Scrapping Eurostars

(A case-study of asset management.)

Once upon a time someone had a great idea to build a tunnel under the English Channel between somewhere near Dover and somewhere in the region of Calais. He got some engineers to design it. Then he lost the Battle of Waterloo and was sent to St Helena, which is too far from anywhere much to contemplate escape tunnels.

Several attempts followed, which were variously scuppered by the military, by the enthusiastic railway director having accidentally spent the budget on his mainline from Manchester to London and by a Government Minister who considered that his socialist principles did not allow the sponsoring of railway tunnels, being better directed at mass transport opportunities like Concorde (which was entirely coincidentally being built in his constituency).

Agreement between Britain and France was arranged in the 1980s and a railway tunnel was duly bored with strangely little involvement of any railway engineers. As a consequence the tunnels have a weight limit that requires lorry shuttle trains to have open sides, fanning fires that periodically break out on the lorries.

Although a large portion of the traffic through the Chunnel, which opened in 1994, consists of road vehicles loaded onto shuttle trains, the iconic bit of the operation is the Eurostar – the high-speed service which primarily links London with Paris and Brussels via the Tunnel. In 1997 railway scribbler Colin Garratt described it thus:

The idea that steam is exciting while modern traction is dull and lifeless is disproved forever by Eurostar. This train combines the romance of the 1930s’ streamlined era and the cutting edge of technology. London’s Waterloo station is as magnificent as its Victorian counterpart and the Channel Tunnel, within the 37.5km (24 mile) terminal-to-terminal fixed link between Folkestone and Calais, is one of the world’s greatest civil-engineering feats.

(Garratt C, The Complete Book of Locomotives (Hermes House, London) 1997, 2000, p148)

And it was quite something. 18-coach trains with massive electric powercars based on a souped-up, lengthened, slimmed down Train a Grande Vitesse could be seen hurtling through Northern France on their way to London on a new high-speed line – which French President Mitterand observed had been built to allow more time for people to enjoy the views of Kent as they toddled through on the classic South Eastern Railway. (There were also observations about the decision to use Waterloo as the London terminal. This was mostly because it is the only South London terminal that was big enough to demolish a few platforms for an international terminal without finding there was no station left – the platforms chosen were the “Windsor Line” side of the station which had always been a bit of a disconnected oddity left over from the days when Waterloo was half-a-dozen disparate stations all owned by one company and sharing a site. The observations were because the choice of Waterloo brought the French into a station which shared the name of a place in Belgium where the British last imposed a military defeat on the French. Eurostar denied the station was named after the battle. They pointed out that its full title, until the London & South Western carried out a cost-saving exercise in timetable ink, is London Waterloo Bridge. Unfortunately for this logic, the adjacent Waterloo Bridge over the Thames after which the station is named was named after the battle.)

Official photographs of the new Class 373 units under the overall roof at Waterloo International at night, with the power cars newly painted, washed and polished, presented an air of a railway heading into the future. And they did have quite magnificent noses. They went rather well with the big maroon Thalys high-speed Paris/ Brussels/ Amsterdam service, though that had the benefit of no border controls owing to all three countries being in the Schengen area.

Eurostar St Pancras 2 JPG.jpgThe Nose, some years later after a change of logo (but not livery) and London terminal. This nose belongs to the powercar of UK-funded half-set No.373012. The coupling cover (with a little extension of the coupling protruding through a hole at the bottom) makes up the bottom of the Nose, with a clean sweep back over an angry and powerful set of persplex-covered headlights. The cab window, designed to minimise problems of tunnel-vision in the Tunnel, is neatly propped up at the top on a blue racing helmet. The UK-standard yellow end emphasises the shape. An obstacle deflector adds interest at the bottom. As with TGV powercars, most of the bodyside consists of cooling grill. By this stage in their careers they needed a bit more washing.

Not everything was sunny of course. To avoid an impression that an international service from a South of London station (Waterloo) via a South of London station (Ashford) to France and Belgium was purely for London and the South East, it was agreed to provide for regional services. These can only be described as an oddity. The Government arranged for them, paid for the trains (14-car Eurostars with two standard powercars) and then left British Rail to sort out operation (fine) and a business case for that operation (but the trains had been bought on political grounds without one…). Initially BR used some Intercity 125 sets released from regular work by the early-’90s recession to work connecting trains to Waterloo from Manchester and Edinburgh instead of deploying the Regional Eurostar sets while route clearances and the business case were sorted out. These services were pick up only southbound/ set down only northbound throughout and required Eurostar tickets for travel. Suggestions that the three passengers on board these connecting trains were on staff passes have been largely refuted by claims that staff weren’t allowed to travel on them without buying some sort of ticket. After a while BR decided these empty 125s were depriving other Intercity routes of potential capacity increases and redeployed them. That was the end of the Regional Eurostar operation.

(There were various other sundry oddities created at this time such as the “Night Riviera” Penzance Sleeper being diverted to Waterloo, which persisted for some years before reverting to Paddington, and a daily “Alphaline” Express Sprinter galloping from Waterloo to West Wales, which carried on well into the 21st Century.)

Also planned was the “Nightstar” Sleeper service from Plymouth, Swansea and Edinburgh to points on the Continent. To provide this, new high-quality sleeping cars were built, which were too heavy and power-hungry to use on internal sleeper services. Generator cars were converted from conventional UK sleeping cars to provide hotel power because pairs of diesel locomotives would be unable to climb Hemerdon Bank out of Plymouth while simultaneously powering and dragging the Nightstar coaches. Class 37 diesel locomotives were converted to haul the diesel Nightstars and Class 92 electric locomotives were built to work the electric portions from Edinburgh and through the Tunnel. Then someone decided that the average Plymouth passenger would in fact rather take a budget airline to Paris and either stay there overnight or lose half the day getting to the airport, flying and allowing for the time difference. The 92s were quietly lost in a mass of paperwork owing to their complexity, the generator cars were parked at the back of a depot and forgotten about, the 37s were transferred to nuclear flask work (where they remain) and the Nightstar coaches were parked at the MoD base in Kineton, contemplated for discreet scrapping and eventually sold to Canada.

This set the scene for the fate of Sleeper trains across Europe, except the sleeping cars are simply being scrapped rather than sold to Canada – and except in the UK, where Sleeper trains enjoy great political support.

Paddington 6 JPG.jpgNight Riviera Sleeper at Paddington, preparing to depart for Penzance behind 57602 Restormel Castle. It tends to load rather well, offering a combination of a bed, late night departure and early morning arrival to provide a run with a “waking journey” time of about 15 minutes. There remains a reckoning that it isn’t worth trying to emulate its success on the Paris road.

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Meanwhile the newly privatised railway was having locomotive problems.

91101-york-jpg
The doyenne of the Class 91 fleet swings out of York station en route to Edinburgh.

The 31 6,300 horsepower Class 91 electric locomotives for the East Coast Mainline were built in 1989 for hurrying rakes of Mark 4 coaches to Edinburgh and back. 6,300 horsepower is a lot of power for a locomotive to put down through four axles (each axle gets about the same power as a 37 puts down across six axles) and the locos were therefore nicely stuffed with forward-thinking equipment and technology. By 1998 they were obsolete and failing to make the necessary availability levels to operate the full service, while their operator was struggling with rising passenger levels benefiting from a good economy and intrigued by the dark-blue luxuriously-styled Great North Eastern Railway. GNER initially responded by dragging the 1980s prototype electric locomotive, No. 89001, out of preservation; it spent 1998, some of 1999 and a couple of bits of 2000 showing off its long, drooping nose on Kings Cross – Leeds services. Between these bouts of service it demonstrated a) that it was a prototype microprocessor-driven high-powered electric loco, b) why it had remained a prototype and c) how it had ended up in preservation in the mid-90s rather than continuing to be the East Coast standby electric locomotive.

So in 2000 GNER was in urgent need of extra capacity, something to cover for 89001 being back at its builder while they tried to remember why, 14 years ago, they had built it like that and another something that would cover for the 91s going off to somebody else who could make them work properly. (The following year 89001 would become surplus when Mr Gary Hart wrote off the spare rake of Mark 4 coaches with his Land Rover and a passing coal train, thereby freeing up a 91 but straining the coaching stock situation further.) There was no intercity coaching stock worth speaking of free at the time, but Eurostar had a fleet of Regional Eurostars sitting around with no prospect of any actual regional work. The result was a logical deal – Eurostar arranged to lease two regional sets daily to GNER, who provided them with work on shorter hauls (5 trips daily, initially to York and later to Leeds). After a short while two full sets were vinyled up in GNER dark blue, in which they looked rather handsome.

Various points rapidly became apparent. A Class 373 Regional Eurostar set has two powercars in place of the single 91. Between them they generate 2½ times the power rating. This means an associated increase in power consumption. As East Coast power supplies aren’t that good, the Eurostars couldn’t run into Kings Cross in the morning peak and one northbound train started at Peterborough. They also had the equivalent of three more coaches than a 91+Mk4 set, which meant considerable platforming difficulties at Kings Cross for a net gain of 4 seats. (Or, to be fair, 558 seats over what could have been provided if they hadn’t been hired.)

There was also the usual trouble at that time of getting the Eurostars through Railtrack’s approvals system.

It was shortly after this operation began that it was decided through Paris to Edinburgh trains would never run. Soon after the Eurostar depot in Manchester, proudly branded “Eurostar habite ici” was transferred to Alstom and refurbished for use as the home for the new Virgin Pendolino fleet that was taking over the West Coast Mainline.

