Midsummer Meandering

July / August 1988

The basis of rail trips for summer '88 was to be the BR leaflet "Intercity Days Out", with a wide variety of destinations and attractive fares, available Mondays to Fridays 16 May to 30 September, with perhaps a few other trips for good measure. Things never seem to go entirely to plan though....

73 121 "Croydon" at Poole20 July:- Poole.

I picked up friend "a" on the way to join the train at Wolverhampton, the 0641 to Poole. This takes the usual route to Reading, reversing there for Basingstoke, on to Southampton, and out through the New Forest to Bournemouth and Poole.

My record of the journey shows that 47 558 "Mayflower" did a reasonable job. Leaving Wolverhampton dead on time, we gradually lost time here and there, at worst 7 minutes down leaving Reading, but only three minutes late by the time we got to Brockenhurst. What happened next can hardly be blamed on the loco.......

About half a mile outside Bournemouth station, we came to a stand. After a few minutes the guard came ambling through, most apologetic for the fact that a tree had fallen across the lines just the other side of Bournemouth. Half an hour later, we were able to run into the station for a change of scenery, and after another half hour we pulled away for the last stage of our journey.

Sure enough, a mile or so further on we passed a couple of P-Way men walking along the track in the company of a large bow-saw, and a few yards beyond, the delinquent foliage. Hardly a tree, more a branch, nevertheless enough to damage brake gear etc.

Arrival at Poole was, as a result, at 1215 instead of 1108. By this time the reservation tickets etc had been fixed in place for the next working of the stock, the 1203 (!) Poole - Newcastle "Northumbrian". I wonder what time it got away!

After the necessary lunch, we went for a cruise around Poole harbour, around the back of Brownsea Island and out to the Sandbanks Ferry - a unique device which hauls itself across the mouth of the natural harbour by means of submerged chains. The boatman commented that the beach opposite was a favourite haunt of nude sunbathers. Sadly (fortunately?) none were visible, so to speak.

We returned to the station in plenty of time, in order to perform a little photography. I had hoped to get a shot of the new "Wessex Electrics", but as always when holding a camera, none were in evidence. (We had seen several on the journey from Basingstoke, and saw several more on the way back)

On the return journey, I remarked "We can't be far from Basingstoke. I've a friend who lives here", and proceeded to describe him, concluding the description as we pulled into the station with "Ah, there he is!". I'm not sure who was most surprised! We had time for a brief conversation during the seven minutes the train stood at the platform.

47 657 had kept us well to time, with several early arrivals, until Banbury. We left five minutes late, and lost another five minutes to Leamington. We pulled back the lost time in slightly unorthodox fashion - a freight train had failed, blocking the single line to Coventry, and we returned to New Street along the old GWR main line.

15 for an excellent day out!

15 August:- Colne.

Not quite an Intercity day out - this was a trip with my son (and the family railcard) to cover some interesting lines I had not previously travelled.

First stage - the 0909 "Express" service 155 Sprinter to Liverpool Lime Street. This was my first journey of any length on one of these, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. (But still much inferior to the loco-hauled trains for the enthusiast!)

Next, the very short journey on a Wirral Lines EMU to Liverpool Central, where we joined the 1047 EMU to Ormskirk, to follow the route which saw steam's final fling on express passenger services. At Ormskirk we walked along the single platform to await the 1134 to Preston. Ormskirk is now in effect a pair of terminus stations, the emergency connection between the two routes having been removed.

I had expected an older-generation DMU, but in fact the Preston train was formed of a 150/2 Sprinter - these units, along with 142 "Pacers", seem to have taken over most of the North-West.

Preston - Colne and return was in one of the latter. They hardly seem worth calling trains, with bus-like interiors, nevertheless the ride is pretty good for a 4-wheel underframe, and they are pleasantly airy with a good view out, unlike some of BR's other recent efforts.

The branch from Burnley to Colne, L&Y all the way, is now single throughout, though once it was a through route, MR beyond Colne, to Skipton. Colne station is now merely a single platform and a shelter. We used the few minutes the train stood to buy chocolate rations, returning to Preston on the same train.

Next move was the 1535 to Lime Street, via St Helens. Another 150/2!

My prayers were answered at Liverpool. No sign of any 155s, but 37 429 looked hopeful, and sure enough, with its five early MkIIs, it formed the 1714 to Cardiff. The leading coach, in which we took our seats, was a de-classified open first. Luxury!

Another good day out!

