The Well-Oiled Machine

DOTD_SwanagePicture the scene, quintessentially English, rolling hills, not at all far from the sea, ancient and historic landmarks. It was a lovely spring Saturday morning as I left home, 5am, the sun barely rising, but promising perfect lighting conditions in the fullness of time, probably no rain in the forecast. I must confess to being pretty used to leaving home at Stupid O’Clock for work at the bus garage, but now I find myself in the space beyond driving buses full-time, at least partially-retired. And with that comes the opportunity to get out and about; today I was bound for the Dorset seaside town of Swanage. The town boasts one of Britain’s foremost preserved railways, usually noted for running steam trains, but today offering those of a more internally-combustable persuasion the Swanage Railway Diesel Gala. Indeed, it was not for sea air that I was visiting that neighbourhood, probably more likely to be inhaling lungs full of diesel fumes! Nice.

corfe_castle_station

Corfe Castle Station. The calm before the storm. Give it another 20 minutes or so, and it would be bedlam here! Beer festival and all that…

Steam disappeared from the British railway network, finally, and for some, with great regret, by 1968, and on the Southern Region of British Railways, the end came in 1967. The diesels were taking over, the march of innovation and progress continuing a-pace. So, for this weekend’s Gala, the Swanage Railway appended the title, “Dawn of the Diesels”. And for good measure, they were throwing in the Dorset Beer Festival, hosted at Corfe Castle station. Oil of a different kind!

I was warned that the event would be popular, especially on the Saturday. Yes, today was Saturday… It wasn’t long after 8.30am, and the line for the ticket office was already pretty much matching the length of the entire permanent way towards Swanage. This was Norden Park & Ride, the first point of entry to the railway for most visitors approaching from the North. It was a good atmosphere, mostly middle-aged men, just a scattering of women folk, and some kids. Most had rucksacks over the shoulder, baseball cap on the head, and a well-worn tea shirt or jacket proclaiming allegiance to the beast that each fellow followed. And by beast, dear reader, understand the meaning of “railway locomotive” – the diesel railway following divides into tribes, much as do football fans, each devoted to their chosen engine – “Peaks”, “47s” (“Duffs or Spoons” to those in rival tribes), “Grids”, “Hoovers” (that would be “Smoking Logs” to rivals in another tribe). Then there were a few others potty about Class 20s (“Choppers”, or even “Chibbles”, probably on account of the noise they made), or Class 73s (or “Horseboxes”, even “Shoe Boxes”, in honour of their very rectangular lines). Mixed in among these die-hard enthusiasts were a few folk with distinctly worried and confused expressions on their faces: These were the “Normals”, non-enthusiasts, generally with a clutch of already-fractious kids in tow, unbelieving at the number of people already waiting for the trains. They were the folk who had had absolutely no idea that a major event was on at the railway; they were just bringing their kids out to see the “choo-choos”!

happy_83B

Happy Crew.

I met up with some friends travelling from various locations around the south, many belonging to the Tribe known as 83Bonapartes. An interesting twist on the enthusiast tribe theme, this; a veritable mixture of devotions – the is Paul (who is of the “I love Class 50…Not!” brigade), Brian (a young and up-and-coming professional, and talented photographer), Nathan (a consummate railway professional), and Ian (aka “The Earl” – say “Kettle” to him [that’s “Steam Engine” to any of you reading this who are “Normals”], and you’ll see him turn a shade of purple with steam issuing from his ears, somewhat ironic considering how he just loves steam engines). Then there were honourary visitors to the group, Kev (a devotee of the Class 47, never “Duff” or “Spoon” for Kev), and Hotel Barry (who, rumour has it, works in a…hotel). We’ve met them all before, folks – see my posting from a year or two ago (“I’m not Bashing…I’m Photting“). So, the group duly assembled, the bashing and photting began once again. Confused about the terminology? Have a read of that post, and all will become clear, dear reader.

45041

Class 45 “Peak”, 45041 “Royal Tank Regiment“, enters the “up” loop at Harmans Cross.

Aboard the train, another interesting tribal behaviour could be noted: Each tribe staked out their own spot in the carriages, and there they stayed…for a considerable time. Just riding up and down, pens and calculators in hand, totalling up the mileages travelled behind their favourite engines. Hmmmm….whatever keeps them out of mischief, I suppose. At key moments in the day, any given tribe would actually vacate their space, and head…yes…to the beer tent, located in the lovely country station setting of Corfe Castle, at which point the space would be immediately taken up by another tribe.