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The opening of two phases of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link on time, to spec and within budget (such as anyone had dared set timescales or budgets), culminating in the relaunch of the magnificently refurbished Midland Railway terminal at London St Pancras, gave an impression of a thriving Eurostar operation. It was certainly doing fairly respectably for something hidebound by border controls putting 30 minutes onto whatever journey time it could achieve and badly bashing potential for the sort of walk-up intensive business and leisure travel that sustains intensive domestic intercity services from London to Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle (all two or three trains per hour, mostly eight cars or more and generally well-loaded). If compared with the continental operations with which it tends to be more in tune, it was (and is) doing very well indeed – a broadly hourly international service with quarter-mile-long trains that load heavily.

Eurostar had also expanded the destination list, with trains to Avignon, Marseille and the Alps. They always look particularly odd in the British railway computer system, which doesn’t monitor their progress after they leave UK soil until they reach their destination.

Beneath this was a sign of hopes not fulfilled. The Regional Eurostars came off-lease from GNER in December 2005 after Virgin Cross Country released conventional, go-anywhere (albeit diesel) High Speed Trains and the Class 91 overhaul programme was very successfully completed. There was still no actual Regional Eurostar work for them in the UK and (mostly) they were incorporated into the French domestic TGV fleet. Three French Eurostars went the same way. TGV branding was applied and the yellow ends painted over in silver. This was not necessarily a long-term solution for an oversized fleet (32 full sets for an operation that would struggle, even on the most inefficient diagramming, to need more than 24 sets daily). Eurostars are hideously complicated things which until they moved from Waterloo to St Pancras in 2007 had to mix in-cab signalling and high-speed pantographs with electro-magnetic warning equipment for signals from the 1950s and third-rail shoegear required as a result of an electrification decision made by the London & South Western Railway in 1913. They remain kitted out with a mass of gubbins for conventional Belgian lines, which are not compatible with French ones. In due course SNCF began laying Eurostars up in discreet yards, hidden amongst derelict TGVs, and quietly scrapping them.

Eurostar carried out periodic interior refurbishments, but externally the fleet remained in original condition and seemed to stop coming into contact with wash plants. Winter 2010 saw a series of failures in the Chunnel brought on by snow in Northern France getting into equipment and then melting. It was vaguely reminiscent of British Rail’s “wrong kind of snow,” a reminder that National Rail hadn’t pleaded “wrong kind of snow” for some years and very badly managed. In the early 2010s an agency called “Someone” was commissioned to do some form of refurbishment design, which didn’t seem to come to much except coinciding with a redesign of the Eurostar logo from three wiggling lines to a silvery “e”. An announcement of a full refurbishment was followed by an announcement of new trains to expand the operation to Amsterdam, then an announcement of more new trains and finally news that most of the original fleet will be withdrawn and “recycled”.

A year before the recycling was officially announced Eurostar donated the powercar from Regional Eurostar half-set 373308 to the National Railway Museum. It was in strikingly good condition. It is not considered that this reflects particularly on Eurostar’s care in operating it. It more reflects on the quality of modern cocooning. Nobody can find the slightest trace of a suggestion that this powercar has ever done an inch of work in its life.

A handful of the original sets, now branded e300 after their top speed in kilometres per hour, are to be refurbished with the new Eurostar livery and interior and retained for the more exotic destinations (like Avignon and Ashford – none of the new trains are fitted with the UK Automatic Warning System magnets so they can’t currently work into Ashford station). The remainder are to be dragged to either European Metals Recycling of Kingsbury, on the outskirts of Birmingham, or to Mr Booths’s scrapyard in Rotherham near Sheffield. There they will be broken up.

Rumour, based on the schedules shown in railway systems, says that the doomed sets will run into St Pancras in passenger service, drop their final loads and be collected by a Class 66 diesel that will drag them over the chord onto the Midland Mainline and off on their final journey. This seems a trifle odd, as usually withdrawn trains are taken back to depot for tidying, removal of reusable parts and a chance to say goodbye to their classmates. It seems unfair to dump a train laden with transformer oil and full Controlled Emission Toilet tanks on a scrap merchant. But Eurostar has always been a bit of a rule unto itself.

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The sight of a load of iconicly-nosed high-speed trains being dragged away for scrap at the age of 22 raises some very puzzled expressions around UK rail. The main reflection is that they are some 18 years younger than the 1976-built diesel-powered High Speed Trains, which are currently 40 and showing no signs of stopping.

St Pancras 5 JPG.jpg A High Speed Train, formerly marketed as an Intercity 125, at St Pancras station shortly before working an evening train to Nottingham. This powercar is seen on at least its seventh livery, after several moves between routes and following a period as a battery/ hybrid testbed.

This is certainly true. It is also true that the HSTs have had a lot more mid-life overhauls than the Eurostars have had, which helps with matters such as bodywork. There is a certain element of a difference between keeping a fleet running because there doesn’t seem to be much choice and having the option of deciding to buy new. One might also just as well point out that this locomotive is over 50 years old:

Lancaster 1 JPG.jpgClass 37 No. 37409 at Lancaster, a few months over 51 years old. This is not necessarily a recommendation, handsome and friendly as she looks. Her appearance on Class 2 passenger work between Lancaster and Carlisle via Barrow-in-Furness is under duress – on both sides, it sometimes seems. A slightly more heavily refurbished batch of the same fleet was supposed to work the Nightstar services.

There is also the matter that Eurostar is a lot more bothered about being a lively public-facing operator than the average British Train Operating Company. It is busy being very keen on people viewing its trains as fresh and exciting. Going on the Eurostar is supposed to be part of the adventure. HST operators are now mostly after a competent high-mileage 125mph people-mover and tend to assume, quite rightly, that if you just tell the punters it’s a high-speed train most people will be entirely satisfied with this and neglect to associate the external slam doors with the possibility that they might have gone to the zoo on one of these things, several paint jobs and interior designs ago, in about 1978. In fact South West Trains got terribly proud ten years ago when they heavily refurbished a load of clearly obsolete non-air-conditioned galloping old suburban units and convinced most of the customers surveyed that these were new trains. On the back of this discovery, the trains’ owner is now putting them through a heavy mid-life overhaul. (Though this does raise the thought that perhaps SWT’s customers merely have lower expectations of train quality than Eurostar ones.)

Clapham Junction 2 JPG.jpgUnobservant passengers can be persuaded that this 1980s Class 455 was built ten years ago. In the background, in Southern green, is a train that was built ten years ago for comparison.

Very fast trains also have a very short shelf life. For the Eurostars this is partly being attributed to life in the Channel Tunnel, but it is a general feature of such equipment. To a certain extent train lives are perhaps better measured in miles than years – suburban tank engines pottering up and down Cornish branch lines can happily reach 90, while high-flying Japanese Shinkansen sets are built on an industrial scale and then similarly scrapped 20 years later. The original Shinkansen design, which actually tended not to get much above 130mph, causes some confusion by having run for 40 years. In fact the production line ran, on and off, for 20 years and later-built examples replaced the early-build ones.

Buying the old Eurostars for general use in the UK would be a tricky exercise. First there is the distinctive nose, which means they’re hard to pass off as anything more than cast-offs. Then there’s the time to overhaul them, by which point an operator could have bought new trains. Then there’s the power consumption, which would still be a problem for East Coast deployment. The limited supply of doors makes them unsuitable for interurban semi-fast work on Anglia, Midland and Western services, which are increasingly reliant on mass loading/ unloading in tight dwells specified 30 years ago for half the passenger numbers (even before anyone points out that the Midland won’t be electrified much before 2025, requiring reliable diesel locos to be found from somewhere and the trailers to be converted to hauled stock, and the Western is looking to be a bi-mode railway with core electrification and diesel outposts). They can’t tilt, which rules out use on the West Coast Mainline (drop the tilt requirement and the old Class 87s might as well be brought back from Bulgaria to work the service). The London & South Western is now looking at fast-accelerating high-capacity trains capable of complete unloading in about thirty seconds; Eurostars tend to take about five minutes. There is therefore no point in a concept involving re-fitting the shoegear.

That is before any discussion about power supply, gearing, bodywork condition, wiring, technology, the obsolescence of anything built in the late ’80s/ early ’90s, the possibility of removing coaches, complex discussions of pantographs and the pressure they place on the overhead wire, things like “loading gauge” and “kinetic envelope”, the general reckoning that a Regional Eurostar can’t get into Newcastle station because the North Eastern Railway made a mess of the southern approaches and put in too many corners, axle loadings on articulated bogies, lack of enthusiasm on the modern UK railway for articulation, total lack of similarity to anything else running in this country and a shortage of paths to run them in even if all the above was overcome.

The last major fleet disposal in this country was when the Southern Region electric train fleet was almost completely replaced between 2003 and 2005. This was mostly based on the rolling stock lacking structural integrity in accidents (it was also extremely old, but the main concern was safety). Since then rail vehicle scrapping has amounted to some Manchester trams, a load of old coal wagons, a few diesel and electric locos (very few), a handful of coaches and the Metropolitan and Circle Line trains. This means that there is not much familiarity amongst followers of UK rail these days with the idea of scrapping stuff. Everything is recycled by moving it around the network. There is suddenly a need to come to terms with the possibility that heavy rail trains are mortal for reasons other than terrible crashworthiness – something which the UK rail fleet owners’ accountants will also have to come to terms with shortly after a long period of pleasant serenity.

