Saturday, 26 November 2011

Unusually I was not rostered on any Concorde tours this weekend, so I took the opportunity to travel down to the National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham International intending to visit 'The Flying Show' in Hall 12 and 'Motorcycle Live' in Hall 2.

A Virgin West Coast Pendelino took me from Wilmslow to Crewe, a London Midland 350 electric multiple unit conveyed me onwards to Birmingham New Street, and a second one took me on to Birmingham International arriving about 10:15. From the station it's fair walk to Hall 12 but hey, the exercise would do me good.

Pendelino 'Virgin Harrier' on reaching Crewe at 08:27 this morning

First point of call was the 'Flyer Magazine' stand to pick up my 'Flyer Forum' (a lively aviation internet forum hosted by the magazine) lanyard followed by a quick look around the hall before settling into the seminar area for a talk by Flyer's publisher, Ian Seager, on using the iPad for aviation purposes. Not something I'll be doing in the limited confines of the Chipmunk's cockpit!

After the seminar, I went over to the model flying area to admire a turbine powered model helicopter. With a characteristic rising whine the turbine span up to speed, the engine ignited with a 'whoof' and momentary splutter of blue flame from the tailpipe, and settled to a fast idle. after several seconds the engine was run up with an increasingly high pitch whine and the main and tail rotors began to rotate until full rotor RPM was achieved and the craft rose into the air. Very impressive. 

The British Gliding Association had a glider simulator (full size cockpit, with a projected landscape out in front). "Will it do aeros?" I asked the 'instructor' who was sitting in the cockpit's rear seat. "Climb in and find out", he responded.

So I got into the front seat, donned the headset so i could talk to the back seater, who positioned us in a 40 knot cruise about 1,500 ft above the floor of an alpine valley with an airfield below us. I lowered the nose for 120 knts, eased back the stick, and the glider looped very nicely, the Alpine scenery disappearing below the nose to be replaced by sky, then reappearing from above. Using the exit energy from the loop I waited for about 30 degrees nose-up, and then and rolled it; "I don't think it'll roll" came the voice in the headset. But it did, and surprisingly well, too. We were below the sides of the quite narrow valley now with the airfield behind us, so I lowered the nose again and pulled up for a half-loop with a roll off the top (which it just managed!) to reverse our direction of travel and position us high downwind right hand for the runway. I extended downwind for a while until the runway was (I had to guess of course) 'over my right shoulder' and started a gentle right turn towards final approach. I kept the circuit tight and using airbrake kept a high rate of descent as I reefed it round a tight-ish turn onto a short final. But I overdid the airbrake and touched down gently, wings level, on the centreline and runway heading, but just short of the runway threshold which the computer interpreted as a crash! "Oh dear" said the voice, "and it was all going so well. Nice aeros, though".

 Not the simulator, but a real glider at the show, cockpit open. The rudder pedals are in the extreme front of the nose so quite close together, and as the canopy is closed the instrument binnacle comes down with it and forms 'tunnels' over each of the pilot's legs (clearly visible at the base of the instrument binnacle above), with the centre console between them.

After lunch, the next seminar was by Dr. Simon Keeling of Weather Consultancy Services, the Flyer Forum's tame forecaster. Simon chose as his subject 'Interpreting Synoptic Pressure Charts'. This might sound a bit basic for pilots, who have been trained in reading these charts as part of their studies for the Private Pilot's Licence. But Simon not only covered the basics, but gave great insights into aspects I had never before considered. He has an infective enthusiasm for weather and is an informative and entertaining speaker.

Dr. Simon Keeling of Weather Consultancy Services about to commence his seminar

This is the pressure chart (it's the situation as of early today) that Simon used in his seminar 
(click on it to enlarge)

He took the pressure chart for midnight last night as his example, and it showed a lot of features he wanted to talk about. In particular a low pressure system (989) in the Atlantic is sending an almost straight (note the isobars) west south westerly flow to the British Isles. This low and indeed that flow are directly below the jet stream, and as a result that low will deepen considerably as it moves east, bringing very very high winds to Scotland.

Also shown on the chart are some high pressure systems, and the fronts; warm fronts, cold fronts, occlusions, and troughs. Simon explained the characteristics of each of these, confirming that some lovely flying weather can be had just after a cold front or a trough has gone through.

Two of the slides from the presentation

Simon pointed out some little-known features of pressure charts (for instance, a '+' on a front means it is dying, while a '-' means the opposite). Altogether a fascinating seminar well presented.

I had a chat with some more exhibitors before leaving in early afternoon. I had intended to look in at 'Motorcycle Live' but had stayed longer than I thought I would at 'The Flying Show'. Time was getting on, 'Motorcycle Live' looked packed, the entry price was about £20, and really I wasn't that interested in new bikes or motorcycle gear so I headed for the rail station.

You can even build your own Spitfire! Here is a part-build 80% replica Spitfire in sheet metal; a lot of work for someone!

This time a Cross Country 'Voyager' took me direct to Stockport (via Birmingham New Street, Stafford, Stoke, and Macclesfield) from where an Arriva Trains Wales class 175 brought me home to Wilmslow.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Beer by train - the Trans Pennine Ale Trail

Today we (Tony, Steve, Malcolm, Frank and me) did this relaxing day out again. It was made popular by James May and Oz Clarke on television a couple of years ago and has got ever more popular at weekends especially with stag and hen parties to the extent that it's almost impossible to get served at the pubs along the trail.

