|Life's A Drag - Week 1|
|Saturday 30/07/2011 22:46|
As ever, once I'd changed to the Paddington train at Weston-super-Mare, I had a fairly leisurely ride up to London. The weather was looking reasonable despite dire warnings, and I was feeling pleasantly relaxed with an interesting trip ahead. I'd assumed that the Circle Line would be out of action - and sure enough it was, so I wandered out to the usual bus stop to get whatever turned up heading for Liverpool Street. The ongoing works on the sub-surface lines seem to coincide strangely with my the weeks I travel to London, but nowadays I'm happy enough on the buses anyway. The first suitable service to turn up was a No.23. Decided to go for it, and ended up having a few fraught moments as we crawled along roadwork strewn Oxford Street and into the West End. Crossrail works were getting in the way everywhere, and red lights seemed to pop up everywhere. Despite having left plenty of time, I began to wonder if it would be long enough? Once past Ludgate Circus and into the city however, the roads emptied and things speeded up. Into the station in good time to buy provisions and wait by the gate for the train to be announced.
47810 pilots 90009 and it's train into Great Yarmouth
Last year's trip was a little before the start of the summer holidays, and the difference was clear - the train was much busier today with loads of ill-governed children running around in First Class. Headphones in, I managed to block out the noise and relax as we sped by the Olympic Park, with Anish Kapoor's sculpture beginning to take shape. Soon out into open countryside and dozing a little in the warming morning. At Norwich, watched the scramble for photographs as 47810 shunted onto the train. Resolved to get mine at the terminus, as it was getting busy out there and I didn't want to lose my seat. Settled in for the run over the flat, empty route via Reedham and into Great Yarmouth. Time for some pictures here, and a snack from the buffet bar which has now moved from it's caravan into the old newspaper stall. Then out into the sunshine to wait for the trip back to Norwich, and then London.
Decided on a 205 bus back to Paddington, and again time wasn't on my side as I'd arranged to meet an old friend at the station. Need not have worried as the tube works tangled her up too, so I was able to stumble around looking for the relocated bus stop - due to yet more roadworks near Liverpool Street - without too much concern. The day had turned bright and hot here, and waiting on London Wall, watching the world go by was a very pleasant way to pass a few minutes. The bus journey, one of my favourites, was entertaining as ever and delivered me to my appointment in good time.
So, today felt like a relaxing, low key and successful way to spend a Saturday. A new engine, old friends and a chance to get out into the sunshine and discard the frustrations of a working week. The railtour scene might be a little stagnant and frustrating now, but these trips more than compensate.
|Saturday 23/07/2011 22:25|
31270 rests in the sidings at Rowsley South
At Matlock, did a little shopping in Sainsbury's before heading on to the Peak Rail platform. It seems that I was a little unkind in my assessment three years back, as the supermarket has helped immeasurably in the effort to restore the missing link. Had an early lunch on the platform, hearing that the 11:44 departure for Rowsley South was a little late as "Penyghent" wouldn't start and they'd "...had to get the 31 out". Happy with the substitution I waited with the growing crowd, with 68013 finally steaming in about ten minutes late, with 31270 rumbling away at the Rowsley end of the train. Found a seat, bought a ticket and enjoyed the slow trundle towards the Peak District, wishing that the line still went through to Buxton - or even as far as Bakewell which would afford visitors to Chatsworth with an alternative. Maybe one day. In any case, I enjoyed the rare Class 31 haulage to the terminus before hopping off to get some photographs.
Noting the variety of diesels in varying states of repair in the yard, I opted to stay for a later departure. In the event, the decision was taken to swap a slightly poorly 31270 with 08016, so I got some pictures of the change over, before wandering around the site a little in the sunshine and enjoying a coffee. Finally, the train arrived and the small steam engine took us down the branch again to Matlock, with the Class 08 giving a little assistance too. An interesting little railway, with plenty going on despite it's short length of track. Noted a red-faced huffing steam enthusiast getting upset about not being allowed off the platform end at Matlock too. A ridiculous performance and a rather obvious restriction, given it's Network Rail property down there!
My journey home was leisurely, with breaks for coffee, people-watching and enjoying the sunshine at Derby and Birmingham. Spotted a few banner-carrying protesters, heading quietly and calmly home at Derby and someone being asked to remove a placard from a train window - not because of any dispute as such but because as the Guard put it "...my boss will kill me!". I have a few weeks of these self-organised wanders planned before my next railtour epics, whilst the summer is sometimes busy and a bit fraught, some planning ahead makes for quiet, pleasant trips. Just like this one.