Eurostar have the option of refurbishing an obsolete 22-year-old ’90s-electronics train built to fit through small Southern Region bridges or buying a gleaming new thing with modern equipment, distributed power (no more powercars), standardisation with other new train fleets, a fleet size matching requirements and a bodyshell that won’t fit through Southern Region bridges because it’s to the European standard size. There isn’t really much argument in the matter.

e320-st-pancras-1-jpg New Eurostar No.374010 at St Pancras with a train from Paris Gare du Nord.

Class 374 interior.jpgInside a 374, with its high cloth seats, leather headrests and tables of a design unfamiliar to UK travellers. It’s an odd opportunity to consider interior design – the big white bodyshell should feel spacious, but the high seats with very few tables make it feel crowded.

HST interior (EMT) 1 JPG.jpgA UK loading-gauge HST coach operated by East Midlands Trains for comparison. The higher windows relative to the seat tops may help, as may the scarlet rather than black seat materials.

It is a pity that the new train, branded as the e320, is not really that great. Internally, it feels more cramped than its predecessor despite the bigger body. The old Eurostars are articulated, so the wheels are under the gangways. This is supposed to marginally improve the ride over wheels mounted under the bodyshell. But it shouldn’t have the difference it has between the old and new Eurostar fleets. The new design “hunts” (swaying from side to side on the rail) something awful, has a very heavy feel to its ride and frequently “bottoms out” on its suspension. It is nothing compared to the cheap and nasty suspension of a British Sprinter diesel unit, which gallops along with an easy, lightweight feel.

Eurostar Calais 1 JPG.jpgA Eurostar slides out of Calais station. Note the articulated bogies beneath the gangways. The centre vehicle is the buffet car with head-height windows.

One feels the e320 should be better, being the latest version of the German Intercity Express Train. Most ICEs are very spacious inside. The ride may of course be partly rail profile. Some years ago Siemens (who built the e320s) entered the UK rail market with an electric train for the London & South Western which believed that a 750v third rail was supplied with 750v and got very puzzled on meeting L&SWR substations (which will supply many voltages and assume trains running in the peaks, busy areas or longer isolated bits don’t expect 750v). The e320 may be similarly ill-equipped for reality of non-German railways.

But being the latest ICE, it has the latest ICE nose – not a very handsome one. Eurostar is has lost its distinctive face. If there’s one thing that feels odder than the Eurostar nose lying gas-axed in a muddy scrapyard, it’s the idea that the distinctive British very-high-speed train could be met somewhere else with someone else’s paint…

ice-hamburg-1-jpg Same design, with minor changes – as an ICE at Cologne.

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Eurostar St Pancras 1 JPG.jpgThe spare – powercar 3999, deployed in place of the set’s unavailable usual powercar. Suggestions appear in odd places that rides can be had behind it wholly unknowing because it takes the identity of the powercar it replaces. On this 2015 evening it was very definitely running as the spare. Its medium-term fate is unclear. In a strange irony, it is probably safe until the final Class 373 works its last.

European Train Punctuality

I have been on holiday again, visiting Corsica.

As a consequence I have been spending a lot of time on European rail services getting there and back. Some punctuality statistics generated in the process are listed below.

As is often requested, punctuality is here listed as “right time means right time”. It is based on my journey (not the train’s, so whether I got to my destination at booked time not whether the train finished its journey when it was supposed to) but is also by individual train leg (so if I did a journey on two trains both of which were 15 minutes late that shows as 30 minutes delay).

Other general explanation:

  • Trains: number of trains used
  • Time spent: time spent on those trains (roughly)
  • Total minutes delay: total number of minutes late that I was deposited at each station where I got off the train (fairly accurately)
  • Minutes per hour: Rough calculation of minutes delay divided by number of hours.
  • Length of hour: Time that trains therefore took on average to cover an hour of timetabled journey.

City Metro trains omitted because they ignore their timetables too much to be assessed.

Britain

  • Trains: 6
  • Time spent: 6 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 7
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 10s
  • Length of hour: 61m

Eurostar

  • Trains: 2
  • Time spent: 5 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 12
  • Minutes per hour: 2m 15s
  • Length of hour: 62m

France (excluding Corsica)

  • Trains: 5
  • Time spent: 9½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 30
  • Minutes per hour: 3m 10s
  • Length of hour: 63m

Italy

  • Trains: 7
  • Time spent: 10 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 15
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 30s
  • Length of hour: 61½m

Corsica

  • Trains: 17
  • Time spent: 15 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 60
  • Minutes per hour: 4m
  • Length of hour: 64m

France (including Corsica, for interest)

  • Trains: 23
  • Time spent: 24½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 90
  • Minutes per hour: 3m 40s
  • Length of hour: 63½m

Switzerland

  • Trains: 4
  • Time spent: 4½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 8
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 45s
  • Length of hour: 61½m

Total

  • Trains: 41
  • Time spent: 50 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 132
  • Minutes per hour: 2m 40s
  • Length of hour: 62½m

Total (excluding Corsica, for interest)

  • Trains: 24
  • Time spent: 35 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 72
  • Minutes per hour: 2m
  • Length of hour: 62m

So Britain is most punctual, followed by Italy, Switzerland, Eurostar and France (with or without Corsica).

It may be worth noting that Britain, France and Italy are good at providing train running information at all stations – both with on-platform screens and also concourse/ on platform full station departure boards. The Swiss are not in the same league; at Bellinzona there was no full station live departure board (just the daily departures sheet and the individual platform screens) while at intermediate stops up the Gotthard Pass there was nothing at all. If a train was late – and as often as not they were – there was no indication as to how long you might be there. Swiss platform screens also, very distractingly and seemingly now uniquely, do not show the full calling pattern but merely selected highlights. As a consequence it’s helpful to know where your train is going and where else it might be stopping. By contrast, Italian full-station departure boards, proudly displayed over booking-office windows, have the full calling pattern scrolling across.

Corsica had no platform indications at all, and passengers were expected to know where to go. This is not entirely unreasonable for a ramshackle narrow-gauge network, but as it is clearly trying not to be ramshackle (and in fact was loading very well with people who probably count as “normal”) some sort of move towards centralised control, effective train running information and late 19th-century single-line working (as opposed to what looked like a combination of a very basic signalling structure plus crossing orders) would not be unreasonable. (At least provide a few Help Points at key stations to indicate how trains were running at the last crossing point.)

help-point-1-jpgA Great Western small station help point. Marvellous invention and a very helpful investment, even at stations with only one platform and no “reporting points” for a few miles.

The French, British and largely Swiss did station announcements in one language; the Italians are bi-lingual Italian and English. The English announcements are a bit odd as the station names have only been recorded in Italian so automated announcements keep dropping from Received Pronunciation English into sharp, tuneful Italian for “Pisa Centrale”.

No connections were missed (one was held for the two-dozen of us making it) and all destinations were reached either about when the railway said it would get me there or (in three cases) without such delay as caused any inconvenience to onward connections. The connection-making was despite me having heavy luggage and not padding journeys, so overall everything went very well and I was impressed.

Voyaging to central Corsica from southern England entirely by rail, except for 8 hours of sea-crossing, very much brings home that the railways are an international network. There is a lot of inter-reliance and a great deal of potential to import delays. On that basis, wanting to allow 62½ minutes for every advertised scheduled hour (which for 50 hours travelling I think starts to become a statistically acceptable figure) is really not that bad. (In practice it does not mean that passengers should tell their friends to meet them 25 minutes after the timetable says they will arrive at the end of a 10-hour journey. It does however mean that making a 5-minute connection into the last train of the night after a 10-hour journey might be considered statistically inadvisable and if it is possible to target the penultimate train instead this will provide a nice little buffer. If of course the only way to make the journey is to do the 5-minute connection and otherwise you’re booking a hotel ten miles from your destination then punt on it. You’ll probably make it most of the time.)

The major delays were:

  • French TGVs delayed in the Avignon area (the one I was on by 15 minutes and the one I connected into at Marseille by the same, presumably due to being a following train);
  • Delays on the single-line sections between Ventimiglia and Genoa (the only Italian train I had running late, and if we went by double-line trains only Italy would have a clean record);
  • Something which knocked back the early morning Ajaccio to Bastia train on Corsica by half an hour;
  • For completeness, four minutes of the seven in the UK were waiting to follow a delayed train off the single line from Kings Lynn.

So across Europe single lines exacerbate delays – breaking news….

St Pancras 4 JPG.jpgEurostar at St Pancras (half-set 373012).

Livorno 1 JPG.jpgPunctual Trenitalia service en route to Roma Termini, seen gliding into Livorno Centrale.

Nice Ville 1 JPG.jpgNice Ville, with a French regional train in residence. Behind is the whacking great concrete flyover of the coast road which sails lightly over rooftops and the east end station throat.

Basel 1 JPG.jpgSwiss regional train at Basel, on a 9-minute turnaround at the end of a roughly 4-hour journey (it had arrived at 11:55; the turnaround included detaching the loco that had brought it in from Luzern and attaching the loco to take it back). As well as Olten, Luzern, Arth-Goldau and Bellinzona it would also call at Schwyz, Brunnen, Flüelen, Erstfeld, Göschenen, Airolo, Faido, Biasca and Cadenazzo. In other countries (excepting the UK, where the full calling pattern would invariably be displayed) the full train number (IR2323) would be shown and provide some reassurance that this is not actually an express omitting the Gottardbahn intermediate calls, but the Swiss screens only show that it’s an interregional. Its inward working had been 10 minutes late at Airolo, but judicious timetable padding had recovered the lot by departure from Luzern.

