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Let the judging begin…

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I’ve actually had a weekend off. Well, sort of – ish…

My movements have been confined to within a few miles from home, the furthest I’ve travelled was yesterday when Dawn and I cycled along the Salter & Hebble navigation (aka ‘the canal’) to nearby Brighouse for a bit of exercise, a mooch around and a chance to slake our thirsts on what was yet another amazing summer day. Although I’ve visited Brighouse numerous times I’d never stumbled across the Market Tavern which is a small modern, single story building located in (yes, you’ve guessed it) Brighouse’s market. It’s a well run, friendly little pub with 6 real ales on. I wouldn’t have given it a second glance if I hadn’t spotted all the beer pump clips adorning the walls through a doorway.

Afterwards we cycled back in time to catch England’s World Cup match against Sweden in a pub closer to home. It’s not something I’d normally do but Dawn’s a bit of a football fan – and one time Arsenal season ticket holder, so I went along for the ride as it were. The pub was packed but what struck me was the number of people who were using the match as an excuse for a piss-up. When you see folk doing shots at 3-4 in the afternoon you just know it’s going to get messy! That said, it was a good result for England.

Today’s been more sedentary. Well, for me anyway. Dawn was our running this morning whilst I spent the time catching up on picture editing to get some of last weeks haul of pictures onto my Zenfolio website. If you follow this link, you can see which galleries have been updated. This afternoon we had time for a pleasant stroll along the canal into Sowerby Bridge and time to enjoy the sun, the papers and a quiet drink in the newly extended beer garden at Williams Bar before a quiet night at home.

Needless to say, with weather like this salads are very much the food of choice…

Tomorrow I begin my travels to visit 24 stations around the country in my role as a judge for the annual ACoRP community rail awards. It’s going to be a busy few weeks, so watch this space!

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My brain hurts!

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After a few days chasing up and down the country getting scenic rail shots my wings have been clipped today. I’ve spent it working from the ACoRP office in Huddersfield as the tempo changes next week and my fellow judge and I begin the ‘grand tour’ of the 24 UK railway stations which have been shortlisted for visits in this years ACoRP awards.

The logistics of it make my brain hurt. This year there’s a few wild-cards to add to the mix due to continued industrial action, temporary timetables and the fact we’re having the longest bout of sunny weather that I can remember donkey’s years! On the bright side, some of those station floral displays should look fabulous!

Expect a few ‘rolling blogs’ as Paul Cook and I tour the network over the next few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a shot that I took on the Windermere branch yesterday now Northern Rail have resumed services.

DG301642. 153304. 156440. Staveley. 5.7.18

After the excitement of West Cost Railways operating loco-hauled trains the service has become a little more mundane. Not that ordinary passengers care as a train with wide sliding doors is easier to negotiate with luggage than heavy slam doors on old coaches. Compare that with this…

DG300787. WCR service. Kendal. 25.6.18

Have a good weekend everybody! now I’m off for one of these…

Rolling (ish) blog: Westmoreland wanderings

There’s a very slow rolling blog today. Not because I’m sat at home (far from it) but by the time I realised that I’d left my mobile phone on charge at home it was far too late to go back and get it! So, I’m enjoying a phone free existence today, which is quite liberating. It meant that when I caught the train from Sowerby Bridge to Preston I had time for window-gazing – rather than dealing with emails or keeping abreast of the news (or Twitter)! The line via the Calder valley and Copy Pit to Blackburn really is rather beautiful, but I do it so often I tend to take it for granted.
Not today.
Today I remembered to look and appreciate just how much the landscape’s changed in the past 100 years. The name Copy Pit will be meaningless to most people. To railway people it’s synonymous with coal trains and banking engines (engines that would literally help push a heavy train from behind to assist it up a gradient). Of course, now all this has gone. The sights and sounds have disappeared, and the line is quite rural. There’s barely a freight train a day rather than the succession of coal trains there used to be. Coal is no longer king.
What hasn’t changed is the destination of many of the passengers: Blackpool.

Rolling blog: Wednesday wanderings

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After a rare day at home I’m on the move again. This time I’m off to explore (in detail) the railway from Bidston to Wrexham. I’ve traversed it several times but never stopped off anywhere on the route. Today I’ll be putting that right, so expect some notes and pictures.

