Drama at Selby station…

15 06 2015

Sat at Selby Station,
Waiting for a train,
I see a little beetley-thing
Emerging from a drain.

It runs across the platform
On legs wildly erratic
And hurls itself right off the edge –
Disturbingly dramatic.

Leaving Selby station
I ponder on its fate:
Unlike the train to Staleybridge*
The beetley-thing is late.

*Except I was travelling to York.  Staleybridge sounded better though.


Waving at trains…

11 01 2013

Choo chooooo!

I like trains, me.

It still surprises me how often I come across people of all ages on my travels who are making their first ever journey by train. I suppose I’m lucky that I grew up in a small town with a station, and we often made the 30-minute train trip to Leicester to visit grandparents, and when I was old enough to travel alone I’d go shopping there with friends. Aaah, those old corridor carriages – remember them?

When I was very small, the main level crossing in town had those big old-fashioned gates, and when trains were due through the signalman would come out of his box and heave them shut.

I remember standing at the gates with Dad, watching trains go by and waving. Sometimes we’d climb the footbridge for a bird’s eye view – I still recall the thrill of feeling the bridge vibrate as a train passed under it! A few times we saw steam trains pass through – actually, it’s just occurred to me that he must have known when steam trains were due, and made a special trip to the crossing with me to see them!

Anyway, enough reminiscing!

There’s a wonderful phenomenon I’ve noticed of late. I first observed it at my local station, and I’m seeing it more and more all over the country. Maybe it’s always been going on, and I’d just not noticed it before, or maybe it is getting more popular. A group of tiny children with a couple of grown ups, waiting on a platform to watch trains go by and wave at them. Often the kiddies are wearing little hi-vis vests with the name of their nursery emblazoned upon it.

I love the idea of people taking wee ones out to wave at trains! I love the thought that if they get waved back at, it might create a happy little childhood memory for them. It might also encourage them to use trains themselves when they’re older – or to badger their parents into taking a train trip one day, if that’s not something they’d usually do. And from what I’ve observed from the grown-ups with them, it’s also a good, friendly, happy way to start teaching children about how to behave safely at stations and level crossings.

It’s just struck me that perhaps Network Rail should be getting involved with children at this tiny age, through nurseries and pre-schools, perhaps distributing teeny-tiny-child friendly booklets, or ones that can be read aloud with jolly pictures – like this one! – or even helping to arrange trips to stations, organising special events for teeny people…

But back to the waving, because it’s important. If you’re travelling on a train and you pass a waving child, always, always, wave back! I guarantee that if they see you, they’ll smile. And the grown-up with them will usually smile too. You should wave especially vigorously if you’re in a crappy mood, because it will make you smile when you see them see you, and smiles are excellent crappy-mood-busters!

Go on – give it a try!

Iceland – The Golden Circle (Part 3)

23 01 2010

Iceland – The Golden Circle

A quick drive downhill and we arrive at Geysir. Geysir itself is a huge wart-like bump with tiny streams of water dribbling down it. The rock is streaked with slippery looking, whitish deposits and quite hollow; when you jump up and down, you expect it to crack, or a little goblin to lift up a crusty flap and ask you to keep the noise down. In the middle of the water there’s now a dead pool of crystal clear water with a rude looking hole in the middle, its ejaculations quenched by a tourist in recent years who chucked a load of gravel down it to tempt it into action. Instead, it killed it. I wonder if it was the same tourist who was swept away at Gullfoss. Maybe the ground recognised the murderer and shrugged slightly, making him loose his balance and plunge into the eager waters. I hope so.

We continue in our broken, straggly crocodile to a blue pool. Silica again. The water level is exactly the height of the ground, and so clear it’s disconcerting; you can see the bottom perfectly (and it’s quite deep), but it looks like there’s no water there at all. If you didn’t know you could easily walk straight into it. A very faint line of the same whitish deposit on the rock marks the edge of the water, as you get close. This is the only water here you can put your hand in (the rest is too hot) and people do, sending ripples across the surface, distorting the clarity. I have a go. It’s hot. Weird.

