diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 20, 2012

A lot of people try to visit all of the stations on the London Underground in as short a time as possible. They don't get out at every station, they just pass through, and the whole thing can be done in a day. For a rather different sort of challenge, more appropriate to the northwest of England, Scott decided to visit all of the 100+ stations on the Merseyrail map. This would be proper visiting, not passing through, and with a photo of himself taken in front of every single station sign. To add to the challenge he'd walk between some of the stations and ride between others, and then he'd blog about it all after he got home. It took him five years.

Another challenge was required, so Scott stepped up a gear and decided to visit every station on the Northern Rail map instead. This is huge, from Carlisle and Newcastle in the north to Stoke-on-Trent and Nottingham in the south, and it's going to take him a lot longer. Yesterday he struck out to visit five stations on the far-flung eastern side of the map, and I headed up to join him. An ideal Christmas shopping avoidance task, I thought.

We journeyed from Sheffield to Lincoln on a branch line plied by Pacers (more a bus on rails than a proper train). The service runs only hourly, which made getting off and back on again a slow business, and that's why we only visited five stations. Scott's train from Liverpool was (very) late, so we missed the first train we intended to catch, and that had repercussions. We had lunch in Retford, which isn't something you do every day. We skipped Gainsborough, because he's been there already. We stopped for a pint in Saxilby, which previously I couldn't even have located on a map. And we arrived in Lincoln long after dark, alas with no time to admire the floodlit-cathedral before we had to catch our respective trains home.

Scott'll be writing up his account of the day in more detail, which is a bit unnerving, because people don't normally blog about a day spent out and about with me. But he'll be writing about it a bit later, not today, so don't expect to see his report immediately. So I thought I'd tell you about an hour of our day, from Shireoaks station to Worksop station and the three mile walk inbetween. I think I can guarantee it's not a walk you'll ever do, nor want to do. But that's how it is when there's a mega-challenge to complete, the journey is what you make of it.

Shireoaks to Worksop
(3 miles) [map]

The thing about an hourly train, if you're walking from one station to the next, is that you have one hour to complete the walk. An hour and three minutes in this case, but that's still a challenge when there's three miles to be covered. Shireoaks station isn't much, not since its Victorian buildings were demolished recently, leaving a couple of shelters and an old signal box. Scott needed his self-portrait photo taken in front of the station sign (and a paltry sign at that), and then it was time for a swift exit. To the Chesterfield Canal, a few yards along the road, which would take us down the valley to Worksop.

There are a lot of locks on this stretch, all of them narrow gauge for narrow boats. Quite scenic in the spring, no doubt, but a little more washed out in mid-December. The marina on the left bank looks like any other, but was originally built to serve a colliery on the land behind. Shireoaks is in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, exploited here from the 1860s until 1991, so it's now a former pit village getting by as best it can.

The towpath squashes between a road and the canal, past a verdant hillock that looks suspiciously like it used to be a slag heap. Past the railway bridge is another pit village with the unlikely name of Rhodesia. It's nothing African, far from it, having been named after Mr Rhodes the chairman of the colliery company. As for Haggonfields Lock, that could the scenic highlight of the walk were it not for a concrete viaduct carrying the A57 overhead. [photo]

The canal is closed at Stret Lock, where workmen are using the winter months to drain, widen and rebuild. Recent measurements revealed that the lock is an inch narrower than it's supposed to be, following centuries of ground pressure, and boats were regularly getting stuck on the way through. Progress can be observed from The Lock Keeper pub alongside, whose "Carvery from £3.99" looks wonderfully cheap to my southern eyes.

Another mile of meadowside towpath follows, with the steeple of Worksop's parish church increasingly visible across the rooftops [photo]. The flood plain's useful only for sports pitches and a fishing lake, and a big shopping centre which has brought Costa coffee and M&S sandwiches to the town for the first time. It's important to leave the towpath here rather than continue to the lock hidden beneath the bridge on the high street. A sign on the brick wall warns "Danger Bathing Prohibited", but you'd have to be pretty stupid to dive into the deep narrow chasm between the lock gates.

And finally up the high street to the station, past a fine building that used to be the Council Offices but now houses an electrical contractors and a bathroom showroom. We thought we had five minutes to spare, so were aghast to see the level crossing lights flashing and barriers descending, blocking off our access to the other side. Thankfully that was for the hourly train going the other way, but we only discovered this after we'd yomped at speed over the station footbridge.

Worksop station's characterfully wooden, with a dance studio on one platform and The Railway Cafe on the other. We could have stopped here for Yorkshire tea and cake, or even a Monster Challenge breakfast (seriously, three eggs?) but our Retford-bound train called us away. And I'll let Scott tell you about the rest of the day, in his own time, no pressure. He still has so much further to go, but that's a tiny fraction more ticked off.

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