Friday, 28 September 2012

Nether Alderley Mill

 Tastefully restored. New timbers can be seen the supporting the stone slab roof and in the repair of the door, and an unobtrusive ramp for disabled access has been added (as ever, click on the picture for a larger image).

As far as we know, the only two-level geared-together tandem-wheel working water mill in the world, Nether Alderley Mill dates from the 12th century. It is owned by The National Trust who had rather neglected it in recent years possibly because it came under the management of Quarry Bank Mill at Styal, a far bigger public attraction which perhaps overshadowed Nether Alderley. Barry Cook, the Mill Engineer at the time (now retired from the Trust) did his best to prevent Nether Alderley Mill from actually collapsing by supporting the rotted roof timbers internally with acro props, and used other stop-gap measures to preserve the fabric of both the building and the wooden mill machinery.

Barry had served in the Royal Navy on the Royal Yacht 'Britannia' and his times on this vessel were a major source of material for his after dinner speaking, the money from which he donated to keeping Nether Alderley standing. It also meant he knew members of the Royal Family, so when Prince Charles visited Styal Mill Barry mentioned his struggles to keep the unique and historically significant Nether Alderley from turning into a ruin. HRH expressed an interest and the National Trust responded with the funds and the will to restore the mill. Well done Barry!

As the Sign says, tours start Spring 2013

For the past year or so the building was covered in a weatherproof 'tent' while the roof was removed so timbers could be replaced and repaired, and mill wrights restored the wooden water wheels and mill machinery. The Trust has spent about £400,000 on the restoration so we hope Nether Alderley Mill will be good for many more years now.

A few of us who will be guides when it opens to the public next year had a look round today. I was most impressed by the quality of the restoration work.

The lower of the two water wheels showing renewed buckets

The cog teeth on the gears are made of pear tree wood

Renewed hub and spokes on the lower wheel

Volunteers and National Trust staff on the milling floor

Some of the roof timbers have been dated as about 200 years older than the mill, indicating that the wood used in its construction came from other buildings

The basement which used to be flooded is still damp, with water seeping through the far wall, but a drainage channel now takes it round the edge of the floor to the wheel pit

At the back of the mill a dam which enables the mill pond to provide enough water to power the mill for up to eight hours (the pond would be replenished by its feeder stream during the remaining sixteen hours). Originally, Radnor Mere and a few other smaller lakes fed into the mill pond but today it is replenished only by the Pedley Brook, the small stream that runs into it.

The mill pond, and the sluice controlling the supply of water to the mill's wheels

 Two sets of stone grinding wheels occupy the milling floor. Only one set of stones has been restored so far.
The mill is hard by the A34, much quieter since the opening of the Alderley bypass. Here is 'The Eagle & Child' which used to be a pub until a selfishly religious Lord Stanley closed many local pubs a long time ago is around the corner. This is the former local shop; it's a guest house now.


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Diesel Gala at Churnet Valley

Fifth training session at Consall today with Howard, and this weekend is the railway's diesel gala, so no steam locomotives unfortunately. Now quite at home in the 'box. Time to study the rule book for my exam!

Autumn in the valley. A little frost, and damp mistiness dissuaded me from going down to Consall on the bike, and the valley is changing character with the season

 Contrasts of light in the low September sun

Les and Margaret who look after Consall station prepare for the day, including lighting a welcoming wood fire in the waiting room.  Seems like the Black Lion has the same idea!

Visiting for the Gala, a Class 20 diesel from the Severn Valley Railway brings in a service from Froghall

  These Class 20 locomotives are true survivors. Introduced in the 1950s under the BR Modernisation Plan many are still in regular service both on the main line and, like D8059, on heritage railways, decades after much newer types have gone to the scrapyard.
The 20 and the DMU cross at Consall
 Howard ready to collect the Froghall token from D8059
 D2334, a Class 04, hauls the DMU (as stock) from Froghall to Consall

Greg Wilson is driving, and looking anxiously at the oil pressure gauge (which is showing zero). The loco was shut down at Consall and the DMU pushed it to Cheddleton where it was detached.

 Our leather pouch with hoop, for fast collection of the Froghall token from the loco, failed today so here Howard does the retrieval without its assistance 

The Editor of 'The Knotty' (CVR in house magazine) took this picture of me in Consall box

The '20' curves into Consall past the 'Black Lion' to cross the DMU

The DMU in low autumn sunshine

The Black Lion is well placed in the valley to catch the afternoon sun

Them beans again!