Right now I’m crossing the Pennines on the beautiful Calder Valley route. The skies are picture perfect again, clear blue with just a wisp of cloud here and there. I honestly can’t remember when we’ve had so many days of unbroken sunshine. They bring back memories of childhood, when your mind remembers every day like that!

Stopping to change trains at Manchester Victoria I was stuck by how many ex-GWR diesel units were working services. Here’s 153305 (in a neutral white livery) with much-travelled 150129 (ex-Centro, ex-Silverlink, ex-GWR).

My onward train to Liverpool was another recent addition to the Northern fleet as it was an ex-Thameslink Class 319 electric. These 4 car 100 mph have made a huge difference to services as they’ve replaced 2-car Class 156 diesels. Despite the doubling in capacity, my train is 85% full! By the time we reached Rainhill even the vestibules were rammed.

On arrival at Lime St we pulled into one of only two working platforms as the station’s in the middle of an extensive rebuilding programme which will see platforms extended, extra ones added and the track layout modernised and resignalled.

I always laugh when I see work like this and remember Hs2 antis perennial refrain “invest in the existing network instead”. If they could be bothered to get out of their armchairs to take a look around the UK network they’d know we’re doing exactly that. The problem is, it soaks up what little capacity we have left on our existing main lines, leaving nothing for the future. Here’s how Lime St is looking right now.

Moving on by Merseyrail I crossed under the river and emerged into the daylight at Birkenhead before arriving at Bidston, a small Island platform station which is the junction for the Borderlands line to Wrexham. I’m old enough to remember when this service ran as far as Birkenhead, before it was cut back to Bidston. In those days the area was busy with freight. Iron ore was imported through the docks and moved to Shotton steelworks by rail. The infrastructure’s all long gone now. Instead, an hourly passenger service run by Arriva Trains Wales is the sole survivor.

For many years the line was worked by single car Class 153s. Nowadays 2 car Class 150s are the norm.

My first stop on the service was Shotton, where I came to photograph what’s become the symbol of the line – the triple span bridge over the River Dee.

The bridge is only a short walk from the stations. Yep, Shotton’s graced with both high level and low level! The low level station’s fairly recent. Built on the former Chester to Holyhead railway, the platforms are on what was the slow lines when this was a four-track railway.

Shotton is an odd little place. It owes its existance to the nearby steelworks established by John Summers (and now owned by Tata). At its height it employed 13,200 people. Now it’s around a 1000. The towns fortunes reflect that of the steelworks. My first memories of the place are from the early 1970s when I’d encourage my dad to take this route on the way to family holidays with relatives on Anglesey as it followed the railway, allowing me to try and see the trains. Sometimes my parents and sisters would humour me – other times not.

Now this bastion of heavy industry is a shadow of it’s former self (like many UK locations). I’m always truck by this when I travel across Germany, a country which still possess these places. Shooton seems to rely on the pensioned-off (hence the size of the towns Wetherspoons) and also the nearby Airbus aircraft plant at Broughton – which is under threat from Brexit. It’s deeply ironic to think tbat nostalgia for the past and heavy industries is putting the future of towns like Shotton at risk.

20:30

I’m now back in the bosom of West Yorkshire, heading home on the Calder Valley line again. I managed to get the scenic shots on the Borderlands that I needed but the further South I went towards Wrexham, the more the clouds started to creep in. Here’s an example, taken just outside Cefyn-y-Bedd station which can be seen in the background.

DG301529

Having the shots in the can I made my way back to Shotton low level to catch a train to Chester which is only 15 minutes away. This gave me time to get a few shots at yet another boyhood haunt before catching a direct train to Manchester. I’m not sure if these are the regular units on the service but I have to say a two car Class 150 is less than ideal – even if they have been refurbished to a high standard.

DG301589

Tomorrow I’m off again, so I’ll draw this blog to a close.

Rolling blog: Monday moves.

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After a weekend at home I’m on the move again, heading for London on a packed Grand Central service from Halifax. Even First Class is full. The success of this service proves the people who claim fast trains to London suck people and money to London (such as Hs2 antis) wrong. First class is full of Yorkshire based businessmen who’re going down to London to do business. The money they earn will be repatriated to where their companies are based and they live: Yorkshire, not London. The train crew are the same. They’re all from Yorkshire too! Grand Central as a company has its head office in York. So far from sucking money and talent to London, the opposite is true – this is a pipeline pumping money North…

As my meetings in London aren’t till later I’ve deviated today and stopped off at the restored Wakefield Kirkgate station. Who would’ve thought a place I once dubbed tbe UK’s worst station would one day sport a cafe and a First Class lounge (thanks to Grand Central)?

