Friday 19 April 2013

41: A Whole Weeks Wandering

A warm welcome again to the Railwaymedia blog, edition number 41 which will be a bit of a long one as it covers a Whole Week Wandering around Britain. Well, that's not strictly true as I didn't actually visit either Wales or Scotland (or of course Northern Ireland), but I got round a fair bit of England. With the rest of the family away, I had decided to do my first All Line Rover. The full price for a 7 day Standard Class ticket is £464 which, considering you can pretty much travel where and when you want I don't suppose is too bad. Fortunately though the staff version is a quarter of that so even more reasonable! First Class and 14 Day are also available (see HERE).
The plan for the week was not to do as much travelling as possible, as such, but to try to cover areas and lines I either hadn't done before or that are comparatively difficult to get to. One such is the East Coast Main Line between Doncaster and Peterborough. I started off  late Saturday morning as I had to see the family off and decided to head over to Leeds and thence down to Peterborough. The last time I was on Peterborough station I was probably about 8 years old and I remember that my dad and myself were told that trainspotting wasn't allowed. That doesn't appear to be a problem now, as indeed it wasn't anywhere I visited all week. A few years ago many people were getting needless hassle from staff but fortunately this phenomenon seems to have gone now.
My other aim for the week, as regular readers might have guessed, was also to do the Wetherspoons in the areas I visited. With that in mind I decided to work my way back north up the ECML stopping off at each town. I was foiled with the Grantham branch due to a points failure leaving me with no time to walk into the town; I had already worked out thanks to some information received that I needed to be at Newark at a certain time for the passing of the Skyfall set BN29.
I would have preferred a more side on shot, and preferably the loco on the front, but I was pleased to at least capture it in sun. Oddly I didn't see any of the other East Coast special liveried 91s despite quite a bit of time spent during the day on the route. The rest of the evening was spent heading slowly back via Doncaster and Leeds. Total miles covered on the first day was 346.
Sunday again wasn't too early a start but I did catch the first train out of Preston to Manchester and thence on a Trans Pennine 185 that was running to Edinburgh via Newcastle due to engineering works on the West Coast. I hadn't got any firm plans in where to get off but ended up at Durham. Again if I have visited Durham station and town then it is many years ago.
There then started the first of my excursions by bus, all in the pursuit of 'Spoons. Chester-Le-Street only has a two hourly train service during the day so I jumped a bus for the 15 minutes ride there and then the train back to Darlington. It was only whilst researching bus times for that that I realised there was a Wetherspoons in the town of Crook, somewhere I admit I had never heard of before, but is situated about 10 miles west of Bishop Auckland. As I needed to do the branch to there I hatched a plan involving doubling back yet again to Durham for a bus to Crook (via the oddly named village of Pity Me) and thence another bus to Bishop Auckland. Both these towns are lovely places and their town centres I would never normally get to see if it was not for visiting the pubs there.
I was tempted to get off at Shildon on the way back down on the train due to the semaphores and signal box (the museum was closed by this time of day) but the sparse service on the branch on a Sunday prevented that. Instead I stayed on to Thornaby in order to visit nearby Stockton. Thornaby station used to be a regular trainspotting haunt in times gone by as it was a major centre for watching freight trains at the nearby Yard. To say the area is now run down would be an understatement. Total mileage (by train) for Sunday was slightly more than Saturday at 352.5.
Monday was the start of one of my two long trips of the week and a very early start was made for a trip to Cornwall. Theoretically All Line Rovers aren't valid for boarding and alighting Cross Country trains at Birmingham New Street before 1000. With hardly any of their trains actually starting at New Street then this is really an unenforceable rule and I had no problem using my ticket. 189 miles on a Voyager brought me to a quick stop off in Newton Abbot. I could have alighted at Bristol for the following Great Western HST but Newton Abbot gave me more time for a quick pint and a couple of pictures. The class 143s started their life in the North-East, then moved to Wales and have now migrated west to Devon. Only Cornwall left for them to move to before the sea.
