Posted in Railways on Saturday 27th March 2010 at 9:18pm

As the season starts in earnest, so events start to clash - and there was a fair choice of things happening in the West today. With a sizeable Diesel Gala occurring at the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire, and a Steam Event at the West Somerset the humble home-fleet only gala at the Bodmin and Wenford Railway might not have got quite the crowd it hoped for. For me though, a chance to potter down to Cornwall for the first time this year along with a chance to sample 33110 for the first time seemed like a sensible option. Set off on the convenient 06:01 which took me directly from home to Bodmin, stopping almost everywhere. The day seemed to promise some decent weather and it was good to be heading along the seawall and through Devon and Cornwall again. There will hopefully be a number of visits in the course of the next few months with more inspiring choices of traction too! Arrived at Bodmin Parkway with a little under an hour until the first train. Took advantage of the time to visit the Signal Box Cafe for breakfast and plenty of coffee before heading over the bridge to watch 33110 arrive around the curve. The loco didn't sound in the best shape, but made an impressive racket once we got going up the bank towards Bodmin General!

33110 rounds the curve into Bodmin Parkway with the first service of the day
33110 rounds the curve into Bodmin Parkway with the first service of the day

With 37142 out of action at present it was left to 33110 along with 50042 and 47306 to ensure things ran smoothly. Sticking closely to time for most of the day, we soon got into the rhythm of the loco swaps, with double-headed journey's to Parkway interspersed with top and tailed trips out to the railway's current extremity at Boscarne Junction. The buffet car was stocked with some decent local beers too, which made for a very pleasant and relaxing day out enjoying the scenery and the event. No mad dashes to change trains or difficult choices of which turns to cover today! Took a brief break around lunchtime to wander out to the Beacon Road overbridge in search of possible photographic opportunities. Despite negotiating one of the most complicated footbridges I've ever seen, which seemed to wind its way around a fine old iron road bridge, no real views over the line to Bodmin Parkway. Back to the station in time for the next spin out to Boscarne Junction.

50042 awaits its next turn near the MPD at Bodmin General
50042 awaits its next turn near the MPD at Bodmin General

With a final couple of runs complete, we decided the 17:10 arrival for a 17:12 train homewards was a little optimistic, and elected to wait time at Parkway. Our hunch proved correct, and it was pleasant to wait in the improving weather for the HST back to Taunton. The train home was fairly busy, and I'll confess that several bottles of Tribute and an early start meant a rather sleepy ride back. A frustratingly long wait for a connection at Taunton, with a station buffet which couldn't seem to decide if it was open or not - just when coffee would have been very helpful! Overall, another fine day out at Bodmin. It would be fantastic to get some guest locos along sometime to work on the impressive banks and curves of this fine little railway which seems to spend a lot of time ensuring the small resident diesel fleet earns its keep.

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 20th March 2010 at 11:17pm

This tour was originally scheduled for the end of last October, and was re-dated when Western Champion suffered some engine problems. However, with the usual care and attention lavished by The DTG things were soon sorted. One hangover from the original date however was the early start, which saw me staggering across the bridge to Temple Meads from my hotel at around 05:30. I wasn't feeling great - a sleepless and painful couple of days with a damaged ankle had left me tired and miserable - but I was determined to enjoy today's journey. Despite my fantastic vantage point above the station, I hadn't seen D1015 moving around either last night or this morning - and indeed there was no sign of the stock in the station. Wandered down to check if coffee was available yet and was disappointed. However, with the train crawling into the station with D1015 producing a cloud of blue smoke I used the time productively to get an atmospheric shot in the gloom of the station.

