It may be a month since Robert and I spent a week riding Scotland’s railways, but the memories are still strong. Such as…
Kyle of Lochalsh station
I’d got a sense of how enchantingly remote and enticingly melancholy this place might be from Michael Palin’s 1980 Great Railway Journey for BBC2, where he travelled all the way from Euston to Kyle in order to collect a frankly preposterous piece of signage.
Just 24 hours before I found myself being tossed around a metal container at 80mph, I was watching a sack of letters undergoing the same treatment.
LONDON’S RING OF RAILWAY TERMINALS sends hundreds of trains hurtling a similar number of miles across the country every day. You can leave King’s Cross at 9am and be in Thurso, the most northerly point on the network, ready for a late-night snack. (Note to self: must try this some time).
But there are also a few trains that set off from the capital only to come quickly to a complete halt. They brush up against and sometimes tiptoe over the edges of county boundaries, but go no further. These curious stumps of branch lines, sprouting so promisingly from the likes of Liverpool Street, Victoria and Waterloo, wither rather than plunge out across south-east England. They expire in high streets, leafy glades, cul-de-sacs and, in one case, open pasture.
Inevitably, these ends of the lines started catching my eye on the map. Inevitably, I became intrigued by their existence and location. And inevitably, I have now visited them all.
OF ALL THE THINGS to prompt a Proustian rush, the sight of two Max Pax plastic coffee cups, an empty tuna and cucumber sandwich wrapper and a Kids Out Quids In! swirly red hat ought not to number among anyone’s top 10 of the subconscious.
THREE YEARS AGO I did a circumnavigation of London using overland rail services. Except it wasn’t a complete circumnavigation. I had to cheat and use trams for the portion of the circle that had yet to be finished.
At the time the Overground had just taken over the old East London Line and linked it up with the North London Line with a brand new bit of track between Dalston and Shoreditch. I was unashamedly smitten with the result, writing rather pompously of how the Overground was “a real asset to the city, and all the years of investment and redevelopment have utterly paid off.”
But I ended on a wary note. It was one month into the life of the coalition government. Would there be money for this sort of thing from now on? I also accused Boris Johnson of trying to bury all these kind of schemes “deep enough in his waste paper basket so Ken can’t find them come 2012.”
Anyway, the final bit of the Overground did get built, and has been open since before Christmas. A few days ago I finally got round to going round.