16th September picture of the day…

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Talk about back to the grindstone! I’ve not stopped since I came back from my trip – hence the gap in blogging. As well as enjoying some quality time with Dawn I’ve been playing catch-up on all the stuff I’ve not been able to sort out whilst I’ve been away – like eBay. All the recent orders for pictures and railwayana have been fulfilled and I’m now in a position to start restocking the site with the next tranche for sale. Here’s a sample. I’ll be adding over 100 more in the next few days – time permitting.

Oh, there’s also my pictures from Monday, which have now been loaded onto my Zenfolio site. You can find which galleries they’ve been added to by following this link. Along with everything else I’m up to I’m determined to finish scanning the last album of old rail slides from 2001-02. That should be done by the end of October. Meanwhile, I’ve an awful lot of writing to do. RAIL will begin publishing the trilogy of articles from my round Britain trip next month, so writing up my voluminous notes will take priority over old pictures. They’ve waited 18 years to appear – they can wait another few weeks!

This brings me on to the picture of the day, which comes from my travel archive. This was one of a few times where the Gods smiled upon me. Lynn, Alison and I were travelling South down highway 13 in Laos by bus. Well, there’s little option. There’s no railways, so you either walk, fly, or go buy bus. Everything was going fine until the bus suddenly took on a life of its own and drifted to the left – into oncoming traffic – despite the best efforts of the driver. Thankfully, there was nothing coming the other way (which was a minor miracle in itself). Our Driver controlled the bus via the brakes and brought us to a stand still upright – on the opposite side of the road, just before we’d have gone down an embankment. When we all piled out and started to work out what the hell had happened the driver and a couple of vehicle savvy Westerners had a look underneath the vehicle. It transpired that the steering linkage was missing a bolt (or two) so the steering wheel had become an ornament! It didn’t matter which way our driver turned it – that bus was going its own sweet way! Here’s the picture I took at the time. It’s dated the 13th January 2009.

One day I’ll tell you about what happened when we broke our golden rule (never get in a taxi/tuk-tuk driven by anyone under the age of 40) in Sri Lanka…

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Rolling blog: West Midlands Wanderings…

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08:28.

My, It’s a long time since I last did a rolling blog, but as I’m wandering around the West Midlands today before beginning the trek North I thought I’d give one a shot. I’m going to have a look at a few of the rail developments in the area and also try and track down one of the new Class 196 trains which are currently being delivered and are being tested – although that’s always difficult to guarantee I’ll bump into one. What’s easier is some of the station improvements as they’re not on the move!

I’m about to leave the hotel now, it’s a beautiful sunny morning here in Birmingham, so let’s see what happens…

09:34.

As many station food outlets are closed because of Covid it was lovely to find the one of my favourites was open. I always try and pop into the Centenary Lounge at Birmingham Moor St station when I’m in town.

A slice of normality and nostalgia…

Having been given the heads-up by a friend it doesn’t look like any 196s are out on test this morning, so I’m heading off to get a few shots in the can at Leamington before heading to Coventry to have a look at work on the new station entrance. Here’s my first train of the day…

I have to say, I’m amazed at how many seats Chiltern block off for social distancing compared to other TOCs. In contrast, Scotrail don’t block off any. Instead they rely on passengers to use their own judgement. So do many other TOCs. I’m guessing it’s an Arriva thing.

11:00.

Typical! Just as I arrive at Leamington Spa two people tip me off that the Class 196 test runs are on! So, after grabbing a couple of library shots before my train arrived I’m now heading for Tyseley to rendezvous with the test workings. Let’s hope I’m lucky..

14:45.

Ever had one of those days? I arrived at Tyseley in plenty of time to catch some shots around the station before heading down to Shirley and catch the 196 that was out on test. Then W Mids trains started cancelling all the Whitlock End services due to driver shortages, so there was no way I’d make it down the line in time. Too late I had a brainwave. How far was it to walk to the first station on the Stratford route? Google maps said it’d be 20 mins. That meant I’d miss the inbound 196 but I’d be 10 mins ahead of the next run. It was a hot and sweaty walk carrying all my kit in the blazing sun but what the hell – nothing ventured nothing gained! I arrived at Spring Hill station with a few minutes to spare.

As the train pulled in I spotted someone with a similar face mask waving at me. It was Toby, who’d tipped me off earlier and who’d set off on the same mission! We travelled together and got ourselves ready at Whitlock End, where the test run was due to terminate before running back to Tyseley – only the bloody thing never turned up as the run was cancelled!

Crossing our fingers and hoping it was a one-off the pair of us moved up to Shirley ready for the next scheduled test run. That was cancelled too!