17 August: Dumfries

15 to Carlisle looked reasonable; 16 to Dumfries looked even better. I picked up friend "b" at Newport for the 0801 from Stafford, due to arrive at Carlisle at 1037. With 87 029 "Earl Marischal" at the head, it met both these requirements to the minute (though with one or two minor ups and downs en route).

Our train for Dumfries, already standing in the north end bay platforms, was not due out until 1148, so we took the opportunity to observe movements, after a quick (and sadly lukewarm) coffee. These consisted of several electrically hauled passengers and freight trains, various ancient and modern multiple units, a couple of 08 - hauled transfer freights, and a long rake of MKIs, 47 hauled, ex Leeds via the Settle & Carlisle. "That's the line they want to close" I remarked as the hoardes burst out onto the platform

At 1148 we duly left Carlisle for the 33 mile journey to Dumfries, an "even time" schedule despite the stop at Annan. First requirement was refreshment. My friend had last been to Scotland when he was 10, so it was haggis & chips from "Pete's Fish & Chicken Bar", washed down with a couple of pints of Alloa light, and funny pieces of paper instead of 1 coins in our change! Scottish cultural requirements having thus been observed, we had plenty time to relax before returning to the station for the 1731 to Carlisle.

This train arrived on time, but went no further. Like the Bournemouth branch, not the train's fault! The huddle of BR personnel standing beside the loco waited until we were seated comfortably before walking down the train telling everyone to get off and onto the coach in the car park. It transpired that the line was blocked ahead - a lorry had shed its load!

Most passengers appeared not to believe this - it was some minutes before they joined us, and the sad thought struck me that all the passengers from the four coach train found seats in the single road vehicle.

Nothing had been said about where the line was blocked, and when we pulled up at Annan station, I wondered whether we were to regain the rails. No such luck - merely picking up and dropping off. Then a mile or so outside Annan, the cause of the problem. A large lorry on its side on the main road bridge over the line, with hundreds of cardboard boxes, bearing the legend "Beefeater Gin", piled up against the parapet. Some of them had burst open, and an alcoholic atmosphere wafted through the coach!

It was not until our tickets were checked on the train home - the 1926 for Birmingham New Street - that the full extent of the incident was revealed. "Enjoy the coach ride?" asked the ticket inspector, when he saw Dumfries on our tickets. "Great" we replied unenthusiastically. "The fun will really start when it gets dark" he added. "Most of the gin went on the track. The P-way men will have a whale of a time!".

28 August: Ironbridge

The shortest trip of the lot. Special trains ran from New Street to "Ironbridge Gorge" on Sundays from 24 July to 4 September, and I resolved early in the summer to take a ride. Their last pick-up point was to be Shifnal, so with my son again I waited on Shifnal platform for the 1057 service.

These trains were organised in conjunction with the Ironbridge Gorge museum, but it became clear that several of the eight or nine intending passengers were only going along for the ride. We needn't have hurried our Sunday breakfasts - the train arrived half an hour late. Fortunately there were three Sunday diversion trains through to relieve the boredom.

I had somehow imagined that the service would be provided by an ageing 3-car suburban DMU or similar, so was somewhat surprised by the four car 150/1 sprinter which arrived. It was reasonably well filled too - a two car set would have been rather a squeeze! Unlike the Shifnal contingent, it was clear most passengers were intending to spend a day exploring the museum.

The platform serving the museum is on the site of that erected in 1979, on the uphill line from CEGB Ironbridge. To gain the platform, trains travel on the downhill line into the power station and reverse there onto the uphill track. Why they cannot run wrong line to the platform I am not sure. Nevertheless it makes for an interesting extension to the run, including the crossing of the Albert Edward bridge.

The timing for the branch was clearly a slack one, for we arrived back at Shifnal only a few minutes down, and thus were able to be home without the Sunday lunch being burnt!

Wednesday 31 Aug: Folkestone

Actually, I took wife and kids to see "City of Birmingham" - 46235 that is, in the science museum of that city. I had in tended to go to Folkestone - another 15 trip - but friend "a" had an attack of the in-laws, friend "b" was in Clacton (poor chap) and friend "c" (I will not embarrass our Chairman by naming the individual) had to stay in Shrewsbury and entertain his girlfriend! Perhaps next summer!

The Science Museum wasn't a bad substitute - the family certainly enjoyed it. Otherwise, a good summer's travelling. Perhaps the Bournemouth branch and the G&SW gin were omens - what could possibly have gone wrong on the way to Folkestone?

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