With the SRS to the IOM
17-21 August 1998
A Diary from the "Steam 125" celebrations
17 August 1998: A cool morning saw the 11 members of the party joining the 0753 Shrewsbury to Liverpool Lime Street. Punctual arrival at the latter left us with time to kill (a later train would have left it a bit "tight") - after a brief discussion, we headed for the underground lines for the short ride to James Street.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's vessel departs from a berth on the Mersey just beside the Liver building - which proved to be the only place in the immediate vicinity where we could get a drink and a bite to eat, passing the time nicely.
So we joined the "Seacat" (hard to imagine anything less like a "Steam Packet"), leaving on time for the two and a half-hour trip. Though this is a great improvement on the schedule of a conventional vessel, the crossing nevertheless proved to be a few minutes too long for one member of the party.
Arriving in Douglas on time, we reclaimed our luggage and caught a horse tram to our hotel - The Imperial being over a mile along the prom.
Arrival at the Hotel marked the last point, until our return journey, that the party travelled together as one group. Indeed, one member (visiting the island for the 13th consecutive year) did his own thing to such an extent that the anxious enquiry "anyone seen Graham" was repeated fairly often during the week.
One of the biggest problems now facing the group was simply "what to do?" The organisers of Steam 125 had put together a fascinating program of special events; as a first time visitor I had to additional task of seeing as much of the railway system as possible. A further complication would be the weather - forecasts suggested deterioration throughout the week.....
A small group set off for the Steam Railway. At first joining them, I decided to "leg it" while they waited for the horse tram. (This decision was repeated several times during the week - and I got there first every time).
I had seen pictures of Douglas station, as it was many years ago. Today the layout is a shadow of its former self. The former carriage sheds and signal box are separated from the platforms by the road leading into the bus depot, of all things. (A cautious inspection revealed lines of disused passenger stock in the carriage shed, with other odds and ends. Rumour has it that a locomotive is somewhere in the back of the shed, though I could not see it through the broken glass)
My first sight of a moving Manx train - No 1, the celebrant "Sutherland" rumbled bunker first past the steam shed and works into the station with a train from Port Erin. I decided to try an action shot of its departure, and set off into the country looking for a viewpoint. I suppose it would have helped if I had taken the map... Nevertheless, a fair shot of No 1 leaving, then "Caledonia" approaching Douglas made a fair start to the trip.
18 August 1998: Tuesday dawned bright and sunny - the forecast suggested it would be the best of the week - so a sizeable contingent decided to head for Laxey and Snaefell. A very pleasant introduction to the Manx Electric Railway preceded our run up the mountain, where I left those who managed to get on the first tram, checked out the summit, then set off to walk back down, photographing the SMR trams on the way.
Arriving back at Laxey around lunchtime, I found Mr Parry, who joined me for a pint and sandwich at the Mines Tavern, followed by a run up the coast to Ramsey and back. We continued our ride as far as Baldrine, where we sought a reasonable location for a photo or two of car no 1 on a special working hauling two trailers.
Tuesday evening was marked by the "shunt and night photography" session at Douglas station. This was great fun, with an amazing assortment of single, double and (eventually) triple-headed departures, interspersed with some to-ing and fro-ing by the MER tramcar with its diesel generator van in tow. Finally, the scrum for posed night shots (after a swift pint to let the sky darken sufficiently)
19 August 1998: Wednesday - weather not quite so good. Most of the group set off for the steam railway. Detrained at Port Soderick to walk back towards Keristal, to photograph two trains, then back to station and on into Castletown for lunch.
Back to railway - to photograph the double header leaving for Port Erin behind No.1 and Caledonia. Found Graham here - made use of his bootlace (!) to tie video camera to railings, in order to get video and slide....
On then to Santon - the weather quite dull now. Took a couple of snaps of the westbound train, before joining next Douglas - bound train - the returning double-header.
Evening - off on the tram to Groudle Glen - for a ride on the rejuvenated 2 foot gauge line - advertised (in the glen) as the only railway running uphill to the sea.
Three locos were in steam here - Sea Lion (or was it Polar Bear?), Hunslet "Jonathan" and Kerr Stuart "Peter pan" with its peculiar Hackworth valve gear. Bit dark for slides, OK for video.
Mr Price and a few other hardy souls headed for an Indian restaurant on return to Douglas. Not feeling quite so (fool)hardy, I went for fish and chips, eating them on a seat on the sea front.
20 August 1998: Thursday - weather quite poor now. Watched Sutherland being loaded for journey to Laxey, then joined the steam train, for a ride to Port Erin. Met Mr Parry at Douglas station - he had intended to travel but forgot to get on the train. Paid a visit to port Erin museum, then rejoined Caledonia and train for return to Douglas.
A walk now to Derby Castle (I'm getting to know the way) - for a ride with the driver on next service to Laxey. "It might be a bit cold" the driver warned me, as he invited me to the bench beside him, in the open front of the car. He didn't warn me about the whistle, blown every few yards for road and footpath crossings - I was nearly deaf by the time we reached Laxey. "I don't really hear it," the driver said somewhat enigmatically.
"Sutherland" on its low loader had beaten me to Laxey, and I was able to watch, video and photograph its positioning on the Manx Electric metals, before adjourning to the Mines Tavern for a pint of Bushy's (getting quite a taste for it by now) and a sandwich.
My next journey was up to Ramsey again, where this time I took the opportunity to explore, visiting the attractive harbour.
Finally, I headed back once again for Douglas, for a mid-evening walk to the steam railway to see a special working depart - hauled by "Caledonia" for a visit to the Langness area, near Castletown, and a barbecue. The weather now threatened rain, making outdoor activities rather unattractive, and the first drops began to fall as we left the station, so that a trip on the horse tram represented the only way of getting back in reasonable comfort.
We travelled on the tram to the Terminus Tavern at Derby Castle. We were in luck too - the excellent value menu being available on Thursdays only. The storm worsened as we dined - huge waves could be seen crashing against the foreshore. With a bit of luck, it should be well past by the time we made our return ferry crossing the next day.
21 August 1998: So Friday, our last day, dawned, bright and breezy. There was a massed gathering of trams at Derby Castle to photograph, before joining the tram for a last run to Laxey. Today's objective was to photograph "Sutherland" in action on the tramway, and I found a reasonably good spot, on the long bank up from Laxey to Fairy Cottage (the turn-round point for the special).
The day, as already mentioned, was bright and breezy, with one or two shower clouds about. No problem as the due time for the special came - bright sun from a clear blue sky. But the special was about 20 minutes late, and as it neared, the sun went in, the wind got up and a sharp shower pelted us with rain as Sutherland passed hauling a tram trailer, running parallel with MER No1 (which would assist the run-round). And true to form, moments later the rain stopped and the sun came out.
I was able to try one more pint of Bushy's at the Mines Tavern, before setting off on the return journey which would ultimately end with Shrewsbury and the car ride home. What a great five days we had had!