A Chilling Tale.
"Cold Rowley" by Colin Tipping.
Picture: Rowley station on a cold winters day.
James pulled his collar up as he crossed the footbridge to the Station. A freezing east wind blew flurries of snow down the line, the flakes skidding along the platform and lashing the doors and windows with icy fingers.
He passed the silent glass lined signal box and traversed the gloomy line of bare limbed trees whispering and muttering to themselves in the winter gale. Down the steps, then fumbling in his pocket for the key, he unlocked the Booking Office and stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
Putting his electric lantern down on the long counter he looked around. The office had been closed down for the winter and was submerged beneath dust sheets, only the clock was alive, maintaining its regular, comforting, deep tock-tocktock.
The fire had gone out. One of his colleagues had been down earlier in the day and put coal on but, as he confessed, had put too much coal dust on and, as James suspected, he had choked the fire.
The dull mass of coke and clinker lay in the grate, although the room was still warm. Suddenly, something caught his eve and he looked toward the window.
Staring in at him was a face - rosy cheeks and Victorian whiskers. James breathed out in exasperation.
"Twenty minutes to closing time, the fire to reset, and I've got a visitor". He picked up the lamp and went out onto the platform.
There was no one in sight.
He walked to the end of the platform but saw no one then, looking back into the wind, he thought he saw a figure walking away past the trees towards the Town.
"Good" ' he thought, "let's get the fire done". He unlocked the Lamp Room and took out the ash bucket and the watering can - he'd need to cool the ashes and grate before resetting the fire.
Retracing his steps up the platform he stopped suddenly. Through the Booking Office window he could see the red intertwined NER letters on the fireplace lintel. He smiled to himself - that was the mysterious face at the window. The letters had reflected in the lamp light back from the window pane. So much for phantom visitors.
Stepping back into the room he looked at the grate. "Blast it". he said out loud. The draught from the open door must have re-ignited the fire, which now burned merrily, the cheerful flames setting up a flickering glow around the silent dust sheeted office.
Ten minutes with poker and watering can conquered the fire, but produced a fine layer of white dust around the hearth. James collected the full ash bucket and watering can and stuffed the lamp into his pocket.
"I'll set the fire tomorrow ", he muttered to himself as he locked up, "the grate's still too hot. Don't want it catching alight again."
After emptying the ashes onto the snow covered ash heap, he replaced the watering can and locked the Lamp Room. Walking back past the Booking Office he glanced in the window and saw the NER letters on the lintel. He smiled at the recollection of the face.
Crossing the footbridge he tutted in annoyance. A visitor was standing on the road looking across at the station. James glanced at his watch - five minutes to closing time.
That was all he needed. Still, he reflected, he's paying my wages and doesn't want his day out ruined by grumpy old me.
"Good evening", he called out, "Im afraid the station's closed for the winter".
The visitor was fairly small, and wearing a dark overcoat and navy blue cap similar to those worn by yachtsmen.
"Good evening", he replied, "I know the station's closed, I just wanted to look".
Before James could reply, the visitor replaced his photograph and said, "Well, I'll set off I'll see you again. Good night".
He put his hand into his pocket and drew out what looked like a coloured photograph.
"My great grandfather used to work at Rowley Station until 1914. Someone painted his portrait before he went to France - this is a photograph of the painting".
James glanced at the face in the dim light, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. It was the face at the window. Clearing his throat, James said weakly, "You look like him - even the whiskers".
The visitor smiled. "Yes, so they tell me". He continued. "Great grandfather always kept a good fire going in the winter, even after the last train. He used to say that you never can tell when some poor soul will turn up cold, and in need of shelter".
Before James could reply, the visitor replaced his photograph and said "Well I'll set off. I'll see you again. Good night".
James turned away and walked towards the Town, his head down against the wind and flurries of snow.
"Where on earth have you been?", a female voice called. The senior demonstrator was walking towards him. "It's lust about time, and we're waiting to lock up".
"Sorry ", said James, "I got stopped by a late visitor. I think he wanted to go on to the station".
"What visitor?", she asked. "I've been standing here for five minutes and no one passed me". She took the keys from him and walked quickly away into the Town. James turned and looked back towards the station.
The light covering of snow on the road and path bore only one set of footprints. His own - going down and coming back. The visitor had left no footprints.
He shivered as a cold blast of air engulfed him, and a flurry of snow swept across the station. The eddies around the Rowley building danced the snow flakes up into the air, and just for a moment James imagined that the Booking Office fire was once again alight.
Waiting for the return of the man who had kept the fire lit for the traveller in need of shelter.
Rowley is the original name of the railway station at Beamish museum. When the railway line was closed this station from Rowley, near Consett in County Durham, England was dismantled and reassembled at Beamish.
Picture: Derelict Rowley station (1969) before it was rescued for Beamish Museum.
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