We thought September was busy, but October and early November have been absolutely manic, with the Rail Golden Ticket working its socks off taking us to railway events around the country!
There has also been a spate of exciting model arrivals, along with more due very soon!
Great Central Gala and a Castle to Cardiff
Our first outing was on Friday 1st October to the Great Central Railway for their Autumn Steam Gala.
The event featured visiting locos GWR 2-8-0 3802 from Llangollen and 9F 2-10-0 92134 from the North Yorkshire Moors.
In gorgeous sunshine, we spent time travelling up and down the line, and in the evening we joined the ‘fish and chip’ train, eating our dinner as the sun set across Swithland reservoir, before heading back to Birmingham for an overnight stay.
Early on the Saturday, we made our way to Birmingham Snow Hill for our long-awaited Vintage Trains railtour to Cardiff behind 7029 ‘Clun Castle’. This trip had originally been scheduled to go to Hereford but had been re-routed due to engineering works.
Unfortunately the weather had taken rather a turn for the worse, and was cold and wet for the whole day. This was exacerbated by a problem with the train heating on the outward run.
We had opted for the ‘Club Class’ option with included refreshments, but although the food was good, the promised supply of complimentary tea and coffee was decidedly lacking, especially considering the heating problems, and we didn’t feel the experience compared well to the equivalent on RTC.
As we only had a short layover in Cardiff, we opted not to explore too far and instead headed for the warm and dry shopping centre to grab a bite to eat, before heading back to the station.
On the return journey, the heating had been fixed, but the supply of complimentary tea was still lacking, and we opted to alight at the Banbury photo stop for the short taxi ride home, rather than going all the way to Birmginham and having to get a service train back.
It was clear that VT was still finding its feet a bit as a new TOC, but recent experience suggests that many of these issues have now been addressed.
A steamy weekend in London
The following weekend, I decided to take advantage of having to go into my London Office on the Thursday, by booking cheap overnight stays for Thursday/Friday nights and going to a couple of railway events a bit further afield.
First up on Friday 8th was the Epping Ongar Railway, who were holding a London Transport themed event.
This route used to be part of the London Underground Central Line, and can be reached by a complimentary vintage bus from Epping Underground Station.
I had last visited the railway in 2013, and it was good to see continued progress on development of this line.
Visiting locos included pannier tank L92 and Class 20 No 20227 (both in LT livery) along with GWR prairie 5521, returned back to its L150 guise..
From the home fleet, Class 31 438 really looked the part in BR blue with a matching set of blue & grey coaches.
On the Saturday, I headed to East Grinstead and the Bluebell Railway for their ‘Giants of Steam’ event. I spent many happy days there as a child, and it was great to be back!
One of the big draws was Bulleid Merchant Navy No 35028 ‘Clan Line’, which is a very rare visitor to heritage railways, normally earning its keep on main line Pullman trips. Unsurprisingly, it drew big crowds throughout the day with some trains standing room only!
I managed several trips along the line, along with a brake-van ride around Horstead Keynes Station, before heading back for the long slog back to Banbury (via Reading and Paddington due to engineering work on the Chiltern route).
A week at the seaside
Apart from a few hours in Scarborough in August, we hadn’t had a proper trip to the seaside since October 2019, so on Wednesday 13th, we headed off for a week away in Bournemouth, with border collie Luna along for the ride.
Andrea had hired a mobility scooter small enough to take on a train and the theory was that, with a direct CrossCountry train from Banbury, it would be a nice easy trip without needing to worry about arranging passenger assistance for changing trains.
Sadly, the plan fell apart when our train from Banbury was delayed over an hour by a bridge strike, and was eventually terminated at Southampton Central.
We were met by a member of station staff with a ramp, who then wandered off, rather than getting us onto a connecting service for the rest of the journey, and had be chased after and called back.
It transpired that, due to signalling problems at Brockenhurst, there was nothing running from Southampton towards Bournemouth and we faced a long wait.
Eventually we were advised that a SWR service would finally be heading west, and another member of station staff had to hurriedly grab a ramp and board us, as the train crew were keen to get moving quickly.
As it turns out, there really was no hurry, much of the journey was at walking pace, along with several long stops approaching Brockenhurst.
We finally arrived at Bournemouth in the dark around 3 hours after originally planned. Again I had to walk down the platform to remind the guard that we still needed someone with a ramp to help us get the scooter off.
Overall, a bit of a disappointing experience with assistance. Although it was eventually given, it was only because I was mobile enough to be able to chase down staff to help out.
After we finally got checked into our very pleasant AirBnB flat, the rest of the week went relatively smoothly, with largely good weather.
On the Thursday we visited another one of my old childhood haunts, the Swanage Railway between Swanage and Norden.
This was reached by an open-top bus from Bournemouth. This crosses the entrance to Poole Harbour using the chain-ferry at Sandbanks. Up on the top deck, we were very glad of the unseasonably warm weather.
In Corfe Castle, we paid a visit to the model village… where Luna attempted to scare the tiny villagers by drinking as much of their river as possible!
During the week, we also enjoyed catching up with family members that we hadn’t seen since before Covid. Andrea’s cousin and his wife both live in Bournemouth, and were able to show us some of the best local haunts.
My grandparents, aunt and uncle also live just a few miles away, so we were able to stage a mini-reunion, with my brother also joining us for the day.
