Posted in Highbridge on Monday 12th November 2007 at 10:21pm

As I write, the annual Guy Fawkes Carnvial in Burnham (which of course pays lip service to Highbridge but never comes here) has just finished, and the giant unwieldy floats are snaking their way back to points south and west of here, shaking my house and filling the room with flashing warning lights as they pass. There have been lots of issues around access for the procession this year, from overhanging scaffolding on the procession route to the challenge of navigating the new ASDA roundabout. But the people want the carnival, and somehow it's been achieved again, despite all the handwringing and buck passing.

We've had our new supermarket for a week now, and despite the strange bout of anti-ASDA feeling in relation to the carnival, it seems that the locals have embraced their new neighbour. New pathways have opened - a strange alley which leads from the once quiet cul-de-sac of Grange Avenue into the wide and windswept carpark of the store, and a curious and almost unofficial exit into a back lane serving the rear of Church Street. The great hangar full of goodies seems bigger inside than out - more choice and cheaper stuff than we've had for years in Highbridge. The staff are all familiar local faces. It's hard not to enjoy the novelty of unmoderated consumption in a town where shops close more often than open.

On the first evening I visited to find some local types practically brawling - they were unhappy that 'Burnham people' were coming to look around but not buying. One older Highbridge resident standing in the doorway like an unofficial Town Crier berating the visitors from the north. Another resident complained that the store was not organised the same way as our other rival supermarket. But the layout is strangely familiar to anyone who has ever visited an ASDA or a Walmart store. The same items in the same order. Oddly comforting and surprisingly not dull.

And so Highbridge changes - more planning permission for more apartments will follow to complete the site. But sometimes despite the modern warehouse style supermarkets and monotonous three-storey flat blocks, new views open across the Somerset Levels - and raising my eyes above the line of the trolley park this evening I caught a glimpse of Brent Knoll, ancient and timeless in a crack of golden light between the clouds.

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Posted in Railways on Sunday 4th November 2007 at 2:22pm

The curse of First Great Western strikes me again. After the touch and go game of roulette with cancellations of Taunton-Great Malvern services on Friday, today it's the mainline which is causing grief. There seem to have been numerous times now that I've booked to return from a weekend trip and been scuppered by a cancellation at Paddington. Whether it's lineside fires, breakdowns - or as in this case oversleeping on-train staff, it's provided a slightly bitter ending to some excellent weekends. Today, it's really not a major issue, however, the poor Sunday service to Highbridge presents some challenges. The staff at Paddington were also clearly unhappy and genuinely concerned that they had to apologise for yet another problem entirely within the company's control. The ongoing resourcing and rolling stock issues present a fairly poor public face, and its going to be hard to convince customers that things are changing behind the scenes whiles this kind of situation continues to occur regularly. Naturally, the performance figures which the industry now holds so dear will also suffer.

On a more positive note the refurb on the HSTs is great, and I'm sitting in a comfortable, light and airy Mk III FO carriage writing this. The company seems to want to provide quality, but whether its the infrastructure, the Department for Transport or some other external problem, there appear to be constant barriers to progress. Having managed the odd project, I know how frustrating these bits outside your control can be, and I feel some empathy with the incoming MD, Andrew Haines.

On a beautiful Sunday morning heading westwards in the comfort of a newly refreshed carriage, it's easy to be positive about things despite the delays.

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 3rd November 2007 at 10:16pm

It seemed strange to be getting up so late for a tour, and I almost panicked on a couple of occasions looking at the clock as I pottered around my hotel room getting ready to leave. A leisurely walk to Euston which really only just seemed to be waking up. I'd arrived early in the hope of breakfast and a good look around, but found queues at almost all of the few outlets trading at this early hour. Settled for a big cup of Starbucks coffee to wake me up, and a look around the station noting 90019 on the front of the Lowland Sleeper. No information on our train, but the general tide of enthusiasts toward the Silverlink platforms directed me to 11, where familiar pair 37410 and 37417 were rumbling away in preparation for the trip. Boarded and settled in, with only a minor panic about having no change for coffee - which didn't matter as First Plus seemed to include free refreshments - albeit at a rather erratic frequency.

After a noisy start from Euston, we progressed as far as Willesden TMD where we sat for operational reasons for quite a while. Onto the DC lines now, and soon enough new territory for me once we had passed Willesden Junction Low Level. This is absurdly rare track for locomotive hauled trains, and we made steady progress via the Watford High Street deviation, taking the equally rare link back onto the mainline just short of Watford Junction. With everyone now on board, we made a dash up the line to Tring in order to reverse.

One of the attractions of today was the rather rare visits to deopt lines. I'm informed the planning and safety case for this tour was torturous in the extreme, and that it only happened due to the sterling efforts of Silverlink and Pathfinder staff. With dire warnings not to flush the lavatories on depot property we made our first visit of the day to Wembley. Firstly though we were informed that the Carriage Line was occupied and we'd be offered an alternative. Some grumbling from the back about missing rare track was silenced by the announcement of the alternative - a trip through the shed. We crept into the site, bemused depot staff looking up at us as we passed. A real treat, and some almost unique track into the bargain!

86213 'Lancashire Witch' hidden within the Wembley complex
86213 'Lancashire Witch' hidden within the Wembley complex

Back to the Willesden area again, and onto the City Lines to climb to meet the line from the High Level station at Kensal Green. A sedate but pleasant trip around the North London Line next, which is still one of the finest ways to see the city, and remains a favourite bit of track for me. Much discussion of the various curves which fall away from the line to allow freight access to other routes - and I confess I couldn't quite figure out which I'd done and which I hadn't without referring back to older records. In any case, finally reached Barking via the Channelsea Curve and Forest Gate Junction, thundering into platform 7 much to the surprise of the locals waiting here.

