Having enjoyed an afternoon mooch around sunny Southport and a stroll on the sand, I headed back to the train station for the journey home. It was 15:17 and the brightness of the afternoon was fading fast. The journey would take just 33 minutes, but dusk was approaching, and the last of the winter daylight would almost have gone by the time I arrived back in Wigan.
Just a few minutes out of town, behind us now the retail park and long terraces of B&Bs, we reach the start of several miles of mainly agricultural land.
I have my Kindle poised, ready to resume the le Carre I started reading again yesterday, more than 20 years after being enthralled by the paperback publication, later made into a film with Sean Connery in the lead role, playing a very different sort of spy.
The Kindle’s still poised as I find my attention drawn instead to the view from the window, one scene quickly changing into the next as the train speeds ahead through the arable landscape.
The track cuts through a patchwork of fields, a vast open space as far as the eye can see in shades of gold, ochre, muted and vibrant greens, rusted oranges and rich browns. The sky is still blue, and the light plays on water and earth, casting shadows or setting on fire.
A few stops outside Southport and a ticket inspection is underway. At this time on a week day afternoon, we passengers are small in number and a well-behaved lot, every conductor’s dream. In this carriage there’s only me and a young woman sitting behind. We both produce our tickets and receive thanks and a winning smile. The conductor moves on.
Back to the window. In the few minutes that I’ve been distracted, the light has faded a little more, creating a somewhat mysterious effect.
Acres upon acres of farm land lie mostly dormant, long since harvested, recovering and reenergising for the next planting, though some reveal signs of recent working and a few even show off healthy winter crops. An abundance of cabbages and kale are grown in West Lancashire.
The train slows as we approach the next stop, the attractive station house now defunct and possibly under development for another use. The lady announcer reminds us, if we are alighting, to take all our belongings and mind the gap between the train and the platform edge. A passenger from the next coach heads towards the door nearest me, belongings in hand and ready to watch for the gap. She wishes the conductor a good evening and good luck in the next round of strikes next week. Did I really hear that? I must have, as the conductor laughs and replies, “We’ll need it.” Satisfied that no more passengers are going make a last minute dart out of or onto the train, she steps up from the platform, locks the doors, and we’re off again.
A gorgeous full moon is now visible behind the thin clouds, though it has failed to appear in these photographs. Look at the sky and it could be 10:30 pm in mid-June, only the bare-branched trees and the russet hues revealing the true season.
A couple of stops before home, the enchanting views gradually subside, replaced by scenes of industry and domestic life. Russet grasses become trackside rusted metal, and vast housing estates replace furrowed fields. Street lights, Christmas lights, traffic and hubbub announce our return as we slowly pull into Wallgate station. The lady announcer gives the reminder about belongings and another gap to watch out for, and thanks us for travelling with Northern Rail. On the platform, the pleasant conductor gives another winning smile. I don’t mention strikes.