And on, past little holes bubbling and spitting and steaming, each with their own name politely displayed on a wooden plaque a safe distance away. Then we join the crowd around Strokkur, with a gap in the circle down wind. Apparently the spray is so hot we’re advised to keep out its way. Strokkur means ‘the churn’, because it does. It churns now; cameras are raised, then lowered. Then raised again as the water level in the huge, gaping hole suddenly bulges; then lowered when the water recedes.

The people who’d backed away shuffle forward again, joking nervously, but they don’t come quite as close as they were before. The water level rises again, swirling slowly, and some of the tourists start chanting; it hears them and goes back down again. It rises again, and again, then suddenly it just keeps on rising and swelling, forcing a huge green bubble of water up and up and with a massive rush up into the sky it goes in a steaming white billowing jet.

This is nature! This is rude! Four times, then it sighs back down its hole, exhausted. There’s a rush to the hotel for dinner and I stay a while to look for some bubbling mud, but can’t find any.

A baby hole, quite deep, makes me jump back with a squeak when it plops loudly and fingers of boiling water spring out at me. I’m wary of them all – couldn’t any of them suddenly do a Strokkur? I pick my way over the fragile crust of ground, worried about stumbling inadvertently into a blowhole, and retire to the hotel for my fresh salmon, watching Strokkur perform for each new wave of tourists from the window.


Here endeth the typed-up version – but my travel diary continues with the last two stops on the tour.  Should really get round to writing them up… watch this space?!

Iceland – The Golden Circle (Part 2)

22 01 2010

Iceland – The Golden Circle

We drive past Geysir, fluffy white puffs of steam rising from the ground, and turn off to Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. I’m looking forward to this. Hope my fear of edges doesn’t prevent me from seeing everything. The coach pulls into a parking area, and from the window I catch a glimpse of the falls, making me stop breathing for a minute and press my hands to the window. Before we disembark, we’re warned to watch our step because of the ice. Last year someone slipped and fell in, and they haven’t been found yet. I wonder if I’ll join them. There’s a narrow gravelly stone path going across, then up sharply (well, it looks sharp to me) to a craggy peninsula. I stand for a moment at the edge of the car park and smile at the view, then gingerly make my way up the path, stopping halfway for a blissful view of the churning white torrents, and feel a moment of dizziness as the force draws me to lean forward. I check myself and carry on up the path, hardly daring to breath, watching for slippery bits. As I near the top I can hear and feel the power of the falls, and I scramble awkwardly up some rocks, eager for the view.

Well. About the view. About the roar of the water; about the delicate, quiet spray, softly rising and drifting in the breeze; about the atmosphere; about the clean, sharp air; about the beauty, the grace, the sheer unstoppable power. My automatic camera packs in, so I’m forced to the unfamiliar manual one, probably none will come out. Well, hold the memory. It won’t be difficult. The falls go in steps, turning a corner, and the water is that beautiful, milky green of glacial water. Remember this. When I’m on my last legs, about to pop my clogs, bring me to Gullfoss and throw me over the edge. Let the falls finish me off, and let the tiny once-me-bits be spread the length and breadth of whatever route this river takes. I’m moved.

Then I move, a moments panic at the climb back down the rocky bit. I can see myself slipping over the edge crying ‘Not yet….!’. I slither down awkwardly on my bottom, as the others spring down gazelle-like around me. Bugger them. I walk slowly back up the path.

This is the Silver Waterfall today; all around the edges of the falls and on the slopes the spray has landed on the rocks and mossy ground and frozen, turning everything into a miniature forest of delicate silvery white crystals. And now I’ve climbed up the steps and am on top of the world, but still dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. I can see the falls in their entirety and everything is beautiful. I’m the last one, and I feel like the last person on earth; I turn in slow circles listening to the chill wind that bites my ears and nose, hearing the roar of the falls, and feeling the power and peace of the land around me.

