Trails from the Rails 13: Bucknell to Hopton Heath

  • Area: Shropshire
  • Local Train Operators: Transport for Wales
  • Length: 5½ miles
  • Points of Note: Hopton Castle
  • OS maps – Explorer 201 (1:25,000); Landranger 137 (1:50,000)

A short walk, but one which will still leave a fair proportion of walkers knowing that they have had a day out.

___…___

Bucknell station is a charming little affair on the former Knighton Railway, now the first leg of the Heart of Wales line from Craven Arms to Llanelli. The station building survives, partly as a holiday home and partly as a private house. The Down platform is still used by trains, and one of the neat Wales & West brick shelters provides customers with shelter. The Up platform is long since abandoned, though efforts have been made to take it in hand.

Leave the station and turn left over the half-barrier level crossing. The crossing may feel a little familiar to those familiar with old Youtube hits, as it features in this little video of how to make a hash of using a level crossing. (The barriers are a later addition, and reduce the problem that motorists approaching the crossing can see a set of red flashing lights protecting a stationary or slow-moving train in the station.)

Once over the railway (taking more care than this chap) turn right and follow the main road through the village. This weaves scenically past a pub, over the dry course of the River Redlake and between a llama field and a steelworks. Turn left up Dog Kennel Lane. When this swings off to the left to carry on round the village (which is one road boxing in a church, some farms and a cluster of fields, with most of the houses around the outside) carry straight on, following the sign to Mynd.

The road pulls straight up a 70m hill and then levels off, with views over both sides of the ridge – starting by looking northwards towards the scattered houses that make up the community that the road sign called Mynd.

At a “T” junction carry straight on, passing a somewhat belated “no-through-road” T positioned too late for those who fail to notice it at the junction (the main road to Mynd and Bedstone, if it can be glorified in such terms, turns right). This soon deteriorates to a track and begins offering views to the south over Bucknell.

Keep going straight on as the path begins to seriously climb again, rising around the back of Mynd and heading for Bucknell Hill. Mostly it runs between hedges, although the occasional gap provides vistas across southern Shropshire.

The eventual summit of the climb is abrupt; the track humps and swings right to start sloping down the flank of Bucknell Hill. There is a very limited view away to the left up the Redlake Valley through the dense pines, which occasionally provides an opportunity to glimpse Caer Caradoc up on the hilltop on the south side of the valley. It is formed of a little dark ribbon around the gorse-covered hilltop, marking the embankments piled up around the inside of a ditch. (This is not the big Caer Caradoc, which is to be found above Church Stretton a few miles away, but a rather inaccessible one at the top of a long and steep hill, gazing down on the village of Chapel Lawn.)

The track swings down into a multi-way junction and staggers slightly to the right before continuing around the peaks – this time leaving a summit away to the left as it briefly climbs around the flank. A sharp fall then follows to meet a minor road near the head of Darky Dale.

It should be noted that the track signposted as the byway at the multi-way junction does not come out exactly where the map said it should, but this is purely a navigational point – the view of the dale is perfectly agreeable and it has no serious impact on the amount of climbing or falling to do.

Turn left for the car park/ junction at the head of the dale and the end of the road, and admire the view over the gate before turning sharp right and climbing away northwards (past the “no cycles” post). This track runs up through the trees for a couple of hundred yards and then bursts out into the open.

Go straight on up the path towards the farm and follow the signs around the outside of the collection of farm buildings at Meeroak Farm. At the top corner of the paddock behind the farm is a kissing gate (illustrated with a “Heart of Wales Line Trail” badge showing 153305 in GWR white with grey doors passing over a viaduct) which leads into a rather overgrown path between a hedge and a Christmas Tree farm

Irritatingly the tree farm has a splendid path along its top edge, just the other side of the fence, but there is no way out of the field at the far end so even people inclined to bend public right of way alignments need to argue with the long grass and occasional nettle.

The path slowly rises throughout its length above the tree farm. A cross-path is followed by running between a field on the left and another wood on the right; this section rises more steeply until the field ends and the path stands at the entrance to the wood that enshrouds Hopton Titterhill. This is more or less the summit, 360m above sea level (at Newlyn, Cornwall).

Take the slightly left (not nearly vertical upward) fork of the two more-or-less straight-on options. This rises slightly and then begins to fall sharply. A little way into the descent is another fork – take the left arm again and continue to drop down the hillside.

Just after the 225m contour line the path joins a track running along the bottom of the wood. Turn right and follow this track as it meanders along the hillside and briefly twirls into a former quarry set into a dell. Just after this double back down a path to the left which leads to a gate into the fields.

Follow the track down across the fields amongst the sheep. It is a fairly easy to follow track, although the tendency to both bolt the gates and then secure them with ropes is a mite annoying after a bit.

Ahead lies Hopton village, which makes a good waymarker. At the left (west) end lies the small church, while at the right (east) end can be seen the square stone tower of the castle.

On reaching the road, turn right and head into the village. A track heading back to the left immediately after crossing the stream leads to the neat little church; otherwise, continue amongst the houses of the village.

At the east end of the village is the castle. Turn right at the road junction, amble down to the car park and pop in for a look round. Should it start raining the castle also has a fine set of window seats for sitting in and admiring the view until it stops, with several resident birds on hand to hop around pointing out that they thought of this first.

It is not a large fortification. Hanging around gives an opportunity to consider how crammed it must have been during its final siege, in 1644 during the Civil War. Thirty-one Parliamentarian troops held it against a squad of a few hundred Royalist soldiers and killed a large number of them. After several offers by the Royalist commander to accept a surrender the Parliamentarian governor decided he was obliged to abandon his defences when the Royalists undermined the castle and began beating the front door down. He was marched off to Shrewsbury. The Royalists then took the concept of unconditional surrender to its logical conclusion and massacred the Parliamentarian garrison en bloc. (The defending troops must have wondered why they’d surrendered just shy of the bitter end when they could fought on to the actual bitter end, and taken a few more Royalists with them for good measure.)

After studying the castle, turn right out of the car park and continue a short way down the road towards Bedstone. The Ordnance Survey is of the opinion that this road is generally more than 4m wide. All this conjures up is a feeling, should any cars chance to appear, that the modern motor vehicle is unnecessarily bulky – being about the same width as the road.

A couple of gates to the left are followed by a stile giving access to the field. Cross the stile, the field, a bridge over the river and a further field to regain the road that was followed through Hopton.

Follow the road past Warfield Bank and its earthworks. It then slopes gently down across the fields to the B4385 at Hopton Heath station.

At time of writing the station is closed because the operator considers the platform to be too small to allow the guard to socially distance from passengers while opening the doors. This is nowadays called the “new normal”. (It used to be called “closure by stealth” of course.) The platform is accessed via a steep flight of steps from the road bridge. The old access road, forecourt and station building are in private hands. The roof ridges have some rather handsome finials mounted at the ends, which go nicely with the stylish barge-boarding.

Trails from the Rails 12: Rogart to Brora

  • Area: Sutherland
  • Local Train Operators: Scotrail
  • Length: About 18 miles
  • Points of Note: Kilbraur Wind Farm, Loch Brora
  • OS maps – Explorer 441 (except a dozen yards which are on 444) (1:25,000); Landranger 16 & 17 (1:50,000)

By Highland standards (well, actually, by any standards) this is a fairly civilised out-of-town walk. It is mostly on clearly-defined tracks and avoids going off into particularly deep mountain ranges. It is even possible that you will meet other people along the way.

