Posted in Railways on Saturday 7th July 2012 at 10:02pm

Despite regular gripes that there isn't much going on this summer, I have found myself with a number of fairly purposeful trips in recent times - and have a bunch of others planned. I'm not sure if this is just that opportunities I'd maybe normally have missed due to being off on a railtour have been seized or whether I'm finding ways of compensating for a working life pretty much devoid of purpose in recent times, but it's good to be able to get out, meet people and do things I'd maybe not normally choose to. That includes going to Barnsley... I'd passed through the town a number of times, but hadn't visited since April 2005, when I stopped off due to missing a connection at Meadowhall and wanting a run on a recently introduced Meridian, which then served the station. That time, I recall managing to upset a local to the point of rudeness, and still to this day didn't know quite how or why. So, today's trip promised to be an interesting reappraisal of somewhere which had left a poor impression.

The other complication was that Britain had been warned not to travel. It had rained, quite a bit in fact, and the drought of the early spring had become a deluge. The rail network had survived remarkably well - with a few common spots flooded and some landslips here and there, but mostly it was open for business. My first train was on time, and allowed welcome caffeine before the usual train to Birmingham. I'd split my ticket here to save money - but it turned out to be a blessing in some ways. The 09:03, which had originated down south and which I could have picked up at Bristol half-an-hour later, was cancelled. It had looked dubious earlier, and anyone heading north and already at the station had been ushered onto the 07:00. Conditions around Torbay were poor and services weren't getting out of the area as yet. Got my ticket stamped, had another coffee and headed for the 09:30. Oddly, found my usual seat free and despite being busy, had a fairly quiet and pleasant journey north - arriving only a few minutes later at Sheffield due to the quicker journey time on this service. A quick change onto a waiting Northern unit for Leeds, and I arrived in Barnsley only 11 minutes after I'd planned to. Typically, the friend I was meeting had some serious bus delays - so my triumph was short-lived, but this did allow an exploration of the station area. This has changed hugely since my last visit - with the large area between the town and the railway filled by a space-age, oddly Mediterranean styled building of terraces and mezzanines. It was light - the windows working like an unwelcome greenhouse in the surprising sunshine up here - and the facilities were excellent. This was not the functional, workmanlike Barnsley Interchange I recalled.

Fife seashore based art by Natasha Taylor
Fife seashore based art by Natasha Taylor

I was momentarily reminded of the rudeness from last time when I stood aside to let a buggy-pusher pass and the old folks behind me didn't agree with my chivalry. The decided I was "ignorant" but this was swiftly tempered by the jolly sparring of the couple in the excellent independent coffee shop, which reminded me of the pair who run the shop in Father Ted. Finally the bus arrived and we were out into Barnsley. The illusion created by the Interchange fell apart almost instantly, with the surrounding streets still rather drab and largely populated by closed shops and discount stores. A pedestrian walkway led through to The Civic, the main destination today. This is a rather fine Arts Centre building, spacious, including lots of different venue and exhibition spaces, and even fairly pleasant to look at. Entering via the rear, we ascended to the 28 degrees exhibition and spent a fine hour in the company of some surprising and intricate art and design work. Heading back out into the now rather warm afternoon, I had the rare pleasure of a tour of Barnsley from a near-native. This involved the markets - which rivalled most other town's efforts to be fair, and many poundshops and charity shops, one which had the unenviable accolade of being the only place I know to sell second-hand toilet seats. Finally, back to the Interchange for the journey down to Sheffield for a brief meeting.

I was surprised to find the Sheffield to Birmingham train reasonably quiet too, perhaps due to the rain - but this might be one worth using in future if it's as calm as this on a normal day. The run south was a little delayed, but very relaxing and pleasant. I'd had a fine day wandering and chatting to people - which bucked the usually rather solitary nature of these trips. I'd decided to break the trip south again at Birmingham which meant time for coffee and reflection, and the usual trains home which I rather look forward to these days. It had been an unusual day for me, but a memorable and pleasant one.

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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