Venaco 1 JPG.jpgCorsican train at Venaco, an intermediate station high in the central mountains where most trains cross services heading in the opposite direction. The modern trains are sleek things with internal passenger information screens and push-buttons for request stops, which contrasts somewhat with the lack of running information at stations (and, at Venaco, the tasteful abandonment of a handsome goods van by the old goods shed at right). The view from Venaco station is generally quite something, but this was a gloomy morning where the mist was rolling in from the coast. A few minutes later the late-running northbound train growled out of the murk into the nearer platform.

Venaco 2 JPG.jpgAnother Venaco picture to round the post off – an Ajaccio-bound train, with its big picture windows, glides out of the station with some of Corsica’s striking mountains beyond.

 

Recap

Some people may be feeling left behind at UK news lately, so here is a summary.

Thursday 23rd June 2016

  • Referendum is held on membership of European Union. Exit polls suggest a narrow Remain win.

Friday 24th

  • UK wakes up to news that vote went to leave the EU by 17million votes to 15million;
  • Pound collapses;
  • Stock market plunges;
  • Nigel Farage goes on ITV to deny that £350million promised by Leave battlebus for National Health Service will go anywhere near the National Health Service;
  • Other notable Leave campaigners suggest continued single market presence and no cut in immigration;
  • EU top brass ask for things to be tidied quickly;
  • Leading Conservative Party “Leave” campaigners (Boris Johnson, ex Mayor of London, and Michael Gove, Justice Secretary) call on Prime Minister to stay on;
  • David Cameron resigns as Leader of Conservative Party and announces intention to resign as Prime Minister when new leader is elected in October;
  • Cameron kindly leaves triggering departure from the EU to his successor;
  • Boris and Gove hold press conference where they stand around looking like they don’t really know what to do, weren’t expecting the result and have been steamrollered out of existence;
  • Both suggest a period of calm and that there is no need to rush the result they had been anxiously fighting for;
  • Scottish top brass say angry things;
  • Boris is abused for his support for Leave.

Saturday 25th

  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, suggests that EU exit talks will be nice and friendly;
  • Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, denies he is going to quit too as various people blame him for not delivering a Labour block vote for Remain.

Sunday 26th

  • Jeremy Corbyn fires his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn;
  • Reports that half Corbyn’s top team will now resign feel overblown;
  • Petition for a second EU referendum set up by a Leave supporter expecting to lose is overladen with support, some of it created by computer programmes written by people who fancied making computers repeatedly sign petitions;
  • England win at rugby against Australia;
  • 12 of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet members quit in protest at his continued leadership, including most of the people who voters might have heard of for moderately good reasons (and the woman who said that Ed Miliband carving his vacuous election pledges in a bit of stone last year didn’t mean he wasn’t going to break them).

Monday 27th

  • Most of the rest of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet quits, leaving some of his mates, an ex-girlfriend, two people who can’t resign but promised to stop attending and a former party leadership contender whose attitudes bear a certain resemblance to a drowned sponge;
  • Angela Eagle, one of those resigning, breaks down in tears on television;
  • Corbyn recruits most of his remaining supporters/ people who would rather not have a Labour leadership contest to his Shadow Cabinet, filling roughly half the vacancies;
  • Names include such widely-known figures as Pat Glass MP;
  • Nick Clegg, once Liberal-Democratic Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, suggests an early election but is told by David Cameron that someone called Nick Clegg got a law passed about fixed-term Parliaments so he can’t go back to the country;
  • Anti-foreign sentiment in UK post-referendum prompts concern;
  • Corbyn heckled and told he faces a leadership contest at Labour party meeting;
  • He goes to a rally of his supporters afterwards;
  • Tory party reckons it should manage its leadership contest by 2nd September;
  • England knocked out of Euro 2016 football tournament (by… err… Iceland);
  • Panda gives birth to twins in China.

Tuesday 28th

  • Nigel Farage, man who has done very little worth commenting on except complaining about the European Union and getting stuck in M4 traffic jams, accuses European Parliament members of having never had proper jobs;
  • Pound continues to fall;
  • Pat Glass MP decides she can’t face being MP for another term and tells her local party she will stand down at the next election;
  • Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, observes that people leaving the EU are, for obvious reasons, going to be outside the EU;
  • Corbyn massively loses an unofficial vote of confidence in his leadership by 172 votes to 40;
  • General feeling that nobody else from Corbyn’s cabinet will resign now.

Wednesday 29th

  • Pat Glass MP resigns from Shadow Cabinet;
  • Tory Party launches leadership contest. Anyone can stand if they can get two people to nominate them in 24 hours. Immediate appearance by Stephen Crabbe, Work and Pensions Secretary;
  • Corbyn mocked at Prime Minister’s Questions and told to resign by Cameron;
  • Gibralter begins looking at options for not totally uncoupling from the EU;
  • It is announced that Angela Eagle will spend Thursday challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership.

Thursday 30th

  • Theresa May, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom quietly launch Tory leadership campaigns;
  • Michael Gove announces that despite years of not wanting to be Prime Minister and being totally unsuited to the role he regrettably considers it his duty to stand because Boris is incapable;
  • Boris spends a press conference thought to be intended to launch his leadership bid, sets out his aims for the country and then closes by saying he won’t stand, leaving a distinct impression that he has given up on the premiership and his remaining political ambition is the Chiltern Hundreds;
  • Gove has to spend the first bits of his leadership campaign explaining why he knifed Johnson in several places;
  • The Eagle does not launch.

Friday 1st July

  • Some debate over how to handle EU negotiations;
  • Labour top brass reject calls for their party to back a second referendum or ignore the result of the first if they win any early election;
  • George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, gives up on his delayed budget surplus targets;
  • Wales goes through to the semi-finals of the Euro 2016 football tournament.

Saturday 2nd

  • Shadow Cabinet look at ways to lever Corbyn out;
  • Neil Kinnock tells Corbyn to go;
  • Protest in London against democracy (specifically the referendum result).

Sunday 3rd

  • Andrea Leadsom says we should get on with leaving the EU;
  • Theresa May says there is no rush and people want a good prime minister for PM, not specifically a Brexiteer.

Monday 4th

  • Nigel Farage resigns from UK Independence Party leadership – to jubilation from his Parliamentary party, who had a UKIP MPs meeting on Brexit arrangements and agreed unanimously with himself;
  • Chris Evans resigns from his short-lived job hosting BBC2 show Top Gear – to jubilation from his predecessors, who were out in the sticks somewhere filming their new show for Amazon;
  • Jeremy Corbyn does not resign – to the continued jubilation of his supporters;
  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says Theresa May is quite right not to guarantee EU citizen residency rights in UK (useful bargaining chip for British citizen residency rights in the EU and a general sign that the UK is reverting to the good old foreign policy approach that saw it sink the French fleet in 1940).

Tuesday 5th

  • Teachers go on strike;
  • Tory MPs vote on their leadership candidate preferences;
  • Ken Clarke, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is filmed making caustic remarks about “anyone but Gove” and how Theresa May is a “bloody difficult woman, but then you and I worked for Margaret Thatcher”;
  • His interlocutor Malcolm Rifkind remarks that he and Ken would happily have had that conversation on the record if Sky had asked them to;
  • Liam Fox knocked out of contest;
  • Stephen Crabbe withdraws;
  • Theresa May leads by some margin;
  • Next round on Thursday;
  • Twentieth anniversary of Dolly the Sheep, the first clone of an adult mammal.

Wednesday 6th

  • Chilcot report into Iraq War published. Broadly speaking, Blair got carried away and deluded himself but with no dishonest intent;
  • Tony defends himself;
  • Wales knocked out of Euro 2016 tournament.

Thursday 7th

  • Tony defends himself some more;
  • Questions continue as to how much we want to leave the EU;
  • Tony says world is a better place without Saddam;
  • Gove supporters try to drum up support by suggesting that Andrea Leadsom, who hardly anyone had heard of a month or so previously, is not suitable leadership material;
  • It is generally agreed that Tony Blair is probably not going to prison over Iraq;
  • Ian Hislop spends a Question Time appearance arguing that just because Remain lost the referendum doesn’t mean it should be ignored forever more;
  • Michael Gove, to the surprise of very few people, is knocked out of the Tory leadership contest;
  • Tory party seems to generally incline towards his previous view that he is unsuited to be Prime Minister, and does not want him to put himself out unnecessarily;
  • In the process of leaving he guarantees that the new Prime Minister will be a woman, for only the second time in the exceptionally long history of the Tory Party.

Friday 8th

  • The actor who played Sulu in 1960s Star Trek is upset that Sulu has been outed as gay in the latest film (ironic, as Takei is also gay);
  • Andrea Leadsom gives the Times an interview in which she says she won’t make the leadership contest about how she’s a mother and May isn’t because that would be “horrible” before going on to explain how as a mother she is making an investment in the future for her children.

Saturday 9th

  • Andrea Leadsom sees the morning’s Times and takes issue with the headline saying that she thinks that as a mother she is making an investment in the future for her children;
  • Italian foreign minister suggests UK might not leave the EU;
  • Labour begins looking at nuclear deterrent options for its defence review;
  • Tories announce plan to break up already wrecked Labour Party by having a vote on Trident renewal (which the Tories are largely in favour of, but Labour’s leader isn’t);
  • The Eagle to fly on Monday;
  • Still no candidate for UKIP leadership contest.

