One Christmas I got a bike!
It was a used bike which Dad had stripped and refinished and it made getting around so much easier. While the pic below is not my bike, it could easily have been re the style and colour!
I could now get to Walton Crossing faster, and stay later. I could even bike into town to either Peterborough North or Peterborough East railway stations and, on paying a penny, would be able to go onto a station platform and see the trains close up, just standing there, hissing and steaming, and awaiting their whistle to go.
Many hours were spent standing next to those seemingly living, breathing, friendly monsters. I was in total awe (imagine the thrill) when, on a rare occasion, one of the crew would say “Want to come up sonny?” Being invited up into the cab of a locomotive was the ultimate honour.
Almost as exciting were the times that signalman Phil invited me up the steps and into the signal box where I could watch with fascination as bell codes were heard, and responded to. Where a huge wheel was turned by hand in order to close the gates across the road. Where many locks were released, and where levers were pulled. All this in order to allow possibly an express passenger train to go roaring through on its way to a City far, far away. Or perhaps it was only to allow a tired old goods engine hiss and clank its way past me. The anticipation of knowing something was coming certainly had no equal!
Walton Crossing served two Regions of British Railways and was in fact a double crossing. The main section controlled the East Coast main line and consisted of around six railway lines. Two were generally for the North and South bound express trains between London and Scotland, while the others serviced East Coast branch lines passenger traffic and goods (freight) trains.
Only a matter of around 20-30 yards away was the crossing of a Midland branch line which generally handled East / West rail traffic on its two railway lines, and which had its own Signal Box and gates. It was a source of great excitement when the main gates closed in front of me, and then the Midland gates closed behind me. The thrill of being trapped in the middle!
(Photo courtesy of Roy Roast – http://www.roysrailpage.co.nr.)
Photo shows Midland gates and trainspotters. Other gates are off picture to the right.
Alongside the Midland branch line was a field in which Horrell’s Dairies would often keep their cows. During quiet times of railway activity, I would sometimes climb the fence into the field and just look for interesting things, but all the time of course listening for distant bell sounds coming from a signal box, or the metallic “clunk” as a signal was set for an imminent train. It was on one of these forays into Horrell’s field that I discovered mushrooms. Lots of them! Mum confirmed they were mushrooms and thence started a habit of going to Walton Crossing really early in the morning and, in between trains, picking mushrooms. As soon as I had a bag full I would bike back home, and Mum would cook them up! What could possibly surpass eating mushrooms for breakfast that were picked only 20 – 30 minutes earlier?