The Poacher Line, so called because it was the site of the UK's first great elephant poaching (that's a lie), runs from Grantham to Skegness. It links Skegness, Boston and Sleaford to the wider UK railway network. In doing so, it also passes through a number of small Lincolnshire villages whose stations have somehow survived the Beeching cuts. Thorpe Culvert serves the village of Thorpe St Peter, although it is ¾ of a mile away, a caravan park and various collections of houses which don't have a name. It gets only 2 trains per day each way, with no services at all on a Sunday. Last year, it dipped below nearby (ish) Havenhouse to claim the status as the least used station on the line, and in Lincolnshire. It was only used by 148 people that year.
The way the trains are spaced makes arriving and departing by train very attractive. The afternoon ones depart within 1h20m of each other. The problem is that they run in reverse direction (IE: I would have to double back via Skegness). This means I couldn't get back to Edinburgh before services stopped for the night. Wainfleet is located about 3 miles south east of Thorpe Culvert, so I decided that I would walk from there and catch the first afternoon service so I could get home.
I arrived at Haymarket ready for my short hop to Waverley. There were no confused people trying to get to Runcorn in sight, so I went to the ticket office and tried to sort out my tickets. I had bought an off-peak day return from Grantham to Thorpe Culvert, but had forgotten that Wainfleet was further down the line which meant my ticket would not be valid. In this situation, the ticket office can issue an excess ticket where the customer pays the difference between the two tickets. In this situation, the difference between an off peak day return from Grantham to Thorpe Culvert and one to Wainfleet was £0.00. “I'm sorry, the system doesn't allow me to issue a zero excess” explained the otherwise very helpful and friendly ticket man. He advised me to speak to the guard on the train. “If you get a good guard, he'll allow it.”
I completed the quick hop to Waverley without incident, and crossed over to platform 8 to board my train which would take me all the way to York. On departure, the train went into emergency brake and I watched as various members of platform staff gestured to each other. 30 seconds later, the train started again. The “train manager” informed us that someone had tried to open the door whilst the train was departing. This is the technical term for being an absolute moron.
No other incidents happened on the journey down to York, although the train did loose 4 minutes, which gave me an 8 minute change at York. This change was cross-platform, so I completed it in about 5 seconds. LNER's new electronic reservation system had messed up again, so there were no reservations on my train down to Grantham, or “free for all” as the conductor described it over the announcement system. I enjoyed a cheese sandwich as my train moved at a significantly reduced speed south to Grantham. It was explained that trains had to observe a temporary speed restriction due to high winds. This meant we lost 14 minutes by the time the train pulled into Grantham, and I just missed my connection to Wainfleet.
With nothing to do for an hour, I tried again at Grantham's ticket office to get a more concrete form of endorsement for my ticket so that I could actually travel to Wainfleet. The phrase “but the guy at the ticket office said I could” holds sod all credibility with guards, and rightly so. Having explained the situation to the lady, she tried to issue me the excess, but came up against the same problem. She then tried to sell me a single from Thorpe Culvert to Wainfleet, which came out at £1.80 . With my railway head screwed tightly on, I asked if that would actually be valid. The train didn't stop at Thorpe Culvert, so what was technically a ticket split at Thorpe Culvert wouldn't be valid (because the train I was getting didn't stop at Thorpe Culvert). Having asked if that would be valid, she stopped the transaction, and told me to speak to the guard. What fun.
I spent the next hour sheltering from the wind in an overcrowded waiting room. Such phrases as “Is that the train to Nottingham?” filtered from many people, apparently confused by a train to Nottingham turning up on the platform it was supposed to 2 minutes before it was due to depart to Nottingham.
The next service to Wainfleet arrived, and I spoke to the guard before I boarded. He was happy to let me travel onwards to Wainfleet. I spent the next 90 minutes on the train looking at the Lincolnshire countryside and finishing my cheese sandwich.
