Day 11 A Brief Encounter

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Dafydd wasn’t feeling too well yesterday (Saturday), and woke up this morning feeling properly ill, so we’ve stayed put today.

On top of that, the tail end of Hurricane Katia is also almost on top of us, with 30 to 40 mph winds forecast for the next two days.

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Breezy.

So we’re going to jump on a train tomorrow (Monday) and head for Lanark a day early. We’ll spend Tuesday there so Daf can recover properly, and hopefully continue on as planned on Wednesday. It means we miss out about 120 miles or so, and won’t have cycled the whole way, which is a damn shame, but health and well-being are far more important.

Anyway, as part of revising our plans, I nipped over to Carnforth today, to check on train times, pick up provisions, charge our phones, and grab some 3G.

At the station I met two gentlemen in the information office, who noticed my cycling gear, and asked me about our trip.

One of them offered to walk me over to the refreshment room where I’d be able to charge my phone. We got to talking, and I learnt about the fascinating history of Carnforth Station.

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It turns out it was the station that featured in David Lean’s movie ‘Brief Encounter’. Shot in 1945, the movie stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, was written by Noël Coward, and is an all time classic:

“That’s why we must stop, here and now, talking like this. We’re neither of us free to love each other. There’s too much in the way. There’s still time, if we control ourselves and behave like sensible human beings. There’s still time.”

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The station had its mainline platforms removed in the early 1970s, and fell into disrepair. But between 2000 and 2003 it was rebuilt, and is now quite glorious.

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The tea room is a faithful reproduction of the refreshment room from the film, which was based on the station’s original tea room (life imitates art imitating life). The original station clock, featured throughout the film, was recovered from a garden in Twickenham, and fully restored. There’s a great visitors centre, with loads of railway ephemera, and an exhibition about the film.

In short, it’s brilliant.

As I was getting a coffee, the man running the refreshment room said ‘I see you’ve met Peter. I bet he didn’t tell you this is all thanks to him’.

It turns out the man who’d taken me across there was Peter Yates, and that he’d been the catalyst for the rebirth of the station, helping to turn a £100 fund into a £1.5 million fund between 1996 and 2000. He was awarded an MBE in 2005 for his efforts (and apparently had a lovely chat with the Queen).

We sat down over a coffee, and he told me the whole story. A man of genuine warmth and humour (as well as evident determination and gusto), his passion and attention to detail was staggering.

One quick anecdote by way of example: they were trying to find the same tea urn as the one used in the film, but with no luck.

With just two weeks to go before the grand re-opening, and still no urn, Peter happened to pick up a well-to-do couple during a shift on his day job as a roadside recovery mechanic. He got to chatting with the man, and the conversation turned to the hunt for an urn.

‘You won’t find one of those’, said the man. ‘The only one is in the British Museum. It’s a William Still urn. And I am he.’

The man, actually the son of the original William Still, then helped gather parts and materials to recreate the urn, and in time for the station’s opening.

Chatting with Peter was an absolute treat, and the station is definitely worth a visit if you get a chance – the pictures here don’t even begin to do it justice. (I’ll post some from my proper camera when I get back).

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2 thoughts on “Day 11 A Brief Encounter

  1. Very sensible decision, hope Dafydd feels better soon and is OK to restart on Wednesday. What a bonus about Carnforth station and Brief Encounter, such an emotive film and Peter sounds a great character!
    D

  2. bless. i’ve had tea in the cafe on that station too, and looked at the brief encounter exhibition. I have friends who live very near there.

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