Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday 30 November - Bluebell Railway

Now that the Bluebell Railway has re-opened the section to East Grinstead (after some 50 years) it is very easy to visit the line.  There are convenient trains from Victoria every half hour running through Clapham Junction, East Croydon and Oxted right to East Grinstead.  I cannot have been to either East Croydon or Oxted since my train spotting days when I distinctly remember seeing an ex-LBSC tank shunting at East Croydon.

We found the Bluebell Railway station which is a short walk from the Southern Railway electric trains.  It is well equipped with a refreshment carriage and small shop.  Our train to Sheffield Park was hauled by a Black Five which was not very exciting for me but many others were delighted, trains run tender first or backwards towards Sheffield Park.
East Grinstead
There was a short wait at Horsted Keynes for the next train to East Grinstead to pass us, this one hauled by a beautiful green Southern U class 2-6-0.  I talked to the fireman of the Black Five who said they were easy to fire and this one had been fitted with a rocking grate making the fire much easier to clean.  I noticed that the tender coal hole was about a foot above the footboards which makes firing so much easier.  What a pity the Great Western didn't think of that.
Horstead Keynes
The Bessemer Arms Restaurant and Bar at Sheffield Park station became very busy when a trainload of passengers descended upon it.  I managed to get a pint of locally brewed 360 pale ale and we sat down to steak and kidney pie and pasta bolognese.  Both very good.

We decided to stay at Sheffield Park and catch the 1330 train back to East Grinstead.  This gave me time to take a look in the engine shed and the new museum.  They have some lovely engines in the shed, including the SECR O1 class 0-6-0 which is currently waiting restoration as well as a couple of SECR P 0-6-0Ts and two Terrier 0-6-0Ts.  The Museum is also extremely well done.
SECR P class 0-6-0T 323 at Sheffield Park
I saw SECR 323 being delivered to the Bluebell Railway on Sunday 26 June 1960 between Pevensey and Cooden.
While waiting for our train, the Golden Arrow Pullman lunch train was prepared and left.  It was hauled by no less than an SECR H class 0-4-4T 263 in beautiful full SECR livery and complete with a Golden Arrow headboard.  I remember seeing these locomotives shunting at Orpington on Saturdays and also on the Westerham Branch.
We returned to East Grinstead behind the U class 2-6-0 which sounded to be in good nick.
U class 1638 at Sheffield Park
The route is through typical Sussex countryside with lots of sheep farming interspersed with pleasant woodland.  There were plenty of pheasants in evidence, also many hunters standing around with their guns and, in many cases, retriever dogs.  It seemed that the pheasants were always the other side of the woods from the hunters.  There were several vineyards planted in the area so wine is a relatively new local product.  There are many rabbits in the area and we saw a great number of holes in the sides of the cuttings.  We didn't see any deer that the brochure mentioned.  The Bluebell permanent way staff have been busy and cleared a great deal of the right of way, cut the grass and cut down the bushes etc.  This was a common sight on British Railways in earlier times but it has been neglected and has given rise to the autumn leaf problem as well as making it difficult to see the countryside.
Click here to see all pictures taken on the Bluebell Railway:
We decided to take a look at East Grinstead.  The walk from the station was not promising as it seemed to be full of hairdressers and betting shops.  The Ship Inn provided a good beer (Tribute) and Sauvignon Blanc.  We made a detour into the older part of the town on the way back and found it delightful.  There are a couple of rows of wood framed houses as well as some interesting stone buildings. The church was also worth a detour.
The train whisked us back to Victoria station London and the Victoria line made short work of getting us back to Euston.

At the Skinners Arms I tried a Somerset red ale, Moor Beer Company Confidence. It was very heavily hopped and very bitter. It was an excellent beer but not to my taste.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday 29 November - Winchester

The journey from Euston to Waterloo on the Northern line was quick and we even managed to score seats for most of the way. Our off peak tickets were only valid after 0930 so we had to wait some 20 minutes to catch the 0935 train. Waterloo was busy and there was a strong police presence, some with automatic weapons, quite a contrast from the days when they would play military music in the morning to speed up the commuters and Straus waltzes in the evening to help them wind down. The train took just under an hour with just one stop at Woking.

