Sunday, 15 November 2009

'Return to Northumberland'

Hello I’m Harry Riley

Welcome to Harry’s Ten-Minute Tales

This story is called:

‘Return to Northumberland ’

This is a review of a recent event with the addition of one or two comments of a possible ghostly significance. I leave it to you to decide.

To set the scene I have to go back over forty years to a time when big new roads were the coming thing. In 1959 Ernest Marples (Transport Minister) inaugurated the new M1 motorway in a big fanfare of publicity and the railways were considered by the

Government of the day to be loss-making relics of a bygone Victorian era.

As a result many Railway Stations were closed in 1965 during the savage railway purges prescribed by ‘Doctor Richard Beeching’ as the cure for the Nation’s Railway System and thus blighting the lives of thousands of rural folk. Much of the country’s valuable line stock was viciously ripped up by uncaring hands and sold for scrap along with irreplaceable buildings and transportation links that had taken many years of dedicated work to build.

In Northumberland much of the line had been planned by George Stephenson (he of the Rocket Engine fame) and had been commissioned by the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway Co. in 1849.

It was his son Robert who was later to complete the magnificent Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed with its 28 elegant stone arches spanning the salmon-rich River Tweed.

On a recent October night we had the good fortune to attend an evening performance at a disused Northumberland Station, of a ghost story about a haunted railwayman who is tormented by the prospect of imminent tragedy along the line.

This was only one of a number of events taking place as part of the 150th. Stephenson Celebrations.

It was fitting that as we set off at dusk a thick autumn mist should descend, swirling over the hills and across the Scottish Borders (the direction we were travelling from) making driving more difficult as we crossed the River Tweed into England.

Fortunately we arrived at our destination on time and saw the large banner proclaiming the ‘150th. Stephenson Anniversary Celebrations.’

Coming towards us as the mist waxed and waned was a tall man carrying a torch and looking for the world like a Funeral Director in his long black frock coat and top hat..

Tim Kirton (the Stephenson Project Officer) introduced Chris Green (the man in the Frock Coat and Top Hat) and the performance of the ghost story began. It was inspired and all credit to the Organisers. The show made for an enjoyable and unforgettable experience in a perfect railway setting, the murky darkness being broken only by the yellow light from a few Victorian station lamps. We even heard an owl hooting in the background.

Taking our leave afterwards with heads still full of ghostly images from the drama and with the car’s main lights cutting a swathe through the foggy night we drove towards the exit and just for a fleeting moment caught sight of a man standing alone on the platform. He appeared to be an old-fashioned railway employee, wearing a bowler hat, short jacket and kerchief round his neck. He was carrying a guard’s lantern and had a confused look on his countenance, as if he was waiting for his train.

We wondered as we drove home if we had imagined it…if this was part of the stage-managed production…or if it could have been just another lost soul waiting for a train that would never come.


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