Someone may have taken liberties with Picton's famous stone, and the trains may no longer call, but the former rail station stop is still a good place to halt.

THAT trains no longer call at Picton, rather barely give a hoot as peremptorily they pass the level crossing, is perhaps hardly surprising. For one thing, the station was nowhere near the village - the North Eastern Railway was notoriously good at that - for another, there wasn't much of a village in the first place.

Picton's in North Yorkshire, roughly between Northallerton and Middlesbrough. It was both on the line from Harrogate to Stockton - just under two hours in 1922 - and the yet more improbable route from Stockton to Battersby, via Potto, Sexhow and Trenholme Bar. That one took 55 minutes.

These days the population's 124, the noticeboard recording that the parish meeting's only expenditure last year was the £14.44 needed to repair the board itself.

The year previously they'd spent £70.69 - £52.88 of it on the auditor's fee for confirming such profligacy.

Nothing much happened in Picton until 2004, when the humble little church of St Hilary, built in 1911 and one of just three in Britain to carry that dedication, closed because of structural problems.

Hilary was a feller, almost inevitably, a fourth century French bishop and writer. "His style is difficult and involved, sometimes to the point of obscurity," observes the Oxford Dictionary of Saints. No such obfuscation round here, of course.

Last year something else happened. Picton was aghast when someone seemed to have taken a liberty with its treasured Liberty Stone - that is to say, they'd half-inched it.

More than two feet high, it had stood by the roadside for at least 150 years, one side marking the spot where the "Pickton liberty" started and the other where it ended.

The polliss blamed travelling criminals from Teesside; the Darlington & Stockton Times was also sedulously on the case. Days later, a villager admitted having taken the stone "for safekeeping" having seen others digging around it.

The column says nothing. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, as the good St Hilary probably observed.

The Station pub happily remains, a little museum to Picton's age of steam and, we suspect, a place where good, fresh food is offered inexpensively.

We arrived about 1pm two Saturdays ago. A genial old chap emerged, carrying his sat-nav. "You can't leave anything in your car these days," he said, a man who not only didn't know what the world was coming to but how to get there, anyway.

It's immediately and warmly welcoming, run by Jayne and Andy Kitchen with help from Judy Matthews - Jayne's mum - whose Station in life it was before them.

As well as a small gallery of railway pictures, there are some maritime shots and a small collection of woodworking gear. Trains and boats and planes, The Boss supposed.

A collection of racecourse identity tags above the fireplace includes one from Picton racecourse which closed in 1914.

The menu's on blackboards, much more imaginative than most and daily changing. The lady fancied the oven roasted cod, was told it would take 25 minutes - good sign - but opted instead for the sea bass with stir fried vegetables. She thought the combination worked perfectly.

The dressed crab salad was very pleasant, the salad nicely dressed, too. We shared a bowl of outstandingly good chunky chips; declined puddings.

A little curiously, the kitchen stopped serving at 1.30pm. When we were last out, the door bolted behind us, the music machine was playing Auld Lang Syne. At 2.15pm on July 22 it seemed rather appropriate - and 53 years after it sold its last ticket, Picton still seems a good place to stop.

THE railway theme continued almost accidentally - coincidentally, anyway, let's not talk of railway accidentals - with an excursion to the Tindale Crossing, near Bishop Auckland.

Once it was the site of West Auckland engine shed, British Rail code 51F, though strictly it was nearly two miles east of West, where Fylands met Tindale Crescent.

No haughty steam engines, no top-line Pacifics, came within earshot of the 51F-word. In truth it was the locomotive equivalent of the dirty British coaster with the salt-caked smoke stack, of which Mr Masefield so memorably wrote.

Even Thomas the Tank Engine might have looked down his occasionally arrogant nose at the workhorses at West Auckland.

Now it's a Brewers Fayre pub/restaurant, part of the Whitbread group, and among the problems about Brewers Fayre is that people like me - Mike the Miserable Engine - are expected to look down on them, too.

Among the other problems is that so many people seem to love them. The chain sells 28 million meals each year.

It was Tuesday evening, the place busy enough at 7.30pm. The first amber light was that there was no real ale, just Tetley Smoothflow and Boddingtons.

In a place with that kind of turnover that's a disgrace, and since Brewers Fayre is countrywide, it's a national disgrace.

It was at least ten years since we'd been; the menu appeared hardly to have changed. Ours carried graffiti. Had it said "Kilroy was here, 1990", it would not in the least have been surprising.

There are more railway pictures, supposed railway memorabilia - Beware of trains, and of impersonations - a note that the original shed cost £17,685, which included 32 cottages and something a bit posher for the gaffer. It closed between 1931-35, reopened to replace Shildon and Wear Valley junction sheds and finally hit the Beeching buffers in 1964.

There are smokers' and non-smokers' ends, adult and "family" areas, a play area for the bairns. The pub itself is formulaic, prosaic and damn-near archaic. People love it.

The best bit was bumping for the first time in 30 years into Ronnie Wilson, who, with his late wife Marie, kept the Red Lion in Shildon and kept it very well. Pubs didn't bother so much about food in those days, but they did a mean pickled egg.

We began with a super combo, or some such, for two. In parts it was all right, in others it had more grease than an engine driver's oil rag.

The fish and chips were served - "as they should be" - on paper. Had the paper itself been reconstituted as chips they would have tasted pretty much the same. The fish, to be fair, was lightly battered and cleanly cooked.

The Boss had salmon and prawns, the prawns on a skewer. She was convinced that the prawns were plastic, kill or skewer. The salmon tasted of little.

Desperate not to go with the Creamflow, we asked if there were any pint bottles of English beer. "Just standard bottles, Beck's and things," said the barmaid, egregiously.

The alternative, the first pint of cider for 25 years, was half finished when we fled. What the hell; people love it.

WARM work, we settled at the Red Lion in North Bitchburn - between Bishop Auckland and Crook - for two starters: nicely flavoured broccoli and Stilton soup and a nice little arrangement of smoked salmon, asparagus and hollandaise sauce. Good bread, nice people, four hand pumps, refurbished restaurant. Keith Young's making a good fist of it up there.

... and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what's yellow, brown and hairy.

Toast landing (as usual) upside down on the carpet.