Town Coat of Arms on a park gate.
One of the first things we noticed was the extensive use of flint in building construction.  This area is in the South Downs which is several thousand feet of chalk with flint nodes. There was a short walk into the town which has been well pedestrianized. There are park and ride buses with the bus fare included in the cost of parking. There are markets on several days in the week as well as additional ones on Sundays. At this time of year there are also Christmas Markets, especially in the cathedral grounds. Walking along the food stalls was interesting, particularly the cheesemonger's stall which had an enticing odor from his excellent selection of local, French and Italian cheeses.

The tourist information office in the Guildhall was very helpful, not only to plan our day but also to give pointers on rental properties and the local bus service. The bus station is centrally located opposite the Guildhall.

We walked alongside the River Itchen close to the City Mill, a working mill which I believe was a youth hostel when I was here in the 60s. There were a couple of watercress beds in the clear waters of the river.

The cathedral grounds are beautiful but it is a pity the church has seen fit to turn them into a fun fair in the form of a Christmas Market. 
Candy Floss is always a lot of fun

The cathedral is impressive but getting a little dowdy. It needs a good clean. There was a guided tour of the crypt which seems to spend much of its time flooded. Limestone for the construction was imported from Caen in France.
We had a late lunch at a Fullers pub, the Bishop on the Bridge. The food was good as were the two Fullers ales tried - Red Fox Autumn Ale and ESB. Both were dark ales, well balanced and very good after our long morning walk.
We scouted out three of the rental properties available and made our way back to the station. There are four trains an hour to Waterloo, ours only stopped at Woking. Again the Northern line brought us quickly back to Euston and, again, we had seats.
Click here to see all pictures taken at Winchester: 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thursday 28 November - York to London

We left the hotel in good time to catch the train to Doncaster.  It seemed an age before it was posted but a question at the inquiry desk indicated it started from here and was already in. A lot of people were milling around waiting to get in but I noticed that the door button was lit green. I pressed it and the door opened so everyone followed us on board.
1001 to London ready to depart from York
The journey to Doncaster was short and Brian was waiting for us on the platform. We took a short walk to the Market area and installed ourselves in a Wetherspoons pub, the Red Lion,  where we drank, ate and talked until it was time to go back to the station. In this time I sampled an Osset brewery Treacle Stout and a Titanic bitter. Both were excellent, the Titanic having a long after taste of a good bitter.
Ordering lunch was quite an adventure as the girl had to stand on tip toe to reach the ordering screen and she didn't know where to find the various items. However we got what we ordered after a couple of visits from the kitchen staff. Two turkey dinners and a salmon salad.
The train to London was almost as ancient as Brian and Colin
The train to London was an ancient class 43 diesel which still dumped from the toilets. The riding was rough to the point of being unsafe to walk around at speed. It was the most unpleasant journey I have had in some time.

The hotel is just 5 minutes walk from Kings Cross and our room is excellent. I was pleased to see that the barriers at Kings Cross are easier to use. Last time the barrier grabbed my case and refused to let go.
The Skinners Arms was busy but provided a good snack and a Greene King Abbot ale, a favourite ale of mine at the Skinners Arms.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday 27 November - York

A very calm and peaceful River Ouse
There must have been a lot of rain overnight but it was fair this morning and the forecast was for a warm day.  We walked around quite a bit and found we didn't need gloves.  Although it was wet underfoot the walk along the River Ouse and through the gardens was very pleasant.  We passed close to the main Post Office where many postpeople in bright red jackets were cycling out to make their second deliveries in the town. The old part of the city is very interesting and full of locals. 
Lunch was at the Red Lion pub, very pleasant and with good beer.

