By David Powell
I had finally got a weekend off work, and there was, I thought, no better way to spend the Saturday than visiting the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, riding up and down the line. Just short of five miles long, it was a wonderful place run by happy, enthusiastic people who made you feel part of everything. As I left my local station in Knottingley, it was drizzling with a light rain, with really leaden skies. Thankfully, by the time I jumped on the Skipton train in Leeds station, it was dry, and the clouds were breaking. A lovely run up the Airedale Line took me to Keighley, where the sun was out to greet me as I made my way over the footbridge to the place I loved to be.
I paid for a Day Rover ticket and walked up to the platform end, ready to get a snap of the incoming train. I didn’t have long to wait, as inside 10 minutes ‘Black Five’, No 45305 named ‘Alderman Draper’ came tender first round the bend, nice and slow. I took my photo and walked back down the platform to get in a carriage. I decided to jump into a carriage which would be near the back of the train, and settled into a nice big seat. Surprisingly, no one else got into the same carriage,
and 20 minutes later, we set off to a long, loud whistle and the ‘Five’ worked its way up the gradient out of Keighley. I opened my window to take in the incredible sound of a machine, almost human in its workings, drag its load towards the next stop at Ingrow West.
We entered Ingrow West station, passing the Museum of Rail Travel, the headquarters of the Vintage Carriages Trust and the Bahamas Locomotive Society, who had their prize asset, Jubilee class loco No 45596 ‘Bahamas’ on the sidings. Both engines saluted each other with long blasts of their whistles.
The sound was wonderful. People got on and off, and in no time we were off, straight into Ingrow Tunnel. Everything went black, and instantly I realised why no-one else had entered my carriage; there were no working lights! The carriage filled with smoke, as the tunnel, 150 yards long, echoed with the sounds and smells of a steam train with plenty of coal in the fire.
All of a sudden, the temperature seemed to drop. The smoke, if anything, got thicker, and I got a real chill down my spine. We burst out into daylight, and I jumped as I was looking straight at an old man, perhaps in his 80’s, smiling at me and saying ‘hello’. I apologised for jumping, but I hadn’t felt him sit down, or even walk to the seat.
He chuckled, and started talking to me. His name was Godfrey, and he rode on the railway every weekend, apparently. He had seen me sitting alone as we entered Ingrow, and had decided to keep me company. He made for a pleasant travelling companion, and I told him about my supermarket job which sadly entailed my working most weekends, so I took the chance to ride at the KWVR whenever I could. I listened with a slight envy as Godfrey told me about his career on the railway after the war, and how since he retired, he just enjoyed ‘helping out’ as he put it, and riding the trains.
He seemed so happy and content; it was easy to like him. He kept giving me little nuggets of information as we went up the line, how different bits of the line came from where, and how the money for them was raised.
The weather was lovely now as we left Oakworth station. We started talking about Haworth, and the Bronte Sisters, and the tourists who go there in their legions. All too soon, we were at Oxenhope station, the terminus of the line. Normally, I would have gone into the shed and looked around the engines waiting for overhaul, but I wanted to keep listening to Godfrey, so I stayed in my seat while the engine watered and hooked on at our end of the train. Off we went again, this time towards Keighley, and once again nobody got into our carriage.
Not that this bothered me, as Godfrey was in full flight, telling me all about his small part in The Railway Children, the movie that was filmed exclusively on the railway. I noticed he never spoke about what he did in the war, and I didn’t press him on it. I didn’t want to upset this lovely old man, who was still giving the most wonderful narration to my journey. I didn’t want this run to end. What a great way to spend a day off!
I was just thinking he should write his memoirs, when we slowed for Ingrow Tunnel, and Godfrey wished me all the best. Just as I returned my good wishes, we entered the pitch blackness again, and in poured the smoke with a vengeance. Amazingly, the temperature plummeted again. Into the light and Ingrow West station, and there was no sign of Godfrey at all. He had vanished. I looked to the carriage doors, and there was nobody there. As passengers left the train, I moved to the window to look for him, but found no trace.
Had he made a beeline for the toilets? No… nothing.
We pulled away from the platform, and I saw no trace of my companion. I settled back into my seat for the rest of the journey into Keighley station. As I alighted, I decided to have a look at the souvenir stall, having a good twenty minutes before we set off again for Oxenhope.
I bought a copy of the latest issue of Push And Pull, the excellent magazine put together by the volunteers from the line. I also got myself a tea, and got back onto the train, but in a different carriage this time. I was enjoying my tea, as a guard came and checked my ticket.
A group of people got on; I wouldn’t be alone this run. As we set off, I began reading my magazine. I just flicked through the photos at first; I would save the stories for later. Near the back was a page with an obituary. I looked closer, and my heart stopped. I recognised the man in the photo, sitting on a bench at Oxenhope Station.
It was Godfrey! I read on. ‘Godfrey Pickles, 1923-2013’. The obituary told that Godfrey was one of the most popular volunteers at the railway, having helped out since retiring from British Rail. A local of Ingrow, he had won the Military Medal during the Normandy landings, 6th June 1944, something he never talked about. He returned home after the war, married and settled in Keighley. He started volunteering on the railway before he retired, and was very popular with staff
and visitors alike. He had passed away a month before the magazine was published, his coffin carried up and down the line, whistle blowing all the way through Ingrow Tunnel.
I felt the most wonderful glow in my senses as I realised he had been unable to resist returning one more time for a run up the line… Good old Godfrey!