11:32. Having taken the ‘scenic route’ via Sheffield and the Midland Main Line I’m now speeding towards Luton on mh way to the capital. I’ve been joined by two members of London Underground staff commuting into work. One from Kettering and the other Bedford! That’s quite a distance to come to work on the tube, but it does say something about how unaffordable housing in the capital has become.

22:14.

Sorry folks, today’s rolling blog’s been pretty thin gruel. I’ve been busy with meetings and trying to sort out pictures for a mag so I’ve really not had the time to post anything. I’ll try and do better tomorrow as I’ll be on the move again…

July? Already?

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Where’s the time going? Despite the very rapid passage of time we’ve had a lovely weekend at home. Saturday was taken up with a cooking marathon as Dawn and I had volunteered to prepare a variety of Thai dishes to take round to a friends house where a small group of us would have a convivial 3- course evening. Dawn cooked a Green curry with chicken, a Thai beef salad and a salmon red curry. I prepared a ‘jungle’ curry and stir-fried morning glory. Our fellow diners provided the starters and puddings.

Enjoying a great range of home-cooked Thai dishes with friends.

As the run of superb weather’s continued Dawn and I went for a stroll across the Calder Valley and on up to the Moorcock Inn where we enjoyed soaking up the sun in the pub beer garden before walking back down into Sowerby Bridge for a last drink before heading home.

Looking down on Sowerby Bridge from one of the footpaths leading to the Moorcock Inn at Norand

According to my ‘Fitbit’ it’s been an easy day, I’ve only covered 20,300 steps (9.43 miles). That’ll change tomorrow as I’m back on the rails again and heading to London first thing. So, expect a wide variety of pictures this next week…

 

A picture update

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Anyone who’s been following my blog this week will know that I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and taken a huge variety of pictures. There’s far too many to add them all to my blogs but I have been busy adding them to my Zenfolio picture website. If you’d like to have a look, simply follow this link which will take you straight to the galleries the pictures have been divided between. It’s not all railways either as there’s quite a few travel pictures too. I’ll be adding a lot more over the next couple of day, so feel free to keep popping back!

Cheers,

Paul

Judgement day.

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Today’s been another busy day but one where I’ve remained mostly static! I’ve been at the ACoRP office in Huddersfield judging tbe shortlist for the annual ACoRP awards photographic competition along with fellow judges Paul Abell (ex Editor of Today’s Railways) and Nik Slocombe of ACoRP. It’s been a tough morning as we whittled down some excellent entries to a shortlist of just 10. The standard’s been very high this year, which means we’ve got a fantastic shortlist, but some pictures that would normally be a shoo-in had to be rejected. The shortlisted pictures will be put on SurveyMonkey on Monday for people to vote on. I’ll add a link when I have it.

Afterwards I put my other judges hat on and sifted the entries for the ‘It’s your station’ category of the awards. Now the hard work begins as Paul Cook and I have 25 stations up and down the land to visit and interview the groups involved. What’s lovely to see is we’ve a mix of long-standing groups, some returnees – and some who’ve never entered before. Groups who’ve been shortlisted will start hearing from me over the weekend as I arrange the schedule of visits.

Now it’s time to take a break and enjoy the sunshine outside ACoRP towers!

DG138747. ACoRP Office. Huddersfield. 17.2.13.

Rolling blog: Here we go again…

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Another day, another train! This morning I’m off to Shrewsbury to do a job for RAIL magazine. We’re visiting the largest mechanical signalbox on the UK, which I’m rather looking forward to!

Right now I’m heading across the Pennines via the Colne valley from Huddersfield rather than my usual route. I’ve not been this way since the timetable change, so it seems odd being on a TPE 185 that’s stopping at Marsden and Greenfield! One thing I did notice was how Network Rail have been busy clearing trees and bushes from the lineside. The work’s opened up new vistas on this scenic line.

As is often the case the Standedge tunnel doesn’t just seperate Yorkshire from Lancashire, it was the border between weather patterns too. High cloud and haze that was a feature in white rose territory gave way to clear blue sky in red rose land!