|Routes, Branches and a Run to the Coast|
|Saturday 16/07/2011 23:51|
Once on board the short rake and underway, I noted the presence of a good few BLS colleagues on the train. Things started perfectly, with a slow crawl out to Kensal Green where we began to climb, imperceptibly at first, then definitely taking the flyover line, passing high over the mainline and down onto the reception lines for Old Oak Common. This elusive stretch of track completed, we pressed on to Reading and Basingstoke, before taking the line towards Southampton via a stop in Wallers Ash Loop, and loading of fish and chips in Eastleigh! It was a strange sensation passing through these stations at near enough the close of service, but there were some last desperate hangers-on, people heading home or perhaps out for the evening. By the time we reached Brockenhurst, all was quiet as we took the very rarely used connection to the Lymington Branch platform, before curving towards the coast. A few minutes later we arrived at a very wet Lymington Pier beside a massive Wightlink ferry. The first loco-hauled passenger train to arrive here for some years, and despite the hour we were attracting a fair bit of photographic interest too. After a short break we retraced our steps towards the Great Western, and I started to doze - waking at Twyford briefly and then again at Henley-on-Thames. Again, one of the first non-DMU services to do so in a very long time I'm sure. Had a bit of a wander to wake myself up, but it was cold and damp outdoors so returned to the coach. It looked like some sort of refugee camp, bodies sprawled everywhere, dribbling and snoring. I ruminated on the public's view of our hobby, and what they'd make of this. Not pretty.
37516 - an unusual visitor to Paddington
I woke with a jolt at Maidenhead next. The driver was a little heavy with the brakes, and the leaky window frame had let rain in which had pooled around my elbow. It was pretty grim outdoors, but we pressed on with our itinerary, apparently visiting Bourne End - as far as a train of our length can get on the Marlow branch where a reversal is needed to get to the terminus. I don't remember Bourne End at all this time - and my memory of last time is pretty chaotic in fairness! From here we made a slow, lazy circuit of North London, via Acton Wells and Willesden to reach Euston at just after 04:20. It was dark, quiet and rather strange in the empty station. A few dozing revellers or early starters littered the concourse and the waiting rooms, but none of the coffee shops was open. I paced around, trying to get life back into my aching legs. I also wondered why I did this stuff regularly, but then I remember the racket we'd made as we'd climbed towards the flyover at Old Oak. An interesting and strange night all-in-all...
With a little over an hour before the next trip began, I decided to freshen up and search for refreshment. The idea of a 24-hour McDonalds didn't appeal, so I wandered back to the platform where the longer rake of stock had arrived with a fresh pair of 37s in charge. I found the buffet open and grabbed a coffee which I drank whilst chatting and wandering up and down the platform to stay warm and awake. Invited into the brake, I found a nice, comfortable compartment seat and chatted with some DRS and Spitfire folks until departure. Almost exactly on time, we stormed out of Euston and into a slightly murky looking London morning. Found myself alone in my compartment and allowed myself a snooze as we sped northwards on the West Coast Main Line. Things were just waking up, as we passed a procession of London-bound units. The weather varied wildly from sudden, forceful summer showers, to bursts of fantastic sunshine. This was the life - exactly why I enjoy these excursions. Picking up along the way, we finally crept around Birmingham and onto the Shrewsbury line at Wolverhampton. Here, we lost our two DRS locos and gained two of the ETRMS-fitted Network Rail Class 97s for the onward journey. Noted our train was too long for the platform, frustrating photographers hoping for shots of the 37s before their detachment. A reversal took us onto the Cambrian line, newly resignalled with the innovative system, and with some speed restrictions relaxed and loops restored. At times on this run, the sun showed itself in earnest too. I forgot how tired I was and enjoyed the views.
97303 and 97304 on the blocks at Aberystwyth
After some pictures in Aberystwyth, the tiredness began to overcome me. Decided on a late breakfast and found the place I'd visited on a miserable January morning a year or more back. Found my way to the breezy seafront and slumped on a bench, watching the clouds scud over the Irish Sea. As I pondered I felt a weight on my shoulder, and before I could even muster surprise, found a seagull stealing my sandwich from my hand. Discarded the pecked remains and concentrated on the coffee instead. If I hadn't been so sleepy, I'd probably have been really angry... Wandered around the warm, humid town wondering if a thunderstorm was coming, bit finding solace in an air-conditioned coffee shop where I passed some time jotting some notes and watching the world go by. Back to the station for a pleasant chap with an elderly gent who'd travelled up with his son on the charter. Talked about the Midlands and how they'd changed, and a bit about Education and Planning. A clear-minded and sharp gent who was a pleasure to talk too, and who's ability to keep up with the world around him made me forget his advancing years. We seemed to wait an age for the stock to move out of the station to set back into the platform. The inflexibility of the one platform layout of this once much larger station is clear - but eventually we were back on board and off along the coast. I was joined by a couple of cohorts for the trip back, not least the inimitable Geordie, who chatted amicably until Welshpool where he fell into a 26-pint induced slumber which saw him through until Camden Junction! A lazy, relaxing and pleasant trip back watching Britain slowly slip into darkness for the second time from the train window. Even an impromptu hayfever induced nosebleed couldn't detract from my enjoyment of this storming run back to London.