37417 awaits departure from Barking with the next leg of the tour
37417 awaits departure from Barking with the next leg of the tour

The next run took us along the line to Gospel Oak affectionately known as 'the Goblin'. This line is an excellent example of how community involvement in a local railway can produce results, and despite it's reputation for overcrowding, poor rolling stock and crime at stations, Silverlink seem to have made a real success of it - with further improvements to come from the Overground project. Another fine run along the rooftops of London, as far as Kensal Green where we took the line through the High Level station at Willesden Junction and headed south over the Thames to Barnes and Clapham Junction before turning northwards once again onto the West London Line which deposited us almost back where we started for a fast run up the WCML to Bletchley.

08874 'Catherine' at Bletchley TMD
08874 'Catherine' at Bletchley TMD

We paused briefly at Bletchley before creeping slowly into the depot, again some curious staff were ready for our arrival, and we noted depot shunter 'Catherine' outside the shed, ready to assist our train. After a brief stop for staff pictures, 08874 was attached to the front of our train, and we returned to Bletchley station for a photo stop with the real Catherine (after whom the shunter is named) posing beside her namesake. When the complexities of splitting Silverlink into it's constituent Overground and London Midland components is done, Bletchley TMD will almost certainly close which will see the end of a tradition of railway employment in the area. Despite the positive changes in the industry at present, there are some sad times ahead for some.

Soon ready to depart once again for a spin along the Marston Vale line to Bedford. It soon became apparent that we'd been allowed far more time than necessary for this part of the itinerary, and we sat outside Bedford station near the River Great Ouse for twenty or so minutes before heading in, making a swift reversal and retracing our steps. However, before reaching Bletchley we climbed away from the line to the station and onto the flyover. At this point, the collective assembly of track bashers fell silent as for many of us this was the highlight of the day. We climbed sedately onto the impressive concrete structure, built to secure the future of the East-West line which was done away with by cuts a few short years afterwards. A gentle curve over the WCML then a much longer run along the former Oxford route than expected to Swanbourne Siding - now a reversing point for stone trains, but formerly an important cross-country route. Realised that I'd now covered both ends of this bit of track, to Claydon in the west and now to Swanbourne in the east. It must surely be time to consider this line's utility again? Despite the darkness and the cool November night, lots of people were hanging out of windows as we crept along the branch - the first passengers here for many many years, treated to an impromptu firework display by the locals! After reversal, back across the flyover and a curve to the left to descend to Denbigh Hall South Junction and regain the mainline. Another quick run now to Northampton, passing through the station and heading into the ultra modern new Siemens depot at Kings Heath - built specifically to maintain the fleet of Class 350 'Desiro' units which provide local services between Birmingham and Euston. Amazed at how clean and orderly the place seemed in comparison to more 'traditional' depots we'd visited today. The rows of quiet units were almost eerie in the quiet dark sidings. Another reversal, secure in the knowledge we'd been where no other passenger train had!

Our final leg was a dash back to Euston. Our locomotives performed superbly, but a possession on the slow lines meant we didn't get to cover Kilburn Up and Down Goods loop. However, this meant a high speed run along the fasts, with a spirited arrival at Euston as the driver let off several blasts on the horn and treated the station to a noisy taste of thrash. A cracking day out thanks to Silverlink and Pathfinder, where so much could have gone wrong but didn't. Much will change on the railway map in the coming months, but with dedicated people who can organise this kind of trip in the industry the future looks optimistic.

Movebook Link


Posted in London on Friday 2nd November 2007 at 10:21pm

The strange pattern of streets between Grays Inn Road and Mabledon Place has always intrigued me. Having based myself in Bloomsbury on many of my visits, this strange hinterland bordered by Euston Road to the north and Bernard Street to the south has been frequently explored. Little corner pubs and newsagents have become strangely amplified landmarks in this corner of St Pancras which has almost become home. Not quite West End and not quite city, it seems that the waves of commerce and redevelopment never quite reach the centre of this quiet corner of London.

A curious neighbourhood
A curious neighbourhood

Visiting for the first time in a long time, I found myself staying in the northern corner of the territory, not far from Kings Cross. I'm nervous about my accommodation, but needlessly - it's basic, clean and secure which is all I need for the purposes of my stay. Wandering out to Brunswick Square to shop, I take a long circuit through busy Marchmont Street. Freshman students, not yet quite formed and still wide-eyed in the tumult of post-Office drinkers pass me. They're new here and still apologise quietly for brushing past me. I find Brunswick Square transformed - the strangest of Camden's housing development once sat atop a tired shopping arcade, mostly vacant except for a supermarket and an excellent used book store. Now, the supermarket is an upmarket Waitrose and the square is filled with evening life - the bookstore pushed underground on the fringe of the development. Restaurants and bars fill the once empty shopfronts. Things are changing, Bloomsbury is buzzing again.

Heading back into the dense net of streets north of Coram's fields, all is quiet. The largely residential area is dark, and only the tree-lined and paved Cromer Street with its closed and shuttered shops indicates the strange village I stumbled across a few years back on a walk out to Kings Cross from my Bloomsbury base. Swinging north, the great tower of St Pancras Station looms, scaffolded and ominous above the glassy new station. I want to understand this curious corner - a space that is folded into the map by passing tourists, not seen, it's dimensions not sensed from passing by on the high road. However, I think to understand this quarter one needs to live here in the shadow of the city and it's western neighbour.

Movebook Link


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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