YOU know the bit in A Christmas Carol where the second of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Present, leads old Scrooge to what Dickens calls a “bleak and desert moor”?

Alighting at Redcar British Steel railway station at first light on a late December morning is a bit like that.

RBS, which should on no account be confused with the Royal Bank of Scotland, was recently named Britain’s least used station – the twice-daily stopping trains in each direction used by just 40 passengers all year.

It helped push Teesside Airport, a former holder of the nadir-oh-dear award, into fifth least frequented position. The airport had 74, all year.

The British Steel figure may not wholly be reliable, however. Some, as we shall hear, may have got off the train and not seen or heard from ever again.

The day begins at Darlington station at 7:15am. “Good few years since I’ve issued one of those,” says the friendly guy in the ticket office, asked for a day return.

The ticket advises that it’s valid by any permitted route, confusing partly because there only is one route – unless they know a short-cut via Bristol Temple Meads – and partly because it would hardly by valid by a non-permitted route, now would it?

On the 7:38 from Darlington to Saltburn a lass in front is knitting from a pattern on her iPad while simultaneously listening to the breakfast show on headphones.

Talk about ancient and modern.

Since the train passes but doesn’t stop at British Steel, it’s necessary to change at Middlesbrough. On exactly the same route, the stopping train leaves eight minutes later.

The platform’s empty save for a sole disoriented pigeon in search of a bacon butty, the second train has one other passenger. Northern Rail moves in a mysterious way, its many wonders to perform.

The conductor on the stopping train expresses surprise. There are no roads to RBS station, he says, just tracks.

It’s bleak in a second spirit sort of a way – or course it is, until 2015 it was a heavy metal melting pot – but there’s absolutely no warning of what’s to come.

At the exit from the coast-bound platform is a sign bluntly warning: “Keep out, risk of death”, adding that there are many hazards to health and life and detailing high voltage electricity, dangerous chemicals, hazard gases, unsafe structures and HGV and train movement.

Probably there are salt water crocodiles, too, but they couldn’t fit them onto the notice.

So we cross the bridge and try to get out at the other side. Another sign warns of identical dangers – and to think that I thought on-the-edge journalism ended when the Eating Owt column did.

So why is a public railway station effectively in the middle of a minefield? Why are there no warnings on the timetable or from staff? Why does the National Rail website have an “onward travel” page for Redcar British Steel which not only gives bus details but clearly signs both station exits?

And a final question: surrounded like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, effectively trapped, what’s a chap supposed to do when the next train back to Darlington is eight-and-a-half hours away?

It’s not how I envisaged spending the Christmas holidays.

Eventually I choose what appears to be the least hazardous escape route, no more than 100 yards before a site road, and – effectively trespassing but serendipitously safe – eventually reach a gatehouse.

The chap raises a bewildered eyebrow, asks how I got there, is told about the morning train. “They should never have let you off,” he says and, of course, is absolutely right.

So far as Redcar British Steel is concerned, Northern Rail must stop stopping forthwith.

ALIVE to tell the tale, I hoof off along the Trunk Road through Grangetown to South Bank, find a little café, ask for a full English. “Large or monster?” says the woman.

“Do I look like a monster?” I ask. Its being the season of good will, she artfully declines to reply.

NO such problems on the Wensleydale Railway’s Santa Special, brilliantly and buoyantly carried off as usual and one of the season’s great bargains. The only disappointment was that Joem, the world’s greatest steam engine, remains in bits on the floor of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group’s workshop in Darlington.

What happens next depends on finance, says NELPG official Fred Ramshaw.

Consolation, Joem – 69023 – featured on the bottle label of Wensleydale Pale Ale. We raised a Christmas glass to the dear old thing and wished her a swift return to the rails.

A SADNESS over Christmas to learn of the death of Stan Walinets, whose fabled four-liners not only brightened these pages every Monday for a decade but were collected, A Forbearance of Four-Liners, into a book.

Stan’s CV had embraced everything from watchmaker to Santa Claus at Harrod’s his clients including the seven-year-old Prince Charles – before he took early retirement from social work and moved to Mickleton, in Teesdale.

“I used to sit anxiously for half a week wondering what I could write about,” he said when the anthology appeared in 2004. Appropriate lines included these, from December 30 2002:

In holy halls on Christmas Day

We worship, Peace prevails.

In shopping malls on Boxing Day

We worship New Year sales.

A decade earlier he’d also written a Mickleton village history which, when last we heard, was on its fifth reprint.

We occasionally crossed paths and, just once, swords. That was when Stan, much involved in the community, disagreed with the word “jolly” customarily prefixed hereabouts to village pub landlord Jack Robinson. He didn’t think Jack jolly at all.

Three copies of the Forbearance remained on Amazon, from £3 02. After one was despatched here, the price went up to £3 16. There’d have been a four-liner in that.

*A humanist service for Stan will be held at Darlington crematorium at 1.15pm today. He was 86.

STAN also had a spell as chairman of Mickleton carnival committee, in which capacity in 2002 he invited me for the second time to open proceedings.

The first had been in 1973. The chairman told villagers how pleased they were to welcome Mike Amos, but that he hadn’t been first choice. First choice was Mike Neville, but Mike Neville was £50 and Mike Amos was nowt.

All that’s coincidental because, marking Scrabble’s 70th birthday over Christmas, the BBC website revealed that they’d once produced a Scrabble pilot programme for which the presenter was Mike Neville.

That it was never aired seems a great pity. A man never lost for words, dear old Mike would have been perfect.

….AND finally, the Darlington reader who prefers the soubriquet That Bloody Woman notes that one of her received Christmas cards bore the maker’s advice: “”If using a fountain pen, allow a few seconds for your ink to dry.”

She poses two questions: 1. Whatever happened to blotting paper? 2. Does Marks and Sparks really think we’re that dim?

Answers on a postcard (ballpoint only, please.)