Not so long ago, Carnforth Station was a desolate, windswept place with fast, west coast trains whisking through, and just a few local trains stopping now and again. It had long since lost any of the aura and atmosphere that has been associated with it, thanks to its role in my all-time favourite weepy film, Brief Encounter (1945). The station was the location for the romantic, often heart-breaking train and platform scenes at the fictional Milford Junction, filmed away from London and the threat of enemy bombs and at night so as not to disrupt railway timetables (all the other scenes were filmed in the south of England and the refreshment room scenes were done in a studio).
Now, though, it's possible to visit the station and dash up the ramp like Laura Jesson, desperate to meet Dr Alec Harvey before their trains depart in different directions, and to stand under the very same, huge clock that dictates the timings of this brief love affair. You can even rush into the refreshment room, pretending you have a speck of soot in your eye, in search of a calm, dashing doctor to fall in love with.
Because Carnforth Station has been rescued and restored with enthusiasm and hard work and is now a Heritage Centre. The handsome 1937 buildings are spruce and clean, and the station rooms between platforms 1 and 2 have been transformed. There is a 1940s style Refreshment Room, based on the one in the film, a 'Brief Encounter' exhibition where, gloriously, you can sit in a cinema seat and watch the film on a loop, mouthing the dialogue with a cut-glass accent, and a musem about Carnforth and the role of the railways in the two world wars.
The refreshement room is close to the original, complete with polished, hissing tea urn, old stove, proper railway china, and cakes in a glass case (made in the bakery next door, but sadly no Banburys). The only things missing are the exchanges between Albert ("give us a kiss") and Myrtle ("you ought to be ashamed of yourself") and the surging Rachmaninov score. The station master's office next door with its lovely tiled floor and fireplace is now part of the cafe - this is where Celia Johnson warmed up between takes in the middle of the night. Have a currant slice or something suitably local and a cup of tea, then move to the exhibtion, buy a few postcards of film stills, and have a wallow in understated British cinema romance.
[The post title is taken from one of the best lines in the film.]
Carnforth is 28 miles from Preston, and there are hourly trains between the two. I think it's obligatory to wait in the Refreshment Room for any train that departs from Carnforth Station, preferably without a nosy friend. The Grand Provincial Tour guide to Preston will be published by Yarnstorm Press in September.