of us (plus a plethora of pooches) in the car so I commandeered a table bay on which to set up my laptop with ease!
As I’m now a Pennine-dweller crossing the familiar fertile flatlands of the West Lancashire plains seems rather odd but it demonstrates why my Fitbit has registered such a low ‘stairs climbed’ total recently, the only way you can gain any altitude around here is by crossing one of Southport’s railway bridges!
Our first stop is Burscough Bridge. On the approach to the station are a couple of playing fields which are alive with footballers and onlookers – a sight I’ve not seen all year. The station’s graced with an expensive white elephant, a new ticket office/cafe that was built in the early 2000s, just as the market was changing and ticketing going more and more online whilst the cafe was never commercially viable as there wasn’t the required footfall. All it did was abstract income from established local businesses. The building’s been locked up and deserted for several years now. Another sign of how the times have changed are the Amazon parcel pick-up lockers that appeared in 2020.
We’ve just arrived at Wigan Wallgate and the train’s filling up as several groups have joined us for the run into Manchester. There’s a mix of young families, teenaged lads off for a day out together and a few solo travelers with purpose unknown.
We’ve just passed one of the delights of this line, the magnificent station gardens at Hindley station which are maintained by the multi-award winning friends group – although the brilliant work they do goes far, far beyond gardening. They a delightful group to visit and a trip to Hindley’s always something to look forward to when I’m wearing my Community Rail Network Judges hat.
From Crows Nest Junction we too the direct line via Atherton rather than swing left to head for Bolton. It’s hard to picture what this line looked like little more than half-a century ago. Then it was a four-track main line with classic island platform L&Y stations crossing the Lancashire coalfield that was festooned with collieries and railway lines that served them. Now it’s a two-track commuter and leisure line that carries no freight at all. Much of it runs on embankments which offer a grandstand view of all the new homes that are being built alongside the line. About the only thing that betrays this was once quadruple track are the bridges (over and under) which betray the width of the original formation. Now most of the cuttings are overgrown with Silver-Birch and other tress, creating a linear wildlife reserve and problem for trains in the leaf-fall season.
The one area that still surprises me as we pass is Agecroft. In my youth it contained collieries and a power station surrounded by a vast freight rail network. The Power Station had little steeple-cab electric locos whilst the colliery was still worked by steam engines in the early 1980s. Now everything’s been swept away to be replaced by vast anonymous grey warehouses that offer no interest at all.
Due to gaps in the timetable I had an enforced break at Manchester Victoria that’s enabled me to get a few pictures and nip out to the nearby Co-op for a Scotch Egg lunch. All the catering outlets on the station were closed and the place was still quite deserted. Wandering into town I was disconcerted to see one huge gaggle of young people snaking their way through the streets in a long line. I’m assuming they’re part of a group but it does seem rather reckless as the social distancing was minimal to non-existent. I’m really hoping we don’t f*ck up this gradual release from lockdown, but sometimes I do wonder…
Back at Victoria I was interested to see that the Victoria – Blackpool North services were being worked by pairs of the new electric Class 331s from CAF rather than the old BR built Class 319s. I’m sure the extra capacity of a 6 car over a 4 will be a welcome during the summer months.
Final leg now. I changed trains at Littleborough to get a last couple of pictures in this glorious weather and start to acclimatise again as it’s certainly a few degrees cooler up here than at sea level! Loadings on my present trains to Leeds are around the 50% mark but it’s difficult to judge as there’s a high churn rate between stations here.
Back home to a beautifully clear evening and a glorious sunset to boot! I’m going to sign off for today as it’s time for some family time, just Me, Dawn and the moggie. Tomorrow’s going to be another busy day as I’ve loads of pictures to edit and an article to research, so watch this space…
I’ve a favour to ask…
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