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 (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, 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, serving a pub of the same name that can only be reached by rail, river or footpath.
Berney Arms again, under a lowering sky.
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 station (hiding behind the trees and train), Norfolk, where you alight for the setting of Mark Cocker’s excellent book ‘Crow Country’.
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, 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, so good they named it twice. The town of Conwy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Robert Stephenson bashed a huge 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).
A ticket 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.
The Denton Flyer. At Denton but not actually flying.
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, 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 years beforehand about the bizarre experience of staying at Duncraig Castle (sadly no longer possible) here.
Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland, one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Scotland and seat of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland…
…and its station, with its remarkable Arts and Crafts building, now home to a tiny museum of railway memorabilia.
Entwistle station, Lancashire, inadvertent selfie taken while hoovering up info.
Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria – one of the most fortunately situated stations in the country.
Lelant, Cornwall, on the Hayle estuary – where my journey began and, until recently, the only request stop with a buffet (now closed, regrettably).
Llanbedr, Gwynedd, conveniently placed for Europe’s largest campsite, the 300-acre Shell Island. I stayed at the campsite and it’s actually rather nice but is not really my niche, obviously.
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/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, 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, 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.
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, on the Cambrian Coast Line, a station squeezed in between two tunnels not 300 yards apart.
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.
One of five murals at installed at Reddish South station in Greater Manchester by the Friends of Reddish South. Like Denton (see above) the station has just one service, once a week, in one direction, and that, of course, only calls if requested.
Wisdom found on the bridge next to Reddish South station.
Roman Bridge station in the Lledr Valley, N Wales. There is a river bridge nearby, but it isn’t Roman. To be fair, there may have been a crossing point around here at some time during the occupation.
Shippea Hill, right on the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk border. Currently the holder of the coveted title of Britain’s least used station.
St Andrew’s Road (the apostrophe is mine) near Bristol. One of the stations in Tiny Stations that I didn’t think Paul Merton would travel to for the Secret Stations television series (I didn’t include it in my pitch to Channel 4 anyway) but he did, so fair play to him for that.
A thrilled train driver takes a look at the rare passenger (me, in this case) getting off at Sugar Loaf, on the Heart of Wales line. The guard, with eight years’ experience of the line, couldn’t remember ever having stopped here.
The same driver, coming back a couple of hours later, excited to see me still at Sugar Loaf (I had another three hours to wait for a train heading Shrewsbury-wards).
A view from Talsarnau station, Gwynedd. The turf here used to be so prized that it was lifted and taken to London to be used as the playing surface at Wimbledon and Wembley.
The Lakes, Warwickshire, a station built to service a day-tripper attraction so popular it used to be known as The Scarborough of The Midlands (in the days when Scarborough was really quite popular).
Umberleigh, Devon, on the Tarka Line from Exeter, and home to some very pleasing venerable signboards.
Y Fali/Valley station near the far end of Anglesey. The signalman in the box shown here kindly let me come in to watch him work.
Yeoford, Devon – another Tarka Line station. There’s a little library in the waiting room shown here.