Despite the HST running half an hour late I still had time in Truro for another quick pint before I made an excursion well off the railway network to visit the Wetherspoons in Perranporth on the coast about 10 miles west of Newquay. There are fairly regular buses between Truro and Newquay which are quite useful as they save you having to retrace your steps to Par if you want to do the Newquay branch. Perranporth was a lovely little village, Newquay was quiet too as it was off season, but I think I would avoid it at all costs in summer when all the teenagers descend for the surfing.
With a hotel booked in Plymouth it was simply a case of catching the train down to Par for the connection east on the last Penzance to Paddington train of the day. I was quite impressed with Plymouth as a city, one of many places I have only ever before seen from the train or station. The Jury's Inn Hotel is right in the centre and is very good value if booked in advance. Unfortunately with a late night and early start to come it was simply somewhere to crash out for the night on this occasion. Total distance travelled by train on Monday came to exactly 444 miles.
So after a few night time beers in Plymouth, it was an early start for the 0628 Voyager west and a day spent finishing off the other Cornish Branches I had not done before. Looe I had done in 2006, so I was left with Falmouth and St Ives, both of which conveniently had a Wetherspoons to visit. This caused a minor problem at Falmouth though in that to go there I couldn't make my connection to Camborne back at Truro, so again a bus was caught. With that fare alone costing almost £6, I probably came close through the week to matching the price of my All Line Rover just in taxi fares to the station and various bus fares! After breakfast in Falmouth and a quick pint in Camborne I ended up at St Erth station for the short 30 minute frequency branch round the headland to St Ives.
I was rather surprised when a pair of class 150s turned up for the handful of people waiting. What I didn't realise is how many people board at the next station, Lelant Saltings, which is marketed as a Park and Ride station for St Ives. It was quite amusing seeing this little halt by the estuary thronged with passengers. The train only has about 2 minutes at each end of the line so the branch is very labour intensive as it appears to be worked by 2 drivers (one at each end), 2 guards (one in each unit) and also bloke at the terminus to sell any tickets the other staff have missed.
30 minutes was enough time to spend in this nice, but rather busy, town. Like Newquay it must be horrendous in the summer school holidays. Whilst I had done the line to Penzance years ago, I needed one of my last Cornish Wetherspoons that was located there. I had planned a leisurely lunch before getting an HST back home but seeing one of Great Westerns Class 57s parked at Long Rock I made the (very long) walk out to it. It wasn't parked as conveniently for pictures as I had thought from the train, but it is the first of their nocturnal engines I have managed to photograph.
The original plan was to do the HST all the way from Penzance to Paddington and then the last train to Preston out of Euston. I decided though that 5 and a bit hours might be too long on one train, also I could then stop off in St Austell for an hour and still make the Voyager at Plymouth that would connect for a train home at Tamworth. A slight change occurred when we pulled into Plymouth alongside a fairly empty HST that was just about to leave. I had a pleasant trip through Devon on it and, had I had a few more cans of beer and could trust Great Western and London Underground more, I might have risked going via London with just 25 minutes to negotiate the Hammersmith and City Line. Prudence prevailed, though checking up later I think I would have just made it! I stopped off in Taunton for a few more provisions, total mileage for Tuesday being 504.
After a marathon four days, especially the previous two, my body was telling me to have a short day on Wednesday so I didn't leave Preston until almost 0900. I worked my way to another route I don't cover too often, namely the Midland Main Line. I worked my way south stopping off in Chesterfield, Market Harborough, Kettering and Wellingborough before ending in Bedford. It was a bit more relaxed as I generally had an hour in each place to have a pint and get a photograph or two. Market Harborough station was obviously built in the 'Country Manor' style.
The Bedford to Bletchley line was another route I have long wanted to travel on. How I wish I had done it 10 years ago when it was still mechanical signalled and had Class 31s operating the service. It is still though somewhere I will try to get back to even if just for some shots of the units and stations. Back from Milton Keynes and home for just after 9pm after 371 miles on 11 trains.
With two days left I decided to stay overnight in Norwich and caught the first train down to London. This turned out to be a good move as there was signalling problems outside London Liverpool Street station after I had passed through on the 0830 departure. I changed at Ipswich for one of the longer lines in Southern England I had not yet travelled over, the line from there to Lowestoft.
