Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Wigan Boat Express - on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway?

Second day of the George Formby Society meeting in the North Yorkshire Moors, June 2016. First day enjoyed by all, ukulele and banjo-ukulele, Formby songs and non-Formby songs, friendship and music, smiles everywhere, birdsong and sheep just a step away outside Goathland Village Hall. Idyllic. The subject of my last post.

Second day - we met on the platform of Grosmont station, ready to catch a train just up the line to Goathland. A few songs on the platform, to the amusement of the other tourists, and at last the steam train came in. What wonderful beasts these old engines are, lovingly kept going by the devoted steam enthusiasts... when this one came in, it was promptly adorned with a new (temporary) headboard - name-plate - on the front of the engine.... WIGAN BOAT EXPRESS!

The Wigan Boat Express is one of George Formby's comic songs, dating to 1940. The running joke is that Wigan is a seaside town (it isn't) and that it has a pier - where, presumably one might board a ferry or even a ship - in fact, Wigan Pier is a wharf on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, redeveloped in the 1980's - but of his book, "The Road to Wigan Pier" George Orwell wrote "Well, I am afraid I must tell you that Wigan Pier doesn’t exist. I made a journey specially to see it in 1936, and I couldn’t find it. It did exist once, however, and to judge from the photographs it must have been about twenty feet long." A boat express was a train to take travelers to catch a ferry or a boat...

Well, we sang and played The Wigan Boat Express on the platform, alongside the newly-but- only-temporarily-named train... well, what a hoot! There followed a ride on the train - some of us just went to the next station, to Goathland, and from there we walked through the beautiful moorland countryside to a lovely old pub, the Birch Hall Inn, at Beck Hole. Good beer, good pies, wonderful sandwiches... and those of us who were still there well into the afternoon - we played.

Are we going to do it again next year? You bet we are....

Personal thanks here to Caroline Stewart, Chairman of the GFS, for organising every last detail....

Photos courtesy of Robert Rayner, Tony Jackson, Kate Howard, Caroline Stewart

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