As I checked into my horribly expensive and rather basic room for the evening, I pondered the trip and how things had worked out. If Spitfire continue to offer these innovative and interesting itineraries, along with a friendly approach to tours they're going to be around for a long time. But now, I just wanted to sleep for a while...I think I'd earned it.
|The Devonian & The Riviera Rat II|
|Saturday 09/07/2011 22:43|
It was also a fairly straightforward one in some ways - taking the CrossCountry route I'd travelled up on yesterday, via Sheffield and Derby, making frequent pick-ups which meant this tour had sold out entirely. At Derby we took on supplies as there was no kitchen car - huge breakfast rolls, which were incredibly good value for money and better than any of the on-train catering I've even experiences. Thus filled, we continued south via Birmingham and the Lickey. As the route flattened out south of Bristol, so the Deltic picked up the pace. We stormed through my home station, and tore along the straight line down to Taunton. Not unexpectedly we slowed a little as we crested Whiteball, but reports were that all was not well. We slowed to a crawl and entered the loop at Tiverton Junction with all kinds of rumours flying...that we'd failed, we'd caught fire, and that the Deltic had set lineside fires at both ends of the tunnel.
55022 brings the stock into Doncaster
It turned out that there had been a small exhaust fire of the kind not uncommon on Deltics. Despite being able to blow it out, 47804 ran around for insurance, and attached to the front of the train, hauling us for the remainder of the route into Paignton. It wasn't quite how we'd planned to arrive, but early indications were that the Deltic would be fine on the return run. It also demonstrated how quickly information which is frankly rubbish can speed around the internet at times, particularly among the less thoughtful end of the hobby who just like a bit of drama. Arriving late, we made a swift dash over to the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway platform next to the mainline station in order to pick-up our chartered service here, hauled by their resident but rarely used Class 25. A fine run down through Goodrington, with some remarkable scenery and some surprising feats of engineering too in Greenway Viaduct and the causeway alongside the River Dart. Reversal at Kingswear was undertaken incredibly quickly in order to get back onto schedule, and I found a quieter coach on the return to try for some pictures along the route. Thinking back to my last visit for the Diesel Gala in 1996, I was struck how little had changed here - which at least in this case, was for the better.
D7535 departs Kingswear
Once back in Paignton, time for food and decent coffee before a wander up to the top of town. My frequent visits on Bank Holidays last year meant that I had no pressing wish to see the sights and was happy to wander and lounge around watching the world go by, as the rest of the tour dashed from pub to pub. With the sun now back in earnest, took some shots of the stock arriving from the crossing before settling in for the run back. The Deltic was fired up, both engines running - but with 47804 tucked inside as stipulated prior to the tour by Network Rail. Once onto the mainline, we made excellent time - arriving early and having to wait at Dawlish Warren before pressing on north. The stretch between Exeter and Bristol was possibly the best run I've had with 55022 - fantastic weather, fine company and a very fast loco made for a great afternoon, and I was loathe to get off at Bristol.
Some last shots and a chat as the train waited time, before storming north into the setting sun. Made my way towards the train home, pondering the next trip - and indeed the next chance to sample the Deltic. This trip had all of the ingredients a railtour needs - interesting traction, a bit of drama and some very fine running. It reminds you why you turn out in Doncaster at 5:00am!
|Saturday 02/07/2011 23:53|
Firstly, it was pleasant to be seated with a veteran of a recent trip to similar lines in Cornwall, one of a number of BLS colleagues onboard. The first leg of the trip was a rarely straightforward dash to Gloucester for a brief stop and reversal. As we slowed for Gloucester Yard Junction, the token for the Sharpness Branch was handed over, and we were off again retracing our steps to Berkeley Road Junction. This was the only section of new track for me today, so covering it first was partly frustrating but also rather reassuring! We curved onto the branch, foliage closing in around us until the site of the loading pad for nuclear flasks from the now decommissioned Berkeley Power Station. It had been suggested we'd get little further than this, so it was a huge bonus to continue a good deal further into the village, as far as the point where the lines to the former Severn Rail bridge left the dock branch. As we sat in the sun awaiting our reversal, the entire population of Sharpness seemed to be out to see us, cameras in hand.
66207 awaits reversal at Gloucester
Rather tiresomely, we now had to retrace our steps all the way to Gloucester, reversing this time on the goods lines rather than taking the curve into the station. Token returned, we once again headed south covering the same stretch of track as far as Yate South Junction, where we took the former Midland route towards Westerleigh. En route, we passed the site of the flyover which once brought the Great Western line link alongside us, and it's noting details like this which makes travelling with likeminded souls a rewarding experience. Again we progressed well along the branch, drawing right to the end of the usable line mere feet from the busy M4. The oil depot was busy, but South Gloucestershire's waste transfer station sat idle, the expensive crane rusting quietly.
We then reversed back to Yate to take the longer branch to Tytherington. This is the third time I've travelled this branch, and not much changes at the quarry. Indeed we lost a little time here, which is equally something of a tradition. However, sticking to the itinerary, we headed back to Temple Meads via Hallen and Avonmouth. Once back, we evacuated the train to allow the trippers access to their dining seats for the way home. Grabbed a coffee and stood in the sun watching the train depart and chatting. All-in-all a very sociable, successful and rather relaxing day out staying fairly local. However, it'll be good to get some miles under the belt next week...