I have done the lines to Great Yarmouth several times and found that terminus to be a run-down shadow of its former self; how much more so is that true of Lowestoft! It still boasts a good selection of semaphore signals well worthy of a photograph, though 15 minutes was long enough to spend in the town. Maybe if Wetherspoons ever opens a pub there I shall have to return.
 Two places they have opened them in Norfolk are well off the railway network since the Beeching cuts, namely Fakenham and Dereham. With the paucity of bus services off the main trunk routes (last bus from Fakenham to Norwich is at 1630!) I had to do two return trips by bus, one to each town. With that being about 80 miles in total it took me most of the rest of the day to do so and it was dusk when I got to the second one, Dereham. Fortunately there was just enough light to photograph the conveniently parked NSE liveried Class 47 at the Mid Norfolk Railway's station.
I did have an evening trip by train out to Yarmouth and back, pushing the daily mileage up slightly to 391 miles (most of which was on the two trains to and from London). I almost visited Lowestoft and Yarmouth again the following day. I had planned to get the 0757 East Midlands 158 to Thetford for breakfast, but got a text at about 0700 saying there was a pair of DRS Class 47s out on the local trains deputising for a broken down unit. I therefore got to the station early to see 47802 and 47805 arrive and depart. I was very tempted to go for a ride but with the weather being fairly dreadful and, to be honest I have lots of pictures of the two engines, I decided to stick to my plan.
The aim of the day was to cover the line through Spalding so, for the second time in a week and only the third in about 30 years, I ended up at Peterborough. I recently bought an up to date copy of the computer game/simulator Trainz. This includes a pretty faithful representation of the East Coast Main Line and branches with track layouts from the 1960s and 1970s. Knowing a bit what the station might have looked like back then it was interesting to see Spalding Station now.
With buses replacing trains between Sleaford and Lincoln, I had planned to go via Grantham and Retford in order to visit the Wetherspoons in the former one, the one I had missed doing on the Saturday. Sods law but the train from Skegness turned up 30 minutes late so again I missed it as I had to alter my route and catch the bus direct instead. The good old Real Time Trains showed there were a couple of freight trains expected through Lincoln so I visited the station in between pints to see two class 60s heading for Immingham pass within less than 5 minutes of each other.
Next stop was Gainsborough. There are two stations there, Central and Lea Road. The former only sees trains on a Saturday and the latter is over a miles walk from town. I got lucky in that when I alighted at Lea Road I could see a coal train round the corner at Trent Junction, so waited for that before having a very fast long walk to the pub and back. With only an hour between trains I had just 5 minutes to down a pint and I needed another by the time I got back to the station!
I expected to have an hour at Retford to do the same. I didn't really fancy the journey back via Sheffield though on a Friday evening when the trains are very busy so decided that as it was my last day, if I could get to town and back quickly, and get some beer and food for on the train, I would catch the East Coast train down to London for a final high-speed bash with my ticket. This was on the proviso that this York to Kings Cross train itself wasn't too busy.
Well, it came in and I got a table to myself for the evening run down the main line. Now the evenings are longer there was just enough light left to sit back and enjoy the scenery before an even faster trip back up the West Coast Main Line. This pushed the days total up to 490. So, have the mathematicians amongst you added all the totals up? I make it just under 2,900 miles. Of course if I hadn't kept catching buses and going to pubs it could have been a lot, lot higher!
Would I do an All Line Rover again? I must admit it is very tiring and one or two days at a time are frankly more practicable. I managed to do most of what I set out to do: if I did another I would probably concentrate more on West Wales and the far North of Scotland; there are also bits of the North-East and South-West that I need to visit. Unless though I can persuade the family to go on holiday again without me, I can't see it happening for a year or two! If you are interested all the weeks pictures can be seen in a special gallery HERE.
I don't have any real plans for trips in the next few weeks, the next major outing is in 4 weeks time when I have a trip to Bulgaria booked. Unlike my visits to Hungary and Poland, hopefully this time we will be lucky and get to see, and photograph, some ex-British Engines out there.
Thanks for reading through this slightly longer than normal blog. As usual I will leave you with a picture of a stupid sign I've seen on my travels. This one I saw in Plymouth and frankly words fail me as to who would want to visit it! Bye for now.

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