At that point we gave up and headed back into Birmingham where we parted. As we passed the depot at Tyseley we could see a 196 being prepped…

Oh, well – another time…

Right now I’m on my way to Wolverhampton to have a look at the new station. At least that can’t fail to run!

19:00.

I’m on the penultimate leg of my trip home after stopping off to look at Wolverhampton station, which is really coming along. Part of the new building is open now and the old one’s a pile of rubble (as you’ll see later, when I had the pictures I took on my camera). Demolition of the original building clears the way for the next phase of rebuilding which includes extending the tram tracks to the station.

Moving in I headed up to Crewe for a while as you never quite know what might put in an appearance there. As I passed the Arriva maintenance depot I saw a very sad sight. the newly repainted locomotives and coaches that open access operator Grand Central were intending to use on their new Blackpool North – London Euston service. Covid has put paid to that as the company are having to concentrate on the survival of their two existing services (West Riding and Sunderland). I wish them all the best in that as they’ve been a fantastic operation over the past 13 years.

Right now I’m on a late running Transport for Wales service bound for Manchester. Our platform at Crewe was occupied by a Network Rail survey train operated by Colas and a last-minute platform switch added to delays, leaving us 12 minutes late. Luckily, I built in plenty of time to walk between Piccadilly and Victoria so I won’t miss my connection. After 8 days away I’m really looking forward to getting home to see my family – Dawn and our ‘boy’ Jet. Well, if you can still get away with calling a nineteen year old cat a boy! Another thing I’m looking forward to is not having to spend all bloody day wearing a mask – especially when the weather’s been as hot and sticky as today.

20:21.

Yay! Last train of the trip. I’m on the 20:16 from Manchester Victoria to Sowerby Bridge. My car’s comfortably empty so it’s not a problem – unlike the scenes I saw as I walked across the city centre. Piccadilly Gardens was awash with bored young people just hanging around in the hot weather. As usual, there was no social distancing (and few masks). It seems many young people just can’t be bothered anymore.

Needless to say, I didn’t hang around. At Victoria I was presented with another problem. None of the ticket machines were working so I couldn’t collect my super-cheap advance fare ticket. Fortunately there were no queues at the ticket window and the chap on duty printed it off for me.

The station was quiet, any rush-hour was long past and the day was cooling down, so waiting was rather pleasant and a chance to indulge in a spot of people watching. One elderly be chained bloke with head tattoos rather than hair (and no mask) accompanied by his mate who resembled a living weeble was trying to impress a young cleaner. His invasion of her personal space would have been unacceptable pre-covid. For some bizarre reason (fear? Embarrassment?) she put up with it. I made sure I got in a different carriage to the pair of them…

22:36.

I’m bringing this rolling blog to a close. I’m home, all my clothes are in the wash as a precaution, I’m showered – and now it’s time to relax. I’ll add one final picture. This was the old Wolverhampton main station building.

Right, goodnight folks!

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Railrover day 7 and picture of the day….

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Phew! Mission accomplished! I finished my trip on my 80th train – the 21.22 West Midlands service from Wolverhampton to Birmingham New St. It’s an odd train to end on you may think, but it gives me the opportunity to write about the redevelopment of Wolverhampton station and end the trilogy of articles on an optimistic note. Today I’ve covered railways old and new, from heritage stations and Victorian signalling to the very latest rail developments with new trains, new stations and also our new high-speed railway – HS2.

I’m now tucked up in my hotel, although Birmingham city centre feels a lot safer than the mad scenes I saw in Cardiff last night.

Tomorrow I’ll have a bimble around the West Midlands for myself, looking at a few developments here before heading home later in the day. Then, when I get back it’s very much ‘nose to the grindstone’ to start writing up my experiences.

In the meantime, here’s the picture of the day. I don’t normally do ‘selfies’, but on this occasion…This is me on my final train of what’s really been a completely unique trip…

The next time (If RAIL still want me to) do this trip will be in 2022, which would be my tenth time since we started the series in 2004. So much has changed on the railways since then. I wonder how much will have changed in the next two years?

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Railrover day 6 and picture of the day…

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Apologies for the lack of an update yesterday. Not only was it a busy day, the evening was too as I managed to (responsibly) catch up with some old friends whilst I was in Cornwall, which was lovely after so many months of being confined to West Yorkshire. Something had to give – and that was blogging.

I’ve moved on yet again. After a night in London and a morning touring some of the main stations and commuter routes into the city I headed out from London Waterloo via Clapham Junction and Basingstoke to reach Reading, where I caught a train to take me to Truro. It was the longest continuous journey of the trip, and also instructive – as were my other little hops around the area before I ended up in Par.

