Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Settle & Carlisle Express

For many years the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association (MCRUA) have run an annual train trip in May originating on, and picking up at stations along, the Mid Cheshire Line. There was no trip last May as MCRUA was finding it increasingly difficult to organise such an event in these days of an ever more crowded railway (which is why we need HS2! NOW, not in 20 years time!). Getting Network Rail to authorise slots and then not to cancel them at the last moment was adding to the already heavy workload of the part time organisers at MCRUA. It was decided, in view of this, to employ a professional railtour company to organise this year's outing, and Compass Tours were chosen. Today Chris and I travelled on their 'Settle & Carlisle Express', joining the train at Mobberley, the nearest Mid Cheshire rail station to us.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

A DRS (Direct Rail Service) class 47 diesel locomotive 47805 brings the Settle & Carlisle Express into Mobberley station this morning. The train comprised twelve Mk2 coaches with a class 47 locomotive on the front and rear.

The train was a mix of standard and first class coaches, and we had booked a first class table for two which provides the level of comfort that makes a long day on the train a pleasure. Our route today was along the Mid Cheshire line from Hooton (where the train originated - we joined at Mobberley at 09:14) to Stockport (the last pick up), then through Denton and past Ashton Moss and Audenshawe, continuing through Manchester Victoria station. From Manchester the train headed north to Bolton, Darwin, Blackburn, Gisburn, Hellifield, and onto the famous Settle & Carlisle line at Long Preston. The S&C would take us up the infamous 'long drag', over Ribblehead Viaduct to Blea Moor summit, Dent, Horton, Appleby, arriving in Carlisle for lunch about 13:30.

After lunch the return journey was along a stretch of railway I have long wanted to see - the Cumbrian Coast Line. This leaves the West Coast Main Line immediately south of Carlisle station, turning west as the old Maryport & Carlisle Railway. It passes Aspatria and Maryport, and continues though Workington and Sellafield down the west coast of Cumbria, on to Millom, by-passes Barrow on the avoiding line, passes Ulverston and Grange, and after crossing the River Kent re-joins the West Coast Main Line at Carnforth, of 'Close Encounter' fame.

From Carnforth we ran down the WCML through Lancaster and Preston to Leyland, where we turned off for Chorley and Adlington to Bolton, to re-trace the route back to Cheshire that we'd taken this morning.

The coaches are comfortable, quiet, smooth-riding and air conditioned ex-Virgin BR Mk2. Seating in standard class is around tables for 4 on both sides of the centre aisle. First class is more spacious with wide, reclining armchair seats arranged around tables for 4 on one side of the coach, and tables for 2 on the other side. We were seated in the latter (Chris can be seen above, on the right).

Crossing the River Calder on the Whalley Viaduct, Longridge and Parlick Hill in the distance

After a steady climb up through Clitheroe and Gisburn we joined the Leeds to Carlisle line at Hellifield Junction. Here we passed a log train (visible out of the window, above) on its way down to Chirk near Wrexham. These trains bring logs from Carlisle yard and from Ribblehead to the chipboard factory at Chirk.

At Long Preston the 'Long Drag' of 15 miles at 1 in a hundred to Blea Moor summit begins; the Settle & Carlisle proper!

Approaching the famous viaduct at Ribblehead. It was a murky day of low cloud and rain, so a click on the above picture will enlarge it to show the viaduct more clearly.

Nice and comfy in the train, though. MCRUA trips always featured draught real ale in the buffet car; Compass didn't run to that, but did have this excellent bottled ale.

Grotty weather over the Pennines; this is Dentdale

Cottages by Dent station

The highest main line station in England - Dent, 1,150 feet above sea level and 5 miles from the village it serves

Approaching Garsdale - formerly Hawes Junction, when the long-closed line from Northallerton on the East Coast Main Line via Hawes joined the S&C from the east. This was a rare level section of the railway, where water troughs were located. Garsdale once had a turntable, protected from the high Pennine winds by a 'stockade' of railway sleepers. These were erected following an incident where an engine was being turned and the wind started to rotate the turntable. It was only stopped by shoveling sand into the turntable pit. The Rev, Awdry used this true story in one of his 'Thomas the Tank Engine' books.

Dantry Mire Viaduct

Despite the low cloud we remained below it throughout our trip along the S&C

We had a couple of hours lunch stop in Carlisle where the local Wetherspoons pub provided sustenance. Carlisle Citadel station above.

Carlisle town centre is pleasantly traffic free, being pedestrianised

This scenic backwater would have been even more so without the proliferation of tables and chairs for the cafe

47501, which had been at the back of the train on our northward journey, heads the train back into Carlisle station for the second part of our grand day out - home via the Cumbrian Coast

Our coach, former BR then Virgin Mk2 first class

The railway hugs the bleak north west coast of Cumbria. The low cloud and drizzle were at their worst on this section of our journey.

Much of this bleak coastal section is single track, and the train stops from time to time to exchange tokens for authority to enter the section

The nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield is pretty bleak at the best of times. Today was as uninviting as I've ever seen it.

The pinkish-red building is 'Pond Five', storage ponds for fuel to be reprocessed in the adjacent THORPE plant. I spent many weeks here in the early 1980s when working for SPL commissioning the process control computer systems my project had built for Pond Five.

South of Sellafield the line becomes more scenic. We couldn't see the hills because of the low cloud, but the coastal scenery was on our side of the train so easily enjoyed.

After passing through Millom, the line turns inland before crossing the River Duddon, then heading back towards the coast. In so doing it skirts the Duddon estuary.

Near Foxfield

The Leven Viaduct, near Ulverston and Cark in Cartmel

The final viaduct on the Cumbrian Coast line, over the River Kent, between Grange-Over-Sands and Arnside

Arnside and the Kent Viaduct

This viaduct has recently been refurbished, as this view shows

Looking back towards Cumbria

We re-joined the West Coast Main Line at Carnforth, of 'Close Encounter' fame and home to West Coast Railways who occupy the former 'Steamtown' site, and headed down through Lancaster to a scheduled stop at Preston to allow service trains to pass us

A Virgin Pendolino at Preston

This Trans Pennine Express was bound for Manchester Airport and we had to wait for it to pass us before we followed it as far as Bolton

There is little in the way of catering on these trains (just a small buffet selling drinks and sandwiches, and a tea trolley) so passengers bring their own often substantial meals (with wine of course!)

The Rainy City; Manchester lives up to its reputation was we approach Victoria station in the dark and my camera flash catches the rain drops

Manchester Cathedral and the Arndale Centre

.....A closer view, in the Manchester murk

Victoria station where we stopped for some of the train staff to leave us

Another place where it always seems to rain; Stockport at about 9:00pm

The train stopped at Reddish South, our first set-down point for passengers, then Stockport. Passengers had to move to either of the three centre coaches to leave the train as the platforms at everywhere but Stockport are far to short to accommodate its entire 12-coach length.

From Stockport we turned onto the Mid Cheshire Line for stops at Altrincham, Hale, and Mobberley where we left the train after a superb day out despite indifferent weather.

I wonder where the 'MCRUA Special' will head off to next year?

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