No politics today, my spleen may still need venting but I’m giving it a day off. Instead I’m happy that I’ve finished the first in the trilogy of articles I’m writing for RAIL magazine about my week long trip around Britain by rail. Part one covers three days, so to me it feels a little rushed. Trying to describe all my experiences in 4000 words is always difficult as there’s so much stuff that I have to leave out – which is the hardest part of writing them. A week travelling around the UK by rail is enough to fill a book, never mind a series of magazine features. Hopefully people will enjoy it anyway.
I’m now going to have the weekend off to concentrate on other things. So – without further ado – here’s the picture of the day, which was taken on the 2nd February 2016 in Galle old town, Sri Lanka.
I’ve always enjoyed Art Deco architecture and this restored house really caught my eye. I’d have loved to have seen if the inside matched…
I’ve a favour to ask… If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website – https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/
Ugh! Up at sparrowfart again getting ready to go to Birmingham. This morning I’m getting a lift to the station because I don’t want another soaking! The weather here is still what’s best described as ‘changeable’. I’m heading for the 06:44 from Halifax, so let’s see how today goes…
I’m now on my way to Manchester aboard the 06:44 which is worked by a fully-functioning CAF built Class 195. We have heating, PIS and even the wifi which I’m using to type this. They’re lovely trains when they’re like this and a real step-change from what we’re used to.
It’s a beautiful sunny morning in the Calder Valley although it’s a chilly 4 degrees according to the trains info screens. It’s a bit of a contrast to London yesterday when I basked in 14 degree sunshine!
Having crossed the Pennines and called at Littleborough we’re trundling towards Rochdale at reduced speed. Looking up from my laptop for a moment I was just in time to catch sight of a trio of deer feeding in a meadow, their white tails attracted my attention, otherwise I’d have missed them as they were standing stock-still whilst the train passed.
We’ve arrived at Rochdale where around a dozen early-bird commuters are waiting for our arrival. I was surprised to see so few, but there’s another Manchester bound service in the bay platform which seems to have a good crowd on it. No doubt it’ll be following behind shortly.
After my usual 20 minute sprint across central Manchester from Victoria to Piccadilly I’m back in the warmth aboard Cross-Country’s 08:05 to Paignton. We’ve luxury this morning as this is an 8-car formation. Even the Conductor is boasting that there’s “lots of room this morning, so make the most of it”. I assume that this must be an aberration!
There is an irony in me travelling to Birmingham to see HS2 archeological work in this fashion. This journey between two of our premier regional cities will take 1 hour 28 minutes. Voyagers – be they four or five car – are less than an ideal offering. HS2 (when it’s completed) will cut the journey time by more than half to just 40 minutes. Plus, it’ll be on a 400 metre long, modern intercity train that will make a Voyager look primitive in comparison.
We’ve just left Macclesfield. I don’t know about the year Voyager, but this front set is filling up nicely! There’s lots of business travellers aboard. In the airline seats opposite me two young professionals have their papers spread out on the meagre backseat tables and are preparing themselves for the meeting they’re heading for. Others are using their time to catch up on the budget news in copies of the ‘Metro’ but on one table ahead I can spy an unopened bottle of Prosecco with four plastic cups atop it – so there’s business mixed with pleasure on this coach as I assume these people are race-goers!
Bugger, we’re just leaving Stoke-on-Trent and the weather’s changed dramatically. We’re now blessed with thunderously grey skies and it’s chucking it down! Please let this clear before Birmingham…
We’ve just left Wolverhampton and the penny’s finally dropped as to why this train is a double set! There were queues of well-dressed people waiting for us to arrive and I suddenly realised that we call at Cheltenham – where the races are on! Now the fact the catering crew were heavily advertising what deals they have on Prosecco or gin and tonic at this hour of the day makes sense!
Apologies for the delay in updates but it’s been a very hectic few hours. Our little group got to the HS2 site at Curzon St for 10:00, donned our PPE, had a site induction, then went to visit the site of the London & Birmingham’s locomotive roundhouse, which was built in 1837. You’ll be able to read about my full visit in the future edition of RAIL magazine, but here’s a taster of how the site looks, with the remains of the turntable pit in the middle and 15 pit roads radiating from it. Everyone was surprised just how extensive the remains are, not just of the roundhouse, but other structures as well. Thankfully, the rain we’d had earlier held off and we had sunshine interspersed with cloud – which was just as well because there was a bitter wind blowing across the exposed site that made you thankful for the layers of PPE you had to wear!
