March 2014

The Seasonal Area page for March 2014 has been online for nearly a month now and should be ambling off into the depths of the archive shortly.

The absence of any updates on the blog about such things – and the fact that this post stinks of being an administrative filler to get something online this month – will hopefully be forgiven if I remark that March has been so jolly exciting that I can barely remember visiting Henley and taking the picture. In fact all-in-all life has been curiously chaotic since the February post about Dawlish.

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In the middle of this chaotic phase of my life the Office of Rail Regulation has released the latest passenger usage figures for 2012-13. London Waterloo has naturally retained top dog spot by some remarkable margin.

Alongside this is a slightly dispiriting 7,000-user fall in the Cornwall station usage figures, although since 2012-13 includes all the Cowley Bridge flooding in November 2012 this should not really be too surprising.

A fuller scribble will follow if I get round to it.

January 2014

The Seasonal Area picture for January 2013 is coming to the end of its tenure. Attempts will be made to provide a warmer and more delightful picture of the Kennet & Avon Canal later in the year.

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As I was going to St Ives,
I met a man with 7 wives…

It was no good – I wanted a change of scene and a day out somewhere off my beaten trails of recent months. So off I tottered to Cornwall.

Of course, once upon a time I might have gone from London Waterloo for this purpose, on the basis that its destinations were wilder and the trains quieter and the journey generally more interesting than the Thames Valley and the Somerset Levels. But the Waterloo line now gives out at Meldon Quarry, so Paddington it was and I rolled up nice and early for the 23:45 to Penzance.Paddington 2 JPGThe blunt end of the 23:45 Paddington to Penzance, known technically as 1C99, traditionally as the Down Midnight and in more commercial terms as the Night Riviera. It conveys four or five sleeping cars, a buffet car, two seated coaches and a baggage area. Haulage is provided by Class 57 diesel locomotives. This one, Tintagel Castle, has just brought the empty stock in from Old Oak Common depot and is now awaiting the departure of the train to allow her to roll home to bed.

Paddington 3 JPGThe sleeping cars, resting peacefully at platform 1 of Paddington station during the latter stages of boarding. The small windows are allocated at a rate of one window per berth. The corridor on the other side has five similar windows that are rather more spaced out.

All West of England trains from Paddington are currently subject to some disruption due to engineering works between Taunton and Exeter and the 23:45 is no exception to this. The exact nature of the disruption varies, but essentially any train which ends up in Taunton terminates there, decants its passengers onto buses and shunts around a bit before returning whence it came. However, a number of trains from London are following the usual mainline down through Reading and Newbury only as far as Castle Cary – there they turn off and follow the mainline to Yeovil and Weymouth.

And then at Yeovil they turn off that route and pick up the mainline from Waterloo to Ilfracombe, Padstow and Plymouth (Friary), which they rumble along in a hopeful manner all the way to Exeter St Davids. Much reassurance is given to passengers that their train has merely been diverted and they have not got on a service going completely the wrong way. The 23:45 (and its back working, the 21:45 from Penzance) are required to run round in St Davids station, providing anyone who cares to watch with the entertaining sight of their train’s locomotive disappearing off into the night with much glee and enthusiasm.

Once at Exeter everything is back to normal, the diverted trains sail down the sea wall at Dawlish in their usual manner and by Cornwall the slightly sparse timetable looks much the same as ever, in that it is slightly sparse and evenly divided between stopping Sprinters and not much faster trains to London.

The branch from St Erth to St Ives is running normally.

The views around the area remain much the same too. One benefit of coming down on the Sleeper is that you get to start the day before anyone else and before the Sun has really considered doing too much.

Hayle Estuary 2 JPGThe Hayle Estuary, seen from Lelant station looking across at Hayle itself.

Lelant 1 JPGLelant station. The building is now a cream tea shop. The station itself has a fairly sparse service at present since most trains now call at Lelant Saltings, a Park and Ride platform a few hundred yards to the south and nearer to St Erth. Warning signs indicate to passengers that this is not the Park and Ride station, but if you do get off here by accident access to the Park and Ride car park is very easy – out of the station, turn left, along the tranquil lane next to the tidal stream and then left up a short stony path before the road turns right up the hill.

Carrack Gladden 1 JPGThe branch train glides round the curves above the sea through the morning mist at a sedate 30mph, miles away from worlds where there might be people, pallisade fences or places where palm trees haven’t a hope of surviving January.

