Shildon Works

The Stockton and Darlington Railway operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863. The world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives, it connected collieries near Shildon with Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington, and was officially opened on 27th September 1825.

Shildon Railway Works’ first locomotive superintendent, Timothy Hackworth, was born in Wylam in 1786, five years after fellow railway pioneer George Stephenson had been born in the same village The S&D locomotives which shared the line with horse-drawn carriages were by far the most unreliable of the two and the company directors came close to abandoning steam altogether.  It was  Hackworth who persuaded the company to give him a free hand to build a locomotive of his own design and, in 1827, built the Royal George, followed by the “Globe” in 1830, the first specialist passenger engine. Ten more locomotives were built between 1863 and 1867, but most of the work was transferred to Darlington and in 1871 all locomotive work ceased while Shildon became a centre for wagon building, surviving until 1984.

The Locomotion Museum is built on the site of the old Shildon Works and contains an impressive array of preserved locomotives and wagons, many of the latter built at Shildon.  It was here I escaped to earlier this week while the Good Wife did other womanly things – I am always content when in or around machines, particularly those emitting steam or Castrol R, the two finest smells in the world.  Eat your heart out Chanel.

Green Arrow, LNER Class V2 4771

Green Arrow, LNER Class V2 4771

Winston Churchill, Battle of Britain Class, BR 34051

The Bulleid Firth Brown wheel

E5001 in the workshop

Hardwicke, built at Crewe in 1873

Green Arrow and Winston Churchill

 

 

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The Battlefield Line

The delight of the Ashby Canal is not only that the Triumph Factory and Museum nestle on its banks at Hinckley but also, not much further north along the towpath, is the Battlefield Line Railway.  A short stretch of rails that run north from Shenton to Shackerstone via Market Bosworth, more or less parallel with the canal.  To the east and ten minutes walk from Shenton Station is Bosworth Field and its Heritage Centre – The Battle of Bosworth Field (or Battle of Bosworth) was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York that extended across England in the latter half of the 15th century. Fought on 22 August 1485, the battle was won by the Lancastrians. Their leader Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, by his victory became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty. His opponent, Richard III, the last king of the House of York, was killed in the battle. Historians consider Bosworth Field to mark the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, making it a defining moment of English and Welsh history – Wiki – Battle of Bosworth Field.

The day was dark and damp which was entirely in keeping with a steamy outing.  My boyhood was spent hanging around once grand Victorian stations in search of trains and their numbers.  In the immediate post-war period these underfunded filthy cathedrals were a second home – the engines, the rolling stock, the buildings, the drivers and the firemen were all soot-blackened.  Rain, smog and the darkness were their perfect companions. This is what I remember, this is what I search for – judging by the volunteers of a certain age that run the Battlefield Railway, I am not alone:

5542 at Market Bosworth

5542 at Shenton

5542 at Market Bosworth

Paul, the ticket man

5542 at Shackerstone

5542 at Market Bosworth

Ticket Office at Market Bosworth

Waiting Room at Market Bosworth

Ticket Office, Shackerstone

The museum, Shackerstone

The Light Railway

The Wick to Lybster Railway conformed to the Light Railway Act of 1896 which did not demand specific legislation to construct.   Reducing legal costs and enabling new railways to be built quickly, it was intended to encourage the building of new ‘light railways’ in areas of low population.  Using the powers of this Act, the Wick to Lybster Light Railway finally opened 1st July 1903 but with the new legislation came certain restrictions: the weight of the rolling stock could not exceed 12 tons on any one axle; the maximum speed was 25 mph, reducing to 10 mph on curves which had a radius of less than 9 chains; level crossings had to be approached at no more than 10 mph.

The decline of the fishing industry at Lybster and the construction of a road between Wick and Helmsdale in the 1930s signalled the end for the Light Railway which closed on 1st April 1944.  John Skene who was the driver of the first train on the opening day of the railway in 1903 steamed up the engine for the last trip in 1944.

Perhaps because of the harsh terrain and climate, perhaps because of its ‘light’ construction, little remains visible – the occasional embankment seen from the A9, the hint of a cutting through an empty field and maybe the odd stationmaster’s house, largely indeterminate from other Caithness architecture.  The wonderful exceptions are the station buildings at Thrumster and Lybster.  Following the line’s closure, Thrumster Station continued life as a Post Office, a caravan site office and finally a garage store before being acquired by the Yarrows Trust in 2003.  It is now perfectly preserved internally and externally, defiantly sited just a few feet from the busy A99, heading north to Wick.

Thrumster Station

The station at Lybster survives through simple vested interest – it is now the clubhouse for the Lybster Golf Club where the cutting heads north west through the course and the 7th whites tee box sits in the middle of the line – it is a pity that there is no longer any evidence of the platform:

Lybster Station

The Far North

Wick has been on my agenda for some time, almost five years to be precise, ever since my Highland Railways post from February 2013.  The ScotRail Club 55 discounted price has expired but with enough forward planning, you can still go a very long distance for not very much – in this instance, from Hexham to Wick and back for £66, a journey not too far shy of 1000 miles.

