Friday, 13 May 2016

The Cotswolds again

Last week we headed south on what has become our annual sojourn in the Cotswolds to visit elder daughter, who is a vet in Broadway. We drove south on Tuesday morning, returning Friday afternoon, and the weather was superb. We stayed at our usual excellent award-winning B&B in Broadway, so a lovely breakfast to start the day, and a supremely comfortable night's sleep to end it, were guaranteed.

Please click on any picture for a bigger image.

A drink in the sun in Broadway; Claire and Chris

That night's meal was at the Fleece, Bretforton, a favorite of mine.

On Wednesday I had my usual day on the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway. Our locomotive on today's steam train; ex-Great Western Dinmore Manor.While I was enjoying a steamy day, Claire and Chris visited Cirencester. 

The Manor on the first train of the day at Toddington, for Cheltenham Racecourse Station 

A Western footplate; right hand drive, lubricator glasses, and a single boiler water gauge glass are among the oddities of the GWR. That single gauge glass would worry me; non-GWR locos have two, so if there's a problem with one, the disparity with the other shows that immediately. Get the boiler water level too low and the loco turns into a bomb! 

We had lovely weather all week, as this pre-departure picture at Toddington ilustrates  

Dinmore Manor ready for the off

I found a comfortable seat in an ex-first class Mk1 coach. I 'd printed off a copy of the timetable and penciled in my movements. The Railway have also supplied a brochure with my ticket bought with my Heritage Railways volunteer card, which considerably reduced the cost.

Al fresco morning catering at Winchcombe station

The train arrives at the southern terminus of the line, Cheltenham Racecourse

I rode the steam train back to Winchcombe, then transferred to the DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit). Here's Dinmore Manor pictured through the rear cab window of the DMU. It's continuing north back to Toddington, while we are returning south to Cheltenham before heading north again.

Just south of Winchcombe is Greet tunnel

Having travelled to the southern terminus at Cheltenham, we return north to Toddington. Something the passengers on these 1950s DMUs enjoyed which is denied today's passengers is this view forwards through the front cab windows (or rearwards through the rear cab windows). I suspect the rail unions had something to do with that nice feature vanishing.

The steam train does not run north of Toddington as there is no run-round loop at the temporary northern limit of the line at Laverton, so this view is again from the DMU. It's Stanway Viaduct, the biggest civil engineering structure on the line. 

Stanway viaduct has an interesting history. It is just over 210ft long and comprises fifteen spans. On Friday 13th November 1903 just after it had been completed a test train was dispatched across it. 

Unfortunately the mortar had not yet set and three of the spans collapsed, killing three workmen. The train driver was injured and placed under the fourth arch to recover, then that collapsed and he was also killed! A very unlucky Friday 13th? Not at all; if they'd waited for the mortar to set there would not have been a problem, and how daft was it to place the injured driver under the next arch due to collapse? 

We make our own luck, as this sad tale illustrates.

The current northern extremity of the line, but not for long. Within two years it will be extended into Broadway where the station is being rebuilt largely by volunteers, and the magnificent GWR signal box is finished.  A financial appeal has seen all five bridges to Broadway refurbished, and a further share offer is financing the last mile of track into the town and completion of the station and car park. The run-round loop from here at Laverton has been lifted and will be re-used at Broadway.

Next on the Railway's agenda is a southern extension beyond the current one at Cheltenham Race course (above). The original route right into Cheltenham is built on, but the railway can advance a mile or so nearer to the town than this rather bleak current terminus at the race course car park.

Looking east from the train at Bishop's Cleave one sees Cleeve Common, the highest point in the Cotswolds. Later this week we will drive over the Common on our way to The Colesbourne Inn, Cheltenham, for a rather good evening meal.

Back at Toddington it's lunch time. Outside in the sunshine beneath the blossom...

....Which doesn't preclude another beer in the steam train buffet car after lunch!

Dinmore Manor at Cheltenham ready to run back north, tender first

That night we had a superb meal in the Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold

Night time Stow

Thursday we went to the Cotswold Falconry Centre at Morton-in-Marsh. This is a Bald Eagle

There were four displays of the birds during the day, and each was fascinating

We enjoyed alfresco lunch at the adjacent garden centre between falconry displays

A Snowy Owl

Vultures look ugly on the ground. They are voracious carrion eaters and have evolved featherless head and neck to minimise the need for preening and cleaning after 'getting stuck in' to a bloody carcass on the African plains.

In the air, though, they are magnificent soarers. All these birds of prey rely on hitching a lift onto rising air in a thermal or ridge lift to get them high. They are not good at flapping flight, about 100 wing beats being their limit before they are knackered.

This guy was brilliant. He knew the birds and how to motivate them.... "now that falcon has disappeared somewhere but that's OK, it's what we train them to do. It takes a while to get them to fly away because they like it here - they get fed. Now maybe it's sitting in a tree round the corner (he glances at his watch) thinking 'I'll just sit here for ten minutes, fly back, and the idiot will give me some chicken', But I won't. If I did that, tomorrow that bird would just fly to a nearby tree, wait 10 minutes, and fly back. I'll only reward it with chicken if it works for it and comes to catch it off the lure. In the meantime I have to keep thinking of things to say. Now I could speed things up by walking away and the bird will think 'the idiot is going, and I won't get my chicken' and come flying back, but I don't want to do that either or I'm training it to wait for me to give it a signal to come back. Meanwhile I'm having to think of things to say..."


When diving from height ('stooping') onto prey a falcon can tuck its wings in to reduce the span (and therefore the drag) to dive at 150mph. This one is partially retracting its wings for speed, but we did witness one that came down from 1,500 feet in a few seconds with vapour pouring from the tips of its largely retracted wings! The handler had said that could happen, but I didn't believe him until I saw it myself.

The vulture seeking lift. The day was hot and the air stable; not good conditions for soaring

The view from our lunch table on the Friday, looking down on the village of Stanton from the 'Mount' pub. Probably my favorite in the entire Cotswolds when al fresco dining is the order of the day.
Dave, Claire, Chris, Me about to leave the Mount at Stanton. Just after we'd taken this Alister McGowan strolled past from the car park with a cheery "good afternoon" (in his own voice!).

A fabulous week, with super weather, interesting stuff to see, and fantastic meals out. 

The less said about the motorway drive home on Friday afternoon the better; ain't ever doing that journey at that time again!


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