26043_claggy

A nightmare for the environmentalists. Pure joy for die-hard diesel bashers! 26043 sends up a plume of “clag” as it restarts from Harmans Cross “down” home signal.

The British rail enthusiast, when not bashing or photting, indulges in the another quintessentially British pastime – Queuing! At the Dorset Beer Festival tent, there was much opportunity to practice queuing, but be in no doubt, dear reader, the wait was well worth it! For a fiver, each participant was allowed three half-pint samples of the beers on offer, some of the finest beers, craft beers no less, I have ever had the privilege of tasting. Two half pint measures (ooops that seems to be a little more than a half in there, but no-one was moaning about it) was enough to be putting me well on the way to well-oiled status. Travelling on a train, in the railway enthusiast vernacular, is known as going for a “wobble” – now just walking was wobbly, too!

D1842

Brush Class 47, D1842, approaches Corfe Castle with a down train.

So, today we had history and reminiscence of a gone-by era of train travel all in one place. The train snaked its way past the ruins of the ancient Corfe Castle, a structure dating back to the 11th century. It’s final resident, one Mary Bankes, loyal to the Crown, held out against Parliamentary forces twice during the English Civil War, only being overrun on the second occasion of siege. The victorious English Parliamentarians – Roundheads – ordered Corfe Castle to be destroyed. The ruins are all that remain today, but are Grade I listed for posterity. I have to confess, the presence of castle ruins adds so much to the mystery of a place like Corfe.

the_ref

Don’t upset “The Ref”! The finger is already up in a warning fashion, but no yellow card, as yet. I’ve been trying for a yellow card for YEARS!

Dear reader, the video footage I shot on the day is now edited, and humbly presented here in an attempt to tell something of the story of the Dawn of the Diesels weekend at the Swanage Railway. My thanks to Ian, Paul, Brian, Nathan, Kevin, and the many hundreds of fellow railway enthusiasts for their tolerance of my waving a camera around – and I hope you all enjoy the result as much as I enjoyed making it. Alternatively, leave me a big, fat, raspberry in the comments section!

Posted in Railway Adventures | Leave a comment

“Bashing” to Didcot

It just turned out that St Patrick’s Day coincided with a day off from driving my bus around, dear reader. Many with true green Irish blood flowing through their veins might celebrate wildly on that day. But I’m not the least bit Irish, sadly, so I wandered off with my little video camera for a quiet day, well away from the usual hubbub of daily working life. This time, it was to Didcot, an important railway junction on the Great Western Main Line to Bristol, a place where a traveler might just pause a moment to change trains, en-route to Oxford from the West Country, otherwise they might well miss it completely. A shame, really – there is a very decent (and good value) pub just across the road from the station, well worth a visit.

The result is 20 or so minutes of “train enthusiast” footage, but I make little apology for that…my mission is to record something of the passing railway history that unfolds before us, almost unnoticed, day by day – the skyline at Didcot has changed for ever with the departure of the once-iconic cooling towers of the Didcot (coal-fired) power station, and the arrival of the overhead wires which will supply electricity to the new fleet of (Japanese) trains which are supposed to be arriving later this year. And I particularly wanted to record the sight and more importantly the sound of the venerable High Speed Trains which have served this line for the last four decades. A hugely successful design, British-built; time will tell whether the new Japanese arrivals will ever be as good…

Here’s the video, then, on my channel at YouTube:

 

Posted in Railway Adventures | Leave a comment

All aboard the virtual train

Escape. I suppose we all need to do it from time to time.

For me, the pressure of real-world work doesn’t allow much time for actually escaping, so my indulgence is to escape to the virtual world. It’s no secret that I’m daft about trains – merely read some of my earlier posts on the subject, dear reader. Many an English Gentleman has his little (or not-so little) trains laid out in his loft or shed, and many an English Gentleman spends a vast amount of cash on his innocent hobby of recreating some bygone era of industrial history in miniature. I just do the same, but in virtual. It’s full of bugs and errors and technical limitations, but I’m very much “into” Train Simulator, otherwise known as TS2017 in it’s current iteration. Despite its flaws, it’s a convincing enough rendering of the railway world, and a very calming influence on my otherwise overloaded mind.

