Alston

I first went to Alston in 1962. My dad had recently bought a Bedford Dormobile and a few days up in the North Pennines were a sort of rehearsal for a planned trip into mainland Europe.

At Alston we discovered the terminus of the remote branch line which linked the little market town to Haltwhistle which was on the main line between Newcastle and Carlisle.

It was arranged that my brother and I could travel a short distance on the train and then be picked up again.

What followed was one of the most memorable twenty minutes of my life. The train was one of those new diesels where passengers could sit at the front and see out of the front of the train. My brother and I had never been on one of these and we were determined to have the front seats with that view. But there was a problem. The seats at the front were for first class passengers, and we were not in that category. Actually, nobody was. The first class area was devoid of custom and we reckoned we could go and stand in that area right behind the driver.

But it was not to be. The train started and then the driver turned round and opened the door. Our hearts sank for surely we would be told to get back in second class where we belonged. But no! The driver beckoned us into the cab and gave us lessons on driving the train. The lessons were hard to understand for our driver was a Geordie and spoke in that incomprehensible dialect/accent. But soon we were taking turns in the driver’s seat and operating the controls. What an experience that was, and me not yet in my teens!

We had arranged to meet parents at Lambley, but our tickets said to Lambley or Coanwood. So as a culminating experience I drove the train over the lovely Lambley viaduct. Our driver assured us we could walk back over the viaduct as no other train was on the line.

It was about a ten minute walk. Our parents were not there. Of course when we failed to emerge at the appointed time they had worried (or panicked). But we met up with them soon after and were quickly forgiven when we described our experience.

This year my wife and I visited Alston and travelled on a bit of the same journey. The real railway was closed in 1976 – surely a sad mistake. Now a little narrow gauge line operates a 4 mile stretch from Alston. We rode it and this was our train at the present northern limit of the line – Lintley Halt.

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Back in Alston, the signal box still looks like something from main line days.

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Interestingly, that was not in use in 1961 for the diesel trains didn’t need a run round loop. It is in use today, but the movement of the signals doesn’t seem to worry local bird life.

There’s a blue tit emerging from its nest inside a signal post.

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image007The same bird, or its mate, took a breather on the nut below the nest hole.

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The line passes through good scenery but for me it was memories of 1961 that flooded back.

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