It doesn’t work too badly for coming up from Inverness on the first train and returning from Brora on the last; for approaching from Wick/ Thurso heading out on the first train and back on the third works better than coming down on the second and going back on the fourth.

___…___

Rogart 1 JPG

Rogart station – traditionally a halt, being as it is now a request stop – is located about halfway along the Far North Mainline. It is sat in the valley of the River Fleet towards the top end of the Lairg loop; the loop was built to open up the centre of the North Highlands to development and is the cause of a 30-minute journey time extension for trains to Caithness over following the coastline through Dornoch. The station is in fact in Pittentrail; Rogart is a scattered community stretched up the hillside and fells on the north side of the valley. Nowadays the yard is used to home coaches for the Sleeperzzz accommodation, plus a collection of accoutrements associated with the railways north of Inverness. Access between the platforms is provided by the level crossing at the east end.

Turn left out of the station and head up the hill to the crossroads in the centre of Pittentrail. Pay such attention to the post office, pub and public toilets as may seem appropriate and then head straight on up the lane to Rogart proper.

Remusaig 1 JPG.jpg

The road climbs steadily, with odd turnings heading off downhill to serve farms, cottages and smallholdings set amongst the rolling landscape.

Rogart itself is passed without too much fuss, although the church is a neat little affair. The views from the road are quite good; in this case looking across the marshes towards Little Rogart. Water has two exits from here – back down the valley to Pittentrail and out in the distance to drop down into the Fleet via Pitfure.

Rogart 2 JPG.jpg

Continue on up the road as it falls and rises past turnings to Achnagarron and Achallach. Finally, high up on the moor, a crossroads points to West Langwell (and incidentally East Langwell) to the West and to Golspie in the East. The straight-on road heads down into Strath Brora, which means that missing this turning is not actually much of a disaster.

Inchomnie 1 JPG.jpg

Take the right turn towards Golspie and follow the road as it meanders through the sheep fields and crosses the fairly unimpressive form of Achavoan Bridge. After about a mile and a half it converges with another road at a fork. Immediately after a track turns off to the left. Take this and head into Kilbraur Wind Farm.

There is a warning sign on the approach to the wind farm giving safety advice, the eight-character OS grid reference (so location to within 10 metres/ 33 feet) and a map of the various turbines. This walk is heading for Turbine 1, at the top centre corner, and then swings round past Turbine 22 to leave the site.

Take note of all the instructions, memorise the emergency telephone number and work out how, in the absence of a mobile telephone signal, to make any emergency calls that may arise. Then follow the track into the site. It runs loosely uphill for a bit and then steepens to 1-in-10 to gain another plateau, on which the wind turbines are installed. The one thing that will swiftly become apparent is that they are very, very large indeed. The site was developed in two phases – the original 19 turbines (marked on the 1:25,000 map) have 70 metre posts while the subsequent 8 (not so marked) have 80 metre posts. Total generating capacity is 67 megawatts. A lack of scale, both in the pictures and on the ground, means that getting a precise grasp of what 80 metres means apart from “whacking gigantic” is tricky. Mostly they’re fairly quiet, but every few minutes one will decide to make some horrible squawking noise as it rotates its head or scares off the birds or something.

Kilbraur Wind Farm 1 JPG.jpg

The farm is provided with occasional signposts and repeater maps pointing at the various turbines. Generally, having entered the turbine field swing gently round to the left and leave the substation feeding the pylon run to your right. The older turbines all have nice signs about “beware of falling ice” which as they hold their fins over the track while rotating is not something the average passer-by can do much about.

Kilbraur Wind Farm 2 JPG.jpg

The current OS 1:25,000 map shows the farm (and track) finishing with Turbine 1, which for some reason is numbered (over its door) as WTG201. The extension means that the track now turns sharply to the right, drops past Turbine 22 and then falls down into Strath Brora past another sign for the wind farm, which gives a fresh grid reference for people wanting to check their position to within 10 metres. (And, incidentally, confirm that the 1:25,000 map is slightly out of date regarding the route of the pylon run.)

As the track descends, Loch Brora comes into view around the hill.

Loch Brora 1 JPG.jpg

Scotland is the sort of country where guidebooks are obliged to leave things out to save space, so the glorious setting of Loch Brora remains pleasantly tranquil and unadvertised. It comes in three parts, separated by large peninsulas, but is all one body of water. This is the top end of it.

Keep dropping down the hill to the farmhouse at Kilbraur, which is awkwardly very marginally off the top of map OE441. The pylon run swings off to the left here. Turn right instead and enter the sheep fields on the flat valley floor. Follow the existing tracks across the grass as much as possible and head for the south bank of the loch. Once there, admire the beach at the loch head and then follow the track along the loch side. There’s a road along the north shore (the continuation of that followed through Rogart) but it’s too quiet to be a bother.

Loch Brora 2 JPG.jpg

A very long time ago there was a small community here, in this particularly peaceful and sheltered spot amongst the mountains. An Iron Age broch is accompanied by the field being hummocked in the distinctive way of a field that was under the plough until a few hundred years ago. Now there is one house plus the various little ruins. Sheep graze the turf.

Loch Brora 3 JPG.jpg

Loch Brora 4 JPG.jpg

The track runs past the peninsular separating the upper and middle parts of the loch and then works its way past the bottom of Carrol Rock, which seems to feature in most pictures of Loch Brora. This is followed by reaching the next farm, laid out on the flatter lands beneath the Rock and Gilbert’s Hill. The farmer here has set up four gates as an obstacle course and training ground for walkers, somewhat not wholly in keeping with the Scottish open-access codes, which on the occasion when this walk was tried out were set up thusly:

  1. An easy one to start with – the kissing gate tied shut with a disintegrating length of blue string, which is happily adjacent to a main gate with a standard easy-use spring-fitted bolt sans blue string.
  2. Cross this field to come out at the next gate, broadly equidistant between going straight across and heading for the farmhouse. This gate is slightly harder – a standard farm gate decorated along the top two bars with barbed wire and hung a couple of inches too low for the bolt hole in the post. Releasing is the usual business of sticking a foot under the bottom bar of the gate and pushing it up and out, but closing the gate is a trickier exercise when it can’t be balanced by holding the top bar.
  3. Pass along the field against the wall to come to a gate which is quite a bit harder – a tub of water sits on one side to preclude opening outwards while a timber pallet tied to the gate precludes opening inwards. Once again, the top two bars are decorated with barbed wire. Lever the pallet back as far as possible, pull the gate open (it is at least hanging straight) and squeeze through the resultant eight-inch gap. Pull the pallet back into place by tugging the gate shut.
  4. Proceed slightly diagonally across this field to the fourth gate, on the other side of which the access road to the farm crosses a stream that comes down the hill to feed the loch. This gate provides the ingenious and unusual challenge of being hung slightly too high for the bolt hole, requiring just the right amount of pressure to be applied to the bottom bar with a foot to open and close it successfully. Climbing is precluded by an anti-deer beam bolted to the gate and standing a foot above the top bar.

Join the access road, cross the stream and follow the road as it undulates across the fields past the last bit of the loch. Eventually the loch runs into a pile of glacial rubbish, which the road is obliged to climb across. The summit offers a rather good view back up the loch towards Carrol Rock.

Loch Brora 5 JPG.jpg

There follows a steady passage through a pine wood, parts of which are being harvested. In due course the track emerges from the wood and joins the proper road towards Doll. Swing sharply round to the left, drop down to the river and cross it with the aid of the New Doll Ford Bridge.