The kids out there have probably been able to do this for the past couple of epochs, but a little time ago, I installed some video editing software onto my PC which included a live screen capture tool. I love it! Now I can begin to tell stories through the medium of the moving image, created from within my little virtual world. So far, it’s railways. But just a couple of days ago, I discovered that one can now even build virtual cities, too…

So, dear reader, here is my first attempt at telling a sort of “story” using captured video from my little virtual world. For the train buffs out there, we’re off on a footplate ride on a Class 20 locomotive (even more ancient than me!), hauling Network Rail’s leaf-busting Rail Head Treatment Train, as it tries, valiantly, to keep those pesky leaves from settling on the tops of the metal rails, causing all our (already late) trains to run… ummmm… late. I suppose another solution would be to have all the passengers jump up and down in unison, causing the train to bounce up and down, thereby increasing the available traction. Rumour actually has it that Network Rail are, in fact, genetically modifying the trees along its railways so that the falling leaves curl in a certain way, so as to immediately fall away from the metal surfaces of the tracks on contact. Hmmmmm…

Pure speculation, indeed. In the meantime, here’s my daft little video, a sort of glimpse into the job of the railwayman on the RHTT.

Posted in Railway Adventures, Virtual World | Leave a comment

The Canals Awake…

Spring is a lovely time of awakening. It was pretty warm for late February, an ideal opportunity to get out and about again. I wandered up through the Widcombe Lock Flight in Bath, a favourite stroll, past Sydney Wharf and on to Darlington Wharf on the Kennet & Avon.

Video camera in hand, I shot a few sequences and threw them together on the editor. Behold, the results:

What a simply splendid lifestyle, moving at not much more than two miles an hour. Another year or two of driving buses, then to the waterways with me for my final retirement. Whaddya reckon, dear reader? Sail away, or remain a land-lubber?

Posted in Waterway Travels | Leave a comment

Bristol Harbour Festival 2016

Dateline: Sunday 17th July 2016

IMG_9546

The view towards and over Perot’s Bridge

I had mixed feelings about visiting this event in the centre of Bristol. Local television news had been carrying stories about local people actually complaining about this free event, moaning about the amount of alcohol being consumed, and the potential for rowdy behaviour. Nearby shops and supermarkets were being exhorted to limit the amount of alcohol they were selling to any one individual over the weekend. It seems to me that there is something quite dark and brooding about contemporary British culture – seemingly to have a good time, out with one’s friends, automatically requires the carrying of a large case of cheap beer or cider acquired from a supermarket all-to-happy to sell the stuff as a loss leader, being pretty much pickled by 9am in the morning, and making lots of rather anti-social noise. Quite how any average British socialite can enjoy anything in such an inebriated state is quite beyond me. But there we go…

 

IMG_9479

Towards Redcliffe Quay. The spire of St Mary Redcliffe Church dominates the skyline here. Gorgeous narrow boats moored at the jetty there…

For me, the attraction was to photograph the rich colour and spectacle of this waterfront event, one of two colourful, and free, events in Bristol over the summer. The other is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in August; last year, it was so successful that the gates had to be closed to new admissions to ensure safety for those already inside. Wow! Yes, the Bristol Harbourside last Sunday was very busy, with visitors being herded around the quays and streets in a one-way system – give them due credit, the organisers were doing all they could to relieve bottlenecks and avoid criticism about overcrowding. But all-in-all, it was a really lovely atmosphere, come the finish, in the sunshine and fresh air. People seem to respond to sunshine somehow, their mood altogether lighter. I have no idea how things developed later in the evening – I’m not the sort who wants to hang around like a war correspondent if there is the slightest possibility of things getting at all ugly. But what I found in the mid-afternoon was a great opportunity for a family day out, perfectly safe, and hugely enjoyable. Well done, indeed, to the organisers.

IMG_9520

How on earth do I describe this??

There were tall ships, narrow boats, sail boats, ex-industrial steam tugs, a Royal Navy vessel, a working 35-ton steam crane, trips along the Bristol Harbour Railway, fairground attractions, artisans and food vendors all doing a roaring trade. Good to see! And we even had chaps out in the middle of the harbour on hover board contraptions powered by water jets doing all manner of aerial stunts. It all looked like great fun, albeit only for pros, but I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the bellies full of harbour water that these performers must surely have been consuming. Ugh! Heaven alone knows how many immunisation shots these chaps would need to keep out the harbour’s resident germs…!