Today I travelled from Par up to Bristol, then crossed over the border (via the Severn tunnel) into Wales. After dumping my bags at my hotel in Cardiff I headed out to explore some of the Valley lines then take a trip down to Barry Island. It’s a place some of you will know because it was featured in the hit TV show ‘Gavin and Stacey’. I last went there on a rail excursion way back in 1974, when Dai Woodham’s scrapyard still contained over 150 rusting steam engines. Today was the first time I’ve been back and I didn’t recognise a thing as the area’s changed so much – and not all for the better.

‘Tidy’? No, I don’t think so…

You’ll be able to read the full story in RAIL magazine next month.

What I can tell you about was getting back into Cardiff city centre. I was desperate to find something to eat, but to be honest, the place was a nightmare. The centre was packed with groups of lads and gaggles of girls, all intent on having a good time, which meant that many of them were pissed as farts as early as 8pm. Social distancing and respect for others was out of the window so I ended up walking around with my mask on as a precaution. Having found a quick fix noodle bar I had a lovely spicy hot meal then got the hell out of there. I’ve been back at the hotel since 9pm and this was where I was determined to stay!

Tomorrow is my final day of the Rover. My plan is to visit Worcester before heading back into London via Paddington, then travelling up the Chiltern main line to pitch up in Birmingham tomorrow night, where my RAIL trip will end. On Monday I’ll travel home under my own steam (as it were) for some quality time at home before beginning to convert my experiences into 12,000 words (over three articles) for RAIL. Oh, and all the other stuff I’ve not been able to do whilst I’ve been away!

Meanwhile, here’s the picture of the day. This was Bristol Temple Meads station this afternoon as many young people flocked into the city centre. I couldn’t help but observe that by wearing face masks some of these young ladies probably increased the amount of cloth they were wearing by 10-15%…

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Railrover day 4 and picture of the day…

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It’s 22.30 and I’m knackered! I’ve been up since 04:00 and I’ve covered a hell of a lot of ground. Right now I’m relaxing in my hotel in London before finally getting some kip before another busy day tomorrow. Today I visited Sheffield, Leicester, Kettering, Corby, London (1st time), Cambridge, Ely, Norwich, Lowestoft, Ipswich – and then back to London. There’s lots of stories to relate, but they’ll have to wait for my articles in RAIL magazine. What I will say is that the impact of Covid on the UK’s railways really does vary – and it’s changing all the time now. If I did this same trip in a month I’ll bet things would look very different.

What’s been great to see is how the train companies are doing their very best to make travel safe for people – and how most passengers are playing their part too. Despite the number of trains I’ve been on I can’t say there’s a single one where I’ve felt unsafe.

So, before I finally fall comatose, here’s the picture of the day, which was taken at Ipswich earlier and sums up the essence of rail travel right now.

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Railrover day 3 and picture of the day…

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It’s been a very busy day since I left Newcastle this morning. I’ve visited many of the North’s major cities and seen first-hand the effect Covid-19 is having on people’s lives as I’ve visited York, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool before ending up back at home for a night in order to pick up some clean clothes. Hopefully, people will find my experiences and interesting read in RAIL magazine next month. There’s certainly been plenty to write about!

Right now I’m going to call it a day as I have to be on my first train at 05:39 in the morning, so It’s time for bed. But before I go – here’s the picture of the day, which was taken at York station at this morning. The tourists are missing – and so’s everyone else…

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Rail Rover day 2 – and picture of the day…

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Today’s been a fascinating one that’s taken me across a lot of lowland Scotland, from Kilmarnock to Girvan, to Stranraer, to Ayr and on to Glasgow before heading across to Edinburgh where I had a short time meeting up with an old friend. Times being what they are it’s not as if the pair of us could even go for a pint somewhere. Instead we stood chatting on the footbridge at Edinburgh Waverley station whilst putting the world to rights and watching the world go by. Not that much of the world was going by, well, not in comparison to pre Covid days. In fact, the station was still quiet – but then Scotland’s been stricter than England when it comes to trying to control Covid.

