Tiny Stations – the pictures

Ah yes, some while ago I promised readers that I’d publish a load of pics of railway request stops that were meant to appear in the hardback edition of my book Tiny Stations but which got accidentally left out. I know, it seems extraordinary but we live in a world of errors and miscalculations, as the designers of the Mini Metro will testify.

So, to celebrate the final episode of Paul Merton’s Secret Stations, the television series inspired by Tiny Stations (I wrote the pitch that went to Channel 4 – a fact that will doubtless crop up in a pub quiz near you sometime over the next decade so squirrel it away now), I’ve uploaded some of my favourite photos of railway request stops taken when I zipped around the country doing the research for the book. I hope they inspire you to go and see them in the flesh, for they are a balm to the soul.

I’ve popped them up in alphabetical order, so you’ll be whizzing around the country a bit. (Half the captions done – the rest will appear shortly, all being well.)


Altnabreac, Highlands

Altnabreac (pron. ‘alt-na-brek’) Caithness, northern Scotland, in the midst of 100 square miles of plantations and lochans and ten miles from the nearest road. No one knows why it was built.

Beasdale - Inverness-shire

Beasdale, another Highland station – I spent the night in this shelter, only awoken by a nice man who’d come to water the hanging baskets.

Berney Arms, Norfolk - looking frenetic

Berney Arms, Norfolk, serving a pub of the same name that can only be reached by rail, river or footpath.

Berney Arms, Norfolk - under lowering skies

Berney Arms again, under a lowering sky.

Bootle, Cumbria

Bootle station, Cumbria, scene of one of the bravest civilian acts of the last war when train driver Harold Goodall gave his life attempting to put out a fire in a wagon full of depth charges. Scandalously, there’s still no blue plaque to him or his valiant fireman Herbert Stubbs.

Buckenham, Norfolk - train speeds through Buckenham station, just visible through trees

Buckenham station (hiding behind the trees and train), Norfolk, where you alight for the setting of Mark Cocker’s excellent book ‘Crow Country’.

Burnley Barracks, Lancs - request stop instructions

Burnley Barracks, Lancashire – you’d think this sort of sign would be common on railway request stops but it’s the only one I remember seeing. Don’t come here for the cavalry barracks from which it gets its name – it’s long gone. The 2008 campaign to have the station’s name changed to Burnley Barack Obama was sadly unsuccessful.

Campbell's Platform on Ffestiniog Railway, Gwynedd

Campbell’s Platform, Gwynedd – the only request stop mentioned in the book that is not on the national network. I happened to pass through here while using the mighty Ffestiniog Railway to get me up from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Pretty darn luffly.

Conwy, Conwy - the station sadly some distance from the castle

Conwy, Conwy, so good they named it twice. The town of Conwy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Robert Stephenson bashed a might big hole in its wonderful mediæval town wall to admit the railway line (see bottom-ish right-ish, where the line comes in from the right).

Denton, Gtr Manchester - one of Britain's rarest rail tickets

A ticket (not actually mine – I found this on the platform) for a train that runs but once a week. The Denton Flyer currently makes its weekly journey from Stockport, Greater Manchester, at 09.22 every Friday. There is no return. Much as in life.

Denton, Gtr Manchester - the weekly Denton Flyer pulls out

The Denton Flyer. At Denton but not actually flying.

Dolgarrog, Conwy

Dolgarrog, Conwy, – it served a huge aluminium works which closed down (because, after all, who needs baking foil?). The site opened up last year as Surf Snowdonia, the world’s first artificial surfing lagoon, which has proved very popular, so best to visit the station before it becomes a compulsory stop.

Duncraig, Highlands

Duncraig, on the gorgeous Kyle of Lochalsh line. The waiting room was designed to mirror one of the rooms in Duncraig Castle, for which it was built as a private halt. Loch Carron and the charming village of Plockton beyond. Wrote a piece for the Guardian about the bizarre experience of staying at Duncraig Castle (sadly no longer possible) here.

Dunrobin Castle, Highlands - Dunrobin Castle ii

Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland, one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Scotland and seat of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland…

Dunrobin Castle, Highlands

…and its station, with its remarkable Arts and Crafts building, now home to a tiny museum of railway memorabilia.

Entwistle, Lancs - inadvertent selfie

Entwistle station, Lancashire, inadvertent selfie taken while hoovering up info.

Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria - former home of world's longest station seat

Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria – one of the most fortunately situated stations in the country.

Lelant, Cornwall

Lelant, Cornwall, on the Hayle estuary – where my journey began and, until recently, the only request stop with a buffet (now closed, sadly).