IMG_9487

…or this??

So, enough blabber from me… I leave you with a simple gallery of images of the afternoon. Here’s to an equally successful event in 2017 🙂

IMG_9570

Tall Ship Kathleen and May

IMG_9553

Harbour Tug John King

IMG_9581

35-ton steam crane, in steam, and open for visitors

IMG_9486

Steam train rides from the M-Shed museum towards the SS Great Britain

IMG_9593

Something for the kiddies?

IMG_9601

A nice spot of afternoon jazz. They did try to book Canadian superstar act Willy Ward’s Revenge for later in the evening, but Willy was, sadly, unavailable…

Posted in Waterway Travels | Leave a comment

Recent Railway Happenings…

The last few days of my recent “FOSS”, or Freedom of the Severn & Solent rail rover ticket… Great value for those who wish to wander widely in Wessex and the Westcountry.

IMG_9361

No hurry at Yeovil Pen Mill today – The down token instrument at Maiden Newton is apparently jammed, and there’s a queue of trains waiting to head south over the single track section.

So, latest happenings over the past week: The token machine at Maiden Newton, south of Yeovil Pen Mill on the Castle Cary to Dorchester line, decided to act more like a petulant child than a well-oiled piece of railway infrastructure Saturday before last, leading to half-hour-plus delays for services over that single track section.

IMG_9362

The Pen Mill station cat arrives to calm the nerves of anxious delayed travelers…

My unit down from Westbury was held for a good 25 minutes at Yeovil, plenty of time for a brew from the station cafe (I’m always happy to support independently-run station cafes), as well as affectionate attention from the resident station cat!

 

West Coast Railways ran their Last Days of Southern Steam tour from London Victoria to Weymouth via Bournemouth –

IMG_9372

Jubilee class 45699 Galatea arriving at Weymouth with WCR’s “Last Days of Southern Steam” tour

ironically producing an appearance of an LMS kettle, in the shape of Jubilee class 45699 Galatea. Shame they couldn’t conjure up a turn from a Westcountry Light Pacific such as Tangmere or something. But for the diesel bashers, there was a treat in the form of 33207 Jim Martin bringing up the rear.

 

IMG_9397

IMG_9410

class800

Class 800 at Bristol Parkway

Meanwhile, a couple of days later, something caught my eye on RealTimeTrains.com – a working from North Pole Junction near Paddington to Stoke Gifford; my curiosity was rewarded at Bristol Parkway, with my first photo opportunity with the upcoming Class 800 IEP (Intercity Express Programme). This particular 800 had already splatted its first seagull on the front, so for the sake of keeping my site of a family nature, I contented myself with photting it from the rear. The colour of the afternoon was completed with the appearance of a “Red Shed” on the Moreton-on-Lugg to Elstow Redland Siding.

moreton_on_lugg-Elstow_Redland

Moreton-on-Lugg – Elstow Redland Siding crosses Stoke Gifford Junction

Elstow_Redland passing 2C20 GCR-WSB

Through Bristol Parkway…

Posted in Railway Adventures | Leave a comment

The Widcombe Lock Flight

The City of Bath…

IMG_9426Here the River Avon flows placidly through the Georgian splendour that now surrounds this Roman spa town, under the Pultney Bridge and over the weir, onward towards Bristol.

Quietly, from the East, almost unnoticed, the restored Kennet & Avon canal joins the river through the Widcombe Bottom Lock, at the end of a flight of six locks, bringing this once vital trading link down some 60m from the pound at Sydney. Back in the 1970s, extensive road reconstruction across the canal whilst it was in a sorry and derelict state meant that two of the locks had to be merged during the restoration of the waterway into one deep lock, and the Bath Deep Lock is now the second deepest lock in normal narrow boat use in England…some 19ft 5in of rise and fall.

IMG_9444The Widcombe Lock Flight and the walk up to the Sydney Marina provides a lovely half hour or so of diversion, and ample opportunity for photography, rich in colour and contrast. no more babble from me about this – I merely present a small collection of photos I shot on my short ramble up the flight today…

IMG_9440

IMG_9438

IMG_9434

IMG_9429

IMG_9430

Posted in Waterway Travels | Leave a comment