Doll Ford Bridge 1 JPG.jpg

Weave to the right at the end of the bridge (to pick up the road off the ford) and then continue up the track, heading just east of northwards, to rejoin the road from Rogart.

Turn right and follow it across the heathland of Clynelish Moss into Brora.

Clynelish Moss 1 JPG.jpg

The road eventually comes alongside the river at the site of the town’s old brickworks, from where there are paths through the grass on the riverbank. Alternatively stay on the road. Everything ends up in the same place, which is at the junction with the A9 adjacent to the road bridge over the River Brora and a few yards upstream from the railway bridge over the same.

Turn left up the hill and then turn right into the station forecourt.

Brora 1 JPG.jpg

Brora’s relative importance led to it not just retaining its station building but keeping a staff presence into the early 1990s. The goods shed was one of several along the line which survived because British Rail retained wagonload freight up here into the 1980s. Developments to the A9, shrinkage of the wagonload network elsewhere and the fact that it wasn’t a terribly economical operation anyway led to the eventual cessation of one of the last pick-up goods operations in Britain. Most of the long-derelict timber-built Highland Railway goods sheds have now been demolished, but Brora’s survives to augment the general air of dereliction around the station.

The 1895-built squat Highland Railway stone station building (which post-dates the construction of the line by some years) is now boarded up and has no obvious signs of a future role.

Brora 2 JPG.jpg

Trails from the Rails 11: Bedwyn to Hungerford

  • Area: Wiltshire/ Berkshire
  • Local Train Operators: Great Western Railway
  • Length: About 12 miles
  • Points of Note: Kennet Valley
  • OS maps – Explorer 157 and 158 (1:25,000); Landranger 174 (1:50,000)

Bedwyn is a pretty station at the western end of an outer suburban service from London Paddington. The overbridge helpfully declares it to be 66 miles and 38 chains from Paddington station, although in terms of general surroundings it might as well be another country. It is one of the smaller places served by Intercity-standard trains.

The original Berks & Hants Extension Railway on the Up platform has been demolished, although the Down platform building remains. This is unfortunate as there are, on the whole, no Down trains from Bedwyn – the line continues westwards, ultimately to Penzance, but travellers have to double-back to Newbury or find their way nine miles westwards to the next station at Pewsey. This is of course a mite awkward if approaching this walk from the Taunton/ Bristol direction.

From Bedwyn’s Down platform, on which you will almost certainly be arriving, climb up the exit path to the road, nod to the Kennet & Avon Canal and turn right across the railway. Head up the village street towards the Three Tuns pub.

At the pub, turn right down the side lane (which heads towards Little Bedwyn – officially this charming place is Great Bedwyn) and walk down it to the penultimate house on the left. Hidden in the hedgerows around the drive of the last house, just before the road dives into a dell, is a sign pointing towards a public right of way around the back of the drive and into a field. It is not a big problem if this is missed, as the footpath merely cuts off a corner to reach a byway which diverges from the lane at the bottom of the dell anyway. The farmer turns out to be one of those sensible ones who maintains a path through the crop.

On reaching the byway, turn left and follow it up the hill to the woods. Admire the radio mast rising out of the trees and the moderate view back across the fields towards Bedwyn.

The right of way runs through the wood in a pretty straight line, although the clear track wobbles off to the left at one point. The right of way is easily followed past the wobble, but as the track comes back shortly afterwards it can be followed instead if preferred.

The path emerges from the wood next to a neat red-brick house – one of a large number in the area of a rather urban Victorian style which sit looking lost amongst a mix of forests and open fields. Weave away from the house to a gate into the next field. According to the map this is two fields which are crossed at different angles, but the dividing fence has gone. Head for the watchtower at the corner of the wood sticking out into the field to the right and then strike down the field to a point in the hedgerow a little beyond the gate. Somewhere around here will be found a nicely-hidden stile leading into a lane.

Cross the lane and the following stile, following the sign to Knowle Farm. The next field is quickly crossed and the path then runs on the left-hand side of the line of trees. A farm track is followed by more fields running beside a wood until the wood turns away and the path comes out again on a lane at Upper Horsehall Hill Farm.

There is some interest in getting through the fences between the farm track and the farm. The first is one of these lengths of wire with a grip and a hook on the end stuck through a holder, where (in theory) you pull on the holder, the wire tightens and the hook can be lifted out. Unfortunately the wire has spent too long with a tensioner, so it is marginally easier to unscrew the holder from the post than it is to unhook the wire. The second is a similar grip-and-hook system hung over the top wire of a fence, which has to be rehung on the correct side of the fencepost otherwise it will run away along the wire down the hill. The third fence has a stile in it, but access to the stile is blocked by a fallen tree. (Honestly. You’d think it would have been cut up to heat the houses. Whatever is the countryside coming to.)

After finding a way into the lane, turn right and head past the farm houses before turning left at the barn. Work past the next side of the houses and pass into the field beyond, with the woods to the right again. Look out for the hares.

Trot down the side of the field and through the opening where there used to be a fence and a stile into the next field. Drop straight down the hillside towards the vertical forest boundary on the other side of the dry valley.

Climb up the field to the hidden corner and pass into the wood. The path promptly flicks to the right and makes a deceptively easy ascent diagonally up the rest of the hill, eventually coming out onto a straight back road. Look both ways, cross and continue straight on into Knowle Farm.

The right of way (not signposted very obviously once off the road) runs down the access road, turns right to weave through the farmyard between the barns, turns left again a few yards later and continues straight down the hillside.

The farm lane forks right at the bottom of the hill, but the right of way continues straight on into the hedgerow, turns to the right, negotiates some tank traps, winds via a semi-overgrown stile round the end of a fence and comes out on the A4.

A curio of the single-digit “A” roads is that when the numbers were handed out they were clearly considered to be the nine most important roads in the country – London to Edinburgh, London to Dover, London to Portsmouth, London to Bristol, London to Holyhead, London to Carlisle, Carlisle to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Glasgow and Edinburgh to Wick (now to Thurso). Fortunes have been mixed. Most of the A1, A2 and A3 have been upgraded to just-shy-of-motorway standard. The A5 and the A6 had the good fortune to include a lot of Roman roads and Thomas Telford in their ancestry.

The A4 and the A7 offer a marvellous opportunity to experience genuine 1930s motoring – big, lightly used, sweeping single-carriageway roads with no bypasses worth speaking of. The A4 in particular has something of an air on a map of a bull in a china shop, blundering through the middle of everywhere, barely getting out of one Thames Valley conurbation before it crashes into the next, and looking rather lost. Through traffic is supposed to use the M4, and does.

Route planners recommend that motorists go miles out of their way to use the M4 instead of the A4; in fact the road could be held up as a demonstration that if a road is not upgraded then traffic will, on the whole, not use it.

The picture looks to the right, but actually the walk involves turning left and walking along the right-hand verge around the outside of the bend for about quarter of a mile. The wide London-bound lane, the relatively limited traffic and the good visibility means it is actually a fairly pleasant amble; passing cars mostly pull out to the central white line. At Voronzoff Gate, just before the road narrows and begins to curve the other way, turn off to the right along a track up the hill.

At the top of the hill the map shows the right of way turning left and arcing around the outside of the wood for a short distance before plunging into the trees. There is no sign of this on the ground, so just follow the track into the wood to the junction with the right of way (which will be noticed very obviously not converging from the undergrowth). Here the track flicks to the right and follows the right of way through Hens Wood, running slightly to the east of north.

