It was a beautiful June day. There was not a cloud in the sky, the sun was beating down, the birds were singing in the beautiful, lush green trees. But that was earlier in the week. Friday 18th June 2021 was not one of those beautiful June days. It was dull and cloudy as I made my way to the western edge of Staffordshire and walked into the eastern edge of Cheshire to tick off two stations on the East Midlands Ranger Area list; Kidsgrove and Alsager.
The rail network was having one of its off days today. I found out the night before that my original train to Kidsgrove was cancelled due to a shortage of train staff. So I had to catch the next scheduled train, an hour later. Then, as I left to catch the train from Burton on Trent to Derby, that train was delayed by ten minutes. When I got to Derby, my platform was altered at the last moment, so I had to make a mad dash over the footbridge to the platform on the other side. I was dismayed to see that the platform was full of people. Social distancing is supposed to be still in force at railway stations and on trains, but we all crammed onto the train. I couldn’t find a spare seat, so I was forced to stand in the vestibule with about four other people. Two of them got off at the next station, and yet more people got off at the following station, so a seat became available.
An hour after leaving Derby, I was at Kidsgrove railway station. Kidsgrove is an odd-shaped station, with four platforms in a V shape. There is a footbridge which traverses all four platforms. One line goes towards Manchester, and the other continues towards Crewe.
Kidsgrove Station was opened by the North Staffordshire Railway in October 1848. It was known as Harecastle when it first opened, and underwent various name changes until 1966, when it was renamed Kidsgrove. There were formerly two other stations in Kidsgrove, but they were closed in the 1950s. The builders are at work in the station at the moment, improving accessibility by installing lifts and a new footbridge. Kidsgrove is a staffed station, with a ticket office and toilets among the facilities.
I exited the station and had a wander around Kidsgrove. It is a fairly large town, located to the north of Stoke on Trent. It was a coal mining town from the 18th century until all the pits were closed. Two major canals pass through the town; the Trent & Mersey Canal and the Macclesfield Canal, the latter of which crosses the former via an aqueduct.
I had a stroll through Clough Hall Park. Clough Hall was a mansion in the town which is no longer in existence. The name lives on as a suburb of the town. The park itself is fairly unremarkable, although there are many facilities including a skate park, a bowling green and toilets. A stream runs through the park, and there is a small bridge over it.
As I headed north out of the park, I arrived at one of the entrances to the canal towpath, the Trent & Mersey Canal. For some reason, the water in the canal was a horrible shade of orange/brown.
Sadly, due to the cancellation of my train mentioned earlier, I didn’t have as much time to spend in Kidsgrove as I would have liked. It was time to walk the road to Alsager, about a mile and a half away in Cheshire. On the way there, I stopped off in Church Lawton to have a look at its church and graveyard. I have said many times on this blog that I enjoy a walk around a graveyard. I’m not morbid or ghoulish, I just like the peace and tranquillity they have.
All Saint’s Church stands upon a small hill, with a graveyard adjacent to it. I had a ten minute stroll around the graveyard, then headed back on the road to Alsager. It wasn’t raining, and it started to get a bit warm on the way to Alsager.
I eventually reached Alsager, and had a look around the town centre. It was quite busy with shoppers and lunchtime diners eating outdoors in some of the many cafes and restaurants in the town. Unlike many town centres, Alsager has few chain stores and mostly independent shops. There is an Asda supermarket in the town. Again, I didn’t have as much time to spend in Alsager as I would have liked. I made my way down to the station, stopping to look at the impressive war memorial statue near the station.
The North Staffordshire Railway opened Alsager station on the same day as Kidsgrove in October 1848. There was a stationmasters house (still in existence as a private home), waiting room, signal box, toilets and a small garden. Many people moved to Alsager to escape the pollution of The Potteries around Stoke on Trent, and the town grew accordingly. At one time, there were three stations in the town, but two of those were closed in the 1960s.
In the 1980s, Alsager became unstaffed and the station began to run down through lack of maintenance and neglect. In 2007, the Community Rail group was formed, and they began cleaning up the station, maintaining the gardens and planting hanging baskets. If I were to rank the 49 stations in the East Midlands Ranger Area that I have visited so far from best to worst, then Alsager would be in the top ten. Maybe top five. They have done a wonderful job with posters, plants and keeping the place free from litter.
The journey home was less fraught than the journey there. The trains were on time and not as full as they were, although it was still quite full. It’s just one of those things that trains had to be cancelled because of a shortage of train crew, they don’t do it on purpose.
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