Thursday, October 09, 2003

Mysterious Destinations

I've always liked traveling by train in this country. Even when there are delays and disruption. What I like best is not knowing where you are. When you're in a car, you can look at a map and know exactly where you are and where you are heading.

On a train it's not quite the same. You know where you start from and where you're going to but often you don't have a clue about where you are in between. You seem somehow divorced from the geography of the country as you know it, all because the only map you have of your route is a series of generalised straight lines with stations spaced evenly along them. It's very difficult to apply that to reality unless you know the area very well. Hence the journey becomes a little mysterious.

Then there are the railway lines you see along the way that branch off yours. Where do they go? What mysterious destinations do they lead to? I sometimes let my imagination go when I see a single track going off in another direction and picture it leading to a sleepy english village with a name like Little Throgmorton, where it is still 1953, or to a desolate industrial wasteland with heaps of slag alongside the track, machinery covered in rust and oil all over the ground.

Finding out where it does lead spoils that image completely. I used to commute into London from Stevenage every day and often wondered where the line that branched off to the west between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury park went. Then I moved into Finsbury Park and lived at the bottom of Crouch Hill, a hundred yards from the station of that name on the North London line. I never knew there were any routes that went across North London until then but, once I did, it took away the mystery of where that branch lead to.

I know feel a mild form of sadness. Sadness for the way Britain's rail heyday is so long gone. How long is it since trains proudly carried passengers along lines like the North London Line? How long since sleepy little villages in the middle of nowhere were connected to the rail network, even if trains were few and far between? I don't know the answers to those questions but I do know that those days are gone forever.

More's the pity.

No comments: