Friday, 29 July 2011

'Tangmere' at Wilmslow this morning

I was off to the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester this morning as rostered crew for the steam locomotive there and as usual was aiming for the 08:00 train from Wilmslow. But I'd arrived at the station a tad early because I knew the 'Scarborough Flyer', on which Chris and I enjoyed a great day out last year (see Friday 6th August 2010 in this blog), was making its Wilmslow pick-up stop at 07:50. When Chris and I travelled on the train it was hauled by my favorite class of locomotive, an ex-LMS Stanier 'Duchess' pacific 'Dutchess of Sutherland'.

Today's train was hauled by 'Tangmere' (Battle of Britain Class), an ex-Southern Railway Bulleid light pacific

Far away from its natural stamping ground, 'Tangmere' calls at wilmslow this
morning with the 'Scarborough Flyer'

These light pacifics were designed by Oliver Bulleid of the Southern Railway and built immediately after World War Two. They were based on his earlier, heavier and more powerful, Merchant Navy pacifics but being lighter had a wider route availability. They had some unusual features such as 'streamline' metal casing and chain-driven valve gear, and could be temperamental and prone to slipping. Many Bulleid pacifics, both light and heavy, were later rebuilt with conventional valve gear and minus the metal casing, becoming first class locomotives as a result. Bulleid was a brilliant designer, but sometimes followed flights of fancy that were, perhaps, unwise.

'Tangmere' is of course in un-rebuilt condition.

The station was crowded this morning with a mix of three types of people: rail enthusiasts who had come to see the steam locomotive, regular commuters, and a sprinkling of smartly dressed folk looking forward to a day out on the 'Flyer' in Scarborough.

'Tangmere' gets the green light and 'right away', as it sets off for its next stop, Stockport

Earlier, photographed by Steve Morris, Tangmere passed Chelford station on time at 07:42. Chelford is apparently a great place to see it as it waits a few minutes in the down loop to allow a Manchester-bound Arriva 175 to pass, so it is always working hard as it leaves the loop and enters the station.

So prior to my day firing and driving the replica 'Planet' steam locomotive in Manchester, I had a 'fix' of main-line steam. And in the form of an unusual locomotive for this part of the world.


Saturday, 23 July 2011

Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy

What a beautiful place! Chris and I have just returned from a fantastic week there. Here are just a few of the many photos we took (click on them twice for full-size images):

Some Alps, viewed from our Flybe Embraer 195 inbound to Milan from Manchester

Bellagio from the lake. Our hotel is on the waterfront at the right hand end of the middle block of buildings, with a long low ferry moored in front of it.

A closer look at our hotel, the Metropole. Our room is marked by its balcony, third from right on the top floor.

Here is the view from our balcony looking south; car ferry 'Lario' is moored at the terminal.

This is the balcony view looking the other way, with Mennagio on the far side of the lake

Chris contemplates the menu, in the hotel's lake-side restaurant

Bellagio's main street, seen from the rooftop sun terrace of the hotel

We often ate out, but always al fresco. Here is Chris (table by the left hand doorway) at a Bellagio trattoria. This one is so popular that customers waiting for a table are issued cushions (orange and blue, in the basket in the foreground) by the proprietors so they can sit comfortably on the stone steps.

Here's another view of the hotel, our room being on the front overlooking the lake

Perhaps one of the older of the lake cruisers, 'Milano' took us cruising down the lake in glorious sunshine to Como and back, on Chris's birthday

Chris on 'Milano' returning from our sunny trip down the lake to Como

That evening, we enjoyed a birthday celebration meal in the hotel restaurant for this 'significant event'. 'Ninfea', the boat moored in the background took us to Lecco and back the next day.

On Monday we took an excursion to the Bernina Pass between Tirano in Italy and St Moritz in Switzerland, travelling over the main part of the pass on the Bernina Express. The railway climbs incredibly steeply with many sharp bends, and this view shows the front end of our train taken from our carriage. It often enters a tunnel, to emerge with the scenery having swapped sides as the train did a 180 degree turn while it was underground. The scenery brought back memories for me of motorcycling over this same pass some years ago.

Here is a view looking from the train back to the lake near where we boarded it. And this isn't even the top of the pass!

This is the top of the Bernina Pass... glaciers, meltwaters, and a lake.

The weather during the week was mostly hot and sunny, but we did have a couple of wet days. This was in St Moritz after de-training from the Bernina Express to return to
Lake Como by our excursion coach.

A typical lunch. This was in Mellagio, on the other side of Lake Como to Bellagio. House wine in these places is cheap and usually quite good! The pizzas ain't bad, too - very thin and light base, not at all yer stogy Pizza Express fayre.

