Picture 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.
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”!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!