The visit took several hours as we were given an extensive tour of the site of the roundhouse and the remains of the goods shed with its wagon turntables still in situ. Afterwards we were shown round the last building standing. The grade 1 listed station building and former boardroom of the London and Birmingham railway.
Afterwards I went to have a look at a modern transport innovation. The extension to the Midlands Metro tram network, the first to use dual-powered trams that don’t have to use overhead lines in the heart of the city so as to preserve the architectural heritage of the area.
Homeward bound! I left Birmingham on the 16:57 Cross-Country Voyager bound for Manchester. Unsurprisingly, it’s packed even though this is a 5-car. This time of day it acts as a fast commuter train between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, after which the vestibules empty out and some seats become free. With the advent of HS2 I’d like to see these trains withdrawn and the twice-hourly paths used for more commuter services for local passengers whilst long-distance passengers can transfer to a faster, more comfortable service from Curzon St so that we have an inter-city service worth its name.
I’m now on the final leg home. After abandoning the Voyager at Piccadilly I retraced my steps to Victoria to catch a train back across the Pennines. I’m now on a 2-car Class 195 heading for Halifax. It’s not as busy as I’d have expected but I honestly can’t tell if that’s due to people not travelling through fear of the Coronavirus or the fact some folks may have left work earlier.
There’s certainly plenty of panic about. I had chance to scan the media earlier and saw the news about the Tango’d Buffoon in the White House banning all travel (except via the UK) to the USA for a month. An already very weak stock market which has suffered many days of losses went into complete meltdown and shed over 10% of it’s remaining value, propelling it into its worst decline since 1987. The spectre of another global financial crash is starting to rear its ugly head…
I’m finally home in the warm and dry, having taken the sensible precaution of bringing a brolly with me today, although they’re often of little use up here in the Pennines due to the fact the wind rips ’em to shreds within a few minutes. Right now I’ve begun the task of loading some of the past two days worth of pictures to my Zenfolio website. If you follow this link, you’ll be able to see which galleries they’ve been added to.
Tomorrow I have a day working from home, trying to catch up on picture editing, paperwork and communications, although there might still be time for some blogging, it certainly won’t be rolling…
After the past few days gallivanting around the country today’s been a time for consolidation at home. I even treated myself to a lie-in and didn’t switch on the computer until 07:30! Mind you, it had been a hot and humid night – hardly the best for getting a good night’s sleep. The really hot weather had departed by the morning, leaving us with an assorted bag of cloud cover and the occasional bit of sunshine to help dry out the effects of the overnight showers. Much of the day has been spent editing pictures of railways rather than travelling on them, but that will change again tomorrow. I’ve added over 100 pictures to my Zenfolio website, which you can find if you follow this link to the ‘recent’ section of the website as it’ll show you which galleries they’ve been added to. Here’s a couple of samples just to whet your appetite.
These are the beautifully restored station waiting rooms at Worcester Shrub Hill. They’re unique and are constructed out of cast iron and tiles, having been built around 1864 by local companies.
A plaque nearby lists the details of these extraordinary structures.
Worcester Shrub Hill is an anachronism in several ways. Not only does it have these waiting rooms, it also has some of the finest surviving examples of Great Western Railway lower-quadrant semaphore signals. The fact these control the very latest generation of high-speed trains built by Hitachi is quite something, as you can see from this picture. In the foreground is a two car Class 172 which has recently been transferred from the Gospel Oak-Barking line in London to become part of the West Midlands Train fleet. In the background is 800322, a 9-car Hitachi built Class 800 operated by GWR. The variety of GWR signals is evident.