Found my seat and settled in for the day. The headache I'd been nursing began to disappear once coffee was served, and we were soon speeding northwards. A particularly fun ascent of the Lickey Incline saw D1015 working hard and making a fantastic noise at the front of the train. However, noted a message about disruption along our route - the Spitfire tour (which I would have been on but for this re-dating) had already been turned back to New Street and sent via Lichfield, and it was unclear quite what we'd end up doing. So, we had a longer than expected break in Birmingham and once a pilotman was found set off via Aston for Lichfield, rejoining our booked route at Wichnor Junction. Tours almost never seem to go this way because of the intensive Cross City service, but when it suits Network Rail it is, of course a different matter. Made our booked pick-ups at Derby and Chesterfield before taking the Old Road to bypass Sheffield as we headed for Wakefield Kirkgate via the link from Hare Park to Crofton West. After slowing a little before Huddersfield, the driver opened up Champion with an almighty blast of noise which visibly startled the waiting passengers. Once under the Pennines at Standedge we worked our way south to Stockport via a break at Denton where barely a coach made it onto the platform. Whilst these journeys with D1015 are full of 'firsts', this was a truly unique moment as this tiny station which receives one train each week hosted several hundred tour passengers! Back on board for the long, hard climb up to Buxton which prompted further music from the twin Maybach engines. A memorable trip indeed.

D1015 poses as D1054 as it waits to depart Bristol Temple Meads
D1015 poses as D1054 as it waits to depart Bristol Temple Meads

Buxton is a strange town with a steep hill in the middle. Most of what is at the bottom is duplicated at the top, meaning that people presumable have little need to move between the two parts? Decided, in the absence of anything much to do and with a steady drizzle falling, to walk up the hill which I'd decided against on my last visit. Finding nothing much of interest, I walked back down and explored some of the historic spa buildings. The town is pleasant if a little isolated - and that strange, frontier-town vibe seems to spur the locals into some very odd behaviours. Not least, some of the slowest walking I've experienced in years. Stocked up on provisions for the trip home and set off for the station. While I can see the reasons tour operators need to mix trips for 'normals' and 'cranks' in these tricky times, I'm not convinced the technique of dumping everyone at a destination for a few hours is the right way. Spitfire's method of running mini-tours and add-ons seems to work better and avoid half the train huddling miserably at the station for an hour or so!

Once the service train had shunted over into the other platform, our train returned to the platform, and cold, damp passengers gratefully boarded. For me, the next part of the trip was the clear highlight - propelling into the former XYZ sidings, we set off southwards, curving high over Buxton and travelling alongside the Hindlow branch for a while, before plunging into a deep gorge with the road and river below. The network of railways and tramways here was complex and there were occasional tantalising glimpses of this heritage as we turned north again towards Great Rocks. This area with its regular freight workings had been a source of wonder for many years, and with the weather a little brighter, it was fantastic to pass through the rather strange scenery in the quarries as we made swift progress towards Chinley, where we rejoined the Hope Valley line. The earlier problems with debris placed on the line at Tamworth had been cleared, but a fatality near Sheffield had produced further problems, particularly for Crosscountry whose service was in tatters. Thus unhindered, we sped south and made amazing progress arriving at New Street very early. We were booked a fairly long stop here, and rather strangely were held until time - well over 50 minutes by my reckoning despite nothing much being in our way. An early departure would also have avoided the need to divert into Gloucester and run the loco around - a late addition to the timings put in solely to path us around an express on the mainline. However, we duly completed the reversal, losing time into the bargain. Started to get a little nervous, with a 16 minute connection at Temple Meads into the last train home and about 10 minutes of delay already.

I need not have worried. The run from Gloucester to Bristol was one of the most incredible journeys I've done with D1015 which must have achieved some very impressive speeds. Presented ourselves at Bristol Temple Meads early, and as is traditional we were held at signals until our due time, before being let into the station about a minute late! Made the train home in plenty of time, with D1015 still singing quietly on the platform as we set off on an HST powered by a distant relative of the Maybach engine. Whilst today was a little too damp and dull to make the time in Buxton quite as enjoyable as it might have been, there were some stunning and memorable moments with Champion and some interesting track and scenery along the way. There are to be a few more trips later in the year which might need some serious investigation...

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Posted in Highbridge on Monday 15th March 2010 at 7:05am

It's easy to look with justifiable anger at the recent removal of Burnham-on-Sea's boating pool from the beach. A gift from the Braithwaite family to give thanks for their sons' safe return from the First World War, generations of visitors to the town have played in it's murky depths. I have my own memories of digging miniature canals in the silted up pool, and of finding decaying eels floating in the water. Mostly though, its part of the landscape - it's origins largely unknown until the recent Sedgemoor District Council decision to remove the pool. And while it is dangerous to use an internet forum to take the temperature of a local debate - and especially one as given to dyfunctional babbling and pyrexic rages as burnham-on-sea.com, the reactions to these recent events have given me cause to consider how the 'heritage' game works around here.