Eventually the path emerges into the open on a bit of a plateau (“The Plain” and runs through heathland for about a third of a mile before crossing a stile, twisting right and dropping down the hillside through a wood into the Kennet Valley. It emerges abruptly from the trees still most of the way up the hill and presents a gorgeous view out across the valley.

Below are the red roofs of Axford Farm, complete with small ornamental gardens. Across the meadow is the River Kennet, swirling gently across fords and between reed-strewn banks, populated by swans, coots and moorhens.

Once the view has been suitably drunk, continue down the hill to the riverbank and follow a stony track eastwards along the south bank. This makes a fairly empty walk for a bit, but after a couple of cottages at a crosspaths it starts requiring concentration again. The right of way eventually flicks off the track just shy of the turning circle in front of a small cottage and passes round the back on another, previously unnoticed, track; the owners of the cottage add to the challenge of spotting this by leaving the gate wide open and providing a fairly discreet sign.

Having passed around the cottage the track drops back across the garden and comes down to a couple of white-rendered thatched cottages. Here there are two options – either weave to the right through the cottages and continue on the south bank of the river, or turn left and cross the river to pass through the village of Ramsbury.

Ramsbury is almost worth it just for the pretty river crossings, of which there are several (the Kennet is a very bitty river, much diverted for ornamental lakes and workaday mill streams) but it is also quite a charming village in its own right.

When the lane comes to the main road, turn right and head through the village past the church, the pretty back lanes and the memorial hall to the village square and its pub.

The option of course exists to explore some of these back lanes if feeling so inclined, but otherwise wander up to the pub, admire the obsolete road sign, further admire the tree and the benches where the village elders are (by ancient precedent) clearly supposed to be sitting and watching the passing trade, show due respect to the sign proclaiming this to be the best pub in England and fork right. (The obsolete road sign describes this as “A419 Hungerford”, which is always a good start on walks to Hungerford.)

The road gently drops back down to river level and comes to a “T” junction. Turn right, cross the river and its additional courses and come to some cottages at the bottom of the hill on the other side of the valley. Here the direct path avoiding Ramsbury comes in from the right. Turn left (for a change), pass the cottages and fork right up the hill.

The path climbs steadily up amongst some rather scruffy hedges and eventually turns into the wood just before reaching the top of the ridge, though not before presenting some more rather nice views across the valley. (Which is why you’ve climbed all the way up here.) The side valley leads northwards to the equally neat village of Aldbourne, which nestles in the flanks of the ancient Ridgeway.

Pass over this rather smaller ridge through the woods and drop into the valley on the other side. The path curves round to the left and forks again in various directions. Take the main concrete path which drops down the valley until it joins another valley. The path in turn joins another path; turn left and keep dropping towards the Kennet.

Eventually the path begins to see-saw as it passes a manor house converted into a hotel. Subsequently it is joined by the access road to this hotel and rises up to a lane. Continue straight on down this lane as it drops back into the valley, joins the road emerging from the hotel and runs along the valley floor towards Hungerford.

After a bit the left-hand hedgerow has a bite taken out of it to leave a small green triangle, and in this triangle are a tree and a sign pointing leftwards towards a bridge over a stream. Cross this bridge and follow the path beside a fence, until it comes to a rather larger bridge over the Kennet.

Cross the bridge (pausing as appropriate to admire the river and any nearby wildfowl) and continue through the trees to the road. This used to be the A419 Hungerford to Stroud cross-country road, but is now the rather more rustic B4192 Swindon to Hungerford backwater. Turn right into the village of Chilton Foliat.

Chilton Foliat’s main claim to fame in transport circles is as the southern end of the B4001, which one feels should really have been allocated to a road more towards the inner end of the “4” sector. Otherwise it is another delectable Wiltshire village with some slightly more ramshackle bits of property alignment than Ramsbury. The church has a nice stock of crocosmia in a bed by the road.

At the east end of the village the Hungerford road dips away to the right and crosses the river. Veer left up a side road (not the Kennet Place cul-de-sac, the main lane hidden behind a parked car) and remain on the north bank, passing a rather fine set of gates leading into a private park.

Shortly afterwards, almost lost in the hedge on the right, is a small metal sign indicating the Berkshire/ Wiltshire border.

As well as indicating the division between two ancient counties, this is also the official border between the South East and South West of England. Land on the left of the sign is occupied by twice as many people per square kilometre as the land on the right and these people are, on average, £4,000 per annum richer than their South Western counterparts. Life expectancy on the left of the sign is approximately two months greater than for an equivalent person living on the right of it. The likelihood of having some form of formal qualification and some form of job is similar on both side. Irritatingly the Meteorological Office insists on using its own regions which clump Wiltshire in with Berkshire, so it is not possible to provide a scientific assessment as to whether you are statistically less likely to be rained on once past this sign.

Follow the road into Berkshire and the hamlet of Leverton. This consists of a line of rather impressive thatched roofs mounted atop some rather unimpressive semi-detached cottages. (The first view of them is a little surprising, being a line of giant haystacks protruding over the roadside hedge.)

Continue up the road to a crossroads, where a gate provides the first views of Hungerford and the last view up the Kennet Valley. Turn right towards Hungerford. A path, rather fly-y in summer, runs beside the lane through the hedge on the Leverton side of the road. On reaching the outskirts of Hungerford this drops away from the road, runs past the backs of several houses and the turns sharply down towards the river. Pass through a narrow gully past Mill Cottage, cross the bridge over the mill leat and turn left to follow the leat down to the river.

Ahead is the bridge carrying the A4 over the Kennet – a low stone arched thing with a certain stolid poise, not to be confused with the rather grander Hungerford Bridge over the Thames in London. Turn right to cross road and river. At the roundabout, turn left to head southwards into town. Follow the road gently round to the right and then turn left again into the A338 Bridge Street. This crosses the River Dun, which has flowed down from Bedwyn, at a small bridge in one of the town’s neater nooks.

Turn left down another gully immediately after the Dun and follow it round as it lifts up and over the Kennet & Avon Canal. It then rises again up a steep hill to Hungerford station.

Hungerford station also once had a handsome Berks & Hants Extension building, which was demolished as part of a general tidy-up of unwanted buildings. (They were built of red brick with high-pitched roofs and a very distinctive cross-hatched pattern in blue brick. Only Pewsey’s survives.) It also had a standard Great Western Railway signal box at the east end, which was demolished by some stray wagons. Today it has two platforms, a footbridge and a couple of plastic shelters with classical columns, and looks like it was last refurbished as part of one of Network SouthEast’s budget station rebuilds. The line, originally a bit of a backwater, curves rather sharply through Hungerford town centre and so is subject to a severe speed restriction. This can be inclined to give homeward-bound customers a misleading impression that the Up Penzance express coming round the corner is intending to stop here. A pub across the car park provides a convenient waiting room for those willing to buy a drink, and the level crossing gives three minutes’ warning of approaching trains.

Trails from the Rails Series 2

Back in 2017 I wrote a series of posts about walks that could be done from some railway stations to other railway stations. It was intended to provide a distraction from all the excitement as Theresa called an election to cement her rule, and once that was safely over I stopped.

Much as scrawling long blogposts on walks between railway stations is fun, it also can’t go on weekly forever as a) I have other things to write, b) I have some books to read and c) I will at some point, even with my transport preferences and prolific walking habits, run out of sensible walks.

