The weekend comprising 8th -10th July 2016 saw the return of the Rail Ale Trail to Churnet Valley Railway.
(Now, I’m not known for my ale appreciation, nor am I much of a train buff, so I might be ill-qualified to review this event. Any factual inconsistencies should be attributed to a hazy memory brought about by my copious cider intake.)
My father, brother and I attended the final day of the festival, and while the weather was infinitely more clement than it had been the previous two days before, and despite the best efforts of a local blues band, I could not shake the feeling that we had arrived late to the festivities.
After a quick bite to eat at The Railway, Froghall (a quaint and pleasant public house that serves an excellent selection of food) we boarded our train (a large green steam engine – Apologies, I know nothing else about it) and settled back to enjoy the short trip to Cheddleton.
There is a certain magic to travelling on a steam engine, one that though difficult to describe (partially due to my hung-over state) is shared and understood equally by young and old alike. The journey certainly inspired memories in my father, who regaled us repeatedly with stories of adventures, past.
Having alighted at Cheddleton, we were greeted by an almost entirely deserted station. Seeking a refill, y brother and I entered the small office where a make-shift bar had been erected, to be presented by a disappointingly small selection of drink. Our choice was either Iceberg ale, plum beer, or a non-descript cider that had (according to the Station Master) been shipped in late the night previously, as part of an emergency resupply.
I requested half an Iceberg from the beleaguered barman; I got half a plum.
In his defence, he had been pouring pints until long into the night, the station having seen its largest guest turnout in living memory. According to the station master, Saturday had been a good day. As we made our way towards the Boat Inn, which, surprisingly for a Sunday afternoon, was sparsely populated, I made a mental note to return the following year on Saturday.
A whistle-stop drink at The Black Lion highlighted that most of the day’s festivities had centred here, and though we were caught in a sudden downpour, those gathered showed no sign of retreat and absent of the need to catch the last train back, likely continued drinking late into the night.
Upon arrival back at Froghall, having caught the last scheduled train of the day (they ran a traditional Sunday service timetable) we found the small crowds had dispersed, the blues band had gone, the bar packed up, and the station deserted, with only an antique bicycle available for amusement.
I must extend my thanks to the staff (many of whom are volunteers) who maintain the railway and her stations. We are fortunate to be able to explore a treasured slice of transport history because of the good work that they do. I will be attending the festival next year, of that, I am certain, though it will be the Saturday that I book onto next time, for there’s only ever a festival feel when it is shared with others.