ON the day that Arriva bus bosses met the drivers’ union in an attempt to avert another strike, the column put Plan B into operation.

It is what these days the emergency services call resilience and what, more than a century ago, Baden Powell called being prepared.

The regular requirement is to raise a tea time glass in Barnard Castle, the threat that the No 75 from Darlington might again be curtailed.

So the idea was to catch the 14.35 Dales and District service from Darlington to Richmond, a 55-minute journey that all but includes a couple of circuits of Catterick racecourse, and then the 15.50 Hodgson’s bus from Richmond to Barney.

Hodgson’s are themselves based in Barnard Castle, also run occasional buses to upper Teesdale and, perhaps a little less scenically, the Newton Aycliffe town service.

The company website also notes that they’re available for “Ales in the dales” excursions, though with a number of conditions which any once-bitten bus operator might reasonably want to impose.

All these years, all these millions of bus miles, and I’ve never once been on a Hodgson’s bus, never mind the cross-border bouncer between North Yorkshire and Co Durham.

Even in the gloaming, the 15.50 proves a stone walled, stone cold transport of delight.

Another ten or so passengers include a group of small children, huddled inside their parkas like babes in the wood.

The route heads through Gilling West – though not Gilling East which, inexplicably, is about 40 miles away – enjoys but a brief and reluctant dalliance with the A66 and then wanders blithely off into the backwoods, though essential English villages like Gayles, Dalton, Ravenswotth and Newsham. Reality is further diverted by trying to recall the names of all the pubs now closed – the Bay Horse in Gayles, the once-frenchified Travellers Rest in Dalton, the Pipes (was it not?) in Newsham.

In Barningham, there are signs urging to beware of hedgehogs, or at least to watch out for them. There the pub may shortly reopen.

The most surprising thing is that at twilight in the middle of nowhere there’s a woman pushing a pram. The imagination wanders: perhaps it’s not a baby at all, perhaps she’s been collecting firewood. Perhaps it’s swag.

We’re into Barney exactly to time, none having joined the bus since it left Richmond. Though another Arriva strike may have been averted, a return to the rural ride will swiftly ensue. The Newton Aycliffe town service may take a little longer.


Very likely by bus, it was certainly in Barnard Castle one Saturday in 1987 that we encountered Derek Foster – to become Baron Foster of Bishop Auckland – canvassing in the general election.

The occasion’s recalled by Billy Neilson, Derek’s long-serving agent. “Someone had rung you to say that Derek and I had rolled out of the Kings Head while on the campaign trail, nearly knocked an old woman flying and had an altercation with her.”

The story had at once seemed improbable because both men were strictly teetotal, Derek a Salvation Army man. Nothing, of course, made the paper. “You weren’t too disappointed,” says Billy. “I think you bought us an ice cream instead.”

Derek’s funeral was held last Friday at the Salvation Army citadel in Millfield, Sunderland, which faithfully he and Anne had attended and where he’d played the cornet while nursing a secret ambition to be a euphonium man.

The order of service called it a celebration and thanksgiving, which these days is standard, but only the Salvation Army terms it “promotion to glory”, which is really rather splendid.

Derek didn’t strive to make his presence noted, said Commissioner William Cochrane, but to make his absence felt.

Jeremy Corbyn was there, just two rows in front and looking rather different from how the cartoonists depict him. Good also to catch up with former NW Durham MP Hilary Armstrong – now formally Baroness Armstrong of (Stanley) Hill Top – herself on recovery’s road after a long illness.

Someone else identified a couple of members of the House of Commons public accounts committee. They were comparing train fares.

There, too, was Micky Horswill, an FA Cup winner with Sunderland in 1973 about whose role as Mayor of Sunderland’s consort we wrote last month. “I’m longing for a cup of tea,” he said.

An hour-long service, overflowing and perfectly pitched, was only once interrupted by a forgetful mobile phone. Sadly, it wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn’s.

Lord Foster was a genuinely good and principled man. His passions, said Commissioner Cochrane, were Salvationism and Socialism – however it might be spelt, corps values.

Tommy Taylor, former champion boxer, LibDem parliamentary candidate and now Durham County honorary alderman, hit 78 last week. Like one of those old gramophone records, he’s still enthusiastically going around.

As always on these annual occasions, Tommy celebrated at the Candlelite folk club in Newton Aycliffe. As always, the principal turn was the wonderful Old Age Travellers.

On this occasion, they were backed with a little light drumming by retired Darlington GP Paul Davison – a good singer, too – though Paul’s but the middle-age rep.

The drummer’s other job appeared to be passing ale to the other lads. It never happened to Ringo Starr.

Travelling two weeks ago on the Sabbath service, the parliamentary train, from Darlington to Hartlepool, the column supposed that the wheels skriked as the train neared journey’s end.

Susan Jaleel in Darlington reckoned that in Hyde, her home town, the word meant to cry; the Oxford allows both “shrill cry, shriek” and the closely related “cry, weep.”

Charles Dickens borrowed it, too, for the scene in A Christmas Carol in Old Joe’s den of thieves. “Ah, how it skreeks”, he wrote of the rusty old door hinges.

The Oxford supposes that “skrike” is these days only used in dialect. Whatever it is, it perfectly describes the sound of the train entering Hartlepool station.

Last Friday was Burns Night, except at the Tyneside Irish Centre where it was on Sunday. Whether 25th or 27th it’s never in Lent unlike St Patrick’s Day which, by way of temptation, always is.

It’s probably what the old rascal meant about the best laid plans o’ mice and men ganging aft agley.

It recalled a thronged Thursday morning St Patrick’s Day mass, just off the Scotswood Road, led by the Rt Rev Kevin Dunn, until his death in 2008 the Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.

Service over, many of the expatriate faithful seemed determinedly to be headed towards Guinness Central, and no matter that they’d sworn 40 days abstinence.

Was St Pat’s a day off, a sort of distilled dispensation? “I couldn’t possibly comment,” said Bishop Kevin, and twinkled merrily on his way.