However, the series of walks and photographs seemed to have done the blog’s viewing figures absolutely no harm at all, so there is evidently a market (of, admittedly, about ten people) for this sort of thing. There will therefore, as the title of this post may suggest, be a Series 2. This time it is likely to feature a few circles as well as point-to-points (I have not written them all yet) and won’t clash with a General Election.

But it may give some ideas for outings now you can get out into the countryside again.

The first one will appear shortly. As additional reading while awaiting the second, and for those who missed it, here is a list of the Series 1 Walks:

  1. Romsey to Mottisfont;
  2. Duncraig to Duirinish;
  3. Kingscote to Horstead Keynes;
  4. Bath to Avoncliff;
  5. Arisaig to Morar;
  6. Ascott-under-Wychwood to Charlbury;
  7. Altnabreac to Forsinard;
  8. Pont-y-Pant to Roman Bridge;
  9. Medstead & Four Marks to Alton;
  10. Luxulyan to St Austell.

Series 2 will feature a similar mix-and-match job, scattered around the country and of a wide range of lengths.

And this is a totally irrelevant scenic picture.

MV Loch Striven 1 JPG.jpg

Lockdown Extension Day 95

Having muttered about keeping this running because the lockdown wasn’t over I got distracted by other matters – mostly reading books that I’d picked up here and there, and doing some other more idle scribbling, and bubbling.

So the garden has been sitting quietly.

And I’ve not been thinking of the blog so much.

However, Boris has done his little thing today and announced that the public-transport-using majority can now go and see their relatives this weekend.

Who may be surprised to find the station looking busy, and people looking cheerful, and not really expecting these sudden visitors anyway, having been making a point of avoiding the news and especially Boris’s pronouncements for several months.

(May be a bit quiet, but best I could find with the lead-in.)

Rail Improvements July 2012 – Revisited

A thing about this blog is that its random collection of historic posts will periodically get views and remind me that they’re there. This one rather caught my eye and I thought it would be worth refreshing memories of those heady days when Network Rail could do anything it wanted. Annotations have been provided in italicised red – it started off as just red because the headings were italics, then it occurred to me that I could just make the headings bold, then I decided the red looked nice, unless of course you’re red colour-blind or using a monochrome monitor in which case I suppose it may be irrelevant or a nuisance – on what has been achieved in the ensuing eight years.

In a bid to produce a vaguely clear article, this page will run through what has previously been proposed and explain passing additions. Emphasis is more towards the Western Region, where most of the work is to take place – providing much valuable employment in planning and executing the projects. The reason for a lack of coverage on the Scottish Region is due to a lack of work taking place there – after all, Scotland could be independent by the time Control Period 5, the five-year financial period under which all this is due to happen, kicks off in 2014.

Great Western electrification from London to Newbury, Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff plus miscellaneous route improvements, Reading remodelling, etc.

This is already underway and is demonstrating the difficulty of rebuilding a railway while keeping trains running. The project will take years not because it will take ages to start but because rebuilding bridges, redesigning junctions and completely refurbishing Reading without disturbing journeys too much takes several years of Sundays.

Reading station, July 2012. The new footbridge is in the background; it is being pushed across the station during a series of overnight blockades from a worksite to the north of the current station.

The original scheme followed something of a mile-by-mile approach – each length of the network was taken individually, assessed and those which passed were put up for electrification. The result was that most intercity trains and a substantial number of commuter ones would have to do a portion of their journeys away from the wires.

The new proposal takes a more holistic approach. It accepts that the Great Western network warrants electrification as a whole but still considers large-scale Devon and Cornwall upgrades unaffordable. So Exeter, Plymouth, Truro and Penzance will still be served by HSTs and Sprinters. Oddly, so will Weston-super-Mare, which means that the new Bristol Metro network will be diesel-worked – either Sprinters or cascaded Pacers. What will happen to Weston’s through trains to London is unexplained.

Electro-diesel trains were ordered, eventually in sufficient numbers to cover Weston, Penzance and Hereford. These enable future “electrification by stealth” in random, disconnected areas without having to order more electric trains and displace youthful diesels for the purpose. This was fortunate, as Bath demanded that its electrification be cancelled while Bristol and Oxford have been postponed pending track remodelling. HSTs no longer operate east of Bristol. Bristol Metro looks to be a job for cascaded Thames Valley Turbos as the Sprinters have gone to Exeter and the Pacers are on a short-term stay of execution.

However, several additions have been made elsewhere:

  1. Electrification of three of the four Thames Valley branchlines – Windsor, Marlow and Henley. This allows the retention of through services from these lines and eliminates the need to retain a substantial stock of Turbo units to work them (a fleet of twelve will likely now suffice). Greenford has still been omitted and its long-term purpose is basically up for debate. All cancelled.
  2. An electrified connection to the North London Line will be provided – unlike previously, this scheme now intends to allow for electrically-hauled freight trains. Cancelled.
  3. There will (probably) be a largely unconnected (to the modernisation scheme) additional chord to allow trains from Reading to run straight into Heathrow Airport. Being developed, assuming coronavirus doesn’t cause Heathrow to go to the wall.
  4. Electrification to Basingstoke (as part of a separate project) will allow this line to be used by standard electric trains, cascading the current pair of Sprinters elsewhere. Separate project cancelled. However, what electrification work did happen allowed the two Sprinters to cascade first to Bristol, then to Exeter and now to Manchester.
  5. Electrification north of Oxford through Banbury (also as part of a separate project) means that the stopping service to Banbury can also be maintained with electric stock and Banbury’s few through trains to Paddington will survive. See point 4. But Banbury, after a few years with no direct trains to Paddington, now has (coronavirus permitting) one fast train each way every 12 hours, weekdays only, usually only stopping at Oxford en route. Obviously it still has its all-diesel service to Marylebone too.
  6. Newbury to Bedwyn is still not going to be wired; presumably a shuttle is anticipated, but awkward since Newbury has no west-facing bay platform to terminate it in. Also unlikely to be popular with the punters. A pool of the long-distance electro-diesels now operate the hourly through service to Bedwyn from London, with a handful of peak shuttles from Newbury. Wiring was briefly discussed but was Not To Be.
  7. Filton Bank (into Bristol from the North) will be returned to four-tracks, sitting on the hopes of the cycling lobby a couple of years ago that the surplus infrastructure could be used for a cycleway. The original trainshed at Bristol will also be returned to use, though what will happen to the car park and what will use the dead-end trainshed (on the wrong side of the station for London trains and the right side for all the trains which want to go through the South West) is open to debate. The Bristol Metro from North Bristol would find it useful, but the idea seems to be pathing the London trains clear across the station throat into their original terminus. Filton Bank successfully quadrupled, though not yet electrified. Restoration of original trainshed doing a good impression of being dead.
  8. The wires will now run through to Swansea, thereby hopefully killing the bi-mode Intercity Express Programme train (initiated by Labour in 2006, but not much progressed since) since there will be nowhere really worthwhile to run it. Cancelled west of Cardiff, ensuring that far from the electro-diesel/ bi-mode dying the entire Great Western Intercity fleet consists of bi-modes.