The Jorvik Centre was very interesting although there was a surprising number of visitors, mainly school groups.  The tour through the Viking streets was excellent and the animated figures gave us a good idea of life in those times.  The water was not safe to drink so everyone drank beer!
Jorvik Centre
The light was excellent this afternoon and the Minster was looking its best with the sun slanting in. We walked around the exterior and enjoyed the Deans Garden.

Mary then went in search of a coffee while I spent a couple of hours in the Railway Museum.  There was a demonstration of turning a locomotive on the turntable.  Not really very much of a demonstration as the turntable was powered by an electric motor.  It was a bit different when the engine had to be properly balanced before the dogs would come out and then we had to push it by hand, and stopping was quite a problem - almost as much as getting it going.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday 26 November - York

First thing we saw this morning walking into town was a van delivering Pork Scratchings.  Scratching is big business in this area.  
We walked along the Shambles scouting out possible apartments for rent next summer and looking at the amenities in the area.  There is a covered market close by as well as a large Marks and Spencer.  
The Golden Fleece
Merchant Venturers
Buying stamps at the Post Office turned out to be a bigger job than I had imagined. I entered a world of Monty Python. It was almost entirely pensioners getting their pension money.  They all seemed to know each other and chatted amiably.  Three ladies in front of me were talking about hospital wait times for their hysterectomies. There was one old fellow who could hardly walk.  He sat in a chair in a corner until it was his turn.  He then struggled upright and tried to walk over to the counter, nearly falling flat on his back in the process.  Several people rushed to take his arm.  He told the clerk what he wanted and the clerk told him to go back to his chair and he would call him when he was ready.  We helped him back to his chair and a little later helped him back to the counter.  
One lady wanted to send a parcel to Canada for a friend "But it must have an 88p stamp on it." I never discovered why an 88p stamp was so important.
I want to sent this to my Aunt Edna in Wogg Wogga, Australia.  Its me knitting, it get awfully cold at night.
It must fit through that slot - the parcel was cajoled to go through the slot.
Do you want it to go first class air mail, second class air mail, first class parcel post, second class parcel post.  We have this surface rate, it goes by yak caravan through Mongolia and then on the new Chinese high speed camel train service through the Gobi desert. You need extra insurance for this as several of the dugout canoes have been attacked by crocodiles in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Will it get there by Christmas?
When it was my turn all I wanted was stamps for two letters to the UK.
- do you want to go first class or second class? 
- would you like Christmas stamps or regular stamps? 
- we've only got these children's Christmas stamps. Will they do? 
At the end of this pythonesque exchange I just wanted the b stamps and get out.
All that was missing was headscarves and hair curlers.
The line up at the Post Office frequently extended on to the pavement outside

As with many cathedrals it is difficult to get far enough way to see it properly.
We spent a lot of time in the Minster.  It is an enormous space and seems in pretty good condition.  The stained glass is magnificent and much of it dates back a long way.  We were given a guided tour which was informative and the guide knew his stuff.  The Chapter House was also interesting because of the acoustics.  You could hear someone speaking in a normal voice from across the room.  The east part of the minster is being renovated but it all looks pretty good.  The interior is very light and airy in spite of its size.

We decided to try Yorkshire pudding and beef for lunch at The Hole in the Wall.  The pudding forms a container for gravy and meat and you add vegetables as required.  I washed this down with a very passable  Mild beer dark in colour but mild in flavour.
This afternoon we walked around the town walls which are mostly complete, about 2 1/4 miles.  This gave a different perspective on the town as there is a large area devoted to housing with very little other services.  Much of the traffic is diverted around the city.
At the end of our walk we finished up at the Hole in the Wall again, this time for a Pale Ale, again, very pleasant.  This was light with a nice hoppy after taste.
This evening  we found possibly the best pub so far.  The Red Lion is very friendly and there are no distractions.  The cask ales are good, I had a St. Austell brewery Tribute, a pleasant pale ale with good notes of vanilla.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday 25 November - Birmingham to York

Plenty of time to catch the 0903 Cross Country train to York. There are so many trains departing from New Street that it is difficult to follow on the departure screens. It is easier to get the information from the web.

