Alnwick is served by a mainline station, but it doesn’t stop in the town, but at a stop called ‘Alnmouth for Alnwick’. In fact the station isn’t in Alnmouth either, but in Hipsburn, a little shopless cluster of small estates on the edge of Lesbury, a one-pub old village between Alnmouth and Alnwick. Which is to say, if you didn’t know the place you’d probably say it was in the middle of nowhere.
Look at a map of the area and you’ll see the telltale white flourish of a disused railway line – the branch line which connected Alnwick with the mainline stop until its closure in the 1960s. There’s a permissive path (permitted by the Northumberland Estate, of course) along much of the course of the line. It can’t get into the town because of the A1 bypass; when it hits that it turns hard right and runs alongside, past a couple of ponies, and exits on to the Alnmouth Road. Today I start the walk at this point. This stretch is pretty difficult at this time of year – nettles and brambles and gorse spread across the path so that I have to wade through, and the nesh dogs hop and scurry between the thorns.
Once we get on to the path of the line itself it gets easier. It’s not a proper ‘trail’ really, though there’s work afoot to improve it. Half way along, walking with fields of yellow stubble on either side, we meet a gang of two or three men and some plant, doing something or other to maintain the bridge which the path suddenly shoots out across. In the long term there’s a plan to reinstate the line as a railway, and/or in the meantime a cycle path to the station.
It’s odd. Current access to the path is difficult, though I like the quietness, which would surely be reduced if a new cycle path was trumpeted. And a cycle path would help me get to the station for work – a new rail link wold be even more useful. It’s the kind of local infrastructure whose loss via Beeching is widely considered a tragedy. And yet if trains ran along here, I’d lose one of my dog-walking routes. Indeed, our nostalgia about the railways must be sustained partly by the walks we can take along flat, straight, tree-overhung paths. Plonk new lines and cables and access points etc on those paths to bring back rail as a reality, and perhaps the nostalgia might diminish.
After a while the path goes under a little bridge. We leave the line, cross the bridge and drop down a farm track towards the river. In theory you can cross the river via some stepping stones, but I’ve never seen the river low enough to cross. The track turns right to a farm, but we head off left along the bottom of the stubble fields, with the river on our right, then after a while climb through a field of cows to the Alnmouth Road.