South Wales Valleys electrification

This is a new project, much mooted but previously not heavily discussed. Labour probably wanted to only electrify the most profitable routes to allow elimination of one of the three fleets of trains used on the Valley Lines. The new set-up is more sensible, involving blanket wiring of the passenger network.  Three things should be noted:

  1. Wiring to Swansea means that this will include the Swanline services; the better acceleration of electric trains means that Swanline may be given a proper service now. The new fleet size may also be specified with this service in mind, whereas in 1994 (when launched) it had to be covered by Sprinters already stretched on the Valleys. Swansea electrification cancelled.
  2. This will include the branches to Maesteg and Ebbw Vale plus the Vale of Glamorgan line. All cancelled.
  3. It does not appear to include the freight-only lines to Cwmbargoed, Hirwaun and Machen, nor the former mainline to Chepstow, Lydney, Gloucester and Cheltenham. This last is a trifle awkward, since the Cheltenham service is operated in conjunction with the Maesteg line. Either the Severn Estuary line will have to be wired, Maesteg operated by diesels under the wires or the two services disconnected; unfortunate, since they were combined to save turning trains round in Cardiff Central’s through platforms. Theoretically the Maesteg trains could run through to Ebbw Vale; the Cheltenham trains could just about turn around at Cardiff or run onwards towards Fishguard (one weekday Cheltenham train is already formed of one from Fishguard). Not a problem with Swansea electrification cancelled.

It should be noted that the origin of the commuter trains for the Western Region electrified services is unclear. The Thames Valley is due to get Class 319s from Thameslink, which are also booked for enough other services to exceed the available stock of 86 units. What will work the South Wales Valleys is unclear, but there are basically two options:

  • – a new build of the Bombardier Electrostars currently used around London Overground, with a more friendly interior;
  • – refurbished Class 313s and 314s displaced from London and Glasgow services.

None of the above – Thames Valley commuter trains got brand new 387s (yippee!), although the 319s will be appearing – fitted with diesel engines – for use on the branches where electrification was cancelled. Further electrification in the future will allow them to make more use of their pantographs. Wales is buying a whole new fleet of highly complex multi-modal trains, probably costing more than the savings from not wiring Caerphilly Tunnel but avoiding the politicians having to officially launch a second-hand EMU. Instead they are quietly launching, a long way from Cardiff, some cascaded London Underground trains with diesel engines fitted. Some 319s with diesel engines are coming here too. Merthyr, Aberdare and Treherbert are going over to tram-trains, which are trams that pretend to be trains because people who already have trains resent them being replaced by trams, but Rhymney is remaining heavy-rail.

Wales will probably want a specially-designed fleet, but my personal view is that a decently-refurbished 3-PEP unit is a good train and considerably cheaper to acquire – useful in these straightened times. The task is to persuade the current operators of the 313s and 314s to hand them over – both fleets have been doomed to imminent withdrawal for years, but their demise has remained consistently two years away. The current train fleets will probably move elsewhere on the Western Region; uses for some of them can easily be found in Wales and the balance will receive a warm welcome in the West Country. – The second-hand EMUs have finally been displaced but went for scrap instead, and the Pacers will in due course join them. Future of the Wales Sprinters unclear. The complex infrastructure spec has proved a good way of ensuring a specially-designed new train was provided. Apparently we’re all filthy rich now.

The North West

The Northern hub – Liverpool and Manchester electrification plus new chords, lines from Liverpool and Manchester to Preston and Preston to Blackpool – has been out for some time and electrification is underway. While the Class 319s that are due to take over these services are unlikely to be ready in time (London won’t have finished with them), a small batch of Siemens-built Desiros will be arriving in a year or two to take over Manchester to Scotland services. – Wiring late too, so the 319s turned up in good time.

In addition to this, there will be an additional platform at Manchester Airport and extra capacity across the network generally (presumably through better signal spacing, more flexible trackwork and additional running lines here and there). – Additional platform built. Most of the extra capacity not provided so the timetable is a trifle tight against the available infrastructure and struggles to cope with late running.

The Trans Pennine mainline to the North East is also to be electrified, meaning that the 185s will be booted from the route after about 15 years of operation. Coincidentally, this is how long the 158s that they replaced lasted too. The difference is that the 158s were absorbed so quickly elsewhere it’s unclear how they were spared for Trans Pennine before, but where the overweight 185s will go is unclear. Ultimately the biggest symbol of waste under Labour may end up being relatively young diesel trains unsuitable for use on minor regional lines being displaced from major provincial routes by electrics and cut up. – Electrification cancelled, so a mix of straight diesel and electro-diesel trains replacing the diesel 185s. Thus far no 185s seem to have gone off-lease so what might happen to them next is rather vague.

The North East

Nothing much has been proposed for this area for a while, so while Trans Pennine is not a big surprise the decision to wire to Selby is new. Selby was passed over for East Coast electrification because the mainline was diverted away from Selby – saving wiring the swing bridge, eliminating some nasty bends north of the station and avoiding some bits of mainline that the Coal Board had dug holes underneath. The relevant bits of mainline have now been shut altogether and the curves are less of an issue; presumably it’s been decided that the swing bridge was another one of BR’s excuses. – Selby electrification briefly to be funded by First Group to allow their Hull Trains operation to go electric. Hull Trains then turned over to electro-diesels so electrification abandoned.

Diesels freed up by wiring will be redistributed across the network as far as possible to improve service frequencies. Curiously, several of these diesel services appear to be 90% under the wires. These include services to Scarborough, Blackpool and around Newcastle. – Series of capacity increases implemented with arrival of 319s and 20 Sprinters from other operators. A series of new-build diesels concentrated on bundling the Pacers off to the scrapyard.

Huddersfield station is also to benefit from some “capacity enhancement” which will presumably feature better trackwork and may involve making the four-track western approach back up to four tracks (it’s currently double line). – Nope.

Birmingham

The Cross City electric service currently has a core of six trains per hour between Longbridge in the south and Lichfield in the north. Two of these trains – soon to be upped to three courtesy of some track doubling on a line until now always single – proceed southwards from Longbridge to Redditch. At least one and possibly all of the balance are to be run on down the Lickey Incline to Bromsgrove. This is not terribly new. – But did happen.

Rumours have circulated for years of additional electric units – logic dictates bringing down the Class 323s in Manchester to join the bulk of the fleet in Birmingham and backfilling with 319s or additional stock in Manchester, though sending the 323s the other way and backfilling with new Class 350s also has logic. Whatever the new trains are, they will be deployed on a newly electrified line between Walsall and Rugeley – a Regional Railways invention which they never really had enough trains to develop properly or money to electrify. – 323s in Birmingham are off to Manchester to displace the 319s. A new fleet will take over Cross City (but not 350s; they’re not nippy enough). Walsall to Rugeley briefly provided with through trains to London but working not reliable enough and turnaround at Rugeley inadequate for coping in disruption so this has been pulled again. Electrification displaced a brace of Turbostars which have promptly been absorbed by requirements elsewhere on the franchise.

More diesel units are apparently to be acquired for the Snow Hill/ Moor Street services. The core of the Great Western network in the city is now becoming quite successful, but the wide distribution of destinations (including Stratford-upon-Avon, Stourbridge, Worcester and Hereford) means that wiring becomes less worthwhile in the immediate term. Ultimately Snow Hill will probably be up for wiring in five or ten years time as part of the Chiltern mainline from Marylebone rather than for suburban work. – No more diesel units arrived during Control Period 5, but a fleet of new diesel trains to displace the 20-year-old Turbostars has been ordered by the new West Midlands franchise. The Turbostars will tottle off to East Midlands Railway.

A Class 323 unit, now nearly 20 years old and one of the last fleets to arrive before privatisation, stands at Birmingham New Street late on a November evening with a Cross City service to Longbridge. Behind, New Street platform 12 is undergoing a rebuild.
The problem of straggling suburban routes – far from Birmingham, with many miles of single track and the Malvern Hills separating it from the beginning of its journey, a Class 170 dozes at Hereford.

