Elections and Callington

So, we’ve had the Police Commissioner elections. I voted and my candidate won. It’s remarkable how much say you get when nobody else turns out.

(My polling station got on the Beeb too. But I didn’t.)

It’s quite remarkable that the Government is now so out of touch that it fails to realise that the British people aren’t overly fond of voting for things; it introduces an opportunity for people to express an opinion on something and they express a complete lack of opinion. Still, this should set the Republic movement back by a few years. Imagine if we elected a President on a 15% turnout. Just think what a laughing stock we’d be against all those countries which proudly declare their republicanism in their country names and routinely manage turnouts of over 100%.

(Still, at least we can be sure that the voter fraudsters evidently didn’t bother so the result is at least accurate.)

The attitude of one Newport councillor was that the low turnout (in one Newport polling station area it ran at a really quite remarkable 0%, introducing a whole new exciting election failure sport alongside candidates getting no votes at all) was something to do with:

“People are more concerned with the bigger picture like the recession.”

Well, one of the ideas of the Police Commissioner elections was, I vaguely though (I may have just been trying to rationalise the policy when it became apparent that it existed and nobody else was going to explain it), that these Commissioners would take a more responsible approach to police funds and ensure that they were being spent properly and directed where they were wanted, freeing up money to be spent on getting us out of recession. (The police don’t directly contribute to the economy, except by arresting people believed to be interfering with its smooth running and keeping the defence equipment industry in business.)

It was partly with this in mind that I decided not to vote for the candidate offering to spend as much money as possible on the Fuzz. While they may need more money, my council tax bill (at nearly £700 per annum) is quite high enough for my liking already. And the more she took, the less I’d have available to spend on music CDs, railway publishers and meals out in Gunnislake pubs.

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Speaking of Gunnislake….

One of my recent investments was a trip to Liskeard for a journey on the Looe branch aboard a Great Western Railway Railmotor. A railmotor is a passenger carriage with a steam locomotive inside it, driving the vehicle along at a fairly much adequate speed.

Railmotor No. 93 at Liskeard from the powered end. The chimney can just be seen poking out at the top and a cylinder is visible on the bogie at the bottom.

While down there I picked up a DVD from Liskeard station shop. (Not the one in the main station building, but the one from the Looe Valley Line support group on platform 3. There is a shop in there, it’s just not open much. Try this Sunday. Failing that, certain days at specific times next summer.) It was a DVD which would have been on my wish list had I realised it existed; now I have it, so it’s still not on the wish list. It’s called Centenary of the Callington Branch and features a series of videos roughly covering the history of the erstwhile Bere Alston and Calstock Light Railway.

There’s a couple of bit in monochrome (mostly showing the beautiful 120ft-high Calstock Viaduct – only 10ft short of St Pinnock, the highest viaduct in Cornwall, located between Liskeard and Bodmin on the Cornwall mainline) but also rather a lot in full colour – including a TV/ cinema documentary on the line, made in early diesel days shortly before closure, which was sadly never finished but generated several minutes of quality footage showing traffic on the long-closed northern portion of the line (Gunnislake to Callington). Also in there is a short sequence showing the demolition of the bridge over the A389 at Gunnislake when the line was cut back again in 1994 – which attracted quite a crowd (seemingly most of the population of Gunnislake, all turning out in the pouring rain to watch a nondescript low bridge be sliced into pieces).

Wikipedia’s Callington station article described the lost northern section as follows:

The now-closed section of line north of Gunnislake had several severe gradients and speed restrictions, which made operating difficult.

For anyone who doesn’t know the Gunnislake branch, it is essentially divided into three parts. The first is the Plymouth suburban section, shared with the mainline to Cornwall and stopping at all those mysterious barren platforms that the Cornwall mainline stopping trains bounce happily through. The second is the Plymouth, Devonport & South-Western Junction Railway’s mainline as far as Bere Alston, with its magnificent earthworks driving a path across the hilly landscape. The third is the Last of the Light Railways, meandering around tight bends, over two ungated level crossings and across Calstock Viaduct. The ruling gradient of this third section is 1 in 37, although it’s predominantly 1 in 40 (rising in both directions from Calstock Viaduct). Several bends are subject to 10mph speed restrictions. The idea that the now-closed (fourth) section was worse is really quite impressive.

So it’s slightly disappointing to be confronted with a DVD showing cab views with lengthy sections of straight track. And looking at the gradient profile in the Middleton Press book on the line (Tavistock to Plymouth – pretty good, though I think one of the Tamerton Foliot pictures is actually Bere Ferrers), the ruling gradient on the northern section was a short stretch of 1 in 44. Some of it managed to be level.  Before the Bere Alston and Calstock came along, that bit of line was operated in a shorter form as the East Cornwall Mineral Railway. You can see looking at the gradient profile where the junction between the original and new alignments is. All in all, it’s a rather decent bit of railway – it’s just that, being a light railway, it was subject to a sedate 25mph speed limit.

But it got that decent route because the landscape was reasonably easy – so there are also some pretty decent roads up there and the railway’s cheap construction came home to roost. It lasted 58 years, closing in 1966.

Nowadays it would probably be a good tourist line, although it manages to avoid serving anywhere much. Anywhere else it would be a splendid scenic railway. Unfortunately, as the northern end of the Gunnislake branch it would struggle not to be overwhelmed by the southern bit.

Anyway, the Wikipedia article has been modified.

Off the steel track – the view looking north from Clitters Mine, above Gunnislake, giving an idea of the view from the amputated Gunnislake to Callington line.

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All this Gunnislake scribbling and watching the DVD and subsequently immersing myself in the Middleton Press book leaves me feeling like a Gunnislake branch trip. Not that there are any trains on the Light Railway this weekend. The 2nd of December is tempting since the mainline from Plymouth to Liskeard is closed, so the only trains heading west from Plymouth into Cornwall will be the Gunni ones. However, I’ll probably leave it until next summer.

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