What is the Trans Pennine Ale Trail? It's a journey from pub to pub by train on the Manchester to Leeds line. I can't remember how many times I've done it before, but in view of the weekend overcrowding we did it today, a Thursday.

I was (as usual) tasked with organising it; not an onerous task. Pick a date, pick an outbound train to the start point (Leeds), and a selection of inbound trains back. I decided we'd use the 09:57 from Wilmslow to Manchester Airport, to pick up the 10:35 Trans Pennine Express from there to Leeds, arriving 11:55. First call was at the Scarborough Taps opposite Leeds station, for some excellent ale and a gammon and egg lunch. Here's my plot of possible trains back eastward; Dewsbury, Huddersfield, and Stalybridge have pubs on the station platforms:

Leeds dep.

Dewsbury arr.

Dewsbury dep.

Huddersfield arr.

Huddersfield dep.

Stalybridge arr.

Stalybridge dep.
Piccadilly arr.
Piccadilly dep.
Wilmslow arr.

A plan like this has to cater for 'spread' as the afternoon progresses; the later train we get from one departure point, the later becomes the choice of trains onward from the next. I think I guessed well - we took the 13:25 from Leeds, though after a pint or two of 'Leeds Pale' (quite excellent) we some how morphed the departure time to 13:35, and strolled across to the station to catch that train. There was no 13:35 departure advertised (not surprisingly) but our luck was in - the 13:25 was delayed by 5 minutes enabling us to catch it with time to spare!

A few scoops at Dewsbury, and we were once more on the move aboard the 15:06 Trans Pennine Express to Huddersfield - so far, right down the middle of my plan! This trend continued after a couple more excellent pints (Copper Dragon) with a 16:26 departure to Stalybridge.

Here we had our only setback of the day. A poor selection of beers, and no food available for Frank, who hadn't eaten at Leeds.

The 17:46 Trans Pennine took us to Manchester Piccadilly, where we boarded the 18:30 Arriva Wales train (to Camarthen) which took us home to Wilmslow.

What a lovely day out; good beer, good food, good company, and without the weekend crowds so it was easy to get served in all the pubs.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, and I expect we'll do it again before too long - spring 2012 seems favorite!


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Another ATW 'Club 55' day out; Holyhead this time.

Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) 'Cub 55' offer continues until December, allowing return travel between any two stations on their network for £18 for those at least 55 years of age (£16 if you have a Senior Railcard, as I do). Today I went to Holyhead and back from my local station, Wilmslow.

The 08:46 Manchester to Milford Haven class 175 train took me as far as Crewe, to connect with the 09:23 class 158 service to Chester. I had a bit of a wait there (until 10:24) for the Cardiff to Holyhead train, another of the comfortable and smooth-riding class 175 units which sped along the North wales coast and onto Anglesey, arriving at Holyhead at 12:14. All these trains were moderately loaded (the Crewe - Chester one being very much so).
Chester Racecourse, seen as we leave Chester for Holyhead

Crossing the Conway estuary

Running under the walls of Conway castle

First view of Anglesey on the left, Puffin Island in the centre

RAF Hawk trainer turning final in the Valley circuit

The sea near Maltraeth, with 'The Rivals' mountains beyond

Holyhead signal box

Holyhead station

On reaching Holyhead, and knowing there was nothing in the town I wished to see, I returned on the same train I'd arrived on. It left at 12:39 forming the Holyhead to Maesteg service. This was quite full on leaving Holyhead, and on picking up along the coast was almost completely full by the time it reached Chester, many passengers boarding at Bangor.

Crossing the Menai Straight from Anglesea to the mainland. Telford's superbly graceful suspension bridge, which was at one time the only road connection to the island, seen from the much-modified Stephenson Bridge which carries a roadway above the singled railway line. 

I remember this bridge from family holidays decades ago, when it was in its original form as a double-track railway tubular bridge (a longer and higher version of the tubular bridge at Conway). Vandals set fire to it in the 1970s, following which it was re-built in its present form. At least the stone lions, two each side at each end of the bridge, still exist and give an impression of the structure's original double-track width.

Heading east along the coast of North Wales; Beaumaris is seen across the straights on the Anglesea shore

Conway Castle again

Looking back to Colwyn Bay

The ex-car ferry on the Dee estuary

Approaching Chester, we pass the threshold of runway 22 at Hawarden where the Airbus wings are built and then shipped to Toulouse

The train that took me from Chester to Holyhead and back. It will continue from here via Shrewsbury and Cardiff to Maesteg in South Wales.

It was a nice sunny day today, ideal for appreciating the gardens on Chester station

Two styles of Class 150 at Chester, each bound for Manchester. The far unit will route via the Mid Cheshire line through Delamere and Knutsford, the near unit will go via Frodsham and Warrington.

My next train, a 158 Pacer, which will take me from Chester to Crewe, arrives at Chester from Crewe. It will leave for Crewe at 14:55 and arrive at its destination at 15:18.

Speeding past Beeston Castle atop its distinctive mound

Approaching Crewe we pass the Crewe Heritage Centre. LMS 6100 'Royal Scot is seen, minus its boiler and under tarpaulins.

It was noticeable how much quieter and smoother-riding are the 175s compared to the 158. And the 158, with its high-backed seats had a claustrophobic feel.

 Open airy feel to the smooth running and quiet class 175

 The high-backed seats in the older and noisier class 158 give a claustrophobic feel

The 15:29 Carmarthen to Manchester class 175 whisked me back non stop from Crewe to Wilmslow, getting me back to my home station by 15:47