I set off with some trepidation – Wick and I have form.  Back in the summer of 1987 I flew there from Edinburgh on a business trip.  It is one of those airports that is disconcertingly close to the sea.  For the last half mile approach, there is the distinct impression that the plane is about to do a Captain Sully on the Hudson.  As it turned out, it wasn’t the landing that was the problem but the take-off a few days later.  Around 15:00 on a Friday afternoon, Loganair unceremoniously cancelled the return flight and left me stranded.

Taking to the railways was also full of uncertainties – the Far North Line, from Inverness to Wick, has a well documented poor reliability record.  Aging rolling stock and a single track with insufficient passing loops means that disruption to one service snowballs across the rest.  The occasional thump of shrubbery against windows also testifies to poor trackside maintenance.  I need not have worried.  All seven of the connecting services over four days ran exactly to time, the Inverness to Wick sections included.

The problem with the Far North Line runs much deeper than reliability.  Travel by car from Wick to Inverness and under normal circumstances it will take about two and half hours.  Travel by rail and it takes over four.  It is all down to geography.  The line takes the long route around three firths: Beauly, Cromarty and Dornie such that the distance by rail is roughly twice that of a well trained crow on a still day.  All three firths are crossed by road bridges with no accommodation for rail.

At least these rail routes to the heads of the firths take in modest areas of population.  This is not the case north of Helmsdale where the line wanders inland to avoid the major civil engineering challenge and associated cost of constructing a line over the Ord of Caithness.  The consequence of this 19th century decision is that the line travels remarkable distances to go to the very epicentre of the middle of nowhere.  For the idle rail enthusiast with no desire other than to observe the empty majesty of the Flow Country, this is heaven.  For the good people of Wick and Thurso and a commercial enterprise dependent on attracting passenger traffic, it is not what the doctor ordered.  To have survived post Beeching is a minor miracle.  I am just grateful it has and with the support of the Friends of the Far North Line, I trust it always will.

Kildonan Railway Station

An overnight stay provided the opportunity for only the briefest impressions of Wick.  Seen in a dull, clouded January light, it is a monochrome austere town.  There is no graffiti, no primary colours and no evidence of the too-familiar chain stores.  This creates an air of independence and self-reliance.  Grey stone and grey pebble-dash is contrasted by brown woodwork; individuality is expressed by the shade of brown wood stain. Everywhere there is solid 19th century architecture which will outlive its original purpose; the place has a curious magnificence.

It also seems prosperous – there is major construction work down by the harbour whilst oil rig support vessels are moored to the quayside alongside modern fishing boats, although nothing like the herring fleet numbers that crowded these waters in the 1800s.  In the busy harbourside cafe, Wickers World, the preferred choice of dress is hi-viz and hard hat.  If ownership of German SUVs is a reliable indicator of general prosperity, then the people of Wick are doing just fine.  This is a collection of images taken on the evening of my arrival and the morning of my departure.  Before too long I will return – by car and with golf clubs.  The links course, three miles north of the town, is just too tempting.

Cutting Edge Barbers

Ronnies Restaurant

The Camps Bar.

In 1651 Cromwell’s Army formed an encampment before moving on to invade Sinclair and Girnigoe Castles.  This area of the town is called The Camps.  Temperance (Scotland) Act closed all licenced premises in Wick for 25 years from 28th of May 1922 until 28th May 1947, with the Camps Bar being the first to open its doors.

Birons Ironmongers

The Post Office – Pulteney Town, Wick

The harbour, Wick

The lifeboat – Wick harbour, late afternoon.

The lifeboat station – Salmon Rock – no longer in use.

Fishermen’s huts Wick Harbour

Catherine, out of the water, Wick Harbour

Wickers [sic] World Cafe – Wick harbour.

Across the road from Wickers World.

Farewell to Wick – the train back south

… No sooner has the sun,
Swung clear above the earth’s rim than it is gone.
We live as gleaners of its vestiges.

Damon’s Lament for His Clorinda, Yorkshire, 1654
Geoffrey Hill – 1978

Sunrise over Wick harbour.

Travelling by train, particularly on the near-empty carriages of the Far North Line, is one of the most relaxing modes of transport devised by man, with or without the clickety-clack of sleep-inducing rail expansion gaps. However, there is mild frustration for the photographer – a fine landscape is only visible through mucky windows which reflect the carriage lights. This is the near-best moving image I could manage – a video of the Inverness to Edinburgh line heading south on the final day:

(dig around on this site and you may find various tweeted phone images from the same journey).

