Posted in Railways on Saturday 10th October 2009 at 11:07pm
A huge amount of discussion seems to have taken place about the Severn Valley Railway's gala this year. Right back when the weekend was originally announced, there was a spirited exchange about the railway's supposedly anti-diesel sentiments, reflected in the way that some staff behaved or a bloody-minded refusal to hold connections. I couldn't personally say I'd experienced this on my brief visit back in 2004, which seemed to focus on the range of locos in attendance and the excellent beer on offer. However, the events of the past week or two have provoked further debate, with the unfortunate derailment and subsequent emergency repair at Highley loop fuelling more than one conspiracy theory. Bottom line was though, that the gala would be smaller than planned and the service less intensive. Cursing my usual October luck, I decided to stick it out and visit as planned. I've really enjoyed my trips to the Severn Valley - despite a harrowing introduction as a youngster - and this would make for an interesting and relaxing weekend before a solid few weeks of intensive travelling.
I didn't reckon of course on the combined forces of our local rail operators, who also seemed to be conspiring. Having arrived at the station in time for the 05:50, I watched with dismay as it went from an on-time departure from it's first station to a 14 minute late arrival. Given my restricted ticket and a much reduced timetable, I was going to have a tricky time getting further north than Bristol this morning. However, I arrived to find platform 3 at Temple Meads still busy with passengers and a catering trolley waiting to load. By some strange quirk it seems that a rostering error had left the train driverless. It finally left, 15 minutes late with me safely on board with breakfast and coffee to boot! Running out of path on a diversion via South Wales was never going to be easy however, and we finally reached Kidderminster via a hastily amended route to Birmingham New Street, a cross-town dash to Moor Street and a unit from there onwards. Finally arrived about twenty minutes after we'd have made it via the planned route, already feeling exhausted by the reorganising and some tense moments around connections!
On the journey up I'd predicted we'd probably end up with D821 on a train, and sure enough there it was, quietly chugging at the front of a rather smartly turned out rake of LMS stock. Got a picture, and walked back to look at 50026 which was stabled beside the train. This was the one time that I noted staff being anything less than friendly, when one of them shouted after me that I wasn't allowed to take a picture where I was standing. It seems that someone had left a barrow full of second hand books and magazines nearby and he thought I had some sort of devious plan to steal them as I photographed the loco! Soon on board D821 and heading for Bewdley. It has to be said, the timetable was a mixed bag. Lots of shuttles to Bewdley and Highley which meant the ability to fairly safely switch trains. However, the steam diagram which the SVR insists on running on the Saturday of diesel events was unavoidable. If you did a trip to Bridgnorth, you just had to do the steam train back. This became more frustrating as the day went on, and we found ourselves steaming down to Kidderminster on a couple of occasions as very rateable traction passed in the opposite direction. It was certainly not going to be one of those "get everything" galas this time!
In the end, settled for impressive runs with the pair of Class 20s, D1062 and 37906. The 37 in particular was noisy and made light work of the demanding line. Settled back and enjoyed far more Batham's Bitter than was probably advisable whilst the misty morning became a very warm and bright afternoon and the engines echoed down the valley.
After a final arrival at Kidderminster and with no sensible move which would get us back before the train to Birmingham, stuck around to photograph 50135 arriving in the sinking sunshine while a pair of shunters prepared to haul another shuttle train. Soon onboard the unit for a slow and sleepy trip back to Moor Street. Some further silliness around the arrival and departure of the 18:12 to Bristol at New Street too, but finally sorted and away a few minutes down. Watched an amazing red sunset over the Malverns, recalling my many years old tradition of watching these Autumn skies on my trips homeward. Chatted to an interesting new acquaintance too, who worked in similar fields to me and reminded me that times were busy and tense for everyone in public service - a valuable lesson delivered with great tact and grace in fact. As we covered the last leg of the trip, reflected that today had been an entertaining day despite the problems and complications, all of which were outside the control of the organisers. It's always a shame to see fine engines passing by - but that's always going to be the difficult part on a line of a fair length like the Severn Valley. Next time though, perhaps a weekday visit and some local accommodation might be in order?
Posted in Railways on Saturday 3rd October 2009 at 11:24pm
There was a strangely menacing quality to Manchester this morning. Set out early to cross the city, having booked near Victoria in anticipation of the tour which didn't run. The walk to Piccadilly was cold, dark and surprisingly busy given the early hour. Noted a few rough sleepers - a sight which has been absent from city centre streets in recent times, but possibly due to the privatisation of these spaces rather than any great shift in housing policy I suspect. These denizens of the doorways were joined in their slumbers by a good few casualties from the previous evening, slumped where they landed after their revels. Felt old, conservative and disapproving, but then convinced myself there was probably nothing wrong with that at all. Turned the corner towards Piccadilly meeting a ferocious wind. One coffee shop open and doing a brisk trade, but I've never liked their brew so headed up to platform 14 to wait for my train. These 'lost weekend' trips are always interesting by virtue of their unexpected quality, but standing in the cold and black northern morning I was beginning to doubt my wisdom. Relieved when a brace of warm, comfortable Class 185s rounded the corner. Found my seat and settled in for a sleepy trip north, at least until the sun came up.
Daylight began to break around Preston, here a catering trolley joined the train and a pleasant attendant served us our complimentary breakfast - these seemed to consist of one of everything on the trolley, heaped onto the table efficiently and quickly. Most importantly, it contained coffee of a sort. So, refreshed and with the promise of a bright morning somewhere behind the cloudy Pennines, I settled in to enjoy one of my favourite journeys.