Sunday 10th

  • Conservative Party wins general election (foreign news from Australia);
  • Ongoing controversy over whether being a mother is a qualification for the role of Prime Minister, battering Leadsom in the process;
  • John Prescott, once Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister, announces the Iraq War to be illegal (some 13¼ years after he could have stopped it by resigning);
  • Corbyn tries to calm critics by saying he voted to Remain;
  • Chris Evans backs American co-host Matt LeBlanc to anchor next series of Top Gear;
  • Andy Murray wins Wimbledon.

Monday 11th

  • Theresa May goes to Birmingham to make a speech about why she should be Tory leader;
  • Angela Eagle gets all the nation’s political press into a room to announce her Labour leadership bid;
  • This means the Press all discover simultaneously that they want to be over at Andrea Leadsom’s house, where she is coming onto her doorstep to announce the end of her leadership bid;
  • Eagle finishes her speech, turns to questions and finds the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky political editors have all run away;
  • Leadsom says she can’t be leader without more support from the Parliamentary party [and a vastly thicker skin] and wishes May success as sole remaining Tory leadership candidate;
  • May has achieved this mostly by making a joke about Boris buying water cannon and not self-immolating;
  • Southern Railway cancels 341 trains from its timetable so that customers have some idea of what’s not going to run while it finishes managing the Government’s dispute with a trade union;
  • Tory Party backbencher leader Graham Brady, technically the Chair of the 1922 Committee, announces that there need to be some internal discussions as to how to manage a leadership contest with one candidate;
  • Discussions conclude Theresa May is the winner;
  • Labour put out two press releases almost simultaneously, one demanding an immediate General Election and the other announcing a leadership election between two candidates of such polar opposites that they would be unable to agree a manifesto;
  • Cameron comes out of No. 10 Downing Street to announce he will be resigning as Prime Minister after Prime Minister’s Questions on the 13th and expects to be replaced by Theresa May, after which he goes back inside humming the opening chords of “Braid the Raven Hair” from The Mikado.

Tuesday 12th

  • David Cameron hosts his final Cabinet meeting;
  • Angela Eagle’s office is vandalised;
  • Jeremy Corbyn appeals for calm and for him to be on the Labour leadership ballot paper without needing to seek nominations;
  • Neil Kinnock repeats previous observations that when Corbyn’s mate Tony Benn stood against him for the leadership in the 1980s Kinnock had to scuttle round for nominations;
  • Petition on second EU referendum to be debated on 5th September in Parliament;
  • Bernie Sanders backs Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States of America after a contest that began a year or so ago;
  • Jeremy Corbyn is announced to be on the ballot for the Labour leadership without needing nominations.

Wednesday 13th

  • Sun headline is about the BBC “faking” a “live” TV programme about trains by featuring a bit of film submitted by a viewer that was taking in February, thereby getting a picture of a Class 66 on the front of a national paper;
  • The Japanese Emperor announces he intends to abdicate;
  • The Prime Minister David Cameron lays into Labour for not being able to decide the rules of their leadership contest in the time it’s taken the Tories to have a leadership contest, praises Theresa May, claims he doesn’t hate the Downing Street cat, makes a speech thanking everyone in front of TV cameras, aides, his children and SamCam, goes to Buckingham Palace and quits;
  • Theresa May goes to Buckingham Palace and accepts an invitation to form a Government;
  • The Prime Minister Theresa May makes shorter speech than Cameron’s outside No.10 which doesn’t so much park tanks on Labour’s lawn as blow up their house, ransack the garden and build a new garden wall that confines the Opposition to the compost heap;
  • Speech is noted as being rather like the one Ed Miliband would probably have made if he won last year’s election;
  • Labour is too busy discussing if Pontypridd MP Owen Smith should be on the leadership election ballot paper to notice;
  • The Mays refuse demands from the Press to kiss on live international television;
  • George Osborne is encouraged to resign before he can outstay his welcome;
  • New Government appointed with Philip Hammond as Chancellor (he was Osborne’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury until May 2010, when David Lawes got the full job and Hammond was banished to Transport), Boris as Foreign Secretary (he could have been Prime Minister in three years’ time if he’d backed Remain), Amber Rudd as Home Secretary and David Davis (not the MP for Monmouth) as Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union.

Note for Posterity

The above all actually happened and occurred in the timeframe specified.

Remaining points

One question remains. David Cameron had a house of his own in London which was tenanted. The tenants have apparently been given notice.

We have not heard enough about these tenants.

Did they know who their landlord was? If they did, they have presumably been packing since Friday 24th.

If not, one can picture them cheering his resignation when the phone rings.

“Sorry,” says the estate agent, “I’m afraid you’ve been given notice. Landlord needs his house back.”

“Why?!”

“He’s got to leave his place in a hurry after he quit his job.”

“What job was that?”

“Prime Minister.”

 

And finally…

Here is a mid-winter picture of a bridge in Maidenhead, our new Prime Minister’s constituency:Maidenhead Bridge 1 JPG.jpg

Maidenhead is one of the richest constituencies in the country. Jerome described the town as “too snobby to be pleasant” but added that the stretch of the Thames up to Cookham is “unbroken loveliness … perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the river”.Thames near Maidenhead 1 JPG.jpg

Of course our previous Prime Minister was based in Witney, incorporating Charlbury and Hanborough, on the North-western side of Oxford.Combe 2 JPG.jpg

That’s what my heart tells me to say…

Returning perhaps too rapidly from Kyleakin to Westminster, let us pause on the Tory leadership contest. While reading this Guardian article, here is some light background music…

Completely unconnected of course. The connected piece of music is this:

I would say something specific about party leaderships, but it would be obsolete before I finished it so it hardly seems worth bothering.

(With due credit to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan.)

Kyleakin

In view of this blog having taken a serious turn lately, and bearing in mind that it is likely to be serious for a bit, for post 100 here is something a little lighter…

Inverness 2 JPG.jpgInverness station, North Highland platform. A 4-car 158 sits in platform 5 – 158705 is nearest, looking grubby, with 158717 behind quietly gleaming. Between them they form the 17:54 Sundays-excepted “for Wick ‘n’ Thurso and Kyle o’ Lochalsh. Passengers for Wick ‘n’ Thurso should travel in the front two coaches and in the rear two coaches for Kyle o’ Lochalsh. Passengers travelling to Beauly this evening will need to alight from the front door of the second coach.” The Beauly part of the announcement, now augmented by Conon Bridge, almost adds to the interest of this train into the far distant wilds of Northern Scotland; both stations have platforms about 50ft long. The 17:54 used to divide at Dingwall, with the Wick portion striking on into the North and the Kyle portion then trundling Westwards. No more – Wick now has its own departure a full half-hour later and the 17:54 is for Kyle only.

Growing up brought me family holidays to various destinations and also a certain interest in distant parts of UK geography. A Midlands kid by birth, I have always been reasonably well-up on what the world around places like Peterborough, Kettering and Leicester looks like (rolling with fields) but a bit vague on places in the extremities, like Cornwall and Scotland. I had a vision of Scotland as a land of mountains coated in snow and pine trees.

Cornwall was resolved by going to university there. It provided a good opportunity to explore the place and I grabbed it, trundling around the rail network, walking patches of the coastal path and exploring rural lanes. Periodically I potter back over the Tamar again to look in on some old haunt.

Scotland had to wait until I left home, when an idle few minutes looking at National Rail Enquiries saw me make the not exactly staggering discovery that the Far North of Scotland is accessible from the Great Western Corridor in a day’s rail travel. A long day, but a day all the same.

The first bit of advice I received on this was to not take this as an excuse to go all the way up there one day and come back the next day. I took it. This was to be a proper holiday, for which I bought the relevant maps and studied things to do while pushing North of Edinburgh for the first time. It was not any proper holiday though. It was the cherry-popper – the first holiday to an unfamiliar area that I organised myself for my enjoyment.

Edinburgh 2 JPG.jpgThe twinkling lights of Edinburgh from the Salisbury Crags during my first visit to the city. It was the farthest North I’d ever been at the time (my previous record was Carlisle). The excitement and interest was in some regards tamed by being there with friends for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Aside from the Fringe providing structure to proceedings, there is that little mite extra excitement for going somewhere miles off one’s beaten track for the first time with no company to anchor it to previous experience.

Druimuachdar Pass 1 JPG.jpgDruimuachdar Pass, highest point on the UK rail network. A key landmark on the run up to Inverness from Perth. Later the train clambers over Slochd summit and then coasts downhill into Inverness; sea level is reached at the beginning of Inverness station throat. My journey over here had the extra frisson that every yard the train pushed northwards was another yard further north on my personal map of the world.

Passing on from Druimuachdar, the train took me up to Inverness and then, after a 50-minute change via a shopping centre takeaway, handed me on to another for the journey wending across Scotland, down Strath Carron to Kyle of Lochalsh. My ultimate destination was a small village called Caol Acain, or Kyleakin – the gateway to Skye.

