It feels like coming home…

FullSizeRender (6)It’s early, a sunny morning. Central Belt Shuffler is slowly getting back into the return to work. The early alarm for the commuter train, hopping on the bike, the initial speed down hill, and then the push through to the station. It’s an even earlier train than normal today, to arrive in good time for an event.

I arrive at the station well in time, and head into the ticket office. There’s a hipster brass band playing on the concourse, and Scotrail branded cupcakes, celebrating the reopening of the Queen St tunnel. As travellers pass through the barriers on their way to work they are offered cake. Initially, some are wary, thinking it’s a charity collection, but then – as the sun streams through the roof – they realise it’s a small gift, the icing on its top literally buttering up customers after months of extended journey times.

The commuters’ early-morning head-down intent turns to smiles. The girls handing out the cakes dance in time to the band. The boys grin at everyone.

I board my train, and the short journey opens up into the large vistas of the Forth Valley, the dramatic sight of Stirling castle and the Wallace monument heaving into view.

I catch the train home with 10 seconds to spare, hoisting my bike up onto the rack. A familiar movement, but one I haven’t made for a while.

I have my ticket on the table, ready for inspection. The train guard comes by, and I hold it out.

He nods, and smiles, without really scrutinising it. ‘Thank you pal, good on ye.’

The sun shines on the Campsie Fells. A deer runs lazily across a field.

It feels like coming home. It is.

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Viaduct Shuffle

Carlisle-Settle coffee cupCarlisle station. Tears streaming down my face from the biting wind.

There’s a certain rucksack-bearing, bearded demographic on the platform. Excited chatter.

We board the undistinguished carriages, but with the knowledge that this is, according to the Settle-Carlisle partnership, ‘England’s most scenic railway’ (plaudits for not claiming it to be the UK’s). It’s 25 years since the line was declared safe from closure, and it’s being marketed hard as a tourist destination (as well as a link from the West Coast mainline through to Leeds).

It’s a cold day, and the train sets off there’s discussion inside the carriage of the draughtiness of train stations, model railways, and other such trainspotterish chat. Outside, cows big with calf and sheep with unborn lambs fill the fields. Piebald ponies canter alongside the train. A deer bounds frightened from the engine and, as we pull higher and higher, a hare runs madly from us too. The rain makes the roads in places indistinguishable from the swollen rivers.

One passenger wears both large head-phones and an eye-mask, not interested in the view.  The most nerdy of fellow travellers is explaining to his companions, ‘Everyone knew in those days a back way into the engine shed, to prowl around a bit. Sometimes you’d know a member of staff, they’d turn a blind eye. That wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.’

Wensleydale sheep huddle against barns and stone walls in the sleet. A young couple, in urban attire and with over-sized suitcases, alight at Kirkby Stephen. They look lost briefly, but are swiftly greeted by a woman who warmly welcomes them into their accommodation right in the station building.

We pass by a flock of black sheep – Hebridean perhaps? – standing close in the wind. It’s snowing properly now, and I order a coffee which comes in a commemorative cup. We pass Dent, the highest station above sea level. The lights are on in Blea Moor signal box, and it looks cosy inside compared to the driving snow outside. Two hikers, well protected against the elements, take a path running parallel to the train tracks. The surrounding hills and mountains are hidden from view.Carlisle

We reach Ribblehead viaduct, a place I often visited as a child, as it is close to where my grandparents lived. This is the first time I’ve travelled over it, though.

The weather is looming grey, and the light is failing as we slide into Settle. Inside the houses, lights are coming on, and I imagine the smell of coal fires keeping homes warm.

The train heads on to my destination, Shipley. The day turns to night, and the snow back to rain.