As we passed Carstairs and began the final leg of the journey towards Glasgow, the question of what to do with my day began to trouble me. I've passed through the city several times this year, and having only limited time have not even tried to do it justice. There is always a strange tension - to revist old haunts and reacquaint myself with the city, or to strike out in new directions. Whilst the former is easy and comfortable, it doesn't really fit the plan of understanding the place 'warts and all' so to speak. However, the latter takes planning - and I'd done nothing of the sort. The question wasn't really answered until around an hour after arrival. Having finally got a decent coffee I made a strange progress through the shopping streets, dodging into shops to avoid the rain. Whilst browsing the 'local books' section in one of these, I found a small volume about the Southern Necroplis. Over my shoulder, a local voice said "Aye, ye should have a look at that place pal". A pleasant conversation followed with the gent who'd been looking over my shoulder in which he claimed that the tourist should be encouraged to visit the southside more, and that the Southern Necroplis, though not nearly as dramatic as it's city centre cousin, was full of interest and history. He said, almost throwing down a gauntlet that he didn't think I'd go as one mention of Gorbals was enough to "send people aff screamin' in the direction of the Willow Tearooms and a nice bit of shortbread". I assured him I'd not be doing that, and headed for the bus stop. Soon heading south along Saltmarket, with a sudden splash of sunshine on the tower blocks.
Alighted on a long, deserted stretch of Caledonia Road on the no mans land between Gorbals and Hutchensontown. The gatehouse of the vast cemetary loomed above the otherwise empty southern side of the street - and ignoring the 'Danger Keep Out' signs which I assumed applied to the fairly rickety looking structure itself as opposed to the Necropolis, I strode in. The sensation of immediate silence is one I'll remember for a long while. A lone dog walker turned the corner behind a hedge ahead of me, and left me alone in the overgrown and tree-lined central section of the burial yard. Pressed on into the centre, noting the great age of even the newest graves. Many of the stones had collapsed and lay where they fell, while others had been taken down for safety's sake and stacked against the neighbouring tomb. Without the guidebook I'd not even thought to purchase, I could recall only one particular statue I wanted very much to seek out - that of the White Lady. I'm intrigued by these local oral traditions, and especially when they make it into print. In some ways this is standard fayre - the lady is said to turn her head to follow the unwary traveller. No doubt this is related to the unquiet spirit of the lady and her housekeeper killed in 1933 by a tramcar which they didn't see from behind their umbrella. I surveyed the monument for a while, weathered and overgrown - but made from a strangely luminous stone which no doubt adds to it's spooky reputation at night. As if to mock the superstitious thoughts which creep into even a rational mind at such lonely times, the weather took a sudden and vicious turn - the wind curled leaves into a tunnel around me, and sticks flicked against my face. I hurried on my way, the trees bending ominously towards me. As I reached the exit the wind died away as suddenly as it had risen up. Had the same sudden squalls not continued for much of the day, I confess I'd have been a little spooked by my odd visit to the Southern Necropolis.
Back on the bus to Saltmarket, and then a sudden thought provoked me to disembark near the 13th Note in King Street. I'd remembered at last to find the location of Monorail music - a record shop of impeccable reputation which was squirrelled away at the back of a range of shops in the arches under the City Union Line. I'd gazed out at these shops for a decade without much thought, but now I strolled into a fantastic place - the cafe, wooden floored, pleasantly dark and aromatic with lunchtime food - was in itself a surprise. The record shop, tucked away at the back of the store was though, a revelation. I was taken back to the old days in Bristol - Revolver records - a small square room, lots of vinyl, nothing which you could easily pick up at the local Our Price of HMV. Found a signed copy of the Pastels/Tenniscoats CD and left feeling like I'd invaded the lair of people much younger than I! A calm, pleasant place though.
With the rain beginning to spatter down again, I ventured north into Merchant City, making it as far as Blackfriars before giving in and settling for a pint of a good, local brew in Kelburn's 'Red Smiddy'. This place is always great - pleasant, friendly staff and good beer despite being early. Spent a while over my drink before taking advantage of another burst of sunshine to catch another bus. I wanted to travel back to Saracen Cross. This might seem like a strange, perhaps voyeuristic pilgrimage - after all I have no personal connection with this strange outpost of Glasgow. But there was something of it's frontier town feel creeping into Highbridge somehow, and I wondered if I could isolate it and understand it. As the bus crawled through the tangle of motorway slip-roads and turned north I felt strangely nervous. My last visit was on a quiet winter morning, while few folks were about - today however was turning into a bright afternoon. There were a fair few people lingering around the isolated blocks of housing as we approached the valley between the tenement blocks which symbolise this street. Looking up the hill - on Stoneyhurst or Allander Street all was empty - perfectly straight roads, slowly climbing towards Springburn and oddly devoid of any property beyond Saracen Street. Disembarked and took a short walk down the rows of shops. I'll not describe this - it's a place where people live and struggle - not a theme park. Suffice to say I felt humbled enough by the experience, and not least by the sight of the fortified Post Office, standing alone and defiant amid land earmarked for development.
Back in the city, time to reflect on my travels before preparing for the journey back to Manchester. Once again, a good run on the 185 despite a few more stops. The customer host was also, rather like the first one of the day, excessively generous with complimentary items. On arriving at Piccadilly, walked through the busy and rather congested streets to Victoria with the thought of perhaps doing one of the last trains around the Oldham Loop. A strange and heady mix at Victoria of the usual revellers, the ever-present Emo crowd and a lot of cranks who'd been on the Spitfire steam tour. Watched for a while before deciding that there was something odd and rather morbid about the event. Back to my hotel room, high above the city, watching the trains leave Victoria. At the due hour, I listened for the departure - another bit of line closed, and me feet away but not taking part this time. Once again, a short stay in Glasgow has upset all the usual priorities.
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.