Perhaps one of the newer members of the lake Como ferry fleet, a hydrofoil skims above the lake surface. This craft provides the 'fast' lake service to Como, but we preferred the delights of the slower boat with its plentiful provision of outside seating on such a lovely day.

Bellagio is situated at the junction of the three 'arms' of Lake Como; the Como arm, the Lecco arm, and the northern or Colico arm and each has its own character with the Como arm being perhaps the more scenic. This is Lecco at the end of the Lecco arm; 'Ninfea' is tied up by the landing stage and waiting to return us to Bellagio.

On Friday there was a transport strike in Italy affecting the lake ferries as well as trains and buses, but it didn't bother us as we'd done our travelling by then (apart from today's return flight to Manchester from Milan). Here we are enjoying the wonderful gardens of the Villa Melzi in Bellagio.


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Lunch on't cut

Younger daughter Helen gave me a lovely Father's Day present - a voucher for two for a lunch cruise from Bollington on the Macclesfield Canal. These cruises are popular and one has to book ahead, but today our turn came around, and the weather couldn't have been better!

As ever, please click twice on pictures to bring them up to full size.

Chris enjoying a glass of wine at White Nancy Cruisers, Bollington. Our boat, the 'White Nancy', is moored alongside.

Passing Clarence Mill in Bollington

Bill, our skipper, and his mate get us underway along the Macclesfield Canal towards Poynton. The White Nancy monument above Bollington, after which our boat is named, can just be seen on the shoulder of the hill in the background, to the left of where the trees finish.

A look inside the boat. It can accommodate up to twelve dining customers at tables for four. The food (and wine!) is lovely

There are some rather nice canal-side properties between Bollington and Poynton. This one even has two helicopters!

The Macclesfield Canal must be one of the most scenic. And on a day like today it was looking its best.

Ours was not the only narrow boat out enjoying the day

During the cruise up to Poynton we were served a 'sharing starter' course for two, and a glass of wine each. We opted to extend this to a full lunch by pre-ordering a main course each and a bottle of wine - and it was all quite excellent.

This Heron was busy finding his own lunch!

The boat turned around at Poynton and headed back down to Bollington. Here, the entire crew come out onto the stern to enjoy the sunshine .

Chris and me also enjoy a few rays!

Approaching Bollington our boat's namesake,
White Nancy, comes into view on the hilltop

Here's a closer view

Here we are back at Bollington about three and half hours after we left.

Many thanks to Helen for a lovely afternoon on't cut!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Monsal Trail

In the 19th century the Midland Railway was looking for an independant route to Manchester and decided to build a railway through the heart of the Derbyshire Peak District from Rowsley to Chinley, then on to Manchester. The line opened in 1863 and the section between Bakewell and Wyedale is particularly scenic, including the majestic Monsal Dale viaduct. However, John Ruskin took exception, questioning the value of the railway and its effect on the beauty of the area; ".....the valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton....". But few today looking down from Monsal Head into the Wye Valley and appreciating the graceful viaduct would agree with him.

(As ever, please click twice on the images to see them full size)

Monsal Dale viaduct over the River Wye seen from Monsal Head

The railway not only gave the Midland its direct route to Manchester, it hosted fast London expreses late into in BR days in the 1960s. It was also a major freight artery especially following the demise of the Lancashire coalfield in the inter-war years requiring coal to be brought across the Pennines from the East Midlands. In its last years it was the route of the iconic 'Blue Pullman', more prosaically known as the Midland Pullman which provided a fast and luxurious service between Manchester Central and London St Pancras. However, as perhaps a delayed result of the 'Beeching cuts' of the early 1960s, the line was closed by British Rail in 1968 once the Manchester to London Euston via Crewe electrification was completed.

In 1981 the Peak District National Park Authority opened much of the track bed as a walkway and cycleway, but the six tunnels remained closed making cycling the route somewhat impractical, and causing most walkers to prefer the uninterrupted and quite beautiful if meandering and sometimes muddy walk along the valley bottom alongside the River Wye.

In May 2011 the tunnels, having been illuminated along their lengths, were opened to the public principally to provide an uninterrupted 8.5 mile cycle route from east of Bakewell to Blackwell Mill in Wyedale. Here the original rail route split at a triangular junction, the Midland main line turning north through Great Rocks Dale (the scene today of much quarrying) to Chinley and on to Manchester, while a branch continued straight ahead up the Wye Valley to Buxton, joined by the third arm of the triangle from Great Rocks Dale towards Buxton. The route to Buxton from Great Rocks Dale is still in use by stone trains, as is the erstwhile Midland main line north from Great Rocks Dale to Chinley and beyond.