Cross Country

This project is not wholly aligned around the Cross Country franchise, but around freight operations (particularly containers) which operate similar routes. With discussion of electrification having taken in Cross Country’s South Western services and worked on the assumption that freight isn’t interested in wires, this bit of the announcement is a bit of a surprise. – And then none of this happened, and doesn’t feel likely to in the near future.

It involves the installation of 25kV AC overhead wires above the following routes:

  1. Southampton to Basingstoke (the London and South Western mainline);
  2. Basingstoke to Reading (Great Western line into South-Western territory); – One positive point of this massive cancellation is that the Reading West Curve, which is a largely freight-only chord that is more part of this project than Great Western electrification, has been wired as part of the latter project.
  3. Oxford to Leamington Spa through Banbury (part of the Great Western’s mainline to Liverpool);
  4. Leamington to Coventry and onto Nuneaton (a useful semi-moribund chord connecting to the West Coast Mainline). – Not semi-moribund now anyway.

Overall, this will allow heavy freight trains to be made heavier and quicker, helping them to avoid all the new electric passenger trains. When half-hourly container trains over this route are a distinct possibility, this is an important consideration.

The fun bit for electrical engineers is that the Southampton to Basingstoke line is already electrified with the South Western’s preferred 750v DC third rail system. This will have to be insulated from the new system. It has been done elsewhere, but not on this scale. It can probably be taken as the first step of someone’s aim to make the Southern Region more complex by converting the simpler bits to overhead wires. – Became a case that the existing SWT (as was) fleet would all have to be fitted with pantographs and change electrical supply at Southampton and Basingstoke. Not necessarily a bad thing for point-to-point running times, but rotten for equipment performance. Probably one reason why it died, apart from the Government turning against 25kV AC overhead electrification owing to it not being able to be delivered quickly.

The east throat of Southampton station, in the heart of the town that was the original target of the London and Southampton Railway. Later it renamed itself the London and South Western Railway, under which name it promoted the use of third rail electrification for mainline work. Now the wires are coming…

Logically this should come with the wiring of the relief lines in South Wales, previously ruled out on cost grounds, to allow electric locomotives to haul container trains all the way from Southampton to the Wentloog terminal between Cardiff and Newport. – South Wales relief lines were wired, but as the Wentloog terminal wasn’t and is the only electrified terminal on the isolated Western electrified network this is not much use to freight. Pity really, as the leading container-train operator now has a brace of electric locos supposedly going spare.

Leamington to Nuneaton has the interesting irony that the line has been up for closure pretty much continuously for the last 50 years, though it’s obviously been reckoned to have some long term value because the axe never actually fell. Now it’s going to become a strategic freight route and electrified. – Eventually some diesel trains were prised from Transport for London’s grasp and bundled off to the West Mids, where they provide this route with a jolly handy and really quite busy hourly service.

But it’s not as impressive an improvement as…

East West Rail

This scheme to develop a mainline between Oxford and Cambridge – the railway equivalent of the M25 – was pursued in the early 1960s by British Rail using a cross-country secondary route through various provincial towns of secondary note – meaning reduced local traffic against the average mainline and so lots of opportunity for fast long-distance traffic. Most notably, they built a huge concrete flyover across the West Coast Mainline at Bletchley in 1962. The following year Dr Beeching, a noted chemist with much expertise in efficiently running chemical companies, told BR that the route wasn’t required so they shut most of it. – Apologies to Beeching for this slur. He was alright with it, but it went anyway because that’s what you did with railways.

Various schemes to bring it back have developed over the years, aided by Bletchley to Bedford surviving as a local route and Bletchley to Oxford being kept for various purposes which resulted in an overgrown single-track chord remaining today. Network South East reopened the west end of this chord in 1987 to provide a second line to Bicester, although in the light of how Bicester’s mainline – the former Great Central/ Great Western route from Marylebone to Banbury – was doing at that time it’s tempting to view this little move as an way of overcoming another hurdle to closing the mainline.

Chiltern Trains have now re-established the mainline and acquired the services on the Bicester to Oxford branch with the aim of using it to set up a competing service from Oxford to Marylebone. Some bats in a tunnel along the way are getting in the way here and serving to discourage private investment in railways when a bunch of fairly common flying rodents can stop an otherwise popular scheme for years. – Now restored – Marylebone to Oxford Parkway at end of 2015 and through to Oxford at end of 2016. Full double-track railway with modern stations, junction at Bicester already provided and passive provision for electrification.

East West rail as a concept has been around for years, so no time has been lost in turning useful spurs in the area which it could employ into sailing parks, housing estates and guided busways. The result is that it will not actually get east of Bedford at this stage, somewhat negating its primary benefit of providing a decent mainline westwards out of Felixstowe. Nonetheless, the delightful irony is that this line which Beeching said was unnecessary and Marples forgot to provide a replacement road for will now have to be reinstated as an electrified mainline. – Highways England have realised they missed a trick and are urgently building a motorway on the corridor. Railway is progressing sedately, with main progress being the demolition of life-expired parts of the Bletchley flyover. An outline replacement route from Bedford to Cambridge has recently been announced. Presently the plan is that it will be a diesel railway with hourly service of small, local units because that makes sense to somebody, who probably lives in Epsom and avoids provincial rail travel.

Oxford station, soon to be redesigned and expanded with more and longer platforms. A branch train to Bicester, currently isolated away from Chiltern’s other operations, stands at platform 3 on the left.

Midland Mainline

The best is being saved until last here. Electrification of the Midland Mainline from St Pancras to Kettering, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield has been on the agenda for years and has one of the best cost:benefit ratios around. Intercity was going to do it but they got privatised and Midland Mainline was left to buy some new diesel trains instead.

The service to Leicester has now moved over the last thirty-odd years from something irregular with shabby coaches to four air-conditioned trains per hour, one of which runs non-stop to the capital (plus one from London which turns off at Kettering to go to Corby). This is the sort of frequency which is much easier and cleaner to run with electric stock. The business case is also made rather better by the fact that a third of the mainline to Sheffield was electrified and then incorporated into the original Thameslink  programme in the 1980s – the Bed-Pan electrification of the line out to Bedford. Wiring was done properly in those days and incorporates all four running lines. – Only the London to Corby service will be fully electrified, probably from later this year unless driver training and general preparation is delayed by coronavirus, although it “has” to happen because the Midland Mainline will be keeping a small fleet of slam-door HSTs until it does. Wires will end at Market Harborough. A new fleet of electro-diesels will operate the intercity workings to Nottingham and Sheffield.

It does not appear that at this stage the fill-ins of Birmingham to Derby and Sheffield to Leeds are on the agenda, but arguably the electrification teams already have enough to be getting on with. – Electrification teams now largely disbanded so unlikely to see much more soon.

Bustle at Leicester, August 2011. A 30-year-old HST is on the left. A 10-year-old Meridian, a diesel train likely to be converted to run off the wires, is on the right. – Nope, will stay diesel – converting modern intercity diesel trains to run off electricity was ruled out shortly after and they’re getting a bit old now.

Elsewhere

Junction improvements at Ely in East Anglia, another platform at Redhill on the London, Brighton and South Coast mainline and longer platforms at London Waterloo (somehow). – Not sure about Ely, but Redhill and Waterloo have been done.

