This morning I had the most wonderful and unexpected dog walk. Ste was off to a work conference in Orlando, so I had to drop him at the train station early, meaning I had two hours to play with before I needed to sit down to work. I could have taken the dogs for their usual hour and started work early. I could have. Instead I took them and did some exploring. It was a glorious sunny day, making a nice change from recent snow flurries and grey skies, and it was really starting to feel a bit spring-like. The best kind of day to enjoy early morning sunshine.
The hills and woods around us are rabbit warrens of trails, both marked foothpaths and unmarked tracks which go for miles, loop around, join up, and generally criss-cross the Yorkshire countryside. I love that we could do a different walk every day of the week, even just in an hour. Because I had the luxury of time today, I decided to go a little further and explore a path I’d seen from the road but not been along yet. The trail started up into the woods under Beaumont Park, alongside an old plant nursery that has closed down. I was looking down on it and wondering at the hurry it seemed to have been abandoned – trolleys still laden with plants in the aisles, and rakes and tools lying around, yet they had clearly been there for ages.
So I was already thinking about what happens to places when people move out when I came around a corner and saw this:
I couldn’t believe it – it was like a castle keep from Game of Thrones (we may or may not have been binge watching the first couple of series recently) appearing out of the trees. At first it looked closed but as I got closer under the bridge in front of it I realised it was open. Both dogs were as curious as I was – a lot of sniffing and a lot of staring skywards as we went up to the gate. I am not sure they could believe the ivy-covered crenellated walls that had just materialised either.
On the other side I was in for even more of a shock – stairways rising high up the hillside on either side of the gateway, but in front of it three enormous trees (I think they were macracarpas) stood like sentinels. Even lying on the ground (or as good as, it was pretty damp and muddy!) I couldn’t angle my phone to capture their great heights.
On walking up the steps to one side, I realised there was actually a walkway above the gate, like ramparts. Except for the steps going up, and the trail going down, there was nothing around but woodland. Nothing to give away why this gate was there. After a minute or two pretending to use Toto as a crossbow to shoot down my approaching enemies from the gaps in the walls* we walked around the gate and down onto the path which led over the bridge next to the gate – a completely straight path, with high, brick-walled sides in places, which I realised was the remnants of the Meltham Railway line which closed in the sixties. Ste and I had walked along some of it further up before, and I’d walked the Meltham end of it with my friends Hannah and Nat weeks ago, but I hadn’t seen this part before. It was a three mile single track opened in the late 1900s for passengers, and closed in the 1940s and used for freight for the David Brown factory nearby. Nat tells me that the gate I came across was the site of a tea rooms for the David Brown staff.
The dogs and I walked along the line for a little way, and then took a trail up one side of the embankment. It was beautiful, the dark green moss clinging to the rocky walls, the white light of the low sun shining through the trees, and an earthy damp smell underlying it all which lent an edge of reality to an otherwise surreal-feeling environment. The trail which started off easily enough gradually disappeared, until we were picking carefully along a ridge of stones and huge tree roots, trying not to tumble down either side. The dogs were loving it, I was a little scared, but it felt like such an adventure for an otherwise ordinary Wednesday morning.
Eventually the path ended at a bricked up tunnel, covered in graffiti and limbs fallen from trees. On one side you can see an old platform – just a lower part of the walls of the track, no buildings or other hints remain of the station (though there is a nice little shadow of ghost-me, waiting for a train!).
It was a brilliant walk, not just because of the adventure and discovery, but because my mind went into overdrive about the history of where I was, when it was a railway, before the railway, before the Industrial revolution, before the wheel, before time. I have always been fascinated with ruins and abandoned places, whether its seeing former underground stations or photographs of the city of Pripyat, or just old buildings or unexpected finds like the park gate. It seems incredible to me how in just a few short years, Mother Nature can reclaim what was once hers, so totally and finally. What endures after us is our architecture, our buildings, our innovations and industry, but little else. Nothing of who we were.
There is a niche of the internet that shares my fascination, from Pinterest ‘interests‘, to bloggers. One of my favourite of the latter is The Dainty Squid, because of posts like this. Whilst googling more about the Old Meltham Railway, I also found a website dedicated to the abandoned railways of Yorkshire, where some intrepid folk have ventured inside the bricked up railway tunnels on this line:
and even discovered that part of one has been turned into a home! Would that all these spaces could be used so creatively.
I also discovered that lottery funding was used in 2012 to clear the railway line to make it into a walkable trail. The track itself is now clear, but the woods and foliage are already taking over again. You can’t fight nature it seems.
*No pugs were harmed in the making of this blog post, I promise.