Sunday 9 November 2014

North Lincolnshire, a different world

Michael Portillo’s BBC2 rail trips around the UK have shown us that we do not have to be travelling on glamorous long-distance expresses to enjoy exploring our country, but that local trains to local destinations can sometimes take us to interesting places. We have begun using some of our local trains for leisure exploration, and visits to Melton Mowbray and to Great Yarmouth (as well as the parish trips to Ely and Lincoln) have already taken place. 

Recently a meeting arose in Scunthorpe, a town in the historic county of Lincolnshire which I had never visited in half a century of living in the county but about which I had heard good things and which was far enough away for a road trip to be a daunting prospect. I looked online at the practicality of going by rail and found that it would work quite well, the venue for my meeting being near the station. I allowed some time to explore the town while I was there and booked tickets via the East Coast website as usual. Booked in advance I managed to find First Class tickets at a decent fare, too (I only claim the standard fare from the PCC on expenses when I do this!).

To reach Scunthorpe in good time I left Stamford on the 07:19 train to Peterborough. This gives a very neat connection into an East Coast High Speed Train for Doncaster, and soon after taking my reserved single seat my coffee was served and breakfast order taken. The East Coast website now allows choice of seat when buying advance tickets and when travelling alone in First I try to get one of the single seats; when we are travelling together we aim for a table for two: the earlier I book the more likely I am to find the seats that I want are unreserved.

I did begin some reading before my breakfast arrived, but before long the cooked breakfast was served, along with orange juice and and pastry. I changed at Doncaster into a Trans-Pennine Express train which had stopped at an adjacent platform, bound for Cleethorpes, and this took me the rest of the way to Scunthorpe, about half an hour. I resumed reading (the material for the Advent study and for the Pilgrim study course, if you’re interested!) but as this was a part of the county I’d never visited before I did have to look from the windows, too! The train passed a still working deep mine which is not something common in England today, and soon the pleasant suburbs of Scunthorpe came into view and I gathered up my things ready to leave the train.

The station now called Scunthorpe is in the part of the town called Frodingham, one of five villages which have merged to become the town of Scunthorpe. It is where the civic church for the town is located (which is why I was there) and where the one remaining large steelworks is situated. (As I left my Trans-Pennine Express train I noticed a local train parked in an adjacent platform with “Lincoln” on its destination blind - not a service to take if actually travelling to Lincoln, not only because it stops at every station but also because its route is via Sheffield! Much quicker to take any train to Doncaster and change there.)

My meeting over and lunch with colleagues consumed I walked into the town centre. The town has a pleasant pedestrianised main street, and a lesson perhaps for Stamford is that there is a dedicated space at a junction of the shopping streets for advertising boards, so they do not clutter all the street. Soon I was hailed by man who asked where I was from. When I told him Stamford, he said, “You must know Tim Ellis,” i.e. the former Bishop of Grantham, “He drives a big Jag now, you know …”. I said I did know him and looked for somewhere to sit down and post a report of the encounter on Facebook where I knew Bishop Tim would find it!

After a little shopping I returned to the station to come home, and found that my reserved seat was on one of the aforesaid local Lincoln-bound trains as far as Doncaster, where I changed and boarded my East Coast service for Peterborough, enjoying the afternoon tea on the way, changing again at Peterborough for Stamford and arriving home on time. My booked train from Doncaster to Peterborough had actually been cancelled owing to some problem with the train, but those of us with tickets for that train were put on the next one which was just a few minutes later and still made the connection with the Stamford train - and fortunately had enough seats, too. And enough tea and cake!


With a Senior (or any other) Railcard and advance booking, such exploration can be very reasonably priced, and it is quite cheap to put together a simple tour visiting a few towns and staying overnight in B&B in some of them. We’ve done it in Scotland: perhaps we should do it closer to home, too!

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