Somewhere is also going to be able to bid for a rather mixed fleet of around 70 High Speed Train sets (out of a fleet of just under 100) which will be surplus to requirements on Bristol, South Wales, East Coast and Midland Mainline services by the end of the decade. At the moment the most likely future is that the power cars will be scrapped and the coaching stock converted for haulage by electric locomotives. The survivors will be a handful of sets with Cross Country and a heavily modernised and life-extended batch on London to Plymouth and Penzance services, which are currently booked for an anticipated withdrawal date of 2035. (Why 2035? Well, it’ll be 20 years from an overhaul programme carried out in 2014-15 and a year before their 60th birthday.) – Survivors on Cross Country plus Great Western regional workings and Scotland internal intercity work. East Midland still has a brace until Corby goes electric, when an internal cascade will displace them. Appears to be no sign that Cross Country will take any more trailer cars despite this being a quick-win for capacity growth, though some hope that they’ll adopt the ex-Midland Meridian sets when they eventually come off-lease. Not personally entirely certain Scotrail have taken enough trailers for their sets. Powercar fleet still intact but about an eighth of the trailer fleet has been cut up.

Everything else being displaced by all this, possibly barring the 185s (and when the cutters torch beckons for a fleet almost anything will be found for them) will drop pretty quickly into work elsewhere on the same region. The Pacers are suffering too, and it’s a bad time to be a second-hand electric train. Not that the British Rail suburban stock was all that pleasant, but seems a bit of a waste anyway.

Given crowding levels across the entire network, it is highly unlikely that this investment will, in contrast to all previous rounds of Government investment, be a quid pro quo for line closures. Rather, if this goes well, something particularly juicy can hopefully be looked forward to for Control Period 6 (2019 to 2024).  Monmouth, Tavistock and Okehampton re-openings would be nice… – Government is now taking bids on re-openings, but still favours nice new expanses of tarmac. One doesn’t have to worry about accommodating environmental impact with nice new expanses of tarmac. High Speed 2 is still going, of course.

But I should probably concentrate on the strange wonderfulness of the here-and-now. Weird as it may seem, the Government may actually be about to develop the nation’s infrastructure in a worthwhile way which supports the development of the wider economy – for about the first time in my life, which is probably why I find the idea so weird. – So not a surprise when a load of the big bits didn’t happen.

This is broadly what I will accept a Government is for – facilitating rather than providing. Railways are, after all, much as I love them for their own sake, ultimately a means of moving people and things around, not something which should be expected to develop the economy directly by themselves. If the Government supports money going into the railways, it will act as a foundation for other bits of the economy to grow in useful directions with more strength than simply bundling money into factories isolated from their workforce and any means of sending their goods to their customers.

Mutter mutter….

Lockdown Extension Day 85

Back to the garden. The crocosmia are in flower.

Like the gladiola they start off as two-dimensional plants, but end up on stalks rather than as a splay of leaves rising out of the ground. The flowers are distinctively different – small things on branches off the central stalk instead of big fluffy things rising out of soft green spike. When dug up in winter there is no risk of confusion – a glad has a slightly squashed and rounded bulb, while the crocosmia has a small blackish corm.

When not admiring the efficiency of my snail population (which are tidying up my surplus petunias at an alarming rate) I am hiding inside with the Great Western Railway Magazine. This article is from August 1929, and starts with a good tabloid pun:

A Thame Mouse

An unusual incident recently came to light at Thame station. It appears that a bottle of meal and water that had been used to feed some calves was thrown away in the goods yard, and lay on its side, while still containing some of the mixture.

If the story were told in dramatic fashion it would next be necessary to say “Enter a mouse, lean and hungry, through the neck of the bottle”.

Nothing is known of the mouse’s meal on the meal and water, but the evidence is that it was quite a good one, for by the following morning the rodent had been caught in a trap of its own contrivance, having grown too fat to get out of the bottle.

(What the staff of Thame station then did with said mouse is not recorded.)

Lockdown Extension Day 84

Today’s insect picture is from a roadside hedge on yesterday’s cycle ride. I think this ugly little thing, sticking its nose out from a nettle leaf, is a highly desirable ladybird larva.

I’ve been browsing some more copies of the Great Western Railway Magazine and found this little snippet from 1929. Originally it was in The Times, but the GWR’s Editor thought it worth quoting:

Sir – The discussion on bad handwriting reminds me of…

Horace Greenley, editor of the New York Tribune and chairman of a railway company, was another of the “illegibles.” In the former capacity he had occasion to dismiss a member of his staff and wrote him a personal letter conveying the decision. The journalist used it as a free pass over Mr. Greenley’s railway for a long time before he was detected. No one could read it.

(In case you ever wondered why computers are brilliant – important communications don’t have to be carefully written out in incomprehensible handwriting any more.)

Lockdown Extension Day 83

Today’s picture is from a walk a few years ago along the Malverns, in the days when I could go to interesting places. (Car owners – this series is continuing because as someone reliant on public transport I am still in effectively the lockdown imposed on 23rd March plus access to bubbles, and am not sure when this will end. When the media seem to think the whole thing is now over I am beginning to resent these restrictions, for obvious reasons.)

We’re up on Jubilee Hill, looking north towards the aptly-named Perseverance Hill, after climbing up from Colwall station. This is the weather in one of its more favourable moments. It went full white-out-blizzard as I approached the Worcestershire Beacon, so I lack interesting pictures of the view from the top across a snowbound landscape.

I did actually have an interesting outing today – I took the bike off to a bookshop that I wanted to visit. Unfortunately the bookshop is 20 miles away over a couple of stiff hills, so my legs are exhausted and my back is expressing comments about abrasive rucksacks. Took about two-and-a-quarter hours each way, which manages the remarkable achievement of being slower than the normal roundabout rail journey. Not sure this bike thing is really suited to long-distance bulk transport.

It was slightly reminiscent of a time when a holiday journey ended up in a 22-mile rail replacement cycle (the bus, put on at the last moment when the line was shut because the weather forecast predicted rain, couldn’t take bikes). This was irritating enough on the outward journey (I am certain that one of the circles of hell involves pushing an overloaded bike up a forest track in the dark and light rain for eternity) but when the exercise had to be repeated on the way back I had a mild urge to murder the managing director of the train operator involved (I also remain of the view that the jury, or at least a jury of moderately unfit people who had done a 22-mile hilly cycle ride carrying a rucksack with a fortnight’s laundry inside, would have unanimously acquitted). Towards the end of the journey home, during one of the legs where the train showed up, a fellow customer watched me struggling the bike into an on-train cycle rack and remarked cheerfully that I must wish I’d just cycled. I may have unwittingly responded in a tone which suggested that this remark was not in the slightest bit funny.

Anyway, speaking of difficult journeys, here is a clip from The Huggetts Abroad. Britain’s great post-war film family have decided to try their luck in South Africa and emigrated, complete with the partners of the elder daughters and an ex-Army truck for the luggage. To while away the voyage, the younger daughter – a certain Petula Clark – begins singing about the secret to eternal youth.

(A charming little series, although the producers never managed to get the actress playing the eldest daughter to return for another film so the character was continually recast.)

Lockdown Extension Day 82

Today – some geraniums share colour with the mallow.

I’m sure I used to have an array of geraniums in various hues, but they seem to have all settled on pink. Still, it goes with the mallow bush, and the mallow is the dominant flowering plant at this time of the year. Some mint shoots continue their battle for domination while the unfortunate euonymus lurks under the mallow and waits for the end-of-year heavy prune of the bigger bush. (The mallow is living proof of the old adage about pruning hard for vigorous growth.)

I haven’t a clue what this is supposed to achieve:

Still, it’s very funny.