Posted in Railways on Sunday 19th July 2009 at 11:26pm
Despite my near obsessive collecting of odd bits of track and covering the railway network in interesting ways, I've not done many of the tours offered by the Branch Line Society. I am of course, a proud member of this sometimes turbulent organisation - and it's certainly no reflection on the well-organised and thoughtfully designed tours. It's perhaps more about balancing this side of my interest with a degree of comfort and leisure. Not all of the BLS tours tick these boxes - being somewhat lengthy, prone to delay due to their complexity, and usually featuring all standard stock with no room for the larger gent to stretch out. However, this one had grabbed my interest from the start. Initially, part of this was due to the inclusion of the Sinfin branch in the itinerary. This tiny stub, predominantly retained to serve a Rolls Royce works near Derby was an early obsession for me. Formerly served by Matlock DMUs crossing Derby and reversing on the branch, the new generation of Sprinters proved unsuitable. Thus by the time I began my travels, the DMU service had become an occasional taxi - and with it, Sinfin had become something of a holy grail - elevated far above it's importance by it's difficulty to score.
I'm not the only one who was bitterly disappointed that the over-running Derby Station refurbishment caused this to be cut from our itinerary. However, rather than cancelling my booking in protest as some did I stuck it out and was interested to read a new plan which covered some much needed track in the North East, as well as the planned colliery branches in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. Perhaps the oddest part of all though was heading out for a tour on a Sunday morning. Descended from my usual hotel in Crewe to find a fair crowd of recognisable faces congregating. Found breakfast and waited with them in fairly damp conditions - with perhaps a threat of later brightness in the sky. Nothing much happened for a while. Then, a rather confusing rake of stock, labelled in a seemingly random order with a Class 47 on either end passed through the station. More waiting, and then some information. Our Class 66 had failed before it started, and the replacement 47 was low on fuel thus we would be somewhat delayed. Eventually left a not disastrous 30 minutes down and started with an early highlight - out on the Salop Line as far as Gresty Green Goods Loop, then a reversal, into Basford Hall Yard via the Gresty Curve. This was due to be covered on Pathfinder's 'Lancs Links' trip last December, but was missed due to a much discussed but still somewhat mysterious oversight by the traction provider. Since then it's become something of a feature in these tours, but the BLS of course did this thoroughly, passing through the yard slowly on the arrival lines, before traversing the ladder crossing at Basford Hall Junction to gain the fast lines. We were finally underway. Soon heard that a lack of driver knowledge of Class 47s around Doncaster meant we would gain an additional engine at Wolverhampton, with 66090 joining 47843 on the front of the train, while 47812 continued to bring up the rear. With a little time gained back, we made good progress in improving weather through the Midlands, and out to East Midlands Parkway - our last pick up. From here we proceeded north via Toton Centre. Nothing quite prepared me for the sight of a large proportion of the fairly modern, useful Class 60 fleet parked up and idle at the depot. As a bonus, I saw the last two class members I required - but the disturbing sight betrayed an uncertain future for these locos.
From Toton, we pressed on via the Erewash Valley and the Old Road to Aldwarke Junction. Here we covered the alternative route to Thrybergh Junction - a bit of line which retains a couple of trains for driver knowledge, but these remain very unpredictable. Instead of curving away on the passenger lines, pressed on over the Doncaster avoiding line to Hatfield & Stainforth where we reversed. With 47812 leading again, we again avoided Doncaster, travelling via Applehurst and Skellow Junctions, before finally passing through Doncaster only in order to achieve the access to the Yard. Interesting to be inside the cordon of trees which leave Carr Depot hard to see from the mainline, and we crawled carefully and slowly through the sidings, before taking the Low Ellers Curve to access the South Yorkshire Joint Line. I did this line in the opposite direction on the Retro Retracer tour back in 2007. On that trip I benefited from a fellow passenger with a good knowledge of the line, its history and the local collieries which it supported. Without that commentary, I found the run slow and a little bit dull. With the air-conditioning completely failed on the Mk.II coach we were in and the temperature slowly rising, I was soon snoozing my way to Shireoaks, where we joined the Robin Hood Line and too a much needed break on the platform at Shirebrook. Suitably cooled, but not able to get anything like a decent picture, we were soon off again and curving on to the line to Welbeck and Thoresby Collieries.
The knot of lines in this part of the country existed almost entirely because of the coalfield, and despite some fairly sizeable populations in places, there is little evidence of passenger railways remaining. At Welbeck Colliery Junction we reversed and headed up the branch, skirting the settlements of Market Warsop, Church Warsop and finally Meden Vale. Here we came to rest at the site of an excursion platform used for miners' holiday trains, the colliery proper being around a further tree-lined curve a little to the northwest. With UK Coal unwilling to let us further, we were soon heading back to the junction. Here we reversed again and pressed on over the junctions forming the triangle at Clipstone to reach Thoresby Colliery Junction. Here, among a cavalcade of GBRf coal hoppers - showing that the site was still very much active - we reversed again and progressed up the very short branch, once again as far as permitted. This was a much shorter run as the colliery is closer to the mainline, beside the large village of Edwinstowe. Another reversal, and a shame we could press on eastwards where the extant former Great Central line continues towards the East Coast Mainline at the site of Dukeries Junction. With the warm weather turning somewhat thundery, we began our homeward journey. By the time we were heading south on the Robin Hood Line once again, the rain had closed in - but it was pleasant to hang at a droplight in the steaming carriage and watch us cover our last bit of unusual line - the Lenton Curve, bringing us back on course for our set-down stops in the Midlands.
Despite a fairly disastrous start and some slow running at times, we caught up time admirably and arrived at Birmingham New Street a little early! I left the tour here, having had a fine day chasing some very rare bits of line. I hope there will be more of these tours soon - not least to cover the bits around Derby which had to be missed off this itinerary. Whilst many of the BLS 'old hands' have done it all before, there are plenty of us who haven't!
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.