Scenic Britain by Train — Stephen Gay – 21st March 2016

This was Stephens’ 16th visit to us since his first in 1998. With pic­tures of his travels over the years with his faith­ful German Shepherd dog ‘Wrawby’  on the British Rail net­work, he shared tales, exper­i­ences and memor­ies of times past and present, punc­tu­ated with his own evoc­at­ive poetry.

With beau­ti­fully com­posed, unen­hanced pic­tures on slides, which took many hours of plan­ning and timing, he covered from Penmere Station, voted the best kept sta­tion on the Truro to Falmouth Maritime Line, to Helmsdale on the Inverness to Wick and Thurso line, where a bus ser­vice was in oper­a­tion around a clos­ure, due to slip­page on part of the line.    Apparently Wrawby was only allowed on the bus after the pas­sen­gers power forced the driver to bend the rules to let him on. We were told that the com­pet­i­tion  for  ‘Best Kept Station’ was far from friendly being a very com­pet­it­ive and ser­i­ous busi­ness!

Stephen showed us slides taken from the top of the Great Orme at Llandudno, where seats are stra­tegic­ally placed to take advant­age of the view. He com­men­ted that as mag­ni­fi­cent as the view was, he pre­ferred the view of Doncaster Station. The top of the Great Orme is reached by a tram which is pulled up  by a cable run­ning in the centre of the lines. Apparently it is the only one in the UK if not in Europe. Needless to say Stephen had an excel­lent pho­to­graph of a car on the way back to its depot.

We viewed mag­ni­fi­cent via­ducts and bridges, pho­to­graphed with much effort and wait­ing, using a tripod at dawn, or twi­light for best effect, with a train in the pic­ture.

We saw the Border Bridge over the Tweed, the Hayle (Cornwall) Viaduct, Monsal Head Viaduct (no train on this), the Forth Rail Bridge (designed by Sir John Fowler from Wadsley, who also engin­eered the Sheffield to Cleethorpes line), Marple Viaduct and adja­cent aque­duct on the Peak Forest Canal, and Ribble Head and Arton Ghyll (1875) via­ducts on the Settle to Carlisle route, opened in 1876.

The pho­to­graph of the Ribble Head Viaduct showed a train, almost as long as the via­duct itself head­ing south which, incid­ent­ally, now goes a dif­fer­ent way because of a land­slip. Stephen was lucky enough to be invited into the old fash­ioned signal box adja­cent to the via­duct which is manned day and night, (not some­thing Health and Safety would allow today). There is no run­ning water piped to the box and so this has to be delivered each day.

Stephen showed us a pho­to­graph of Dent Station which is reputed to be the highest sta­tion in Britain at 1150 feet above sea level. The sta­tion itself is 5 miles from Dent and was due for clos­ure but Michael Portillo played a big part in saving it. The Station House has been con­ver­ted into a B & B and Michael was just one of many celebrit­ies who have stayed there.

Stephen jour­neyed from S.Wales on a Rover ticket, through Heckington Station, with its clas­sic 8 sailed  wind­mill in the back­ground in Lincolnshire, on to Bridlington Station, where time has stood still, espe­cially in the tea room. Mmemories of the film ‘Brief Encounter’ were evoked.

Stephen made a pil­grim­age to Aberfan to pay his respects to 116 chil­dren and 28 adults who died on 21/10/66 when the pit spoil heap slipped and buried the school. He took his pho­to­graph from the place where the slip occurred. Incidentally t was here where the laying of floral trib­utes mark­ing acci­dents and dis­asters ori­gin­ated. The nearest sta­tion to Aberfan is  Merthyr Vale, and it is here where Timothy Evans, who was wrongly accused of a murder and hanged, was born.

Nearer home, we saw a pho­to­graph of Dronfield Station includ­ing the ticket office. The sta­tion is still in use but the ticket office has been closed since 1967. We also saw an excel­lent pho­to­graph of a night mail train which invoked memor­ies of the film  ‘Night Train’.

The East Coast Mainline – 393 miles long from London to Edinburg, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1849. Stephen showed a pho­to­graph of Berwick  where 70% of Berwick Castle was demol­ished for this line. The Berwick to Dunbar sec­tion is voted second best pic­tur­esque route after The Settle to Carlisle route.

A final reflec­tion was on past cheap short ‘Merrymaker’ excur­sions, to places like Skye. They were to encour­age people to take a hol­i­day on the rail­ways. The final pic­ture was an advert for a Cardiff beer dis­played on a rail­way bridge – ‘You Need BRAINS’.     The Victorian engin­eers cer­tainly had ambi­tion and brains, and was very well rep­res­en­ted in this morning’s mar­vel­lous talk.