By Maggie Davison
'THERE'S the train! Hurry, Gran!'
Voices pealed with excitement as we swung into the car park, child locks cracked by six-year-old fingers, little feet spilling out onto the tarmac almost before we stopped. 'Gran!'
She smiled and heaved first her stick, then her legs out of the car. Staggering on worn-out hip joint, with two eager tram-spotters snapping around her heavy heels, she laughed and groaned all at once. We set off for the half a mile walk to the train.
It had been the best day of the October holiday. Generous sunshine had beamed on us in Teesdale as we sloshed through damp leaves along the winding path to High Force, stopping to admire the auburn glints through the trees. We'd been amply rewarded by the roar of the twin waterfalls thundering 70 feet over the rocks, one of the more advantageous legacies of just about the wettest summer on record.
As the boys played a game of dare with the gushing, tea-stained froth, venturing still further over the rocks, Gran had waved from the path above. She'd made it all the way to the waterfalls - except for the last steeply descending steps - and back to the car without getting short of breath. Thanks to a treatment of steroids for her chest, she was also blissfully free of much of the pain that dogged her autumn days.
And, as the sun started to dip, she was being called on to walk again in Darlington - the longest she'd been on her feet for ages - past the supermarket, across the park to where the train stood in its streamlined splendour, a pink brick version of Mallard.
Just as impressive as High Force, but silent. And environmentally friendly. Banked against a hill, as if it were a tunnel, it was built with bird nesting holes, never to spit sparks and smoke into the countryside or break speed records like its illustrious forebear. Instead, it will belch bricks forever.
But, with the sun giving a dappled peach glow to its bulk, we didn't have to close our eyes to imagine its journey along the East Coast main line. It could have been flitting through the trees as we stood, our heads lifted awesomely upwards.
The boys had gone to play in the park, bored because they couldn't see its movement or remember the glory of steam. Nor could they appreciate that this was a special day for Gran, one that she'd relive through the winter when the pain returned.
We sat for a little while, then started to walk back. Gran was fired though she didn't say so. The breeze was mounting, the sun was a diminishing ball and the train was starting to retract into the shadows of evening.
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