Let’s begin this article with a strong assertion: I am no great fan of train travel in the UK. This aversion goes back to my formative years when I was a student and had to travel back and forth between Sheffield and Hull on a regional train service. The journey between the two cities took less than an hour, but regularly set me back the exorbitant sum of 15GBP. I also often found myself delayed or forced to undertake parts of the journey by bus when the service was disrupted.
Even though I was very much jaded by the thought of travelling by train in the UK, when my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to London, we opted to take the train from Sheffield to King’s Cross St Pancras. My major aspiration for this was little more than being able to set off and arrive on time with no major interruptions or problems. Thankfully, this proved to be the case and left me feeling rather relieved. However, the stations at both ends of the journey actually had me feeling rather good about our trip.
Sheffield station was once a rather dour experience. Like most rail hubs in the UK, it was originally built during the Industrial Revolution and has a certain antique feel about it. When I remember my student days, I recall the place looking massively dour and being surrounded by 1970s tower blocks that blocked much of the sunlight and hid much of the station’s splendour. The place was just that little bit depressing.
When we pulled up to catch our train, I was both surprised and delighted at the transformation that had taken place. The tower blocks had gone allowing the sun to pour down onto the 19th century brickwork and to transform the whole facade. Where the buildings had once stood, there was a large metallic fountain that created a wonderful welcoming effect. Next to the fountain there was the added attraction of ping-pong tables that had been placed outside by a sports charity that aimed to boost the popularity of the sport in the region. This provided us with the opportunity to pass some time before we set off.
We arrived in London at just after noon and I was again pleasantly surprised. King’s Cross had also been recently refurbished. It was sporting a fantastic new glass roof that bathed the whole place in light and gave it a very airy and welcoming feel. There were also two wonderful statues that also captured our imagination. The first of these was a giant art-deco effect piece that towered 30m into the air at the foot of the platforms. It featured a couple locked in an embrace – I presumed it was one of welcome or farewell – and was cast wonderfully in bronze. There was also a small statue of the renowned British poet John Betjeman, which was wonderfully quirky.
It would be silly of me to describe either of the stations on our journey as more than a transport hub, but they were both very pleasantly surprising and made the trip between London and Sheffield far more interesting than I expected it would be.