The bus starts its engine, rudely interrupting my dreaming, so I jog back down the icy steps trying to avoid the bird droppings on the handrail. They’re purple.

Iceland – The Golden Circle (Part 1)

21 01 2010

Notes taken from my travel diary in 1995, when I took a tourist bus around the Golden Circle in Iceland. It’s quite long, so I’ll post it over a few days.


Iceland – The Golden Circle

Out of Reykjavik, travelling southeast to Hveragerdi on a bus full of tourists. A thin covering of snow dusts the sides of the road. Suddenly the snow is gone, and we’re looking out over a valley – in the distance is the sea, I think. Or something. Wish I’d bought the map. We descend to a small, ugly town, redeemed by purple mountains in the distance. There’s a huge greenhouse here, stuffed with tropical plants. It’s heated from the hot springs; 300 degrees when they reach the surface, so the water has to be cooled before it can be used. The tourists scoot around the greenhouse and spend most of their time in the gift shop. There’s a beautifully carved ship there, a mini-viking ship, with seats for two people, one behind the other. Turning round a stuffed arctic fox in its summer coat snarls down from shelves of woollens, whilst puffins and a raveny thing stare aloofly over our heads. I go back outside and breath the air and look at the mountains whilst the others bulk buy tacky plastic mementos, hardly glancing at the local, handcrafted goods.

Then to Kerid, past summerhouses strewn around the lava fields, dwarfed by the mountains behind them. The couple behind me exclaim at the size of the tiny houses and come to the conclusion that they’re just storage sheds and the actual houses are somewhere else, hidden from view. Kerid. The name sounds like something out of a fairy tale – a shining, fairy castle. It’s actually an extinct volcano crater housing a lake of deep, rich, emerald green-blue water, which to me is every bit as beautiful. From the top you can see for miles, and Hekla sits placidly in the distance, silently watching every tourist, every sprig of moss, every movement. On its summit one tiny black dot peeps ominously through the snow. Hot? Melted? Around here, we’re told, there have been numerous earthquakes lately. Small but significant. They don’t know why. Later on, we’re told that Hekla usually warns of imminent eruptions with earthquakes. Hmmm. I draw my own conclusion and wonder if the rest of the tourists are planning on taking a closer look at Hekla. There’s a cairn. Why? They’re everywhere. Perhaps they were built by elves. Go to bed, wake up, look out the winder and zap! A cairn’s appeared. Kerid is beautiful and I don’t want to leave. I wait until the others trudge back down to the bus, then take my solitary photos and soak up the glorious desolation. The water is coloured by silica (GEL – DO NOT EAT) in the rocks. Then we continue north, through farmland. A veritable tussock-farm. The tussocks are caused by ice under the grass, and they get bigger as time goes by. The farmers dig trenches to help drain the ground and curb the swelling of the tussocks. On un-drained land the tussocks are huge. I’ve always liked tussocks. It’s a good word too, is tussocks. Tussocks, tussocks, tussocks. Worth over-using. The grass is a light beige colour now, and the sun suddenly lights up the field, turning it into an undulating golden sea. We pass Icelandic horses, but none are doing the tolt.

Approaching Skalholt we’re told how the Catholic bishop rode out here to protest against the conversion of Iceland to Lutheran. We pass the site where they lopped his head off, rather than try to get him back to Reykjavik to stand trial. This is a big church, with beautiful stained glass windows and a bizarre painting of Christ over the altar. The colours in the painting are the colours of the distant mountains outside, all dusky blues and purples. Breathtaking. Like other Icelandic churches, it’s very bare inside. That’s not a criticism. There’s nothing else here, just the massive white church, and a couple of other buildings, one of which is some kind of school, I think. And a little dog, which runs round in circles yapping as we board the bus and trundle back off up the road past the place where the bishop lost his head.