There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Brief Encounter with Carnforth and a Train Trip to Grange-over-Sands

‘There’s not much else to detain you in Carnforth,’ Brian said, ‘just a couple of charity shops, a branch of Greggs, a Chinese take-away and an estate agent or two.’ Brian was right, Carnforth has all these things and, useful as they may be, they are not the stuff of a blog post. Slightly more interesting are the old fashioned ironmonger’s and Carnforth Bookshop selling new, used and antiquarian books, but by and large Carnforth looks and feels like a town side-lined by the currents of history.

There is a Co-op which seems to have taken up residence in the old cinema….

Carnforth Co-op

….and a war memorial with half a dozen floral tributes to Drummer Lee Rigby, murdered the previous week in London. I was surprised; he was not a local man, and their presence clearly says something about the current state of the national psyche, though I am not exactly sure what.

Carnforth War Memorial

And then of course there is the railway station, the ‘else’ of the opening sentence. It was the railway - and the abundant local limestone - that made Carnforth, turning a village of a couple of hundred at the start of the 19th century into a steel making town with over 4000 inhabitants by its end. Then steel making stopped and so did Carnforth’s growth, though it remained an important railway depot for the first half of the 20th century.
Lynne outside Carnforth Railway Station

The railway also brought Carnforth its 15 minutes of fame, or more precisely, its 86 minutes of fame as that is the running time of Brief Encounter. If the locals are to be believed Carnforth Station was billed just above Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, though, unaccountably it was Celia Johnson who got the Oscar nomination not the station.

The station clock, which features prominently in the film is still there….
The clock, Carnforth Station

… and part of one platform has been set out like the fictional Milford Junction of 1945.

Me, 2013, at Milford Junction, 1945

Inside, the refreshment room, which also played an important part, has been lovingly recreated…..

Refreshment Room, Carnforth Station

…… and returned to use.  Despite the 3d (that’s thruppence, children, there were 12d to a shilling and 20s to £1) on the till, the £8.95 on the blackboard shows they have not recreated 1945 prices. This till is just for show, but they all looked like that when I was a lad.

All tills used to look like this

Although the station was used extensively as a location, the refreshment room scenes were shot in a studio, so this is a recreation of a room that never was.

The rest of the interior is the ‘heritage centre’. Beside the shop, Brief Encounter runs on a loop, while other displays chart the history of Carnforth. There is as much railway memorabilia as anyone could wish for, a serious model railway shop for small boys of all ages and, of course, a nod to the superstar of the railway world, Thomas the Tank Engine (here upstaged by Percy the Green Engine).

Percy the Green Engine, Carnforth Railway Station

West Coast Main Line trains stopped calling at Carnforth in 1970 and the platform was removed so they could scream through at full speed. The station deteriorated into dereliction until its redevelopment as a heritage centre in 2000.

Carnforth Railways Station, the functional part

Two working platforms remain for trains running between Manchester Airport and Barrow-in-Furness. When you are at a station you should take a train, so we made the fifteen minute journey to Grange-over-Sands on the opposite (Cumbrian) side of Morecambe Bay. The attraction, at least for me, was that the line crosses the bridge over the Kent estuary or the top end of Morecambe Bay, depending on how you want to look at it.

Across the Kent estuary...or the top end of Morecambe Bay

Grange is about the same size as Carnforth, but there the similarities cease. The railway turned it, almost overnight, from a fishing village to a seaside resort but a small and select sort of resort. We walked along the promenade which is unusual as proms go as it overlooks not a beach, but a strip of salt marsh, grazed by a small herd of sheep.

Hilary and Lynne on the promenade

A hundred years ago the main stream of the River Kent ran beside the promenade but over the years it worked its way south, leaving behind sands and mudflats which have developed into the salt marsh we see today. Sustained easterly winds in early 2007 started the river moving back again and the marsh is now eroding; Morecambe Bay is forever changing.

The salt marsh - and the salt marsh lamb

Just because the river has been neglecting the promenade, it does not mean the residents have, and the gardens are carefully tended by a group of volunteers; we passed them as they took their coffee break. Mainly retired people – Grange is full of them us – with a sense of civic responsibility, they are doing an excellent job.

Having strolled out along the prom, we walked back through the streets, past large, solid stone houses built to last until eternity, if not a little longer. There are charity shops here, too, but you have to admire the wrought ironwork.

Charity shops and wrought iron

There are also a couple of top class delis. Where Carnforth looks sad and dated, Grange’s response to the 21st century is to be archly retro - and it seems to work. They have an artisan baker who makes real bread and a serious butcher who also produces pies - and do I approve of a proper pie. Brian assures me they are as good as they look, and Brian’s opinion in such matters can be taken as fact.

Archly retro Grange-over-Sands

At the end of the Main Street....
Main Street
...we crossed a small park populated by a variety of exotic ducks and geese (though fewer than of late, Hilary thought) and made our way back to the station, itself a listed building and recently restored and repainted.

Snow Geese and chick
The climate and the nature of Morecambe Bay mean that Grange was never going to be a candy-floss, kiss-me-quick-hat sort of seaside resort, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful and the Lakes are nearby so this is prime holiday cottage country. People retire to Grange, too. I would not consider it myself, despite its direct link to Manchester airport, as the climate is just too cool and too wet, however for those with webbed feet….

Grange-over-Sands station

1 comment:

  1. I've learnt a lot of local info. from this despite being the one who visits there regularly! Hilary