Having loaded up the pictures the rest of the day’s been spent catching up on less exciting matters – paperwork. My desk seems to be awash with ACoRP marking forms receipts and bits and bobs. So much for the ‘paperless office’! At least it’s not like the old days when it would’ve been piled high in slides, negatives and prints too…
Finally, late in the day I managed to get out for a stroll and get some exercise away from a screen. As the weather has cooled down I didn’t need to head straight for a shower either, which was a relief. This evening will probably consist of much of the same as we’re off to Liverpool for a weekend in the city with some friends. If I’m lucky I might be able to do some scribbling whilst I’m there. One thing I will be doing is taking a break from watching the unfolding political disaster that’s Boris Johnson’s new Government. It’s truly depressing to see the people he’s actively courting. It’s the most right-wing and dangerous bunch of any Tory Government I can remember. There’s a toxic mix of former Leave campaign members, the right wing-press and lobby groups like the Taxpayers Alliance. My one hope is that there’s so many big egos there with dodgy pasts and flexible morals that it can’t be long before the whole thing starts to fall apart when it become painfully obvious they can’t deliver on the lies they’ve told over the years. But what damage will they do in the meantime?
After a very pleasant 24 hours exploring the Art Deco delights of Napier we’re on the move again. This time we’re taking the Intercity bus all the way to Wellington, our final North Island stop on this part of the trip. It’s a long-haul on a sold-out double-deck coach. That takes almost 6 hours. We’d have liked to have seen more of Napier and the adjacent town of Hastings (which also has some lovely buildings) but when you’ve only got a month…
Anyway, here’s a few shots from Napier.
The town has a lovely, laid back atmosphere which makes it a very pleasant place to while away a few hours, admiring the buildings, or just sitting outside one of the many cafes to watch the world go by. In February Napier hosts an Art Deco festival, which sounds delightful. With all the palm trees and wall to wall sunshine, the place reminds me more of California than Cleethorpes! The shops are more upmarket too. Dawn was impressed with the quality of the clothes shops and I noticed the organic grocery stores and music shops – not to mention the business dedicated to Art Deco memorabilia. The theme pervades to the town, but not in a tacky, commercial way, more in a celebration of the design. This manifests itself in carefully designed shop signs, or even displays of old wireless in some of the bars. Talking of bars, that’s one thing that’s missing – a proper brew pub! Instead, the town suffers the curse of the ‘plastic Paddy’Irish theme bar – although one of the main ones has closed down – leaving a site ripe for development in the way I’ve mentioned.
We’re well on the way to Palmerston North now, having passed through a series of small Kiwi towns en-route. As before, they feel more American than English, mostly because they’re resolutely low rise and many of the smaller building are constructed from timber. The scenery’s another matter. This is Scotland in all but name.
We’ve just had a half-hour break in Palmerston North, which would’ve been lovely if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s Sunday, so the place is closed! It’s a large town too, but the centre of town around the bus station’s deserted. We managed to find one cafe nearby for a quick drink and a loo stop, but it was all a bit rushed. Whilst we were sitting there I spotted this sign in the window, which was slightly disconcerting.
Heading on from Palmerston we followed highway 1 down the coast to Wellington. It was a lovely drive as the road hugs the coast before weaving & winding its way through the hills that surround Wellington. I’d forgotten just how rugged the landscape is around the city. The roads were remarkably quiet, despite it being the end of the summer holiday for many people.
On arrival at Wellington we were met by an old friend of Dawn’s. Although originally from Yorkshire, Helen has lived over here for many years. The three of us had a lovely evening at Helen’s home, chatting whilst sharing Shepherds pie over a glass of wine. The two hadn’t seen each other for 25 years, so I left them to do some catching up and retreated to do a spot of picture editing, so here’s another selection of shots from Napier.
Napier’s main beach is dark shingle and the power of the sea makes it unsuitable for swimming by the inexperienced, but it is beautiful to walk along and watch.
Don’t ask me about best laid plans, mine seem to change all the time! It’s one of the beauties and frustrations of being freelance! Today I’ve found myself working from the ACoRP (Association of Community Rail Partnerships) water tower cum office in Huddersfield which is part of the superb grade 1 listed station. How’s this for a place to work?
The water tower stands in what’s now a car park but in the 1960’s it was a locomotive stabling yard, complete with a turntable which was situated right outside the building.
I love Huddersfield’s architecture. Well, most of it anyway. George Square outside the station is surrounded by a selection of stunning Victorian buildings that make a fantastic backdrop for the annual food and drink festival which is held over 4 days in August.
The grand entrance to Huddersfield station seen from the square, complete with statue of former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who was born in the town in 1916
The food and drink festival in the square outside the station. The building on the left is the (closed) George Hotel which was the place where Rugby league was born.
