Sunday, 19 April 2009

Easter Saturday 2009 at Garsdale

Myself and Fiona are Christians of a liberal sort. Over Easter weekend family arrangements meant we did not enter a church.
However our Easter Saturday was surprisingly and graciously infused with the spirit of the Risen Christ. We needed to journey from Prudhoe to mother in law at Castle Douglas in Galloway. I came up with the idea of going via Garsdale. That is a hamlet 1000 feet up in the Yorkshire Dales with a station (an erstwhile junction) on the Settle to Carlisle railway line. On the map it would not appear to be the way to go. The week before an email had arrived in my in box appealing for people to get to Garsdale station between 11-1200 on Easter Saturday and promised free food for those so doing. What an offer. I looked into it and found that by driving 140 miles instead of 100, we could go via the scenic A686 route over Hartside and break our day by stopping at Langwathby station. An early start would put us on the 0953 southbound out of Langwathby and give us a day in Eden visiting Garsdale and later on Kirkby Stephen for the Easter Bus Rally. The latter is always a favourite of mine as all sorts of vintage machines and men enjoy their annual resurrection.
The sense of blessing started with the weather. This must have been one of the nicest Easter Saturdays in the Dales in years. Certainly not like last year. I was surprised when 20 people boarded the train at Langwathby. Throughout the day the S&C appeared busy. But this was not an ordinary day. It was 20 years to the day that the S&C had been reprieved from closure and that was what this day was about. An Easter celebration of the salvation of the Settle and Carlisle. It was rather more than that. At Garsdale there was a remarkable show and yes, plenty of free hospitality. Around 200 people, maybe more, had found their way to this isolated station. Once there, open-air spechifying took place. Hardly anywhere to sit, we stood on the platform. I am used to sermons and often they have a remarkable ability to send me to sleep. It might be thought that 30 minutes or so of spechifying at Garsdale would have the same effect. Instead an electrifyingly moving atmosphere grew in the crowd.
A story was being told, it was a tragic story but with a resurrection. We were actually assembled for three purposes: to mark the 20th anniversary of the reprieve, to see the completion of a £250,000 restoration of Garsdale station itself, and this included the unveiling of a bronze statue of a dog, conveniently and sensibly placed opposite the signalbox for the signalman to keep an eye on it (heading photos). This all seems a bit strange. What has a dog got to do with this. A dead dog at that, dead since about 1990. The dog's name was Ruswarp and he had become an officially recognised objector at the closure enquiry to the line. In turn this was because his master Graham Nuttall was one of the leading opponents.
Both man and dog saw the line reprieved although only months later Graham died walking alone in North Wales. Ruswarp was with him and would not leave his master and was himself found weeks later by another walker, emaciated and near to death. He was rescued and Graham was buried. The story of a man's best friend and faithful love in the face of death caught the press attention then. Now, 20 years later and at Easter, a true partnership of volunteers and professionals (none being amateurs) had come together and were marking this anniversary in an outstanding way and receiving the blessing of the weather God. In our header picture the tall man is Ron Cotton, the one time BR manager charged with closing the line though in fact he did much to demonstrate its appeal. The lady chaired the closure enquiry. They were brought together to unveil the statue. The throng included an MP giving up his Easter Saturday (Eric Martlew from Carlisle). Network Rail who have poured money into the regeneration were out in force with senior management. The Friends of the Settle to Carlisle Line likewise. It all brought back memories for me of fighting the closure in the early 1980s. I was one of the objectors and made my way to a rally Mike Harding fronted at Settle in 1984.
It became a splendid occasion. The final touches for us were courtesy of John Diggles. He was on the PA system and managed to unearth some rather special music. He had come along with an old vinyl single issued for the Stockton & Darlington Rail 150 celebrations at Shildon in 1975 . The "A" side of the disc, by a band called "Geordies Penkers" was called "The Iron Road" and was not played. On the"B" side was a tune called "Land of the Pennine God". This was written and performed by the late Mike Donald from Skipton. He was a folk singer/songwriter and S&C railway fan in the 1970s. I would love to get printed words and music for this song. It was an evocative ballard about the smash on December 24th 1910 just north of Garsdale after the signalman there incorrectly operated the signalling leading to a northbound sleeping car express crashing into light engines with the loss of nine lives. My wife thought rather plausibly as we listened to the ballard on the platform beside the box to which it referred that the title was "Land of the Pennine Fog". I preferred God and apparently this is the title.
For the Pennine God I owe much to the poet W. H. Auden. He effectively managed an entire revelation of a God in tune with geology and evolution through the Pennine fault that runs to the east side of the Eden Valley down which the S&C descends to Carlisle. Garsdale may not be one of Auden's names but Hawes five miles away certainly is and Garsdale was of course once known as Hawes Junction, as it was on the night of the smash. Auden's masterful itinerary England: "Six Unexpected Days" for American Vogue in 1954 went via Hawes. For my money this Easter Saturday this Pennine God was alive and kicking on the platforms of Garsdale station.
It would of course be very easy to pooh-pooh introducing God to this post. I will point out however that after uploading the post, the sculptress of Ruswarp read the post and introduced herself in an email. To quote from that email: "Why JOEL is answered by the fact that I was not aware of the gift of being able to sculpt until it was "announced" directly after I had become a Christian with a capital C". JOEL is the signature inscribed on the sculpture by Jo Walker. More information is at .
A note added 26th June 2009. I have now sourced both the songbook and LP record North by North East of Mike Donald's. These fully provide "Land of the Pennine God" and other delights and should anyone show interest a mini-revival may follow.

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