I didn't find it till the second attempt. It was a long way down Station Road, past the allotments with the golden-brown church spire showing behind them. Pavements that fizzled out. Grass verges flecked with silverweed. Sloes, deep purple and bloomy like the damsons in our garden but smaller. Hedges with blackberries. I pick a few that look ripest, taste their pippy flesh, some sweet, some sharp. Elder trees laden with clusters of little black fruit. Some elder branches pulled off and left, floppy-leaved, on the pavement. Dead twigs decorated with greenish-grey and gold lichen, twigs that I would snap off if they were on my damson trees. There they would be unproductive: here they are part of the beauty and abundance of Nature. Beyond the hedges extend fields, brown and strawy, recently ploughed for corn and now lightly laced with emerald-green weeds. In the distance, more hedges, more trees and the cloudy capricious sky. Three or so boxlike pairs of red semi-detached houses, a collapsing wooden shed, neglected business premises, a farm. Two or three horses graze in meadows. Telegraph poles suggest that I am approaching the destination - I picked up that clue last time but still didn't achieve my goal.
This time I walk further, looking for the fork in the road that I had seen on the map.
Then suddenly across the road a sign: Brixworth Station. Of course - part of the Brampton Valley Way. On a board, an illustrated map.
Down the quiet, muddy path bestrewn with yellow leaves. To the right, a wooden gate, a massy green-streaked post bound with wire. There are saplings behind the gate but I can see between them to a clearing, silent, peaceful, waiting to be discovered. The end of the path is crossed by the Brampton Valley Way, its light brown surface like a ribbon.
God be with me as I walk this track. I shall only stay here a few minutes, I think. I am alone and the way is not, after all, populated with Bank Holiday Weekend trippers. It is deserted.
The blue bridge carrying the road rears up to the left. I walk under it, follow the trail between the borders of hawthorn and ash and birch and rowan and fruit-laden elderbushes. Two-and-a-half miles ahead, southwards, lies the unseen curiously-named Merry Tom crossing. It is in the middle of nowhere, from a townsman's point of view, though not from the viewpoint of a farmer. I have walked there from the opposite direction, from the Northampton and Lamport Railway. If we travelled by train from Northampton to Market Harborough, this path in the verdure hidden away in Middle England is the way we would go. I used to regard Pitsford and Brampton Station as an entity, a complex, in itself, the hub of the NLR, booking-hall, waiting-room, signal-box, buffet-in-a-stationary-carriage and the like, a place where you can see old trains and locomotives and take a short train ride. We must extend the line, they would say, but that costs money, and of course houses and roads have got in the way since the 1960s. But sometimes strolling along that stretch of the Brampton Valley Way I have looked up at the station perched (as it were) on its high grey platform at the other side of the line and seen it in its wider context. And on Railway At War open days the stationmaster's voice announcing the route as it was during the Second World War - "calling at Market Harborough, Leicester, Nottingham" - oh, if only we could ...
From my lonely path, now, the sky is dramatic, slate grey-blue. The greens are intense. A few drops of rain fall. There was a shower while I sat drinking tea at the snack-bar in the village of golden-brown stone walls and slate roofs and cottage gardens. In a couple of hours the rain will "come down in stair-rods" again. But now it has stopped.
I turn. Northwards is Lamport - a musical, evocative name. A port for lambs, bred in this lush green countryside? An important portal illuminated with an elaborate wrought-iron lamp?
But a few yards along, on the right behind the short green grass and the long yellowing grasses and the purple fireweed turning to brown seed and the spilling gravel and the wire fence are uneven concrete surfacing and recumbent beams and rusty girders. A brown wooden telegraph pole with metal gizmos sticking out of it and a couple of broken plastic insulators lies low behind a row of trees. "Danger - Contaminated Land", says a sign.
Yesterday it was crowds of people, suitcases, a big tin trunk, farm goods, milk churns, daily newspapers, hugs, farewells, a sudden whistle, slamming of doors, a waving green flag, puffs of dirty smoke. Today it is nothing but an insignificant bit of Contaminated Land.
I retrace my steps up the muddy quiet path and notice, for the first time, a fellow explorer, cycling along the Way. Three rooks flap across the grey sky. Clouds gather. Poplars rustle and sigh.
Up on the bridge the breeze blows cool. I catch a whiff of pepper in the air. The spice factory and the industrial estate are not, after all, very far from this backwater, as the crow flies. I lean over the parapet, with its little round cushions of moss, and stare up the trackbed, down the trackbed. One day I shall take someone with me and dare to walk further.