The final straw for those who are claiming the demolition of the pool is 'desecration' appears to be the suggestion that a chunk of the concrete edifice will be retained to bear a plaque featuring words chosen by the Braithwaite's descendants. This appears from the reactions to be adding a gross insult to a grave injury - but why is it any worse than sending this last piece to the crusher along with all the others? I think it's all about the removal of context, and the simple fact that we lazily expect our heritage to come prepackaged for easy consumption these days. Consider the embarassment of riches from the Roman era available in Britain today. I've been dragged around many a windy hillside to see these - forlorn, but evocative. Suggestive of a flow of time, but not necessarily sparking an instant vision of our history. Until of course suitable context is provided in the form of a 'visitor center' or 'experience'. In this model of heritage, the consumer signs-up for a package deal of context-setting multimedia and the artefact or location is relegated to second place. The thing itself can never match the reconstructed environment - not even the thrill of touching two thousand-year old stone walls can compete with the carefully paced walk-through designed to deliver just the right number of visitors through the site.

The situation with the boating pool is a little different, but still relates to this disconnection between relic and context. Here, the context is absolutely gone - bulldozed already and crushed into dust finer than the sand which surrounded it. The relic, a rather odd looking and insignificant corner of the concrete pool, is useless in itself and has none of the qualities of the original memorial. It's no accident that religious terms like 'sacrilege' are employed - in the strictest sense this relic has indeed been robbed of it's truth and meaning. Of course, the replacement for this lost context - a suitable plaque linking then to now - will never quite deliver the reverent and solemn 'experience' required. In a new war nearly a hundred years later, and with a deepening gulf between the personal and political in society this act of destruction signals all that is bad at the core of politics. An administration has failed to listen and understand, and seems to have deeply misjudged the heritage gamble.

How does this relate to Highbridge? Well, our own heritage here is taking hit after hit and we are in danger of losing the context too. However, the context here is an authentic market town which can't offer an 'experience' to the visitor in any positive sense as things stand. What it can offer is a view of forsaken heritage - entering from the south, the charred skin of the Highbridge Hotel, shored by an exoskeleton of scaffolding, rears at the casual traveller. Descending towards town, and just feet away the town clock too is under threat of demolition due to a lack of repair. The historic shopping and industrial areas are slowly but inexorably transformed into residential developments of the most depressingly predictable kind. Our own war memorial crumbles and leans at a busy road junction. However, the same intemperate locals who rage against the demolition of the pool can barely raise an eyebrow at the widespread destruction in Highbridge. The best response seems to be a recognition at the fact that Highbridge stands as a embarrassing gateway to it's sister town of Burnham - and that fixing it is a similar window-dressing exercise to watering the flower beds on the distributor road. The worst though, is a cynical sneer at the town and it's inhabitants. It is worryingly commonplace to find the latter view nowadays among locals - and often, perplexingly, it is those who are shouting loudest about the boating pool or poor planning decisions in Burnham who are least concerned and most scornful of Highbridge. It is of course folly to believe that the events here will respect parish boundaries, and perhaps it's time for Burnham's champions to look long and hard at Highbridge and to recognise the trend.

So perhaps the heritage game really is a lottery, and no relic is worth more than the value placed on it's immediate surroundings? This certainly seemed to be the situation for Sutton House in Hackney until the National Trust finally intervened, and it seems true for Highbridge too. As for the boating pool, I'm truly sorry that a part of my own memory of Burnham has disappeared, but politics and history are never the most comfortable companions.