Shrewsbury. 10:57.

My time in Manchester was brief. I was there long enough to swap trains and head off again, this time with Arriva Trains Wales on one of their Alstom built Class 175s. For passenger comfort they’re hard to beat. The service was busy at first but only as far as Wilmslow, which was a bit of a surprise. I’d bagged a bay of 4 seats with a table so that I could catch up on editing some of the pictures I’ve taken over the past few days (expect a load to appear on my website over the weekend). In fact I was so engrossed Shrewsbury arrived in a blur! Now I’m swilling coffee in the station’s Starbucks, waiting for Paul Stephen from RAIL to arrive.

Shrewsbury’s a stunning station…

Now, if you’ve never been to Shrewsbury and you’re unfamiliar with Severn Bridge Junction signalbox, here it is in the background.

DG275706. 158824. Shrewsbury. 1.7.17

18:47. Recrossing the Pennines.

I’ve had a fasinating day thanks to Network Rail staff who gave Paul and I a brilliant tour of the largest mechanical signalbox left in the UK. You’ll be able to read all about it in a future edition of RAIL. Today was an ideal time to visit as the weather was perfect. It’s a heck of a vantage point being that high above the station triangle.

Was was less than ideal was the weather’s impact on my journey home. Speed restrictions were placed on several lines to to the danger of excessive heat buckling rails, so I had several nail-bitingly tight connections which left me missing my final one by a couple of minutes. Luckily, there’s more services in the new timetable so I’ll only be 17 mins adrift by the time I get home. I’m heading back on an old friend, 150120. This unit used to be one of the Silverlink fleet which worked my local line in London – the Gospel Oak to Barking. When the Class 172s arrived it transferred to First Great Western. Now it’s been cascaded to Northern!

Home. 22.14

It’s been a long day and I’ve got to start wearing another hat as an ACoRP awards judge tomorrow, so I thought I’d leave you with this picture. Ever wondered what the view might be like from Severn Bridge Junction signalbox? Here it is! Thanks to Paul Stephen for taking the picture.

DG301324

Rolling blog: Let’s do the time-warp again!

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Staying in ‘Skeggy’ feels very much like a time-warp! I’ve just nipped down for breakfast before heading out. My attendance lowered the overall age of the rooms occupants by a couple of years at least! Whilst folk ate breakfast a medley of 1940-50s tunes played softly in the background. Two elderly couples sat opposite me were obviously regulars here. They were discussing how the hotel’s previous owners had gone bankrupt and stripped the place before they went “there wasn’t a lightbulb left” said one woman. I can imagine profit margins aren’t high here in Skegness, which makes the areas decision to vote Leave in the Brexit vote even more suicidal. It’s increased costs and made the place less attractive to foreign workers who’re the lifeblood of the hospitality trade. Last night the young English woman serving behind the bar was also changing barrels, sorting out the tech for the bingo caller and acting as receptionist. Talk about multi-tasking! Add in the fact that the majority of the folk staying in this hotel won’t be around in another 10 years and you don’t need to be a rocket-scientist to do the maths. This town is going to be in trouble…

Right now I’m off to have a quick look around before heading off to photograph the local rail line. I’ll update this blog as I go. As this will be done via my mobile phone, please forgive any typo’s – it’s not always easy to spot them when I’m on the move!

9:24.

As you can see the town’s a hive of activity…

Wandering around and looking at all the tourist tat shops, cheap clothing stores and vaping shops I’m struck by how much the town’s reliant on cheap imports. How will they survive (never mind thrive) in a post Brexit tarriff barrier world? One other thing that strikes me as I wonder round is the fact most visitors are elderly. It reminds me of the old Colin Compton joke about Morecambe. “They don’t bury the dead, they just stand ’em up in the bus shelters”. You don’t need cycle parking here, you need spaces reserved for these.

As I had an hour to kill before catching my train I went and had a (much needed) haircut in a unisex hairdressers. The pkace was festooned with England flags in celebration of the world cup. On the TV Jeremy Kyle was interviewing a heavily tattooed young woman. Mercifully, the sound was turned so low I couldn’t hear proceedings. The young lady who cut my hair was lovely. She chatted about the forthcoming England match but what struck me was she was barely articulate, filling much of her sentences with so many ‘you knows’, ‘likes’ and other superflous and meaningless words that she often lost herself – never mind me!