Carbis Bay 1 JPGCarbis Bay, the main intermediate location between St Erth and St Ives, offers a glorious open beach at this hour of the morning at this time of year. The South West Coast Path wends along the top of the sheer drop to the sea. Hotels cling to the slopes. The train hides in plain sight, a little blue pencil rolling through the landscape.

St Ives 2 JPGViewed from the same spot as the previous picture, St Ives nestles between the great blue sea and the deep cloud-filled blue sky in the winter dawn twilight.

St Ives 3 JPGThe southern parts of the town of St Ives are a jostle of larger buildings, trees and urban infrastructure, variously illuminated by the rising sun or set in shadow by the hilly landscape.

St Ives 4 JPGThe church, deep in the centre of the town and just above the quay, stands surrounded by palm trees, tea shops and holiday let agencies where other churches would have yews, pubs and estate agents. St Ives has a one-way system.

St Ives 5 JPGThe tight back lanes of St Ives readily explain the Minister of Transport’s decision to reprieve the St Ives branchline. Cobbled roadways and no pavements combine with stone-built houses and mossy roofs to create a rather photogenic scene. Back alleys lead through to more houses scrambled away out of sight to the casual wanderer.

St Ives 6 JPGAt the north end of the town, St Ives Head casts itself into shadow. The sweeping sandy beach faces out onto the fringes of the Atlantic. Atop the headland, a small chapel watches the comings and goings of the sea.

St Michael's Mount 3 JPGFrom the north coast of Cornwall at St Ives it is possible to have a very pleasant walk of nine miles or so along quiet country lanes to the south coast of Cornwall at Marazion. On the final leg of the journey, the sun casts hedgerow, buildings, trees and St Michael’s Mount into increasingly misty silhouettes against the soft grey sky.

Long Rock 1 JPGA Sleeper train in daylight – Totnes Castle sits at the Exeter end of her train awaiting the call to roll out for the next London-bound Sleeper service. Behind, a rake of sleeping cars rest under the lighting gantries of Penzance Long Rock depot. The other two Sleeper locos go by the names of Restormel Castle and Pendennis Castle. Unusually, all four carry number plates; Pendennis Castle also carries GWR lined green colours for the final historic touch.

For variety, the journey home was made by daytime train in the company of two High Speed Train powercars called The National Trust and Christian Lewis Trust.

Seasonal Area December 2013

It’s been online for a month now and will be replaced by the January one shortly, but the December Seasonal Area page will still get its post.

It was taken during my 2012 Christmas shopping. The picture can’t really capture the bustle of the actual scene.

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Not a bad year, 2013. The winter took ages to end and I have memories of a walk in March – late March – which was so cold I forgot to take any pictures, even of the God-given scene of a track maintenance train sailing round the curve at Crofton above the Kennet & Avon Canal just as I walked up to the best position for a photo. Then after Easter it suddenly warmed up and traipses around Guildford and Newbury were done on lovely sunny days. A visit to the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival was gloriously enjoyable (and with good company). Trips to various parts of the country during 2013’s glorious summer should result in plenty of variety for the Seasonal Area during 2014. The autumn was warm and rich. On top of that, the politicians were entertaining and the UK rail industry provided much opportunity for optimism.

So we’ll see what 2014 makes of things.

Seasonal Area November 2013 (and Doctor Who)

The Seasonal Area for November 2013 will shortly be archived owing to it nearly being time for the December image.

Penhow is rather a nice area, so some effort will be made to procure a bright sunny image for a later date. As opposed to one taken on a day when it was necessary to wade home up a mile-long stretch of lane that thought it was a canal. (The picture below has appeared on here before, but is used as a demonstration of general conditions at that time last year, having been taken on said day.)

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It appears entirely possible that one upshot of the BBC’s 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who will be a lot of people going out to see what the two most-featured former Doctors were like in their prime.

No. 8 has only previously cropped up in one TV episode, several books and a radio series. The radio series is rather impressive. It makes for magnificent viewing and the Eighth Doctor’s long-standing companion, Lucie Miller, is exceptionally well-cast. There is a certain fun for fans of said radio series in seeing both an upsurge in interest in the Eighth Doctor of late and the rapid development of the career of one Miss Sheridan Smith, who plays Lucie Miller with aplomb and is apparently at least as good in rather a lot of other things.

But the Eighth Doctor Adventures are inclined to be very much behind the sofa listening, even if hiding behind the sofa isn’t much use when the show you’re hiding from was never visual in the first place, and can be exceedingly dark. The overall story arcs are a little weird – Lucie is dropped in the Tardis by the Time Lords for a witness protection programme, but is being pursued by a Headhunter. Other Time Lords drop by from time to time. Later the Doctor ends up changing his companion with the aid of a job advertisement that someone else placed. His Granddaughter visits for Christmas and the Tardis is duly taken over by a manic creature that mangles the time and space arrangements.