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 13th March 2010 at 11:03pm

Today was all a bit of a luxury really compared to some of the endurance tests I willingly undertake - firstly, having a weekend off between tours meant needing to decide where to go. First Great Western helped here by running their 'Take A Mate' promotion for season ticket holders once again. Realising that this was the one week during the promotion I'd be able to take advantage of a £20 First Class return on the FGW network, I booked a trip to Paddington, regardless of not having any mates to take on this particular occasion! This also meant that after a late night last evening, I didn't have to disappear from home in the dark on the earliest possible train - and so I decided on the 07:13 direct from Highbridge to Paddington. It was very good to be settled with breakfast, coffee and bright sunshine before arriving at Weston, and I was content to watch the scenery pass lazily and catch up on the week's podcasts as we thundered through Bristol and onwards towards London.

Having had an ill-fated attempt at getting around London for work purposes earlier in the week, I'd given up on planning much for my day today. A look at the Weekend update from Gensheet had confirmed lots happening tomorrow and some fun with WSMR services out of Marylebone - but with their first stop at Tame Bridge Parkway and no advance fares, I needed something cheaper if equally diverting. Instead decided on a quick trip out east (picking up long due Oyster refunds at last at the ticket gates on the way). Firstly, over to Liverpool Street and then, via Clapton to Tottenham Hale. This positioned me for a very pleasant coffee in the sunshine and a chance to watch the fairly intensive service here before heading back to Stratford via one of the direct services. A crawl around Temple Mills gave excellent views of both the Olympic site and the Eurostar depot, before we arrived at the curving platform 12 at the far edge of the station, now dwarfed by the fast developing Westfield Stratford City shopping complex. Right now its extremely hard to imagine how this area will look in a couple of years time - but it will certainly have changed a great deal. Wandered out to the station front for a taste of a rather older, less sanitised Straford, before heading back to the platforms to watch a couple of freight trains pass while awaiting my train to Liverpool Street.

Another idea which had occurred was a visit to the southern end of the East London Line where new units were lurking! Squeezed onto a 149 bus to London Bridge and then, after dodging both Millwall and Charlton fans, onto a train to New Cross Gate. Got a glimpse of the depot as we passed, completely built now and sporting a clutch of shiny new 378/1 'Capitalstar' EMUs! Rather surprisingly as we came to a halt, I found one sitting in the platform beside us awaiting the signal for a test run south towards West Croydon. Took the opportunity to get a quick shot before heading for the neighbouring supermarket for greeting cards!

378141 on test at New Cross Gate
378141 on test at New Cross Gate

Whilst waiting for my train back to the city, another 378 passed through the platform, with several confused passengers having a crack at boarding before it whirred quietly off to the depot. Once on a London-bound unit I had another fly-past of the depot, wryly noting other platform enders with similar ideas to me, before arriving once again at London Bridge. Waited time here for a departure to Victoria via Crystal Palace, which I meant to take as far as Clapham Junction. More football related silliness going on as we left for the spin around Streatham Hill and Balham into the vast, busy turmoil of Clapham Junction. Found a little newly-built but roofless shelter where a lot of enthusiasts has clustered around the end of the platform - so joined them for a pleasant hour in the sunshine noting the passing tide of units. Once the same ones started heading back, I bade them goodbye and headed for platform 2 which was already getting busy for the next departure to Willesden Junction. I've used this shuffle via West Brompton and the District Line to get home many times, but the opening of Westfield at Sheppherds Bush has really boosted usage and the trains were incredibly busy once again. Hopped off at West Brompton thinking I might get home early...

However, I'd not thought about the Chelsea vs. West Ham game going on nearby. As train after train of District stock filled to crush loadings passed by, it became almost amusing - not least the large party of French students who skittered from one end of the platform to the other and back each time an equally wedge set arrived. Once final bunch of fans were brought down - possibly the noisiest, drunkest or just plain least appealing to the general public - and squashed onto a train by a copious amount of Met and BTP officers. A minor escape attempt led to a bit of brute force being deployed and the train was soon off. Happily the next one had room for everyone waiting - including the hapless French students!

After a relaxing coffee watching the station go about it's business I boarded the 19:00 from Paddington heading all the way back to Highbridge. In many ways it had been a quiet day - but there was, as always, plenty to see and hear in London so I was more than happy with my wandering. Sometimes it's not about epic mileages or elaborate itineraries, but just a good old fashioned wander around the railway network, watching people as much as trains.

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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.

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