A new book is rocketing up the best seller lists, and it’s all about railway stations.
Railways can often be divided into three elements, the trains, the tracks and the stations. Unless they’re going over a nice viaduct, most people don’t care about the tracks. The sorts who meticulously catalogue the rolling stock are a unique breed. What gets the most attention outside the trainspotter community though are the stations.
Run down or glorious, they are the spaces where people meet, say goodbye, laugh, cry, and when trains are delayed, curse. They are places of anticipation, waiting for people to arrive, or for trains to carry them away.
They are sometimes modern steel hells, little houses, or grand Victorian follies.
In recent years, a lot of love has gone into restoring old stations, or bringing less salubrious buildings up to modern requirements to cope with the massive surge in passenger numbers over the past couple of decades.
Long time historical architecture critic, and former British Rail director, Simon Jenkins has taken a wander around the UK looking at what are for him the best stations.
The book is conveniently divided into regions, which makes the book much easier to stop at suitable points and pick up later.
One curiosity is that the intro section is in a larger, but much easier to read font, which then shrinks noticeably when describing each of the stations. A minor irritant, but one which goes some way to explaining my fondness for reading books on a tablet now, as I can set the font size to whatever I find most comfortable.
Then again, this is a book as much for the words as the pictures, so large glossy printed works best.
If an architectural detail is worth writing about, then maybe it was also worth including as a photo. That’s a weakness in the photography, which relies a bit too heavily on stock photos rather than having commissioned fresh photos that would more closely accompany the text.
A glossary at the back helps to decode some of the more arcane architectural language used in the book.
Each station is given a page or two with a mix of history for the larger and anecdotes for the smaller, which also seemed to get the more enthusiastic writing. The big stations get grand and impressive write-ups, but its the smaller cottage stations that get the love.
Great Malvern is here, obviously (and when will the worm be open?), but I wasn’t aware of how golf saved the once run-down and now delightful Gleneagles. The front cover is fortunately not one of the obvious grand stations, but the amazing ticket hall for Wemyss Bay – a station that serves a ferry. The photo was enhanced by being taken on that rarest of Scottish events, a cloudless sunny day.
It’s a writing that does make you want to get out to the wilds of the English countryside and see them. Or if that idea scares you, a few of the London stations are also here.
However, a few stations, such as Edinburgh Waverley seems to have been accidentally included from his possible next book, Britain’s 100 Worst Railway Stations, judging by the criticism he heaps upon them.
This oddity means this is less a book listing 100 best railway stations, more 80 of the best, a handful of promising hopefuls if only some money was found to undo recent refurbishments and a few downright horrors.
Overall though, it can be looked at as a coffee-table book, or as a guide to which railway stations should be visited when next out for a trip.
It’s likely to be appearing under a good many train geek’s Christmas trees this coming December.