The tales leave this member of the audience feeling uncomfortably, if thrillingly, chilled.

No. 1, by contrast, is inclined to be a distinct oddity. Much comment has been made about how similar the show is to those dim days of the first half of the 1960s and so how anyone can go back there and pick it up without trouble. This is debatable.

A lot of the set-up of Doctor Who is the result of work during the Second and Third Doctors’ eras – especially the tentacled alien in every story, the rapid pace and the striking opening episodes. If one chooses to revisit the 1963-4 season some eight stories present themselves. The doyenne is interesting, not least because the only “aliens” are the Doctor and his granddaughter. Aside from the famous opening episode, the rest of the story takes place in a gloomy studio and features a demonstration of early mob rule. The Doctor makes to brain someone with a rock. Several other people get brained with bigger rocks. Between brainings the story is slow and occasionally frustrating.

The second story, which for these purposes we will call The Mutants, features two of the greatest cliffhanger endings in Who (one of them literally a cliffhanger) and showed how tightly-paced it was by losing about half its length with no obvious side-effects when it was turned into a film starring Peter Cushing shortly afterwards.

The third (two episodes titled The Edge of Destruction and The Point of Disaster) is peculiar and the outcome harder to follow than any of Steven Moffat’s. The fourth (Marco Polo) is a travelogue story which expended enough budget for two stories and so was duly wiped. (This is an odd feature of Who‘s history – up until about 1975, it is possible to tell the big-budget dramatic set-piece story of any given season – with the exception of The Dalek Invasion of Earth in Season 2 – because it has been removed from the BBC’s archives and destroyed. A full-colour reconstruction of Marco Polo floats around on Youtube; since the original story was actually in monochrome and this wonderful colour portrayal wouldn’t have been put together if the tale had survived in video form perhaps something good balances the loss.)

The fifth story, The Keys of Marinus, was made on what was left of the budget after Marco Polo and a spot of imagination is required to gloss over the odd more obvious technical hitch. But Keys is put down far too much. In many regards it’s the first non-prototype Who story and sails off to see what it can find. We see vastly more of Marinus than of any other planet before or since – arguably more than is seen of Earth even – with an entertaining and daring plotline sweeping through cultures, ideals and politics via some cheap sets and whatever could be found in the costume storage cupboard. Honestly, an ice block guarded by Crusaders? Except when the Crusaders find they’re stuck on the wrong side of a chasm there’s a delightful demonstration of a key problem with plate armour and big helmets. A puzzled knight is hilarious to watch. Less hilarious when they hack your front door to pieces, of course.

The sixth story is The Aztecs and represents a brilliant piece of 1960s drama – but it’s not conventional Who. The seventh, The Sensorites, is tepid and the Sensorites (although referenced in a 2008 episode about the Ood) are not an altogether engaging race. The eighth and final story of the first season, The Reign of Terror, is the only Season 1 story other than Marco Polo with missing episodes – these have now been restored in an animated format.

In essence, don’t drop into Season 1 expecting to find quarries in every exterior scene (there are something like three exterior scenes in the whole series, all of them in The Reign of Terror – a field and two country lanes) or Cybermen lurking in every corner (they weren’t invented until 1966). There is a very heavy bent towards exploring historical themes, which continued (to a certain amount of underlying rebellion from the production team at this high-level educational policy – a story broadcast in Season 2 and set in the Roman Empire is distinctly played for laughs) until the purely historical adventures were killed off in favour of more science fiction early in the Second Doctor’s run and Who became consistently recognisable as the show that it is today – Cybermen, quarries and all.

The First Doctor does however finish Season 2 by getting the first encounter with another Time Lord – the complicated backstory kicks off early folks – and Peter Butterworth does a magnificent job with the semi-comic role. Appropriately, when the Eighth Doctor finally re-encounters the character on radio (not before time) another comedy performer took the part in the form of Graeme Garden. (Who should really be given a chance to show it off on television at some point.)

So both of these little-touched Doctors are worth exploring – but not with an expectation of meeting a precise match of the show loved by Tenth and Eleventh Doctor enthusiasts, who may be a trifle disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm by the Doctor. Or at least exuberant enthusiasm. The things the First Doctor will do to get his own way in the first three stories are generally terrifying…