I have to confess that, even though I like to think I know a bit about geography in the UK, and particularly the Midlands, I had never heard of Retford until I visited there on Thursday 12th May 2022.
My mission to visit every railway station in Nottinghamshire took me to the market town in North Nottinghamshire on a cool and sunny May day. I caught a train from Burton on Trent direct to Sheffield, where I had a twenty minute wait for the Northern service bound for Lincoln Central.
The train journey from Sheffield to Retford took about forty minutes, calling at some of the stations which are on my list of stations to visit in Nottinghamshire on the way there. I alighted at Retford’s Low Level platforms, located a short distance south of the main station. It is fully accessible for those with mobility issues, with major improvements completed just a few months ago adding lifts from both low level platforms. There is a long fenced walkway between the high and low levels which took a good five minutes to walk.
The first station at Retford opened in 1849, a short distance east of the current station (part of the old station still survives today). The current station buildings were constructed in 1891-92 and are Grade II listed. The station is fully staffed and there are many amenities at the station including a ticket office, toilets and waiting rooms. The low level platforms were added in the 1960s as part of a remodelling of the station which involved the tracks on the Sheffield-Lincoln line being lowered and a bridge being built over them. As mentioned earlier, improvement works to the low level platforms were completed in December 2021.
I left the station and headed up Victoria Road and Albert Road to the entrance to the Chesterfield Canal, part of which runs through Retford. The canal originally ran from Chesterfield to the River Trent, but part of it collapsed (Norwood Tunnel), effectively splitting the canal in two. Since the 1970s, parts of the canal have been restored after years of neglect, and there are plans to link the two parts of the canal with a brand new route between the two.
In 1978, while restoration workers were dredging the canal in Retford, they inadvertently pulled out a wooden plug on the end of a chain which caused the canal water to drain into the River Idle. The incident made the national news. The plug was a feature originally installed to facilitate the draining of the canal to allow maintenance work to take place.
Near the canal is King’s Park, a large public open space near the town centre. It was opened in 1938, the coronation year of King George VI. The park has won many awards, including being voted the fifth-best park in the UK in 2014. It has children’s play areas, open spaces for ball games and picnics, as well as some beautiful gardens. It was quite busy when I was there, seeing as it was around lunch time.
After a walk around the park, I ventured into the town centre. Retford’s town centre is incredibly beautiful, with many historic old buildings and few empty shops. In the centre of town is the market place, which was in full flow when I visited. The local town hall is the second most impressive I have seen (Burton on Trent’s is the best in the land, in my opinion).
Within the market place is the town’s war memorial, honouring local men killed in the First and Second World Wars. Also, standing outside the Town Hall on a plinth is the Broad Stone, although nobody is exactly sure of what it was. Some say it was part of a cross, a boundary marker or used to disinfect coins with vinegar during plagues.
To the north of the town centre stands St. Swithun’s Church, the largest church in the town. In front of the church is Cannon Square, named for the cannon which is located outside the church. The cannon was captured from the Russians during the Siege of Sevastopol at the end of the Crimean War in 1856 and arrived in Retford by rail in 1858. The cannon was given the name “The Earl of Aberdeen” when it was unveiled in Retford in 1859. It was almost scrapped in World War II during the ‘scrap drive’, where people were encouraged to donate any metal (beds, railings, etc.) to help the war effort. It was reinstated after the war and has been restored in 2006.
After a pleasant walk around the town, it was time to leave Retford and head for home. I consulted Google Maps to find the quickest route back to the station, and it told me to take a footpath near a level crossing which led to the station. It wasn’t even a level, tarmacked path, just a country path. It was one of the more unusual ways I have walked to a station.
The journey back was particularly fraught, with a couple of train delays which meant that I missed my train back to Burton from Derby by a couple of minutes. Fortunately, as I have said before on this blog, time seems to pass quickly at Derby station for some reason, and I caught the next train back half an hour later.
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