Howard paints the Consall Coach, Black Lion in the background

The other side isn't quite as advanced (my MX5, Howard's Renault in the foreground)

Here are some videos I took at Consall:

Captain Charles on the rear of a train awaits departure from Consall

Class 33 approaches, Howard takes the staff

'Captain Charles' departs Consall
'Captain Charles' in Consall station

'Captain Charles' departs Consall for Cheddleton

Class 20 arrives at Consall as a narrow boat passes on the Cauldon canal

Sunday was dry but overcast until 15:15 when the forecast rain arrived, and Howard and I were rostered to the outpost at Leekbrook, known as 'Siberia'. It has no facilities bar an unheated wooden hut, and our job was to operate the points and authorise movement of trains between the Churnet Valley line (Froghall to Leekbrook) and Moorland & City line (Leekbrook up onto the moors to Cauldon Lowe). There isn't even a ground frame at Leekbrook (well, there is, but it isn't connected) so one has to walk to each point that requires to be switched, unlock it, switch it, and re-lock it. There are no signals, just fixed stop-boards which we authorise trains (once they have the relevant token) to pass.

 Our cars at Leekbrook on Sunday, the yet-to-be-restored Leekbrook junction signal box in the background, and our hut!

'Sophie', the CVR's latest Class 33 diesel, named only yesterday at Froghall, heads for that destination out of Leekbrook on the rear of the train (so moving away from us) having come off the eight and a half mile of steep (up to 1 in 40) Moorland & City (M&S) track to Cauldon Lowe

As 'Sophie' heads south, the visiting Class 20 comes north off the Churnet valley to take the M&S tracks up to Cauldon Lowe

The other CVR Class 33, 'Captain Charles', on the front of the Froghall train

 Nick Corby, diesel driver and Consall signalman, in charge of 'Sophie'

The '20' comes off the M&C line from Cauldon Lowe onto the CVR line at Leekbrook Junction. Note the curtailed Churnet line ending at the buffer stops. That used to be the main line to Leek and on to North Rode, the northern terminus of the CVR.

 Moments after the above picture was taken, the '20' passes the M&C line to Stoke-on-Trent ready to give up the token to Howard by the signal box. The Stoke line is currently being restored as far as Endon, and then hopefully all the way to Stoke. That would enable stone trains to run from Cauldon Lowe quarries out onto the main line network via Stoke.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Churnet valley medical passed today

Hardly a class two aviation medical (which I still hold), but a requirement completed nonetheless. So now, qualifying as signalman on the railway is just down to my application! Check out "First training day in Consall Box" on the previous page of this blog for the latest updates in signaller training.

After my medical at Cheddleton I took a ride on the steam train up and down the line. At Consall Howard (who is station master there, as well as signal man, but the 'box was closed today as the railway was running only one train) greeted me, and asked "do you like beans?".

When the train called at Consall on the return, Howard came to the window with a bag. "These are not just beans. These are Consall station beans".

We had them tonight with our dinner. They really were quite excellent. Growing in the garden just outside the signal box in that lovely valley, how could they have been otherwise?


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Passenger counts on the Mid Cheshire Line

As a member of the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association (MCRUA), I responded to a call for volunteers by the Association to run passenger counts on trains on the Mid Cheshire line. Last week we met to discuss how to go about the task, and today was my first day 'on the job'.

The counts will continue between now and December (and maybe longer if that's deemed necessary). I started at Altrincham station (the 88 bus sped me there) and when the 10:46 train rolled to a stop I approached the guard, introduced myself showing him my Northern Rail pass to travel on the line, explained what I was proposing to do, and asked if he was happy for me to do the survey on his train. He was, so having counted the number of passengers joining the train at Altrincham and alighting from it, I boarded and carried out a passenger count.

Doing the same all down the line to Chester was not as easy as it might sound. The on-train totals are easy enough, but at busy stations such as Knutsford and Northwich counting passengers leaving from all four doors on a 2-coach train, while others are entering and also have to be counted, can be impossible.

Shortly before the train set of from Chester on its return run along the line, three chaps with musical instruments and one without boarded. The one without was Michael Ross, who, as I was sitting where the musicians needed to play, introduced himself as from MCRUA and explained that this train was a 'Music Train' as far as Ashley, whereupon the musicians would play in the Greyhound pub at Ashley for a while before returning by train to Chester.

