Having at last acquired a detailed local map, I set off to explore another old railway line. I have to take 2 buses to get there. I nearly miss the second one because the route has been changed, although there is no sign saying this. But the lack of traffic makes me feel something is not quite right, so I head for another, more populated street, wondering if I’d missed it, as it’s ten minutes later than the scheduled time. But just as I arrive at the bus stop, it pulls up. This is such a good omen that I’m sure the gods are with me but as soon as I get on and sit down, this feeling of confidence is slightly challenged. The bus makes a continuous strange clanking sound as if something vital is about to fall off. Still, it does not appear to impede its progress, as it rattles swiftly along the road. But a few miles short of my destination, the driver pulls into a lay-by and announces that the engine is overheating, so he’s going to wait for a few minutes, to let it cool down. Remembering my recent trip to Carlisle I begin to wonder ...
But the bus soon resumes its rattly route and I arrive at the small town where the old railway track is supposed to start. First of all I buy some coffee at a garage on the outskirts then go in search of the track, rejoicing in the little symbols on the map that mark it clearly, sometimes shown as ‘dismantled railway line’ sometimes just a dotted line. With such obvious markers, how could I possibly fail to find my way?
And in fact, to my great surprise, because I am adept at losing my way or the way or just about any way, only once did the trail die out, when I was faced with a clear and flat field, no sign at all that there had ever been an old railway running through it. I climbed the fence, and walked along the edge of the field, to the corner, then turned and continued. And further on, the old track reappeared on the other side of the fence, green and weedy, a clear bank running along the edge of another field, where an interesting-looking flock of sheep had gathered, with pale brown silky looking fleeces, and curved horns. They looked at me at first a little expectantly, then turned tail and ran away.
|Fancy brickwork on the bridge roof|
But right at the beginning of the track, I found another of these slanted-roof bridges, similar to the Secret Bridge, but much smaller, going over a little river, which I reached by clambering over a dry stane dyke, topped with irritating wire. I balanced my costa coffee on top of the dyke before stepping slowly and carefully over stones and wire. And that was the only slight difficulty in the whole walk. Up the embankment, and over the bridge, I was now on the old straight track. The fields were harvested, round bales were lying there, or being picked up by tractors with fork lifts. There were sheep in some of the stubble fields, and when they sensed my presence, they moved away, and the sound of the stubble clipping against their hooves was like bursts of rain on a corrugated plastic roof, little rustling waves.
A few kilometres further on the track ended at a small village of old stone houses, with an ex-pub and hotel and a village shop. And a bus stop. Someone else was waiting at the bus shelter, a man who had the most amazing eyes, one blue and one brown. His manner was pleasant and friendly so I involved him in my deliberations as to which bus I should take (either direction being possible, but with varying connection times).
As our conversation centred around transport, he mentioned that several of the buses he’d taken recently had broken down and I told him about the overheating one I’d taken in the morning.
I suppose it’s the difficult financial climate I say, lack of money to repair buses.
He also told me why the bus route had been changed.
The road’s subsided he said, I’d noticed for a while, driving up that road, that there was a large crack in it which got wider and wider. Eventually they must have decided it was unsafe, and so all traffic has to take another route.
I have a brief vision of moribund rusting buses lying unattended at the sides of roads whose surfaces were fissured with gaping holes. With grass and wild plants growing in the gaps and around the ancient shells of buses. Perhaps it won’t be long before these once roads look like the old railway line I’d just walked along. Before he left, he thanked me for telling him about the railway line, and mentioned another walk, along an old drove road, that went all the way to Gifford. He left with a cheery see you later, as if he really meant it. And yet, I thought, it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever see him again.