Tanfield Railway

I have driven by this single track line on many occasions but until last weekend I had never stopped.  This has now been rectified; the plan had been to walk from Causey Arch to East Tanfield and back but then I was distracted by Twizell.  In steam, sounding and smelling glorious, I was a schoolboy again – all I lacked, apart from age reversal, was a dark blue gabardine mac (with belt), grey shorts, school cap, hand knitted jumper, Clarks sandals, long grey socks (with red striped tops) pen, paper, Ian Allan Combine and a Kodak Brownie.  Sadly, I left that all behind a ‘few’ years back but, you get the impression that some of those responsible for running this railway did not – good for them!

Twizell ... Twizell ... Twizell ... The Thin Controller... Twizell ... Twizell ... Twizell ...

As a one time railway enthusiast I left this first visit disgracefully long, for this is no ordinary line – this is the oldest railway in the world.  This extract is from their website:

From the mid 1600 onwards waggonways and the Tyneside coal industry became linked so closely that they were known throughout the rest of Britain as ‘Tyneside Roads’. A network of lines linked collieries on both sides of the Tyne to the river.

It is no coincidence that the North East was the area where waggonways took greatest hold, because canal building was impossible due to deep valleys and steep hills. What set the rail systems of Tyneside apart from all others was its use of the flanged wheel – a key element of the modern railway as we know it.

When the Tanfield Railway – or waggonway as it was known at the time – was built in 1725, it was a revelation. Its massive engineering was unlike anything else in its era, or even since the Roman Empire. It was a triumph of engineering over nature, a clear signal that a new industrial age was upon the world, and that railways would play a massive part.

First laid down more than a quarter of a century before the first railway officially sanctioned by government, over 75 years before the first steam locomotive and a whole 100 years earlier than the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the Tanfield Railway is the world’s oldest railway. We will be the first railway to celebrate our tri-centenary in 2025.

Narrow-gauge

The narrow-gauge FEVE railway meanders across Spain’s northern coast between Bilbao in the Basque Country and Ferrol in Galicia.  Narrow-gauge it may be but this is no museum piece, the rolling stock is modern and clean and the trains run to time.

Given my background, it was inevitable that we should find ourselves on the regular FEVE service between Cabezón de la Sal and Santander within just a few days of our arrival.  The single track line carves a neat track through a rural landscape, crossing open fields, hugging shady river banks and diving into rough-hewn tunnels.  Heading east, Torrelavega marks the boundary between the rural and the suburban, open country makes way for a semi-industrialised landscape as the line approaches Santander.

The line heading west from Cabezón de la Sal is even more spectacular but the services are less frequent and the day travel options more limited.  Simon Calder explains the attraction in this extract from the Independent:

Here’s the issue: railway engineers in mountainous areas like to stick to river valleys. In northern Spain, these tend to run north-south. But the line sets itself the challenge of running east-west to link some of the biggest cities (plus countless tiny villages) in northern Spain. You are reminded of this with the occasional squeal of steel on steel as the train performs twists and turns that would be implausible even on a child’s train set.

Narrow guage ...

Walking around Santander, I travel light – as ever I am carrying the Fuji X100s on a Black Rapid strap. It is unobtrusive and swings easily in and out of use. The downside is that this old-style, everyday workhorse is beginning to look a little rough around the edges. However, it is not just it’s retro looks and convenient size that appeal. Like many other Fuji enthusiasts I am convinced that the results you get from this little gem are more analogue film-like than any other camera I have used. This is a biased and entirely subjective opinion but this article adds some substance to the view – Why the Fuji Series Images are so film likeDan Bailey.

Of course, by the time my JPEGS have been processed in Photoshop and ON1, any similarity to the original image is entirely coincidental 😉  A brief walk around Santander:

On the waterfront ...

Jessica Ennis

Afternoon shadows ... Street scene ...

The priest ...

The waterfront ...

The Flying Scotsman

In an earlier post I confessed to a youth spent hanging around sooty stations and sheds, inhaling steam, writing down numbers and underlining entries in an Ian Allan Combined Volume. Traces of that boy in a school cap, grey shorts and Clarks sandals remain.  For the last couple of weekends the Flying Scotsman has been travelling through Hexham on excursions to Carlisle; of course, I had to go and pay my respects.

I last saw this engine in steam at Doncaster when she was still in service; it would have been around 1961, a few years before she was sold to Alan Pegler.  Now she is pristine but in 1961 she was in standard BR livery, soot black and filthy.  Majestic she may be but I have fond memories of the days when not just the engines but the entire railway infrastructure was grubby, down-at-heel but workmanlike.

The first image, dated 14th August 2016,  was taken at Tyne Green on the opposite side of the tracks to the golf course.  The second image, dated 21st August 2016 was taken between Fourstones and Newbrough, on the track and crossing that used to lead down from Bull Bank:

Steaming through ... The Flying Scotsman ...

She is due through Hexham again tomorrow so I will mount the Yamaha and seek out another viewing angle. My whole life has been a landscape with machines.

Dusty roads ...