Boston. 11:33.

I’ve move on to get a few pictures around the town of Bostonwhere I’ve found a lovely metaphor for Brexit. Boston had the highest leave vote of any town in the UK at 75%. I’ve just spotted this pub by the Grand Sluice…

This is the first time I’ve visited Boston and (despite it voting the way it did) I found it an attractive little town with a huge marketplace in the shadow of its magnificent church.

DG301006

 

DG301020. Boston. 27.6.18

If I was to come this way again I’d far rather stay here then Skeggy as the historic buildings and narrow streets are great for photography. The market was in full swing when I passed through. One thing I did notice was the number of folk speaking the Slavic languages, plus the number of small shops selling food from Eastern Europe. I’ve little doubt this is what will have propelled the Brexit vote here, but the thought also occurred that – OK, if all these people left overnight, there’d be a huge amount of empty shops, rented flats and a very large hole in the economy. Who’d step into the breach – all those folks on mobility scooters in Skeggy?

Hubberts Bridge. 14.52.

I’m writing this from a little place called Hubberts Bridge. I came here to get scenic rail shots (as you’ll see later). The only problem is that the station only sees four trains a day, so I walked here from Boston! It’s only 3.5 miles, which is great exercise when you’re carrying a 13kg camera bag. The walk was lovely because once you’re out of Boston the route’s along a footpath on the side of the South forty foot drain, which is effectively a river teeming with birdlife. The railway runs aalong the opposite bank which makes it an ideal photographic location. I’ve certainly worked in worse places!

As you can see, it’s another red hot day – and I’m beginning to wonder if having a No1 haircut before I set off this morning was such a clever idea! At least Hubberts Bridge has a pub with shade. Handily enough it’s the other side of the river from the railway station and the next train’s not until 15:50. I may have to indulge…

Hubberts Bridge. 15:32.

Well I did have chance for a pint at the Wheatsheaf, but only one as they closed after lunch but as I was sat outside they never bothered telling me! It was only when I went to use the loo I found the door locked and all the lights out! Now I’m waiting on the station for my train. I can see why the service is so sparse, Apart from the pub, the bridge and a few scattered homes, there’s bugger all here!

The signalbox survives as the old wooden gates are hand operated and this is where the line becomes double track as far as Heckington to the West.

16:24.

I’m now homeward bound on an “all shacks” EMT service to Nottingham after escaping the clutches of East Lincolnshire. The weather’s still absolutely stunning and I’ve a feeling this will prove to be the hottest day of the year so far. I’m certainly glad of the chance to give my skin some respite!

17:43.

I’m taking the ‘scenic’ route home in an effort to make the most of the great weather. After a brief stop in Nottingham (where the light wasn’t really right) I’m now on a Cross-Country service heading for Derby. I rather like their Class 170s. They’re getting a little tired inside now but they’re comfortable units and the air-conditioning is welcome change from the forced air ventilation and hopper windows of the EMT 156 that brought me from Hubberts Bridge. So much so that I’ve had to put my jacket on. There’s also such luxuries as wifi – and a trolley service. My fellow passengers are a little different too. There’s far fewer folk competing to see who can get onset diabetes first. Oh, and the crap tattoo quotient’s taken a tumble too…

18:23.

On the move again after a quick mooch around Derby station where the new island platform’s really taking shape. There’s also a massive new signal gantry straddling all the tracks at the South end. Network Rail have obviously designed it so that it can cope with overhead wires, the question is – will it ever see them?

DG301109

I’m now on a 4-car Cross-Country Voyager heading for Sheffield, taking advantage of the power sockets to keep my mobile charger topped up. Voyagers come in for a lot of stick from some railway enthusiasts but I don’t mind them at all. My only comolaint would be the 4-cars are far too small for today’s growing railway. Whilst removing the shop has helped a little I’d love to see a re-let XC franchise get bigger trains & see Voyagers cascaded to other routes.

19:27

Fortuitously, my XC service deposited me on platform 1B at Sheffield – right outside one of the finest station bars in the country – the Sheffield Tap. It would have been rude not to, so as I had 35 mins to wait for my connection (off the same platform) I decided to spend some ‘dwell time’ in the tap and enjoy one of Thornbridge’s excellent beers. If you’ve never visited, you really should!

Now I’m on another XC Voyager heading for Leeds and the final leg home…