Yesterday, dressed like Nanook of the North in good quality winter walking gear, and feeling as warm as toast, I was looking to have a rest because the snow hadn't been cleared from the country road I had joined just off the main route. I was heading toward a 'tea shoppe' that I had seen signposted earlier and I was ready for a hot drink.
Perhaps it was a mistake because the road had not been driven on or trodden on, except for rabbits since the snows came and I stupidly realised too late that the cafe probably wasn't open. Nevertheless, as there was an access bridge over the railway line marked on the map in the direction I needed to go, I thought I would have a sit down at the railway station where I imagined the cafe to be and have a rest there.
The station was quaint to say the least if not a little run down, with the palisade fencing in need of a good lick of paint. The signs were probably replicas because they were enamelled a reddy brown colour with the station name in white letters, somewhat similar to the old British Rail signs. Amazingly, there were still red battered fire buckets full of sand hung on the wall - not taken by vandals which is a miracle. Gas lamps flickered waiting their turn to be switched into full use when darkness arrives. Someone had clearly taken a lot of trouble to preserve this old place - no doubt it attracted a few tourists when the weather was in a better frame of mind.
Sadly, no footprints spoiled the virgin show blanketed on the platform so I thought there was none running the cafe, however, there was a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney above the waiting room and booking office building which had dark sooty windows. I trudged over and pushed the door opened which creaked alarmingly breaking the silence of the day. In fact I had only just realised, I hadn't even heard any birds or other country sounds for the last many minutes. The creak reverberated round the old building which had the smell associated with coal fires about it.
For the first time that afternoon, even though I had been walking for about two and a half hours in freezing snow, my nose felt very cold and numb and I couldn't feel my top lip.
There was nothing in the waiting room. The open fire was dead, the floor dusty and the posters on the notice board were yellow and some of them were missing a pin in one corner and the notices bent over as if in protest making them difficult to read. My breath shot out clouds of steam in this densely cold room.
"Where do you want to go?"
My God! I spun round, my heart thumping away to see the small round bespectacled face of an old man peering at me through a hatch in the wall. "Hell fire," I remember spluttering, "I was miles away, I didn't expect anyone to be here."
"Where do you want to go?" he repeated.
"Erm, well nowhere really, I came for a rest and a hot cuppa, but I think the cafe is probably closed."
"This is for passengers only," he growled, "You need a platform ticket if you ain't catching the train. Two pence, over there."
He nodded toward an old red machine on the wall opposite the window. "Right, okay, well is there any chance of a drop of hot water so I can make myself a cuppa?" He clicked his tongue and the hatch slammed shut, the echo of the sound of wood on wood again echoing around this dismal place. I'm sure the cold was getting more intense.
The door by the side of the hatch into the booking office slowly opened, and presuming this was an invitation to enter I walked to the door and peered cautiously through. I was met by the smell of polished linoleum and indeed the floor was shining and a small fire crackled in the grate. Old wooden painted desks were around the place, some with tickets neatly arranged on them, some with boxes of rubber bands and stamping machines for parcels. Oil lanterns were hung on the wall ready for lighting the signals for the darkness and shiny wooden chairs were placed neatly in front of the desks. A signalling machine sat silently on the huge desk with two brass bells ready to announce an approaching train. But there was no sign of the old man.
I warmed my hands by the meagre fire waiting for the man to reappear. A porters black peaked cap hung on a hook behind the door and a pair of flags, one green and one red which I remember as a kid, the porters used to signal to the train drivers when they should set off. A brass whistle on a lanyard lay beside the flags, lay silent and polished.
I picked up one of the old tiny grey cardboard train tickets when once more, the silence was shattered by the signalling machine ringing, once, twice short sharp rings, then after a pause, a third. My nerves were certainly on edge and jangled, but no hand responded to the unseen signalman sending his message of an impending train. I called but no one responded. The toilets were empty, the platform devoid of life and the only prints in the snow were mine. The waiting room was empty still and no sign of the porter could be found.
I switched the lights off, put a spark guard in front of the fire and closed the office door behind me. The waiting room was shadowy now as the light began to fade - all was still. I crossed the footbridge and began to walk down the lane on the other side when I passed a woman walking a fussy old black Labrador dog. She greeted me warmly and after fussing the dog whose name was Rex I asked where the nearest cafe was because the railway cafe was closed.
"Yes it certainly is closed," she laughed out loud. I remarked that the weather had obviously prevented anyone coming in to open it up.
"No I don't think so. Since Lord Beeching closed it in 1968, it's laid empty and forgotten really. No one uses it any more and there hasn't been a train through it since the early seventies. Shame really."
I looked at her for several moments. "I've just been in there and there's a fire in the main office and there was a porter or someone there who asked me if I wanted to go somewhere." I described the old man in detail. Her expression no longer showed amusement.
"Mr Fulford was the last porter here. On the day the station closed, December 1968, he threw himself in front of the 6.15 to York. He couldn't bear the thought of not seeing another train or looking after another passenger no doubt. Man and boy, 46 years at this one station. He had no-one else, just him and his beloved station. I must go, good afternoon."
As she trudged off, I could see in the slowly thickening mist the chimney at the station no longer had smoke issuing out of it. I turned to go when I distinctly heard the deep resonant whistle of a steam train in the distance. I realised I still had the ticket in my hand I'd picked up from the desk. I examined it closely.
The ticket was a single fare. The date stamp was 24 December 1968. The cost was four shillings and sixpence and the destination... was Fulford.
Story intellectual property of Rarelesserspotted.
Picture from here.