It was my birthday a few weeks ago and my old school friend, David Wilkinson, sent me a most unusual and interesting present. It was a link to the YouTube video below.
It’s part of a series of videos uploaded by Geoff Marshall (who seems to the main presenter) in which he visits the least used railway station in an increasing number of counties.
And in this instalment, the seventh, he visits Buckinghamshire’s least used station, which happens to be the one that I use most frequently — Little Kimble.
He travels to Little Kimble from Marylebone, changing at Princes Risborough on to the famous (to train spotters, anyway) bubble car train that runs on the single track branch line to Little Kimble — and that I regularly use.
It’s worth watching the video to get a realistic impression this tiny train and the one platform station with zero facilities (it’s not even got a ticket machine) that I currently use virtually every day.
Geoff and his local guide from Aylesbury have a few interesting anecdotes about the station too, although they seem stumped for anything to do once they arrive there. An even more local guide, like me, would be able to point out that there’s a pub within about 15 minutes walk, although at the time of day they visited, they’d have to wait about three hours before it opened. There’s no shops or anywhere to get coffees, etc.
In the summer, the pub would be less than ten minutes walk away over a field, several stiles and a few footpaths. It’s similar with my shortest route to and from the station, which is now (and for the next two or three months) ankle-deep in mud in places.
That it’s so easy to reach this tiny country station in under an hour from Marylebone station (there are erratically timed direct trains using slightly more modern rolling stock too) shows the contrast between rural and urban that is a significant driver of conflict in the novel.
The Metro today plus the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail have a story featuring Little Kimble station, which I can see across the fields out of our back windows. A family of rare edible dormice, also know as Glis Glis, have been inhabiting the permit to travel machine. The ticket collector discovered them when investigating why the machine was frequently out of order. They are a rare and protected species and tend only to be found in this area of the Chilterns. They have been rehoused in St. Tiggywinkle’s animal hospital a few miles away in Haddenham, also famous for rehabilitating injured red kites.
Here are the links to the stories. There are some nice pictures of the mice.
I often use the permit to travel machine as Little Kimble station is far too small to have a proper ticket machine, let alone a ticket office. It’s taken quite a lot of my 5p coins when I’ve travelled into London recently, although the mice have left it out of order on many occasions.
We have mice all over the place here — they invade the garage in winter and once polished off an entire Christmas pudding I was maturing and are always running around in the garden. I’ll need to take a look to see if they’re the edible variety.
It’s quite interesting to hear a quirky tale of rural life as last night I made a visit to Dibley — more accurately The Bull and Butcher in Turville, which is the location where ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ was filmed, as well as countless other TV series and films (like Midsomer Murders). The pub is a lovely old village local with a massive fireplace and even a well inside one of the rooms (it goes down about thirty feet so it’s fortunate it’s covered over with glass).
Maybe the mice can burrow their way into The Angel?Â Anyway, it’s a Good excuse for not having a ticket — ‘Sorry but it was illegal for me to disturb the dormice’.
In another interesting, perhaps subliminal, connection with the underground, I’m a recently joined member of a group called Metroland Poets. As might be inferred, this is a group of poets from Metroland: the area made famous (or perhaps notorious) as being opened up to development by the Metropolitan line in the early 20th century, when it stretched way past Aylesbury up to Brill (the village that Tolkien used as the inspiration for Bree in ‘The Lord of the Rings’). The poets come from a bit wider afield — mainly Bucks and adjoining bits of Berks, Herts and north-west London.
Metroland is associated with John Betjeman and there are many famous advertisements were displayed on the underground to try and encourage people to relocate to the expanding suburbs and commute into London. Vast swathes of north-west London were developed into oceans of semis between the wars although a little further out of London the commuters had higher aspirations. Places like Chorleywood, which were described by Betjeman as the “essential metroland” and the “gateway” to the Chilterns, are typified by detatched, mock-Tudor mansions.
I was thinking of writing a transition chapter between inner city and countryside and the Metroland associations help, especially with confirming the geography that I want to use. The novel is absolutely not about the suburbs or suburbia but they can’t be totally ignored. James will have commuted through the suburbs for several years but Kim will be quite unfamiliar with them.
I want to write a bridging chapter where she sets off from Marylebone, in itself a small outpost of country values in central London (ironically Chiltern Railways have been owned by Deutsche Bahn for a few years). She won’t know what kind of a place she’s going to visit and she’ll look out of the window at the inner-Metroland of dense development around Harrow, which she’ll sort of understand. Then when the train gets out towards the more affluent suburbs like Moor Park and Rickmansworth she’ll start to become horrified and not a little intimidated by the huge gardens with ornamental pools and rockeries the size of small mountain ranges — real Jerry and Margo Leadbetter territory. As she gets towards Amersham she’ll be grabbing the odd bit of relief when suburbia eventually gives way to genuine fields but she’ll still be quite let down that it’s all one commuter dormitory after the other even 35 minutes or so out of London.
But then, once the underground signalling cables eventually stop after Amersham (where the Metroland poets meet), she’ll have a moment of epiphany: she’ll see a view somewhere around Great Missenden that will take her breath away and from then on she’ll realise she’s left suburbia and the metropolitan consciousness behind. After the exit from London was so long and drawn out she’ll be astounded that such beautiful countryside can be found relatively close to the capital. (This is what the government has just announced it wants to plough its HS2 High Speed Rail line though.)
She’ll be met off the train by James (and perhaps Emma) at the nearest station to The Angel: Wendover. Ironically, this was described (according to Wikipedia) as the “pearl of Metroland”. So a nice piece of circularity seeing she starts off in a tube carriage. (I’ve also already written a scene for ‘Burying Bad News’ that’s located at Wendover station where Frances is pursued by journalists when she goes to get a train.)