It's the remotest station in Norfolk, quite possibly in the whole of England. It's in the middle of a broadland fen, accessible only via footpath. It's a couple of miles from the nearest public road. It's named after a nearby pub that you can't reach by road either. Hardly any trains stop there, except on summer Sundays. Its single platform isn't even as long as a carriage, let alone a whole train. It's used by less than two thousand passengers a year. It's Berney Arms, and yesterday I was one of the station's handful of visitors.
You have to pick your train carefully. A couple of departures from Norwich in the morning, and a couple from Great Yarmouth in the afternoon. Most other trains between the two termini take the direct route, but these four journeys divert south via Reedham, including a long run across the marshes. Nobody lives here, nobody at all, so it's incredible that this railway line has survived into the 21st century unchopped. It's only here in the first place because the original landowner insisted that a station be built in return for selling the necessary thin strip of land. He was Thomas Berney, the nearby pub is named after him, and so the station that serves nowhere is named Berney Arms.
You have to warn the driver that you want to get off, otherwise they won't stop. Travelling west that means popping up to the cab window on the platform at Great Yarmouth, while travelling east there's a longer run-up so the guard can warn the driver on your behalf. She seemed surprised, but not overly so, that our family party wanted to alight at the request stop in a field. Maybe we look like the sort of eccentrics who'd get off five miles before the seaside so that we could walk there instead. As the train rumbled ever closer to our destination, she called over the train intercom for passengers for Berney Arms to move to the very rear of the train. We wandered back past scores of holidaymakers and daytrippers, to join the other rambling party by the rear doors. But no, we weren't going out that way, because these modern trains can't cope with selective door opening for half a carriage only. Instead we were led out via the rear driver's cab, stepping carefully across the gap to the stunted platform alongside. There were even four folk waiting to climb aboard, and they entered the train via the same unusual route. Rush hour at Berney Arms, mind the gap. [photo]
As the train slowly disappeared along the arrow-straight track, we were left to stand on a most unusual platform [photo]. One modern station name sign and one old, the latter reminiscent of an era when a steam train might have pulled alongside [photo]. One tiny wooden shelter, of a size to protect only two waiting passengers from driving rain, containing a map of the local area (mostly empty) and a telephone number to call 'to advertise here'. One help point, consisting of a button and loudspeaker on a stick, plugged in goodness knows where. A cycle rack, with space for only two bikes, although goodness knows who'd be able to ride out this far to use it. And a ramp down to ground level, leading to a crossing point over the track and a short path down to the station 'entrance' [photo]. It's this ramp and flat path which allow Berney Arms to be described as a "step free station", although this accessibility triumph is somewhat hollow as no wheelchair users could negotiate the stiles and kissing gates required to make a getaway.
The next train wasn't due for another 3¼hrs, so we had the choice of holing up in the nearby pub for several pints or walking our way back to civilisation. Civilisation was just about visible on the horizon, across miles of flat marshland, in the form of miniature rooftops and tiny traffic on the distant A47. But closer at hand the only other visible lifeforms were grazing cattle, spread out in herds across a patchwork of squelchy grass and drainage channels. Nobody ever comes here by accident. Indeed, just five minutes after the train had departed, it was easy to imagine that nobody ever comes here at all.