Diagram of the railway topology today (please click on the image to enlarge it)

Map of the Monsal Trail (please click on the image to enlarge it)

It was time to try this trail for ourselves, so today Peter de la Wyche and myself loaded our bikes into Peter's car and headed for Millers Dale.

Peter, with his bike, my bike, and his car
at the former Millers Dale station this morning

We headed east from Millers Dale and found the trail's surface to be smooth and well made. The southern of the twin viaducts at Millers Dale is the one used by the trail; we crossed this and soon came to our first tunnel, Litton Tunnel, closely followed by our second, Cressbrook Tunnel. All the tunnels on the trail are spacious and dry, and all but the short Chee Tor no.2 and Rusher cutting tunnels are lit by a row of electric lights hung from the crown of the roof in a line. Providing power for the lights involved running a low-voltage cable to Chee Tor No.1 Tunnel from the former station at Millers Dale, about half-a-mile away, whilst the other three are supplied via a transformer sited at Monsal Halt, tapping into an existing power source there. Nonetheless the tunnels seem dark as you plunge into them from the sunlight as the sooty walls absorb any light thrown at them, and many are curved so you can't see the far end. They are also quite cold compared to the warm sunny day outside, often with a cool breeze blowing through them.

Despite being illuminated, the tunnels can seem quite gloomy on a sunny day

This section of the trail emerges from tunnel straight out onto a ledge high over the Wye Valley, then plunges into tunnel again. At Monsal Head the Wye is crossed at the apex of a 180 degree meander in the river by the superb Monsal Dale viaduct. Beyond the viaduct the trail plunges immediately into Headstone Tunnel in the cliff face below Monsal Head.

Peter rests on Monsal Viaduct. Ahead, the trail plunges into
Headstone Tunnel in
the cliff face below Monsal head

Looking down onto the peaceful Wye from Monsal Viaduct

One emerges from Headstone Tunnel into far less dramatic scenery, as we have now left the Wye Valley and are passing undulating fields to the pretty little station of Great Longstone.

Great Longstone station. Presumably the station building is fenced off
from the platform as it is now a private house.

We pressed on past Hassop and Bakewell to the end of the trail at Coombs Road viaduct, then turned around and rode back the other way

Our bikes at the former Bakewell station, where we stopped for a break

We stopped for a while at Hassop, where the station has been converted into a cafe and bookshop. We browsed the shelves of the later, though if we come again I might be tempted to have lunch here as the cafe looked good (we had brought sandwiches with us today).

Back at Great Longstone station, we had lunch on these steps, leading to nearby Thornbridge Hall. When the hall was built it was owned by Midland Railway director George Marples, and this was his private access to 'his' part of the station platform.

Between the Litton and Cressbrook tunnels is a few hundred yards of track bed built on a man-made ledge in the valley side. It afforded train travellers a snapshot view, but possibly the finest on the line, down into Water-Cum-Jolly-Dale. Unfortunately today the view is largely obscured by tree growth, a scourge of the modern railway as well as of former lines like this one.

Millers Dale again, with a view of the newer northern viaduct from the
original southern one,
which today carries the trail

Looking over the southern side of Millers Dale viaduct

Me and my bike on Millers Dale viaduct

Millers Dale station from the trail. Back now at our start point, we carried on past here to the western end of the trail at Wyedale.

West from Millers Dale took us through Chee Tor tunnels one and two, and Rusher Cutting Tunnel, through Chee Dale to Wyedale and the trail's western end. We are now on the 'bottom arm' of the triangular junction referred to above and the route used to continue straight ahead along the Wye Valley to Buxton and beyond.

Looking down to the river from the end of the trail, we see someone enjoying a bit of fly fishing

Just before the end of the trail the track bed of the former midland main line up to Great Rocks Dale (the eastern arm of the triangle junction) branches off to the north. This is today part of the Pennine Bridleway and we cycled back to that junction (the eastern-most on the triangle) and followed what was the original Midland main line as far as we could (see picture above). From here it used to continue ahead curving round to the right into Great Rocks Dale and on to Chinley and Manchester. On the extreme left of the picture the trees indicate the Monsal Trail proper, the 'bottom' arm of the triangle, that line continuing straight ahead to Buxton. Below the trees on the horizon straight ahead is the final, western arm of the triangle. That is still in use by stone trains and connects Great Rocks Dale to Buxton.

Looking back from the point above, towards Millers Dale, which we are about to ride to get back to where we left Peter's car.

The Monsal Trail is an excellent facility, and I strongly recommend it to all cyclists. The original railway rose almost 600 feet between Rowsley and Buxton though it does undulate a bit, so riding from west to east is easier than east to west. Walking it is also quite possible of course, but as with most disused railways progress on foot would, I should think, seem frustratingly slow!