Music, maestro…

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean’s a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Many’s the lad fought on that day,
Well the Claymore could wield,
When the night came, silently lay
Dead in Culloden’s field.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea…
To…

Skye…

 

Achnasheen 1 JPG.jpgUnfortunately I did the holiday in October.  Or perhaps not unfortunately, for as well as the excitement from having no company to anchor me to previous experiences there was also the interest from not having seen any of the last two hours of train journey to anchor me to the world I had come from. What little evidence of progress there was through the dark skies of Ross-shire in our rather lost little “158” came from the automated announcements as we passed the pools of light that marked intermediate stations only known to me from books and the slightly historical Driver’s Eye View Skye Train. “This is Achnasheen,” said the computerised Scottish lady, as we halted somewhere on a bit of moorland. “This train is for Kyle of Lochalsh. The next stop is Achnashellach.”

(But unlike the most recent time I did the run, at least we remembered to stop at Achnashellach. It is slightly embarrassing, even when representing the only train for forty miles, to have to back up into the 18-inch-high platform set beneath a mountainous escarpment in Glen Carron. Particularly in daylight.)

Kyleakin from Kyle of Lochalsh 1 JPG.jpgThis was therefore my first view of Kyleakin, when 158717 had brought the 17:54 safely to its remote destination. For the Kyleakin-bound traveller, the Skye Mainline train wends down the side of Loch Carron, cuts through a promontory and pushes out into Loch Alsh before announcing it’s going no further and you’re on your own. The crew then add emphasis to this by turning off the engines and locking the “158” up for the night. It is a pleasant 45-minute walk from Kyle of Lochalsh station to Kyleakin, which adds a further certain frisson of adventure when done in the dark. A pavement follows the road all the way over to Skye.

A87 Kyle of Lochalsh 1 JPG.jpg Journey’s end not yet reached, but Kyle of Lochalsh is the last place on the A87 on the British mainland. The road out of Kyle was built with the Skye Bridge in 1996, hence its relatively modern appearance. Until the bridge came, traffic was routed down the side of Kyle station to the ferry loading point for the crossing of the Kyle Akin, at the head of Loch Alsh, to Skye’s heather and mountains.

Kyleakin 2 JPG.jpgDaylight brings sight of Kyleakin properly after a chance to get enough sleep to appreciate it. I arrived in Morar in the same sort of conditions 18 months later; it’s my preferred way to begin a holiday when the last leg is fairly simple and the journey long. Between the main road and the kyle is a pleasing village green, overlooked by hostels, hotels and private housing. Beyond is the vast form of the arching Skye Bridge, carrying the A87 from mainland to island; occasionally views are expressed that Skye barely constitutes an island when you can drive onto it in a few seconds. For me, stepping onto the bridge was the first time I had been off the British mainland in three years; hardly an emotional moment, but a notable one all the same. The little island to the right, once an isolated scrap of rock carrying a small cottage only accessible by water, is now the support for a trunk road. It is notable for something; I forget precisely what.

Beinn na Caillich 1 JPG.jpgTo the North are the Red Cuillins, which make up the backbone of this part of Skye, and the insignificant low-lying islet of Pabay which measures perhaps one square mile. Between us and the glacier-ridden form of Beinn na Caillich is the township of Broadford, out of view behind a small promontory to the left – a ribbon development along the A87 as it heads deeper into Skye. Broadford is also the junction for the A851 to Armadale. While the ferry at Kyleakin has gone, the ferry at Armadale still runs across the water to Mallaig. Mallaig has direct road and rail access to Fort William and Glasgow, but the voyage across the Sound of Sleat is much longer than that across Loch Alsh. The air is very clear in this part of Scotland and to those used to the more polluted atmosphere of Southern England distances can be very deceptive. The mountain is about 10 miles away and rises in a sheer sort of way to 732 metres. Curiously, despite it being usual in this area for things that are several miles away to appear to be a nice short walk, the submarine HMS Astute got everything the other way about in misjudging distances and collided with Skye in this general vicinity shortly after launching in 2010. It conjured up pleasing images of masses of foreign spies realising they could get a look at a world-leading submarine in a comparatively accessible location and crowding on the pierhead at Kyle with binoculars. Kyle of Lochalsh was one proposed base for the UK nuclear deterrent, but what with one thing and another it went to Faslane instead.

Kyleakin 3 JPG.jpgKyleakin’s main road runs down a promontory into the loch, to the right of this picture. Behind this promontory is the mouth of a stream called the An t-Ob; the landmass to the left being called the South Obbe. A bridge crosses the An t-Ob (with impressive water flows beneath at low tide) and the lane leads on down the north edge of the South Obbe past another dozen houses. Looking upstream provides a lovely little dell, with the foothills of one of Skye’s mountains in the background – this foothill being the Cnoc a Mhadaidh-ruaidh.

Kyle of Lochalsh 1 JPG.jpgDaylight, and we return to the mainland to see Kyle of Lochalsh station from its unattractive end, looking north. Trips to Kyle while doing self-catering holidays in Kyleakin are fairly essential, as Kyle has the area’s Co-op (though Kyleakin has a corner shop that can fulfil some needs). At 5.72 degrees west and pointing almost due south, the station indicates towards a point just the slightest smidgen of a degree further west than Land’s End. The summer Sunday timetable gives Kyle two round trips, one starting at Kyle and the other at Inverness. The winter timetable simply withdraws the Kyle trip and the unit that arrived at Kyle on Saturday night remains there until Monday morning. The Inverness trip uses platform 2, to the right, with the peculiar consequence that the station appears at its busiest on Sundays out of season. 158717 is doing the honours on this particular Sunday morning after ferrying me in the night before. The station has an exposed feel in the middle of the loch, though is extensively sheltered by Skye. It is still interesting to ponder what the 158s make of this treatment, particularly in the depths of winter. The end of the running line represents one of the farthest extremes of the British rail network; being on the end of a pier in a loch gives it a finality lacked by land-based places like Mallaig, Penzance, Lowestoft (farthest east) or indeed Wick and Thurso. Stranraer is probably the nearest comparator. Kyle’s large station building is now a cafe, museum and ticket office. Beyond it a ramp leads up to the road bridge that carries the A87 over the platform. This ramp acts as access route, station car park, drop off area and anything else that it happens to be needed for. In the foreground is the remains of one of the pier’s sidings, accessed by wagon turntables, which allowed goods to be transshipped to onward ferries. As well as Skye, the station was also once the port for Stornaway on Lewis. This was regrettably transferred to Ullapool in the 1970s – shortening the crossing, but as a 1940s plan to build a branch from the Kyle line at Garve to Ullapool never came to fruition rail access is a trifle more difficult.

Kyleakin from Kyle of Lochalsh 2 JPG.jpgFrom the same point as above, looking the other way across the water. The headland of South Obbe squats to the left; Beinn na Caillich is off to the right behind the Skye Bridge. In between is the white strip of properties that make up Kyleakin, with the wooded headland hiding Kyle House and the landing point for the bridge.

Kyleakin 4 JPG.jpgAnother overall view of Kyleakin, this time from Caisteal Maol to the east of the village. The main road curves across the green and then sweeps around the front of the houses on the promontory, finishing on the pier to the right. Parked on it was a minibus calling for something about Libya. The bridge again dominates the background scene. It was built as a private finance initiative and tolled accordingly (£5 single for a bridge maybe half a mile long), with the result that one of the first acts of the Scottish Government on getting transport devolved was to buy out the concession holder. This cost a similar price to building the bridge in the first price. Running a new concrete bridge not being a very extravagant affair, most of the £33million taken in tolls during the intervening 9 years presumably went in someone’s profits. The station museum has up a list of excuses for refusing to pay the tolls, but my favourite story is that agricultural traffic went over free so someone established a nice sideline leasing sheep for people to carry over the bridge in their cars. By the time I reached the area all that remained of the toll booths was a widening in the road, but the tourist board and all accommodation providers remained very keen to emphasise that the tolls had gone.

Castle Moyle 1 JPG.jpgMoyle Castle/ Caistell Maol rises out of a summer mist on Loch Alsh, seem from the ferry slipway. The castle was never more than a single tower guarding the loch, more for the purposes of extorting passers-by than defending against enemies. A combination of dereliction and the local weather means that not a great deal is left, but it makes a suitably moody starring feature of this sort of picture.

Castle Moyle 2 JPGA rather cheerier autumnal day, with the birds flying around the ruined castle and its heather-covered hill reflected in the bright blue waters of Loch Alsh beneath a clear sky. Note the tide marks. This is a particularly restful scene and the photo is one of which I am particularly fond.

Loch Alsh 1 JPG.jpgThe loch stretches inland from the castle, which frames it nicely. The little lighthouse visible on the jutting rock centre left is on the island of Eileanan Dubha. A few miles up the loch a narrow passage off to the right called Kyle Rhea separates Skye from the mainland by a few hundred yards; it is spanned by a seasonal ferry near the hamlet of Kylerhea and leads on out into the Sound of Sleat past Mallaig and towards the Small Isles. At the head of Loch Alsh, just hidden by the headland of Avernish, is the restored castle at Eilean Donan. I have a rather nice painting of this on my wall (picked up at Tintern a year or so ago) but have to quietly cough when visitors ask if I’ve ever actually been. Kyleakin is a good base for exploring, but on my visits I’ve tended to be more satisfied with having got there without trundling eight miles up the loch along the A87. One can argue at much length whether Eilean Donan or Caistell Maol is the more authentic structure; this one is in ruins, while Eilean Donan looks so good because it was rebuilt in the 20th century after being blown up in the 18th.