I knew of these MCRUA Music Trains but didn't realise they ran during the day; I thought they were an evening-only happening.

Michael chats to a passenger as the band gets ready to play

Michael Blu-Tacked some notices to glass partitions and some windows announcing that our band on this MCRUA music train was the Goat Roper Rodeo Band, and they opened their set with the Everly Brothers' classic  'Wake Up Little Susie'. This was followed by Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues', and Dylan's 'Mr Tangerine Man'. They were quite excellent!

 The Goat Roper Rodeo Band making this Mid Cheshire Line train rock!
I was reluctant to leave the train at Northwich especially as by now it was raining quite hard, but Lunch called in form of a rather good bacon and egg barm cake  and a cup of tea in 'The Bean' cafe on the station platform. 

After lunch the mission continued on the next Manchester-bound train, to Piccadilly. The rain in Manchester seemed quite appropriate, and as I returned from a short walk down to the Ian Allen bookshop to catch the next Chester bound train, I noted that the smart new roof at Piccadilly leaks!

I travelled as far as Knutsford from where I got the 88 bus home, and so many school kids got at Altricham and Hale, and off at Knutsford, it was impossible to count them! But I'd got an accurate on-train count after Hale which showed the two-coach train was carrying well over one hundred passengers! Quite a contrast to the twenty or so of mid morning.

The Mid Cheshire is a line where some people travel the full length, but most use it between major towns so the loadings vary a lot on any Manchester - Chester -Manchester run, so it's important to collect all the intra-station passenger number data to get a real idea of train usage on the line.

So what did I learn? That it's often impossible to be accurate with passenger numbers boarding and alighting other than when such numbers are low, and that next time I think I'll miss out the Stockport - Piccadilly section as many other trains cover that service, and riding the train all the way into Manchester entails a lengthy wait for the return service. Also, even covering the four trains I did today (Altrincham - Chester, Chester - Northwich, Northwich - Manchester, Manchester - Knutsford) takes most of the day with a break for lunch and connecting journeys at each end.

I just hope that next time I do it I meet the Goat Roper Rodeo band again; they really are a bit good!


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Southport Air Show

This event was on both days of the weekend, so I decided to go today. On Sundays there's a direct train service to Southport from Chester, which I joined at Mobberley at 09:44 this morning. As far as Bolton the train was moderately busy, but from Bolton onwards, despite doubling the length to four coaches at Wigan Wallgate, it was packed.

The Chester - Southport train this morning, some time after the Bolton stop
The delay at Wigan meant we arrived at about 12:10, as Red Red Arrows were opening the show. I walked the 20 minutes or so down to the beach, buying an entry ticket on the way. In the light aircraft park was an old friend.

G-BCSL, which I part-owned an flew from 1978 until this year
Three years ago (2009) I flew Sierra Lima into the show with elder daughter Claire in the back seat. We were guests of Sefton Borough Council, and were given VIP passes on landing which entitled us to lunch in the VIP tent, and use of the executive loos etc. This year I was just another punter!
Picture taken by Claire of our arrival back in 2009, with the runways marked out on the beach (click on the picture to enlarge it to see them more clearly).

Steve Le Vien took this picture of us landing on the beach in 2009

 Claire and me with SL at the 2009 show

Back to today.... Hawker Sea Fury

RAF Tornado re-heats around the sky

 It finished with a vertical climb, but only to about five thousand feet before levelling off. Lightnings could do that all the way up to max ceiling..... and you could probably have bought a hundred Lightnings for the price of one tornado.

The Blades, four Extras doing formation aerobatics

Spitfire, Lancaster, Hurricane; the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

The P51 Mustang. It had amazing range and flew high, so ideal for bomber protection. But it's no Spitfire in the handling stakes (you have to fly it, whereas a Spit you just 'think' around the sky).

A lovely day brought out the crowds. This view is from the sea wall.

That stalwart of the air show circuit, Brendan O'Brian ("hi, I'm Brendan O'Brian and I'm a pilot") did some crazy flying in a Cub

The idea was, I think, to land on the moving platform. I think, in the stiff southerly wind, he'd have done it if the 4x4 hadn't got bogged down in wet sand!

Rare Spitfire Mk X1; unique, actually!

The Spit climbs exuberantly into its element!

Another overcrowded train back to Mobberley!