The station’s a real community hub. Not only is it the gateway to the town, it’s also a destination in its own right. It’s most well-known for its two pubs (The Head of Steam and the Kings Head) and Felix, the station cat (who even has its own Facebook page). But there’s a lot more too – as well as having a warm and welcoming café on the island platforms which does a mean bacon teacake (as they call them in these parts) the lobby hosts a range of food providers on different days of the week. For example, on Wednesdays you can buy artisan breads from this stall. The area also doubles as an exhibition space for local artists.
Here’s a look inside the Kings Head pub on the Leeds end of the station. It’s undergone a fantastic restoration job in the past few years, which has exposed the wonderful ceiling and reopened side rooms. The work’s led to it winning a Railway Heritage award.
So, what’s not to like? Trains, food, beer and architecture. If you’ve never been to Huddersfield station before – why not pay a visit? But beware, because it’s on the Rail Ale trail it can get extremely busy at weekends – and if Huddersfield Town are playing at home it can be bonkers, so I’d recommend a weekday if you can make it.
It’s my second day in Singapore and I have to admit that the city has grown on me over the years i’ve been visiting. As a backpacker in the early 90s it always seemed horrendously expensive compared to neighbouring countries. It was easy to blow your budget here. Cheap accomodation was had to find and often very basic, but it was a good place to shop for bargains – and it was one of the few places in the region where I could buy Fuji Velvia slide film that had been kept correctly as well as being sold at a decent price. There were also labs I could trust to develop slide film so that I could post it back to the UK for safe-keeping. Oh, the days of film! Then my backpack would be loaded with 30-40 rolls. It was a logistical nightmare to store. I used to keep it in stainless steel ‘tiffin’ tins at the bottom of my rucksack. I’d have several notebooks to keep records of what where and when i’d taken pictures as well as details of which roll i’d ‘pushed’ the ISO on. This meant each roll had to be individually labelled. It was an expensive habit then. I worked out that when you added the costs of buying, developing and postage it meant that each time I pressed the shutter it was costing me 23p. When you consider that I’d probably only keep 33% of what i’d taken the unit costs were even higher. Photography wasn’t exactly environmentally friendy either. Think of all the chemicals used – and the wastage. So, if anyone asks me if I miss the days of film, my answer is “not bloody likely!”
OK, that was a slight digression. Being here has triggered many memories. I hadn’t thought about the fun and games with film for years.
Singapore has grown on me for several reasons. I’ve spent my life travelling. I’ve visited all four continents and as I get older I can see the attraction of a country that has political and economic stability. One where everything works nearly all the time. One that’s multi-racial, using diversity as a strength, not seeing it as a threat or a weakness. One that has has a wealth of cuisines (one of the benefits of diversity). Oh, and one that takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. Also a country that is both civil and believes in a civil society.
Don’t get me wrong, i’m not ready for my pipe and slippers yet. I love India, but it’s the antithesis of Singapore. It’s corrupt, its political institutions are a madhouse. It’s turned beauracracy into another circle of hell and it’s an environmental nightmare. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful with a richness and depth of history thats unique. India is a Marmite country. Ask anyone whose been and they either love it or hate it. No-one will ever say “s’alright, I suppose”.
I’ve been writing this piecemeal as I’m travelling around the island looking at the MRT network and one of the things that’s struck me as really positive is their transport integration. Stations have plenty of cycle storage and many have bus interchanges (but no car parks). The MRT network is also constantly expanding. Right now i’ve been visiting Woodlands, where a massive hole in the ground will soon be a part of the new 43km long MRT Thompson line from Woodlands North all the way to Sungei Bedok via Marina Bay . The MTR has sprouted lines all over the place in the past couple of decades and i’m looking forward to coming back when this latest batch opens.
In 2019 this large hole in the ground will be an MRT station on the new Thompson line.
It’s not just the MTR that’s expanded. The whole city has – which is producing some fantastic modern architecture to complement the city’s rich heritage. One only has to take a wander around the Marina Bay area or business district to see some brilliant examples of design, many of which incorporate exotic gardens (hanging or otherwise).
The Park Royal Hotel is a stunning example of new architecture
Sadly, I only had time to stay three nights, I’d loved to have lingered longer but I’ve a lot of ground to cover back to Bangkok. I’ll just have to come back again. Soon…