Sometimes you just can’t leave the past behind – not the past of history books, but of your own story. That’s particularly the case on family holidays. Many of our jaunts have been to find another time, rather than another place. And that time is usually located in my childhood.
That’s certainly what happened on a recent trip to Yorkshire. I’d read ‘The Railway Children’ when I was the same age as my twins – just 10. I saw the 1970s film shortly afterwards. So we didn’t go to Haworth to find out more about the Brontës or experience the wild, windy beauty of the moors – although I pretended that’s what we were up to. We went so I could spot the places where ‘The Railway Children’ was set.
It was easy to footstep my childhood. There are published walks and guides to where Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) and her family lived and head porter Mr Perks (Bernard Cribbins) worked. We wandered up the main cobbled street in Haworth where the children went shopping for Mr Perks’ birthday presents. We did visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum, former home of the literary sisters – but only because it was the home of Dr Forrest in the film.
The spot I wanted to see most of all was Oakworth Station, reached on a five-minute journey of nostalgia and joy on a Keighley and Worth Valley Railway steam train. The Railway Children Engine sometimes still runs on the track, with the fictitious golden logo of the Great Northern and Southern Railway. We were given a hand-punched, dusty pink, oblong little cardboard ticket. The polite stationmasters (all volunteers) were dressed in caps and ties and stood stiffly with hands clasped behind their backs, framed by puffs of smoke. The station looked exactly like it did in the teary scene in which Jenny Agutter cries ‘Daddy, my daddy’ as she greets her estranged father: there’s the same picket fencing in the background, the same flagstoned platform littered with piles of battered old trunks, and the same tall gas-lamps. But this is not a museum like the Brontë parsonage; it’s a working station. Even the gas-lamps are lit each day. There’s no electricity and little plumbing. In the Ladies Waiting Room, you clean your hands at a washstand filled up with a jug.
I talked and talked to the twins about how it once was in a place they call ‘olden times’. And what it was like for me when I was 10 years old and first met Mr Perks.