Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
This was taken from my East Anglian Daily Times column, two weeks ago
Of Chappel and Wakes Colne Railway Station...
No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat
At Chorlton cum Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won't be meeting again, on the slow train - Flanders and Swann
When I first saw Chappel & Wakes Colne Station, it was in bright winter sunlight and I was the only person on the platform. It felt like I'd accidentally stumbled through a rip in time's shower curtain, out onto some railway station remembered from my distant childhood. Here was the old green LNER livery and there were the slatted benches, and the blue enamelled signs above the waiting rooms and toilets. The ticket office wasn't called a ticket office but a Booking Hall. Walking farther along the platform was the Lamp Room and opposite, sitting patiently in a siding. were a couple of flaking old carriages. I'd half-expected to see Bernard Cribbins dressed as a porter, come whistling along, pencil behind his ear and a sackbarrow stacked with parcels. It was a classic quiet country station, of a type which was common all over the country before Dr. Beeching's Axe hacked its way through the 1960s. Chappel is a railway museum now but luckily, still very much a functioning station stop.
The Gainsborough Line, which runs hourly between Marks Tey to Sudbury, stopping at Chappel and Bures, once ran all the way to Cambridge. The section which once continued from Sudbury to Cambridge finally closed at the end of 1966. The part of it still running today survived several other attempts to close it, but was finally reprieved in 1974, for the sake of the local community. Seasoned rail travellers will, of course, know what a sod it can be nowadays, to get by rail from Colchester to Cambridge. You either go into London and come back out again via West Anglia, or you go via Ipswich and Ely, occasionally halting at Dullingham, a sleepy-looking stop which I've always promised I'd visit, yet never have.
Even though it's only about fifty miles, from Colchester to Cambridge, it means that the journey can take up to two and a half hours by train. In AD 2010, this is averaging speeds of twelve m.p.h or less, between two major urban centres. Space Age stuff, hey? Welcome to the future. It would probably be only marginally slower going overland in a small cart pulled by four sheep. Because of such modern efficiency, therefore, one or two of us will still get a little tearful when confronted with the eerie beauty of an edifice such as Chappel railway station and what it once represented.
With summer having passed its zenith, then, and the grainfields now the colour of mustard left out on the table, let's you and I take a train in early August out across the West Colne Valley to Sudbury. Having got to Marks Tey, we board a little two carriage diesel-powered sprinter, which grumbles out across medieval-looking farmland, over the Chappel Viaduct and through the trees to the low slopes of Suffolk. Alighting at Sudbury station, a fellow passenger remarks to the woman meeting her: “What a brilliant train ride!” Her host replies, “ It really is. It's one of the ones that Beeching didn't get.” That name again. Almost half a century later, and an entire nation has still not forgiven The Man Who Took Our Trainset Away.
It's market day in Sudbury, but we don't hang around, because today, we're mainly here for the train ride. On the way back through Bures, I remember that Douglas Adams, in his Book of Liff defined 'bures' as: “The scabs on knees and elbows, formed by the compulsion to make love on cheap Habitat floor-matting.” This affords me a moment of cheap merriment before we alight at Chappel Station, where, once again I wander up and down the platform admiring the various bygones. I also notice the surrounding countryside and its skies. Because it is exactly on a day such as today, with its great billowing clouds like a fleet waiting to set sail, that you can see what Gainsborough and Constable were getting at, whenever they painted. There are more dramatic regions for scenery, I grant you, but I don't think, apart from the Lake District, that there are any which can rival us for epic skies.
At lunch, in a beamed country pub by the River Colne, we sit, a middle-aged couple surrounded by four rather more elderly couples. The food is good, the décor is idyllic and the service is fine. Except for one thing. Thundering non-stop out of the pub's sound system comes a selection of 1980s mainstream pop. We get Seal. We get Tears for Fears. We get ABC, with an impassioned-to-hysterical Martin Fry, yelping Tears Are Not Enough. Nobody is grooving to it. Least of all, the man behind me, who with his solid check jacket, could be a retired military historian. He shows no inclination whatsoever to bound up, yelling, “Aw ‒ well wicked!” and then begin shimmying. If he ever did, they'd probably panic and yank the music off, pronto. Who comes up with these things? Does someone at hotel management courses tell all the trainees: “And remember, team; Thursday is pension day. You're gonna be seeing a lot of silver citizens out for their lunches. So get that Eighties compilation on and crank it right round to ten. They may not look like they're enjoying it, but believe me, they really dig it.” Now, I ask, what might be wrong with a bit of Bach harpsichord stuff instead? But I grow old, I grow old.