Luna also got to spend plenty of time playing on the beach and in the sea, and Andrea got to indulge her ‘2p machine’ hobby in the arcades.
The mobility scooter really proved its worth, allowing Andrea to get down to the beaches easily, and even all the way up to the pier at Boscombe.
Our journey back the following Tuesday was thankfully a lot smoother, with an on time direct train, and passenger assistance ready and waiting at both ends.
Dean Forest fun
After the relaxing break of Bournemouth, I was back out on the rails on Saturday 23rd October.
This time, heading to the Dean Forest Railway between Lydney and Parkend for their 50th anniversary gala.
The event featured 3 steam locos, as well as a diesel and DMU. The very adventurous timetable had somewhat fallen apart by early afternoon, but was still an enjoyable day out on an interesting railway that I’d never previously visited.
The return journey was rather more difficult than the outward. Post-Covid, CrossCountry have inexplicably removed the Lydney stop from most of their Cardiff-Nottingham services, requiring an additional change at Gloucester.
After arriving in Birmingham, I discovered the 1804 service to Banbury was formed of only 5 coaches. Given the current hourly service (normally run with double-sets), this lead to a massive crowd trying to fit into a very cramped train. Eventually I gave up trying to board and headed over to Moor St for a slightly longer, but much more comfortable journey home on Chiltern.
Little trains in a car museum
The following weekend, I headed off for an event slightly closer to home, the Great British Model Railway Show at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon.
Despite being only 15mins away from home by car, a taxi at £25 each way was prohibitively expensive, so as a non-driver, I had a much more complicated route, with a train to Leamington Spa and a vintage onwards to Gaydon.
The show itself was excellent, with plenty of layouts and traders. It was the first one I’ve been to since March 2020 and it was great to see it well attended.
There was also a room full of narrow gauge layouts, giving me plenty of inspiration for my own ongoing 009 project.
The following weekend, we were back to full size steam.
After spending Bonfire Night at Andrea’s parents’ in Reading, we caught a GWR train over to Cheltenham Spa, from which a vintage bus took us to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.
They were celebrating their 40th anniversary with a ‘Mixed Traffic’ gala, with most of the home steam and diesel fleet in operation.
Narrow gauge steam was also operating on the Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway, just across the car park from the GWSR’s main station.
Again we were very fortunate with the weather, and the event was very well attended, with almost all seats taken on some of the trains.
Heading to Hereford
My most recent outing was on Saturday 13th November, when I made my way over to Birmingham for another Vintage Trains tour.
This was the ‘Welsh Marches Express’ to Hereford, due to be hauled by 6233 ‘Duchess of Sutherland.’ This is a favourite loco of mine and when the publication of confirmed times showed that it was possible to do in a day by public transport, a late-notice booking was made!
Sadly, the trip didn’t quite go as planned, though this was entirely outside the control of Vintage Trains.
After a brisk run up to Shrewsbury and around the east side of the triangle, we were brought to a halt at Craven Arms station due to an ‘incident’ up ahead, which sadly turned out to be someone hit by a train.
Fortunately some of the train was in the platform and while we were held there for 2 hours, there was plenty of opportunity for photos of the loco and for visiting the local shop and chippy (who must have thought their Christmas had come early!).
Eventually we were allowed to proceed towards Hereford, finally arriving about 2.5 hours later than planned. Not ideal, but given the tragic circumstances, everybody was very understanding, and the VT staff had worked hard to keep us informed and well looked after.
I had originally planned to visit the Cider Museum, but instead had to make do with a brief visit to the local model shop (a real ‘Aladdin’s cave’) and grabbing some lunch before heading back to the station, so a return visit to Hereford is definitely going to be on the cards.
Due to the time required to service the loco, as well as fitting around disrupted service trains, the return journey departed an hour late and was mostly in darkness. I still arrived at Snow Hill with plenty of time to head to New St for a train home.
Given the circumstances, it was still a good day out and I’m definitely looking forward to travelling with VT again.
This last few weeks have seen a few new models arrive in various scales.
The most exciting is probably the long-awaited ‘Live Steam’ Quarry Hunslet from Garden Railway Specialists.
The loco has been fitted with radio control servos by Mike at Chuffed 2 Bits, and he kindly dropped it off as he was passing.
It is very impressive and really captures the diminutive look of the prototype.
Before I can run it, I need to build a wagon or tender to fit the supplied radio receiver and battery into, as well as build some track to run it on, so that’s another project for the winter!
Other recent arrivals include a Roco HO scale Swedish Rc6 electric loco in an experimental livery and an 009 gauge Fourdees Peckett 0-6-0T, which will fit in nicely on the BFR.
With fewer full size steam events happening in the next few weeks, I should hopefully have a bit more time to work on the model railway.
I have recently built a small Wills signal box for the BFR, and repainted an existing Hornby resin model into matching colours for another part of the line.
Next up will hopefully be a station building, but upon opening the kit, I discovered that the wrong roof sprue had been included, so I’m hoping the manufacturer can supply me with a replacement.
I’m also greatly looking forward to the 009 Ffestiniog double-Fairlies, recently announced ‘out of the blue’ by Bachmann.
Given the BFR draws a lot of inspiration from the Ffestiniog railway, it will not be surprising that I have two on order, which are due imminently.
Thankfully, it seems that they will just fit into the headshunt at Porthcadw with half a cm to spare! Photos will be posted here when they arrive…