You’ll be able to read about all my adventures in future editions of RAIL magazine, but I can spill a couple of stories. If you ever need to socially Isolate, I know the perfect place, which is the picture of the day – and I never thought I’d end up saying that!…

Stranraer Harbour station. One slight problem – the last ferry left in 2011 and the stations nowhere near the town…

Sadly, I’ve had to say goodbye to Scotland as I’ve the whole of the country to criss-cross in the next five days. I’d loved to have stayed longer, but here’s where I am tonight. The railways built some brilliant station hotels. Some of them (including one I visited earlier today) have fallen on hard times. Mine’s come back from that era…

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Rail Rover day 1 – and picture of the day…

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Wow! It’s only the first day and it’s already proving to be a fascinating trip! I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail but I’m already going to venture a couple of guesses. One is that passenger numbers are going to show quite an increase in the next set of stats if my experiences are anything to go by. Now that schools and colleges are back and the rail companies are running 90% of normal services passengers are returning. I’m not the only one to notice this either. I was amazed how busy some Trans-Pennine Express and Northern services have been today. That said, some stations (like Preston) resemble ghost towns because all the retail units are closed. Of course, quite a few of the retail staff will commute to work by train…

The only thing that put a damper on the day has been the weather, which has been bloody awful! I ventured up the scenic Cumbrian coast earlier but many of its charms were hidden in the murk!

I’m currently back at Lancaster in between trains, so I’ll update this from my Avanti West Coast service to Carlisle shortly…

19:38.

I’ve now crossed over the border into civilisation, making my way up the old Glasgow and South-Western Railway line to Kilmarnock via Dumfries. Sadly, the weather this side of the border’s no better. It’s akin to a post nuclear holocaust half-light and lousy for photography – especially when you’re on the move and don’t have time to play around with camera settings.

Even so, I’m happy with what I’ve seen and done so far, which makes me think my RAIL articles will be worth reading. The only think I’m missing is the interaction with people – like the train-crews, which just isn’t possible right now. Still, we’ll see how it goes. Anyways, here’s the picture of the day…

This historic plaque is on Preston station, where it marks a step-change on the railways. One that some people feel nostalgic for but one that had to happen – even if you can argue about the timing and management of it!

21:32.

I’m currently wandering around the centre of Kilmarnock, in search of sustenance. I fear I nay be disappointed as the whole town appears to be closed. Thank God for my wonderful other half! Dawn made me some pork rolls to bring with me and they’ve kept me going as all the catering outlets on the stations I’ve visited are all closed. Luckily, I picked up some cereal bars earlier – and I’ve a breakfast booked at my lovely B&B, so that might have to suffice…

Oh, by the way, the lighting under the railway arches is probably the coolest thing about Kilmarnock right now.

6th September picture of the day…

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My last day at home for some time’s been occupied with prepping for my round Britain trip and having quality time with Dawn. The pair of us were trying to work out just how many nights away I might have had this year and neither of us can think of any! We didn’t have our usual winter holiday, all my jobs were day trips and the only trip we had planned (a few days in Berlin with friends) was cancelled due to Covid. So, this is my ‘big escape’ – which is really weird and totally unique! My packing list reflects this. Once upon a time it’d be focused on the electronics that I need for work, plus track atlases and timetables. Now it has masks and hand sanitisers high up on the list.

To say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement. I’ve never had my wings so clipped before. I’ll blog when I can and each day the picture of the day will be of somewhere from my next 8 days of travelling. I won’t be doing any rolling blogs as my writing’s commissioned by RAIL magazine and you’ll be able to read about my trip in three editions starting in October. Even so, I’ll try and give you a few teasers…

Meanwhile, here’s the last old picture of the day – which isn’t something I’ll be seeing on this trip! This is the amazing Buddhist temple at Borobudur, in Java, Indonesia. I took this photo in November 1998.

In the background is one of the many active volcanos that dominate this part of the world. Although Indonesia is now the worlds most populous Muslim country it has a rich history of religions and religious sites. Borobudur is just one of the most spectacular.

I’m looking forward to 2021 when I’m determined to het out to Indonesia again. In the meantime – I hope you enjoy my next week’s meanderings. If you’re on Twitter you’ll be able to find regular updates by following me at @PaulMBigland….

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5th September picture of the day…

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It’s been an odd day. So many things I wanted to get done never happened whilst others did. Hey ho…

On the bright side I’m almost packed and prepared for the start of my round Britain trip on Monday – I even know where I’m going now, mostly, ish… The struggle of these trips is that when you’re planning to visit odd locations they’re fixed events. You can’t just pitch up on the next train, so the rest of the timetable has to be written around them – as you’ll see next week! Obviously I can’t go into the level of detail that I will in the magazine articles but I hope to pique your interest. I can certainly blog about my experiences that won’t form part of the three articles anyway – such as my impressions of the various towns I’ll be staying in, such as Kilmarnock, which I’ve only ever passed through. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever left the station before!

That said, here’s today’s picture from a place I have explored in the past. This is a view across Lake Hawea on the South Island, New Zealand, which I took on the 18th January 2019.

As much as I love living in the Pennines…

Covid and having my wings clipped is really starting to get to me. I miss the opportunity to travel so I’m really looking forward to next week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep readers of this blog entertained as I wend my way around the UK…

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