Llanbedr, Gwynedd

Llanbedr, Gwynedd, conveniently placed for Europe’s largest campsite, the 300-acre Shell Island. Actually quite nice but not really my niche, obviously.

Llandanwg, Gwynedd

Llandanwg, Gwynedd, looking rather like a child’s toy station. A notice warns the public not to loiter on the platform, a difficult thing to avoid when waiting for a train.

Llanfair PG, Anglesey - with handy pronunciation guide

Llanfair PG, Anglesey/Ynys Môn. Someone you know, and possibly hold quite dear, will be able to recite this station’s name. They will be English.

Lochailort, Inverness-shire - waiting for the late night train

Lochailort, Inverness-shire, on the West Highland Line. ‘Irregular warfare’ techniques were taught (to David Niven, among others) at the nearby Inverailort House during World War II. This also involved the invention of the string vest.

Lympstone Commando, Devon iii

Lympstone Commando, Devon, on the eastern shore of the Exe estuary. Let’s draw a veil over the odd placement of ‘only’ here. The Camp commander kindly gave me permission to get off and even take photos. I quickly became surrounded by trainee Commandos heading off for a weekend’s leave. They all seemed very nice but you wouldn’t mess with them, which is perhaps the point.

New Clee, Lincs - Grimsby Dock Tower - once the world's tallest secular building

View of the rather astonishing Grimsby Dock Tower from New Clee station, Grimsby, Lincolnshire. The tower is based on one in Sienna. Water was pumped up it and then released to push open (or close) the enormous dock gates.

Penhelig, Gwynedd

Penhelig, Gwynedd, on the Cambrian Coast Line, a station squeezed in between two tunnels not 300 yards apart.

Penychain, Gwynedd

The station that served a naval training camp built by Billy Butlin during the last war. After the end of hostilities he converted it into a holiday camp (now a Haven). A young Richard Starkey played drums at the camp for two summer seasons with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.  

Reddish South, Gtr Manchester - detail from station muralReddish South, Gtr Manchester - philosophyRoman Bridge, Conwy - station amongst hillsShippea Hill, CambsSt Andrews Road, nr BristolSugar Loaf - cheery train driverSugar Loaf - driver coming back and looking concernedTalsarnau, GwyneddThe Lakes, WarwickshireUmberleigh, Devon iiY Fali:Valley, Anglesey - with signal boxYeoford, Devon



Ynys Gifftan, Gwynedd

A tiny bit of Ynys Gifftan. Portmeirion is over the far side of the sands.

Like a brown egg half buried in the sands of the Afon Dwyryd, Ynys Gifftan is fortunate enough to command views of Portmeirion and the Irish Sea in one direction and Snowdonia (and, hey, Snowdon itself when the mists clear) in the other.

A gift from Queen Anne to Lord Harlech (hence its name, which means Anne’s Gift Island) in the early 18th century, the isle has but one residence, a stone-built cottage. It’s currently unoccupied and was, sadly, vandalised a few years ago, but if you wish to do it up a bit and live there, do apply to the island’s owner, the 6th Baron Harlech, who I’m sure would be more than happy to lease you Ynys Gifftan (under the terms of the gift he’s not allowed to sell you the island – a canny woman, Queen Anne).

The sands in the picture above are where the ‘Rover’ scenes from cult 60s television series The Prisoner were shot. Which means, of course, that the buildings you can just make out on the far shore are those of Portmeirion, the Italianate fantasy village built by Clough Williams-Ellis.

In other news, a devastating tsunami swept up the estuary in 1927 causing considerable damage to the local village of Talsarnau and the railway lines that used to run up this stretch of coast (there’s just the one left now). Fans of the 1927 Welsh Tsunami can read about it in my book Tiny Stations (which features Talsarnau) as well as Tiny Islands.

Meanwhile, for fans of footprints, here are some of mine, trailing across the sands towards Talsarnau, the village from where access to the island is possible at low tide if you don’t mind getting your legs wet. You’ll notice that there is only one set of footprints. That’s because Jesus and I hopped the entire way across.

Looe Island, Cornwall

A friend and I, walking a Cornish section of the South-West Coast Path last month, inadvertently found ourselves camping near Looe (aka St George’s) Island – home for forty years to the extraordinarily unflappable Atkins sisters. Here it is in all its a-little-after-dawn glory. I’ll be visiting the puckish little isle this summer when, if all goes well, it should have warmed up to the point where tents won’t have to be defrosted before they can be returned to their bags.

Unlike most tiny islands, this one stretches to its own website, so pop along here for a preview peek.