"Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations" by Simon Jenkins is one of those books that has you reaching for the superlatives. "Magnificent" is one that certainly applies, "stunning" is a second, and "beautiful" is a third. We love books, but it has to be acknowledged that not all of them are created equal. Some books have a here today, gone tomorrow ephemerality. You can read them and enjoy them, or not: but then you put them down, fairly rapidly forget them, and never touch them again save when dusting the bookshelves. Simon Jenkins' new book is the opposite. It is a book to be savoured and relished, a book to read, to look at, and to return to.
There is something special about railways. They help define who we are as a nation or as nations, and they did much to give reality to the entity of Great Britain during a remarkably short period from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s. They even forced everyone to set their clocks to the same time. There is, it must be said, no shortage of books about railways. There are rather fewer about railway stations. What Simon Jenkin has done is to take his readers on a tour of what in his view are the 100 best Railway stations in Britain. Any such list has to be subjective, and anyone reading this book will have their own views on whether their particular favourites are included. For us he covers the ground very effectively, and included between the covers are pretty much all of our own candidates.
The book opens with a well-written and accessible introduction to the history of the railways in Britain, and this is followed by a chapter about the development of railway station design. We then move on to the real substance of the book, the hundred best. Each station gets its own informative section, and each is nicely illustrated, often with superb photographs, many printed at impressively large sizes. Many of the great London termini are included, as you would expect, and four of the author's ten 5-star stations (yes, every station is rated) appear in this section. We then go on a geographical tour, with sections covering English regions, and then Wales and Scotland.
We'll come to the author's Scottish coverage in a moment, but it's great to see many of our own personal English favourites are amongst the 100. York, Durham and Newcastle had to be included, but we also enjoyed the less-expected presence of Hull and Beverley, well-remembered from student drinking expeditions in the late 1970s. Scotland is well-represented with ten stations, including two stations to which five stars have been awarded: Glasgow Central and (of course) Wemyss Bay. A lovely photograph of Wemyss Bay also graces the front cover of the book. The other Scottish stations covered are Aviemore, Edinburgh Waverley, Gleneagles, Glenfinnan, Perth, Pitlochry, Rannoch and Stirling. Again, some readers might feel personal favourites have been omitted: but again, this seems pretty good coverage to us. We've tried hard not to sit on the fence on this one, but in case we've not yet been clear enough, this really is an outstanding book.