I got off at Wainfleet, watched the train depart towards Skegness, and began the hour walk to Thorpe Culvert. This took quite a lot longer than an hour, partly because I had to stop several times to consult my map, but also because it was very windy. The storm had meant that my hood no longer adequately covered my head without getting blown off every few seconds, so I had upgrade to head covering level 4: the hat. (For a full list of head coverings in order, please see the notes section at the bottom of this post.)
The walk itself was reasonable, save for the wind. Although the straight line distance between Wainfleet and Thorpe Culvert is under 2 miles, the walk itself is 3 miles because the roads and paths are set up in grids, meaning that instead of popping diagonally across the space like the railway does, one has to constantly walk around the grids. Pythagoras in action.
Another skill I developed during the walk was the ability to urinate discreetly in areas of high wind, without getting most of it on my clothing.
Thorpe Culvert Station
Thorpe Culvert station is located by a level crossing. On the other side is a signal box which controls said crossing as well as some others. The station has a small building on one end which is currently used partly as a waiting room, and partly as a disused building. The other platform has a standard perspex/metal/plastic hut thing. One gains access to the platforms via walkways which come out on either side of the level crossing. There is no other means to cross between the two platforms. Both platforms contain the usual assortment of signs and information posters, although the way out signs are positioned in locations where the way out is obvious (right at the end of the paths from the platform to the road). On the Grantham-bound side, there are some shipping-container-like structures which house signalling equipment and a toilet for staff.
There is also a help point, but this is rather unhelpfully located the wrong side of a “do not cross the line” sign, meaning that in order to use the help point one has to walk past this sign. Good planning.
On the Skegness-bound side of the station, there is a yard which contains horses and chickens. One of these birds was a rather impressive looking cockerel, which seemed to like crowing frequently.
I spent quite a bit of time admiring the farmer's impressive looking cock, before realising that the chickens were prevented from gaining access to the platform by wire netting spread across the railings. Chickens on station platforms is something that happens quite a lot with small rural stations, as you may remember from my visit to the Esk Valley Line. “The chickens roam free in Battersby”, which is also the code that the secret services use to describe when the government front bench visits a marginal constituency in the run-up to a general election.
I managed to see 3 services pass through Thorpe Culvert whilst I was there, and I even managed to take some passable pictures of them.
The 4th time a train came into view, it was the 16:25 service to Nottingham, one of only 4 services which stop at Thorpe Culvert in a day. The station is not a request stop, so it had to stop anyway. However, I like to make sure for these very small, rural stations that the driver is indeed stopping. I gave a small wave as the train slowed to a halt.
The doors were unlocked, and I acknowledge the guard's existence with another wave before boarding and settling down for the journey back to Grantham and eventually Haymarket.
There is nothing worthy of note on my journey back, instead to remark the mixture of Irish people, Scottish people and alcohol is a very loud one, as I experienced on my final train to Haymarket.
There has to be a way to officially issue a zero-fare excess. I've spoken to people who know far more about the ticketing system than I do, and they have said that methods for zero-excess fares exist, but they are very time consuming in terms of administration. Some train operating companies specifically have a policy not to issue them in the first place. The further problem for me is that my journey from Haymarket to Wainfleet was delayed by an hour because of that missed connection at Grantham. Although I was allowed to travel, I technically don't have valid tickets for that full journey, which means claiming for compensation that I am entitled to is going to be difficult (it is not an insubstantial amount in this case).
Thorpe Culvert was not the best small station I have been to. There weren't that many quirks, and although Lincolnshire is beautiful, my visits to the Highlands have somewhat eclipsed the view of some fields and the occasional river. However, the continued existence of the station is good, although I wish it had a more frequent service. The limited service limits passenger numbers, and there is a good chance that the residents of Thorpe St Peter and the other nearby villages are discouraged from using the station, and instead head to Wainfleet to catch the train instead. Then again, if that is the case, any increase in patronage at Thorpe Culvert would be at the expense of Wainfleet (extractive rather than bringing in new passengers). What is clear is that the station won't be able to grow with its current service.
List of Head Coverings (by warmth)*
Author - Felix