“At Long Stanton I’ll stand well clear of the doors no more”.
Opened by the Great Eastern Railway and located on the Cambridge-to-St Ives branch line, Longstanton (1847-1970) was, at 123 years, the longest lived of all the closed stations that are mentioned in the song.
Yet the station, the only one in the lyrics in Cambridgeshire, refused to die completely and a new version was reopened nearby as part of the Cambridge Busway in 2011. Today specially adapted buses ply along the route of the old branch line before reverting to normal bus mode and heading into Cambridge city centre.
The X on the map shows the approximate location of the station in relation to the current British railway network. The nearest open station is Cambridge North 7.6 miles away on the busway.
The busway is shown in yellow. Other closed railways that extended from St Ives to Ely and Huntingdon are shown in red.
Services: Past, Present & Future?
The service back in 1958 consisted of more than 12 trains each way on weekdays and 4 on Sundays. Cambridge was around 20 minutes away and destinations served in the other direction included St Ives, March, and Kettering.
On today’s busway it takes a little over 25 minutes to reach Cambridge, but the service is much more frequent and, of course, the buses also go directly into the city.
We cannot really count this as a true reopening, but it is certainly better than nothing. The old track bed formation is protected, and, in theory, it could be converted to a rail-based system like a tramway relatively easily.
The station site was very easy to locate where Station Road (B1050) intersects the busway. There used to be a level crossing of course but it had been removed in favour of traffic signals that halt the traffic when a bus needs to pass.
The old station building had been preserved as a private dwelling, but the platforms had been completely removed; the buses now stop slightly further south.
We walked south using the walking / cycling path that runs alongside the busway for all its length. I was surprised how busy it was and in the space of five minutes we were passed by about ten cyclists heading towards Cambridge 6 miles or so away.
The guided busway was quite fascinating: two sets of parallel concrete slabs with grass in the middle. The specially adapted vehicles have small wheels at the side that touch the edges of the slabs and guide the bus enabling the driver to take his/her hands off the steering wheel.
Constructed just south of the old station, Longstanton bus stop was a very impressive affair. It comprised of a large building with administrative offices and a refreshment room. The little platforms had railway-style ticket vending machines and large electronic indicators that showed when the next bus would be turning up. Services seemed to be scheduled every ten minutes or so. Behind the building was a very large car park provided for the Cambridge-bound people who chose to “park and ride”.
It was over a mile from the busway to the centre of Longstanton and the journey from the old railway station involved a little walk through open countryside to the village. A large new settlement, Northstowe, is now being constructed literally in the gap between the village and station. Although the project, which will bring thousands of new homes to the area, is only in its early stages the first houses near the bus stop are already complete.
There were signs that directed the way to the marketing centre. We walked over and stood in front of a large billboard in the middle of a field surrounded by rows of brand-new houses. There was a burger van parked in front of the sign but otherwise the place was deserted. I am not sure I would want to live in a place like this, admittedly it was still only under construction, but it seemed utterly soulless.
The land that Northstowe is being built on includes the old RAF base at Oakington which was the home of the famous “Pathfinder” squadron. The Pathfinders are commemorated in and around the village; there is a Pathfinder Primary School and a Pathfinder walking trail heads through the centre towards Cambridge.
We found walking through Longstanton itself a lot more inspiring after Northstowe. It had all the usual elements of a traditional village: an old pub (The Black Bull), a parade of little shops and a very picturesque old Church.
On the main street they had set up a little free lending library in the old phone box. It was a lovely idea and although I have seen the old boxes used for internet access points, defibrillators, and information kiosks, this was the first time I had seen one full of books.
Nearby, there was a sign with the village name on it with a plaque underneath that explained it had been put in place to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana back in 1981. It was embellished with two military badges too, a reminder of the local connection with the RAF. In the graveyard at All Saints Parish church, we found a sadder reminder: the graves of several young airmen who had died in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
We chatted with a lady placing flowers on another grave in the churchyard and with a couple of other passers-by. It seems that not everyone in the village is happy about Northstowe being dumped on their doorstop. You can understand their feelings too.
Back in the 1960s they were building new housing estates near to places that were about to have their stations closed. At least the thinking seems a little more joined up today and Northstowe will have a station of sorts.