Acklington is one of 3 stations on the Northumberland stretch of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) that only have 3 trains per day. About 2 years ago, I visited Chathill (the terminus of the services), but Acklington is the least used station, both in Northumberland and on the entire ECML. It was one of the few minor stations on the ECML to survive both pre-Beeching and Beeching cuts. However, its service was cut substantially, due to electrification and associated faster InterCity services, and rolling stock shortages.
Although two return trains run (one in the morning, one in the evening), the northbound morning service does not stop at Acklington. Thus, the only way I could visit it by train was using the northbound evening service, and then picking up the southbound evening service on the way back. This suited me well; although I am prepared to wake up very early for the railways, I generally like a lie in. I didn't lie in all the way to my 4pm train because I'm not a hibernating brown bear. I'm also not an awake brown bear, or a brown bear of any sort. Just in case you were confused.
With tickets that were not valid via Newcastle, I had to get off at Morpeth. With apologies to all for bringing up politics, this was the notice that greeted me on the ticket machine at the station.
Sharpie written political commentary aside (those last two words used in their loosest possible sense), I had a train to catch. I switched platforms and sat for an hour on a bench, occasionally managing to get semi-competent pictures of the passing trains.
I continue to be amused at the fairly awful pronunciation of places by computers. This time, it was Alnmouth's turn to be called “Olma” for no reason. I have heard many variations (Alan-mouth, Alnn-mouth, An-muff etc.) but never “Olma”. (For those interested, I think the way to pronounce “Alnmouth” is “Alnn-muth” - no “Alan” and not emphasising the “mouth”.)
Linguistics (if this even counts) aside, my train arrived late and managed to regurgitate the entire population of Newcastle from its 2 coaches. I got on, had my ticket checked by the conductor, and observed passengers getting off at the other 2 stations that see such a limited service (Pegswood and Widdrington). A handful of passengers got off at each. I was surprised that 2 other people got off with me at Acklington. They left the station quickly, and I stayed to have a look round.
As would be expected, the facilities are fairly basic. There are all the normal signs and lights and a bin. The stationhouse on the northbound platform is now somebody's home, and there is a shelter on the southbound platform which is the same as the one that was at Chathill: small, wooden, and rather sweet.
The top third of the northbound platform is pointless because the yellow line is so far back that it makes actually walking on it nigh on impossible.
It's also fun to play a game of “spot the way out” on the southbound side. I don't think the signs give too much away.
The way from one platform to another is via the road bridge. This is actually a fair distance because the entrance to the northbound side is at the other end of the platform. There's about 200m of walking to get from one platform to the other, 150m of it on road. The village is located half a kilometre to the east. I didn't visit it.
With the pictures and exploration finished, I spent the remaining 20 minutes in the shelter, popping my head out when trains passed. Like the top third of the northbound platform, the yellow line comes so close to the shelter that walking along the platform behind it becomes difficult. Like a tightrope, but with unenforced gravity.
My train back to Morpeth arrived. It was the same one as before.
The conductor checked my ticket, but queried my route (I don't think they were aware where Haymarket was). Once I explained, they ticked the ticket off with their pen and went back to their other duties. Nobody else got on or off at Widdrington or Pegswood on the way back.
Morpeth arrived and I changed. I didn't have too much of a wait before my train back north to Edinburgh. When I got on, quite a few got off, and I had an entire carriage to myself. Or, I thought I did. A rather imposing walking cane accompanied me. I reported it to the train manager when she came around, and she took it to her office.
The rest of the journey did not involve any other walking sticks.
Acklington station was never going to be used well, but its patronage will still be throttled somewhat by the infrequent service and the odd destination in the north. Few people will want to go to Chathill, and even though one can change at Alnmouth, the connections to Berwick aren't great from there. One of the major gripes of railway users in Northumberland is that, although there are quite a few trains from Newcastle to Edinburgh, most of them only stop at one or two stations between the two cities. Thus, there is a very infrequent service between the various stations in Northumberland. There is no train from Alnmouth to Berwick-upon-Tweed from 10am to 4pm; no train from Morpeth to Alnmouth for over 6 hours (06:38 to 12:57); and no train from Morpeth to Berwick for nearly 7 hours (11:51 to 18:49). If Northern could use electric rolling stock capable of 100mph, then there could well be space in the timetable for an hourly or bi-hourly local service from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed calling at all the stations en-route. Some enhancements are planned, but they are still only in the planning stage and could well be pulled/deferred.
Author - Felix