Posted in Railways on Saturday 14th January 2012 at 5:44pm
The last couple of years have seen fairly late starts to the railtour season, which has meant lots of opportunities to plan my own visits around the country. This is both a blessing and a curse - zipping around at possibly the quietest time of the year is always pleasant enough, but finding the time and the imagination to try to plan lots of new things to do is sometimes near impossible. However this year things have conspired to place a number of pretty fantastic trips in a short space of time. Indeed there are more I could have done if I'd not had other plans in February, but having a couple of track bashing type excursions right from the outset has to be a good thing.
This had already turned into an unexpected and luxurious long weekend. A brief but enjoyable trip to Bristol yesterday, and a near-to-home start today made for a fairly easygoing itinerary. It didn't feel that easy heading out for the 05:48 this morning in fairness, as the winter finally landed with a wonderfully fresh, frosty morning. We sat waiting for the ECS of the London HST at Weston too, which set the train back just enough minutes to be worrying late. I had a +12 into the Swansea train which reverses at Bristol Parkway, but hoped to grab some breakfast and coffee on the way, knowing that Parkway was pretty much shut up this early. Thought about flagging it for my reserve train - 1M21 at 07:00, but thought it might not be wise and dashed for the 06:46. Into Parkway on time, but predictably not much open. Settled in for the short wait for the stock to arrive from Eastleigh, heralded by the rumble of 66002 tackling Filton Bank. The seating issues reared their head early, and it became clear that the whole mess was bigger than my ticket, despite my almost being bumped down to Standard being possible the most drastic outcome. Soon settled into the warm and steamed-up, but the soapy window trick soon fixed that, and I settled in for breakfast and a wonderful sunrise as we headed north through Gloucestershire.
The rest of the merry band joined at Birmingham New Street, having set out far too early and got bored and cold waiting at International. Good to see lots of familiar faces anticipating a sociable day of interesting track. Out via Leamington and Banbury before our first bit of unusual track at Oxford where we briefly waited in the loop from which the Cowley branch peels away. Lots of speculation about future access to this, before we headed around the West Curve at Didcot, and took the line through the gates of the power station. This was huge track - particularly given the difficulty of doing anything on private lines nowadays. The downside of doing the Coal Line rather than the more common Ash Line was the MGR speed limit, actually imposed on all trains - 0.5 mph! It took significantly longer than timed to make it around the loop, and on the warm stock, things became a little drowsy. There was a little concern now that perhaps we wouldn't manage the loops on the Great Western given our lateness - with a counter view that actually we'd get looped everywhere because we were out of course now.
In the event, after a quick reversal in the sidings at Appleford, we set off to cover almost all of the booked loops at Steventon, Challow, Hullavington and the most interesting for me, the Down Goods at Bristol Parkway, between the platforms and Stoke Gifford Yard. Once through the Severn Tunnel and into Wales, we headed further west tackling the loop at Alexandra Dock Junction before traversing the rare crossover to the Valley Lines platform 7 at Cardiff Central. I was into long unvisited territory here, with the Valleys being an early target after I restarted my travels. The lines to Barry had seen a further visit when Vale of Glamorgan trains started - but that too was years ago. Noted the massive redevelopment in the area, and it's gradual gentrification too. Soon we were clear of the conurbation and onto the coast as the sun began to dip - always a consequence of winter tours - with a stunning sunset over the sea and the Somerset coast beyond. I remembered the tangle of lines around Aberthaw which had confused me on my original journey, as the mainline cuts in sharply from the coast near the curious Boys Village at St.Athan. Instead we followed the line into the Reception Sidings before proceeding into the Power Station site. Somehow more impressive than Didcot, the fading light gave it an even more sinister aspect as we slowly made our way onto the Oil Line, meaning at least we kept up a reasonable pace. During the traversal of the loop we learned just how touch-and-go this whole trip had been, given the parent company's reluctance to let a passenger train into the site. Thankfully persistence and contacts had paid off, and we were soon back into the Reception Sidings and heading towards Cardiff. We'd lost a little of the time we made up though, and missed the loop at Cogan Junction - but this might well have been because of it's condition - certainly the opposite loop was very rusty indeed.
Back through Cardiff and Newport, taking the Bishton Flyover to maintain the relief lines, though this was ascertained mostly by instinct and inquiry, as it was now very dark indeed. Sadly we were around 35 late now - just late enough to make my preferred move at Cheltenham a little less robust. So, no quiet run home on 1V65 for me tonight, instead bidding folks goodbye and bailing at Bristol Parkway, via a curious dash through the train due to being stopped short on the platform. A comfortable connection into a slightly late 1V63, a decent coffee at last in Temple Meads, and then home an hour earlier than planned. Despite not touching dry land all day, and as is becoming worryingly common, not having a single photograph of the trip, a very good day out. Almost everything planned was covered, and once the seating situation had been resolved it became a very sociable occasion. Lets hope that next week's rare track excursion is just as successful...
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.