Eilean an t-Srathaidh 1 JPG.jpgOne does not have to get very far from Kyleakin to do quite a good deal of exploring. The varied array of views and multitudes of snug, hidden locations mean that clawing repeatedly over a few square miles is not actually that repetitive. This is a bay south-west of Plockton, between there and Duirinish. Plockton is the other notable centre of population on the Kyle line apart from Kyle of Lochalsh and about half a dozen miles up the coast at the entrance to Loch Carron. Scottish land law does not acknowledge public footpaths, instead declaring the entire country to be (within general good reason) open access. This allows for a great deal of tramping through heather before deciding that perhaps the concept is not necessarily as all-freeing as it might be. Still, it allows for a certain variety of views and a part of this one graces the cover of a notebook that I wander around with for jotting down thoughts and inspirations – or failing that email addresses for people I might want to get hold of again, rules for card games, locations of handy takeaways for the list and other such things.

Loch Carron 1 JPG.jpgWhen it’s not late at night in October (for example, when it’s mid-evening in mid-summer), the Kyle line is generally agreed to be worth the trip to Kyleakin in itself. Personally I advise against doing out-and-back runs of any of the rural Scottish lines in a day with intention of viewing the scenery, as it will start to wear after a while. Much better to spend a few days enjoying being at the end of the line, but the journey by train from Inverness is the sort of journey which makes it worth leaving the car at home and skipping the bus options.

Strome Ferry 1 JPG.jpgThe train also serves such wonderful places as Strome Ferry. Strome Ferry was largely created by the railway as the original terminus, the Kyle extension being stupendously expensive for reasons most readily explained by travelling on it. Strome Ferry thus got to be the centre of 19th-century campaigns to preserve the Sabbath from desecration by railway companies that wanted to take the Saturday fishing catch to London on a Sunday. Otherwise the attractions of Strome Ferry are largely summarised by this (faintly iconic) road sign.

Kyle of Lochalsh from Kyleakin 1 JPG.jpgThe Royal Navy on manoeuvres past Kyleakin, seen from South Obbe. The minibus on the pier is sat at left. This particular piece of Navy kit managed to navigate Caol Acain without wrecking itself on anything. Beyond is Kyle of Lochalsh, with the large form of the Lochalsh hotel above the ship’s bows.

Applecross 1 JPGKyleakin also has a twin-peaked mountain of its own, the higher bit of which is called Sgurr na Coinnich. It is a pathless mountain which rises squarely from sea level behind Kyleakin to a height of 739m in about 2 miles (3km – an average gradient of about 1 in 4). For those who can be bothered to clamber over the heather and patches of bog all the way to the top, the views are no doubt rather good. For those (like me) who get bored three-quarters of the way up, there are still some handsome views of the Red Cuillins, the rest of Skye stretching northwards, the Applecross Peninsular (pictured), the bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh town and station and, tucked against the south face of the Kyle of Loch Alsh, the village of Kyleakin itself. Clouds streak close overhead and helicopters chatter past below on their way down the loch. Looking down at the right time will provide very distant views of the little Class 158s bringing a few more people across from Inverness to the area – from shopping, for holidays, for walks or for a cup of tea at the Lochalsh hotel before heading east again.

Dingwall 2 JPG.jpgRather than strike straight back South, I took three nights in Thurso after doing Skye. This meant changing at Dingwall for a Far North train. 158713 is seen with the lunchtime train from Kyle, back in civilisation and preparing to do the Inverness metro run through Muir of Ord and Beauly to the Highland capital. A few moments later 158714 slid in alongside with the mid-afternoon Inverness – Kyle service. The junction is at the north end of the station beyond the bridge. Kyle to Thurso on this set of connections takes 5¾ hours, of which ½-hour is spent at Dingwall and the rest chattering along in 158s at up to 75mph. (The 75 is on the Far North route, which has been upgraded to broadly mainline status, albeit single track. The Kyle line has jointed track and a limit of 45. The investment in keeping the Far North Mainline fast is worth it, despite the minimal population; it is a sobering thought that Inverness is less than two-thirds of the way between Edinburgh and Thurso.)

A897 Forsinard.jpgThe Far North is not Skye, but it is really worth a visit. One of the least densely-populated regions in Europe, there is nowhere else quite like it in Britain. The main road from Forsinard (which consists of a railway station and a hotel) is seen heading for the next notable centre of population at Helmsdale, a trifle under 50 miles away to the south. The OS map of the area features about the same mileage of road as railway.

After this was over I spent a day and a bit heading from Thurso to Falmouth by rail. That’s another story. So we will finish with this instead:

Kyleakin sign 1 JPG.jpgEven fairly casual users of the British road network will be familiar with the “wayside pulpits” which preach valuable information like “don’t drink and drive” in neat LED block capitals and present warnings of queues ahead to the three-mile-tailback behind the latest motorway pile-up. There are also wayside pulpits around the A87, which lacking major traffic events to report upon are obliged to consider other points of note. Drivers coming out of the Port of Kyleakin onto the A87 are therefore confronted with this sign. As the Port of Kyleakin consists of the derelict slipway for a ferry remarked on above, exactly what traffic is expected to emanate from Kyleakin that is unfamiliar with basic British road usage is unclear. If this is all the pulpit has to say one wonders what the business case for it was. Anyway, this is what Skye wayside pulpits preach on.

(Almost as good as a pair of road signs I met in Morar, 30 miles or a day’s rail travelling away, which kindly reminded me that on zebra crossings pedestrians have priority.)

It is on this cheery note that I will move on, pondering when I will get round to tripping up to the North Highlands again. Or perhaps not quite on that note. I came across this poem in a magazine shortly after my first return from the Highlands and while I have always gone North from Kings Cross (excepting my Morar trip) it seemed to capture something.


At Euston

Stranger with the pile of luggage proudly labelled for Portree
How I wish this night of August I were you and you were me!
Think of all that lies before you when the train goes sliding forth,
And the lines athwart the sunset lead you swiftly to the North.

Think of breakfast at Kingussie, think of high Drumochter Pass,
Think of Highland breezes singing through the bracken and the grass.
Scabious blue and yellow daisy, tender fern beside the train,
Rowdy Tummel, falling, brawling, seen and lost, and glimpsed again.

You will pass my golden roadway of the days of long ago.
Will you realise the magic of the names I used to know,
Clachnaharry, Achnashellach, Achnasheen and Duirinish?
Every moor alive with coveys, every pool aboil with fish.

Every well-remembered vista, more exciting mile by mile,
Till the wheeling gulls screaming round the engine at the Kyle.
Think of cloud on Bheinn na Cailleach, jagged Cuchullins soaring high,
Scent of peat, and all the glamour of the misty Isle of Skye.

Rods and guncase in the carriage, wise retriever in the van;
Go; and good luck travel with you! (Wish I’d half your luck, my man!)

A. M. HarbordEuston 2 JPG.jpg

EU Membership (lack thereof)

Honestly.

https://next.ft.com/content/2538e348-386a-11e6-a780-b48ed7b6126f?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Fworld_uk_politics%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct

If it actually mattered, the least someone could have done is assembled a positive campaign as to why and settled some of the British complaints.

EU officials and leaders seem to be wandering around with their heads in their hands, wishing that they had been given the opportunity to keep the UK on side. It’s not like less than six months ago they sent Cameron away from the negotiating table with some sundry scribbles on a post-it. Really they have very little to complain about except possibly their own stupidity.

In the event the most positive we got in a four-month campaign was a pack of lies from Leave, which they acknowledged within hours of winning the vote had been known to be a pack of lies all along. (But very positive and inspiring lies all the same.)

Both country and Union will have to muddle through. The destruction of UK soft power on the continent is unfortunate. The wrecking ball through EU status (losing the second largest economy, largest military spender, provider of warships to patrol Schengen borders, owner of four submarines of nuclear warheads and holder of a seat on the UN Security Council) is perhaps more unfortunate.

Boris and Gove, now they have their result, seem curiously disinterested in actually doing anything with it. One can understand Cameron’s hesitancy to invoke Article 50 (but he should have done so anyway). Why Boris now doesn’t want out is less clear. The longer he clings on, the more pressure there will be from backsliders for another referendum. If he loses that, it will destroy his prestige and Britain’s negotiating power. (Said power was never very much because the EU never believed the UK would actually walk. See above. Oops.)

Some questions have been raised as to whether if in the November election (one looks likely) Labour could win by offering to nul and void the referendum. Personally it would settle my resolve not to vote for them. It would stink. The referendum has been had. The Labour Europhiles have marginally lost. Maybe if Leave weren’t a bunch of liars they wouldn’t have done. The enhanced deal is dead anyway, so in that regard there’s not a lot of point. Move onto the next battle.

Both campaigns were based on fear, which presumably resulted in more people than just me eventually falling back on original prejudice. This was a pity. The European Union is a good project. There is nothing inherently harmful in the scheme. The problem is the steamroller attitude. Things like the Constitution which reappeared as the Lisbon Treaty so suddenly didn’t need any referendums. There’s the attitude of lending money to uneconomic countries in the Union for massive infrastructure projects which they may or may not have needed but certainly couldn’t pay for. It would be like London paying to upgrade the A1 around Newcastle and then expecting Newcastle to pay the money back out of council tax. It should have been done on grants. It is broadly accepted in the UK that the South-West, much of Wales, the remainder of Ireland and the Highlands have to be subsidised. The result would have been much better than imposing technocrats on countries that had spent years acting like they’d been given free money and much more honest for North-Western Europeans, who knew perfectly well that cash is never going to come back.

