After this morning’s coffee and croissants (with French bilberry jam - a Sunday necessity), I decided that, what with one thing and another, I wanted a kind of ‘day of detachment’; I wanted to do something that had no connexion at all with any of the many things that have been pre-occupying me lately.
So I decided to go to Shildon.
If you’ve ever been to Shildon, you’re likely to be thinking that my decision to go there was about as perverse as it’s possible to get without tipping over into madness and deciding to visit Middlesbrough (God forbid).
But there’s a lot more to Shildon than there used to be when I lived in nearby Crook. They’ve put up some manageable modern sculpture, re-modelled the square and installed a traffic-calming zigzag in the main street which completely fails to add any charm to what was already a charmless and unlovely thoroughfare. (Isn’t ‘thoroughfare’ a magnificently Teutonic word?)
And then there’s Locomotion.
Locomotion is the Shildon branch of the National Railway Museum, most of which is in York. And it’s quite something.
At least, it is when you find it. Its signposting is so bad that I got completely lost and found myself on the road to Bishop Auckland - a truly terrible experience. In the end, a gadgey out walking his Jack Russell directed me to it.
There’s lots to see there. Not just historic locomotives and rolling stock - as you’d expect - but exhibitions of model railways and even a wonderful display of railway art. There’s a shop - naturally - and a good café as well.
There’s a deal of work still to be done there but they’ve made a terrific start. And isn’t it about time that Shildon was finally given recognition as the starting point of the world’s first passenger railway in 1825?
It was disappointing to see so few visitors there today - a fine, sunny September Sunday. So, if you get the chance, give it a whirl. As at the main museum in York, entry is free (although it would be impolite not to leave a donation) and Locomotion needs as many visitors as it can get.
Remember - although most of western Europe and huge swathes of China and Japan have dominated the development of railways for decades now, it all started in tired old Shildon.
THE GRANDEST TOUR OF ALL…
...begins in just a few days now.
A very, very BIG thankyou to everyone who has sent me recommendations, memories and advice about where I should go and what I should do - specially Nev and Val, who have written what amount to small guide-books for me.
But we still haven’t got to the end of my planned circumnavigation of the globe. Hong Kong, Singapore, Perth, Sydney, most of New Zealand, Vancouver, San Francisco - and next…
New York City. This is the only one of my planned destinations that I’ve already visited. I loved it then and I am fully expecting to love it even more this time round.
Please get in touch with any advice or recommendations you’d like to share.
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