There is still some brewing in Burton on Trent although nowhere so many breweries as in earlier times.
The clouds became a little thinner as we went north. The twisted spire of the church at Chesterfield was easily picked out - it was build with wet lumber which caused it to take its bizarre form. Slow running through dreary Sheffield and then on through dreary country.

I was reminded of a trip I made along this route from Bristol to Sheffield while I was still training. We had a class four diesel. The guard came up at Bristol and told us we were over tonnage and would have to stop at Bromsgrove to take on a banker. The driver mumbled something rude. As we approached Bromsgrove I said "I thought we were taking on a banker",
"Sod that", was the reply.
So we sailed up Lickey Bank at full throttle without assistance.
There was a crew change at Birmingham and the replacement driver didn't know the diesels. They put another one ahead of us so he didn't worry. As we started off he opened up the throttle too fast and it wasn't loading. I said to him
"Its not loading" to which he replied.
"Bugger it you do it".
That is how I came to drive a train from Birmingham to Sheffield!
Lunch at the Corner Pin with Jennings Cumberland Ale, a pleasant ale with a hint of bitter. At last a cask ale.

I went to the railway museum this afternoon.  Imagine my surprise when the first locomotive I saw was LMS 2500, a 2-6-4 tank that I fired while working out of Shoeburyness shed. It was a bit cleaner than in my day. I actually worked on this locomotive twice, once up to London and back and once up to Upminster as standby in the event of  failure of one of the down commuter trains.  Right next to 2500 was another old favorite SECR 727, a D class 4-4-0 which went through St Mary Cray and Orpington many times during my train spotting days.  

The two A4s from North America were still here, flanking Mallard but GWR City of Truro was on the turntable and King George V was close by. I vividly remember polishing its bell when it came on shed one time at Reading.  There was even a Western diesel hydraulic there - I travelled many miles on these.  I took a picture of the first Q1 for Graeme.  Ugly blighters but they could pull like hell.  All in all a very satisfying visit and full of nostalgia.

I made two trips on this engine and many others on other 2-6-4 tanks
This was painted black in the 1950s, even the brass dome.
I had a cup of tea right next to 2500.
King George V.  I was allowed to polish the bell when it came on Reading shed unexpectedly.
Southern Q1
The Warehouse
I rode many miles in these Western diesel hydraulics
Click here to see all pictures taken at York Railway Museum 
This evening we walked around the town including the shambles and past the Minster.  We stopped at the Golden Fleece which was a neighbourhood pub -  just drinking.  The place was full but the conversation was quiet and subdued.  It had a nice feel about it. I had a Timothy Taylors which I remember from the Three Fishes in Shrewsbury, an excellent ale with a hint of bitter and a pint of Copper Dragon, Golden Pippin which was a very good pale ale.  Very promising. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday 24 November - Birmingham Model Railway Show - day 2

I went through the Show Guide last night and wrote down the layouts I wanted to see again.  I then worked out a route and managed to cover everything I wanted to see although it took me the whole day.  It wasn't nearly so crowded as yesterday so it was much easier to get to see what I wanted to see and also to spend as much time as I wanted.  Not much else to say other than to add more pictures.
Click here to see all pictures

Worcester South Quay
Lincolnshire Potato Railway
The Blitz
Cork Harbour
Cork Harbour
Rolvenden - a Kentish Oast House
Rolvenden - visit of two Wantage Tramway locomotives and trailers
Rolvenden - Kentish Hay Rick
Rolvenden - Hop Field
Braysdown and Writhlington - well lit and detailed signal box
B.A. Bodil
Melton Mowbray Station
Mary and I tried to get a drink at a noisy pub called the Brass House.  We actually managed to get in this time but they had run out of all their cask ales so we headed out and found a quieter pub, the Malt House, by the side of the canal.  Their cask ales were not available because the refrigeration system had broken down!  It is pretty near impossible to get good beers here (other than the gnats p-- they serve up on taps).

The whole canal area is very attractive indeed and well worth a visit.  From a grimy industrial area it is being transformed into a good place to play and live.