Category Archives: A Ride on the Eastern Belle

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A Ride on the Eastern Belle. Chapter One, The Outsider

CHAPTER ONE. THE OUTSIDER

The battered old coach pulled up at the town’s staging post with the creak of rusty springs and a shout from the driver.  The four horses that had pulled the carriage for forty miles across the marshy countryside bowed their heads and shuffled their feet on the dusty street. Three passengers stepped down from the coach, stretched, rubbed their knees, and waited for their bags to be unloaded from the roof of the carriage.

The driver climbed onto his seat and began to loosen the straps that held the passenger’s luggage in place.

On the coach, Maisie Stamford stayed in her seat and watched her fellow travellers pick up their belongings and make their way across the dusty road to the long row of timber buildings that lined that side of the street.

Two of the passengers had relatives waiting for them. They were greeted with hugs and tears. The third, an elderly gentleman, polished his spectacles on his handkerchief and looked up and down the street as if uncertain which way to go.

Maisie waited patiently. She had learned to be patient over the years. Outside on the pavement, a large, middle aged woman, wearing a flat hat with a rose pinned to the brim, tapped her foot and berated the driver for taking so long to get to Maisie’s belongings. The driver did his best to ignore her. Her trunk was strapped across two rails along with Maisie’s wheelchair.

A young man of about twenty, who worked at the staging post, hurried across the pavement to help the driver offload the trunk. The chair was placed at the side of the open carriage door and the young man climbed into the coach, He smiled and nodded his head in greeting before he swept her up in his arms, backed out of the carriage, and deposited her in the chair.

‘Thank you,’ said Maisie, to both the driver and the young man.

The driver nodded, touched his hat with his fingers and looked to the large woman, hoping for a reward.

The woman ignored him, turned the wheelchair around and set off down the dusty street. She hadn’t gone far before she ran out of breath.

‘Goodness me, girl, have you been eating rocks?’ Continue reading

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NEW! A Ride on the Eastern Belle, Intro

A Ride on the Eastern Belle

Greycliffe. The back of beyond.

The town of Greycliffe hides itself away at the end of a narrow dirt road that has remained untarmacked for all of its history. The fifteen mile track that runs through an extinct peat bog, can be found via an easily missed turn off from a newly re-tarmacked single track road that was recently renamed, The Lindley Way. The un-signposted turn off that you missed, is itself thirty miles away from the new town of Lindley, meaning, as if you hadn’t already guessed, that Greycliffe has been disengaged from the rest of the transport network. Its name no longer appears on any map, Ordinance Surveyed or not. Greycliffe is a ghost town without a ghost. The railway did reach the town but it never went any further because there was nowhere else for it to go.

Should you wish to travel to Greycliffe, (and why would you?) it would take around three hours (and at least one punctured, tyre change,) from the nearest large town, which is still Bridchester. A hundred and fifty years ago however, the journey would have taken a full day, more in winter snow. Nowadays the town is in ruins and there is nothing to tempt visitors. Its broken-down buildings sit, begging to be put out of their misery by a sympathetic demolition crew and a wrecking ball. The hard working community of Greycliffe, which once numbered three hundred souls, is long gone; the last family moved out during the early 1900s and no one has ever been tempted to move back.

Greycliffe was never what could be called, a thriving town, even back when it was populated. It boasted, amongst other things, a small, six-room hotel, an inn-come staging post, a blacksmith’s forge, a general store/post office, and a livery stable. The dirt-road through Greycliffe, ran west to east. On the western edge lay a small farmstead that produced a couple of acres of cereal crops along with sheep, a few pigs, chickens and one milking cow. At the other end of the town was the soaring, flat faced, grey cliff that gave the town its name. The rock face marked the end of the Black Crags mountain range that ran eastwards, further than the eye could see. In 1850, a single, rail track ran from the station platform at the western edge of the town right up to the cliff face where it stopped, abruptly.

Apart from a twice monthly train, Greycliffe was serviced by a weekly stage coach that ran from Bridchester, far to the north. The coach and train brought in hard to get supplies for the trade’s people, and a few relatives who would generally stay for the week, become utterly bored, and go back home at the first opportunity. Beyond the southern border lay miles of marsh and swamp, unfit for farming and even less fit for hunting. There was no road across the marshes which ran for forty miles before ending at the sea.

It was a sticky day in late June. The people of Greycliffe welcomed the storm clouds that were building from the south. It had been a dry spring and an even drier, early summer. The crops were stunted and the town’s well, overused. The school teacher held lessons in the apple orchard at the back of the hotel because the school rooms, even with the high windows open, couldn’t seem to attract a breath of breeze.

The market was in full sway. Local traders, together with their rivals from Bridchester who bought their supplies by pony and trap from the more affluent town because the profits were higher in Greycliffe, stood on pitches, parading their wares in front of the hot, bad-tempered residents who knew they were being short changed but also knew there was very little they could do about it.

Martha Watkin stopped fanning herself and dragged her considerable bulk from the rocking chair it had inhabited for the last three hours, and rubbed at one of the twelve discoloured, glass panes that made up the top half of the shop door. She squinted and moved her head an inch to the right to try to obtain a clearer view of the street. She picked up a silver pocket watch from the behind the counter and put it to her ear to assure herself that it was ticking.

‘Lucy,’ she bellowed.

A teenage girl rushed in from her back of the shop, a wet, blouse in her hands.’

‘Leave the washing and watch the store.’

‘Yes Mrs Watkin,’ said the girl, eager to please. She slopped the wet blouse onto the counter and stood by the cash register.

‘I’ll be back inside ten minutes. I know to the penny, how much is in that register, so don’t think you can rob me behind my back.’

‘Yes Mrs Watkin,’ said Lucy. ‘I wouldn’t take anyth-’

The slammed door rattled the assorted jars and bottles on the shelf behind her. Lucy looked out onto the street where her employer stood on the duckboards outside the General Store. She reached into a jar, took out a boiled, sour-cherry sweet, popped it into her mouth and sucked at it greedily. She closed her eyes and savoured the taste for a moment, then she was alert again, eyes on the door, grimy handkerchief in her hand, ready to spit out the sweet when it was half eaten. Sour cherries were Robin’s favourite and her brother would want his share.

Out in the street, the stage coach arrived in a cloud of dust and a whinny of horses…

Story continues, HERE

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