When dealing with countries with a tradition of democracy, an open approach as to what you want to do is acceptable. It is surprising that a body born out of North-Western Europe should have failed to grasp that voters can be trusted. It’s the vacuum of information that gets filled with nonsense about the Turks entering the EU that’s damaging, or that £350m per week somehow gets absorbed entirely by a few pen-pushers, and arguably more damaging than making Greece a holiday destination with decent infrastructure. (Instead the EU has left Southern Greece with no railways except the Olympia branch. Much success there.)

Thus blame for Brexit rests on various shoulders – Cameron for not seeing the danger early enough, Nick Clegg for not winning enough seats to force the coalition that would have killed this referendum, Jeremy Corbyn for being too irrelevant for words and the Marketing Department of the European Union for being implausibly terrible at their job.

We will now get a new Tory leader (and Prime Minister) a trifle earlier than booked (as no Tory leadership frontrunner has won since Anthony Eden I would not bet on Boris). After that the Tories will likely go to Parliament for an early election. Labour therefore has until Monday to decide if Corbyn will lead them through such an election. The Tories have got a month less than Labour had last year and will predicate the election on their timescales not Labour’s. Alternatively Corbyn can attempt to use Parliament’s power over elections to veto one in November, which will give the next Tory leader immediate and total legitimacy (given that Corbyn will have essentially voted for them) until 2020.

This post should be read in a regretful tone. There is no point in anger. There is no point in being angry at a dead ideal. Hopping around shouting at old people for being hideous racists merely breeds the sort of resentment (on both sides) that Leave people were busy stoking. In any event it is quite possibly untrue. Some old people voted to Remain (or not at all) and some of them already wanted to leave the EU for perfectly sensible reasons. Cameron’s domestic political career is dead after a similar length of premiership to Major. The United Kingdom is now out of the European Union (to all intents and purposes, if not yet practically) and we are off into waters which are not exactly uncharted. People like to say they’re uncharted. They don’t want you comparing this to the last two times we came out of European supernational bodies:

  1. 410, end of the Roman Empire’s presence in Britain. It appears that this was followed by a recession and the collapse of urban living. Unfortunately all that survives in the way of written records for the next 150-odd years is a book by a monk called Gildas who should have watched his blood pressure and didn’t know when he was writing relative to the end of the Empire. Passing comment is therefore rather tricky.
  2. 1534, when Henry VIII formally dissolved our link with the Catholic Church in Rome and declared himself head of the Catholic Church in London. This took some straightening out over the ensuing years. The precise implications of this division are still being worked on, though peace is expected at some point.

So nothing to worry about.

Here is a picture of Bastad in Sweden, seen from a Oresundtog (Oresund-crossing train) climbing out of Bastad on its way from Gothenburg to Copenhagen. This is now an ex-view. Not because UK nationals are banned from visiting Sweden, but because since my passing through the area last year the Swedish have diverted the railway into the twin-bore Hallandsas Tunnel past Bastad. Fast trains can now work along this (previously rather rural single-line) section of the Malmo – Gothenburg mainline a trifle more quickly.

Bastad 1 JPG.jpg

“Swallows” on celuloid

Some while ago I heard mention that there was a new film coming out of Swallows & Amazons. For those unfamiliar, this is a book by the journalist and author Arthur Ransome, who after reporting on the Russian Revolution came home to the Lake District, wrote comment articles for the Guardian and then met up with the family of a girl he once proposed to. With the encouragement of girl and her husband, he taught the children to sail. When they returned home to Syria (nice people, Syrians) he wrote a book of imaginary adventures for enthusiastic 1920s children with a boat, two tents and some form of access to an island in the Lakes. (What sort of access is never discussed, except in Secret Water. This is one of the bits of fantasy in the books.)

Swallows & Amazons was what might be called a sleeper hit, but the series became iconic after the sequel (Swallowdale) came out and Ransome was able to live comfortably on the proceeds of the (eventually 12) books for the rest of his life – along with his wife Evgenia, who before their marriage had been Leon Trotsky’s secretary.

The Swallows books are often accused of being rather quiet and slow these days. Obviously anyone who says such things hasn’t read:

  • several bits of Swallowdale;
  • the middle of Pigeon Post;
  • We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea;
  • the wet bit of Secret Water;
  • very much of The Big Six;
  • the key scene in The Picts and the Martyrs; or
  • any of Peter Duck or Missee Lee (but particularly the climaxes).

What they do offer is a remarkably egalitarian fantasy world. If you already happen to live in a fantasy world, you too may enjoy adventures out of Philip Pullman’s creations. If you have access to a large rambling house with empty rooms and wardrobes unvisited for years, it is quite possible that you might find yourself in a despotic dictatorship with a deeply entrenched class system where lions provide eternal distant government and beavers talk at you. If you get to dig in old gravel pits outside your house, there may prove to be a Psammead down there as delightfully promised by Edith Nesbit. J. K. Rowling offers a glorious world of more entrenched class systems for people who turn out to have magic powers, and then goes on television to complain about class.

These are all excellent bits of escapism that have entranced children (and adults) with imaginations of a world that they cannot really visit.

But Ransome’s landscape involves no magic. It is accessible to anyone who can get hold of a tent and a boat, and some of the more peaceful bits of the Lakes could still be borrowed for such adventures. Failing that there’s always a Scottish loch or four (Loch Morar is nicely out of the way, well-endowed with islands and apparently home to Morag, the Loch Morar Monster). It can remain believable as a possibility, and his characters are so real and human (especially the Swallows, being based on real people) that they almost walk out of the page. There is no need to abandon the family altogether and there is no class system.

___…___

This all meant that I was looking forward to this new film with interest. Here’s the trailer:

Oh gawd.

Aside from the curiosity that Ransome made Susan the sensible one and she seems to have been all but written out of the trailer…

Err…

Ransome of course never did expand on Captain Flint’s backstory, but the “retired pirate” is never really confirmed beyond Titty’s imagination (Nancy merely says that it is “quite a good thing for him to be”). By Pigeon Post he seems to be connected with mining in some way. What is certain is that the character in the books was not thin or built for clinging onto trains of 1950s suburban stock. He was also always rather polite to Mrs Walker, although as they didn’t meet until after he’d slandered her son this may be for more reasons than his amiable personality. All-in-all, there is an air of “from the stable of the films of The Chronicles of Narnia“. As with Narnia, the cast look alright and have a family-ish air which probably works better in the full thing.

I liked the Paddington update, bringing the concept into the present day, giving the children more vim and building a new adventure around the base idea of the original short stories. I’ve been enjoying the Professor Branestawm adaptations the BBC has been doing as well (again, building up short stories). When reading bits of Swallows books that I am too familiar with, I like to picture how to update them to a bunch of modern kids with mobile phones. (The “Better drowned than duffers” telegram is clearly an email written in a hurry; the lack of mobiles is simply because Wild Cat Island has no mains electricity so they all go flat by sundown; Mother thinks she can trust the children without life jackets – I’m fairly sure I’ve been rowing without a life jacket; candles can be replaced with battery lanterns; the boats haven’t changed much and Coniston is still not all that busy.) Actually, bringing the Swallows into the present day would be rather appealing.

Part of the concept is to bring in elements of Arthur Ransome’s life, which actually would warrant a film of their own. (Even with his “Ransome already left” embellishments to his autobiography.)

We’ll leave it there. It looks like something that might have been better under a different title (Blah & Witter, based on Swallows & Amazons). That doesn’t necessarily do you any harm (see the recent Lady Susan film adaptation, done as Love & Friendship but clearly the same story from one look at the trailer – Lady Susan might have no name recognition, but I’m never quite sure Swallows is that widely read these days). Under a different title I might be interested in seeing it, but as Swallows it feels like I’d be coming back in and picking up the book to make sure nobody’s changed it in my absence. I might, on reflection, go and see it, but then I might sit in and put this on – the trailer (in a way which suggests the 2016 Swallows may be better than it looks) fails to fully grasp its innate humour, humanity and liveliness:

But Susan looks happy in this older one, and I like the ’70s Titty. She has a blog, in case anyone’s interested; I picked up her book while holidaying in Coniston. Being in the area of course provides an opportunity to take way too many pictures of the Lakes, so here’re a few.

Peel Island 01 JPG My sunset picture of Peel Island on Coniston, which found its way onto here with a lengthy description back in October.

Lake Windermere 04 JPG.jpgWindermere, at Bowness, as I saw it on arriving late on a Saturday evening – astride an overladen bicycle, fresh off the train, looking for a chip stall and ready to sail to Ambleside.

Lake Windermere 05 JPG.jpgThe cross-Windermere ferry, mentioned in the previous post.

Old Man of Coniston 01 JPG.jpg The landscape – high above Coniston, on the quiet way across from Ambleside (with bike), looking across at the hulking form of the Old Man of Coniston. I should have cycled over earlier that day and gone up him that morning; the view would have been something. I saved it for the last day of the holiday, by which point the weather had broken and the Old Man was wearing hat and balaclava.

Stable Harvey Moss 1 JPG.jpg Swallowdale Country, in the form of Stable Harvey Moss near Torver. It is easy to picture the Swallows tramping across this towards Kanchenjunga or Titty and Roger getting horribly lost in the fog (who needs guns when you have fog on boggy moorland?). This is where the bike proved less handy; it is impossible to hunt out Swallowdale with a road bike and aside from trying to stretch the lock round a tree by the road there is (it being the sticks) nowhere to secure it.