Monthly Archives: October 2008

BBC 4 – Bombay Railway

The wonderfully railway-friendly TV Channel, BBC 4, brought us part 1 of this documentary about the incredible suburban railway system serving the Indain city that is known nowadays as Mumbai, but used to be called Bombay.

This railway network moves many millions of commuters every day in a feat that at least rivals and probably exceeds that of any other railway serving any major city of the world.  Mumbai is truly a city that never sleeps and the railway is pretty well a 24 hour operation, with well over a thousand trains each day. It grew from the British Raj, but in some respects seems to have kept up or even overtaken our own railway network with what seemed to be 100% coverage of electrification and some very modern control technology keeping the highly intensive service flowing.

However, the safety record of the railway, with an average of 10 deaths a day is appalling. The reason for this dreadful record became clear during the programme with people crossing the tracks in front of trains and using the permanent way as a walking route and even living within inches of the running lines in the shanty towns that have grown up around the metropolis.

The complete lack of doors on the carriages, the people jumping on and off moving trains and the super density crush loading that is accepted in peak hours must also be factors that contribute to the dire safety record.

Although the programme tackled this issue head on, a TV programme can never change the culture of a society. The programme makers featured a number of people who worked on or were inextricably linked to the railway. The General Manager of one of the lines was included, bbut a more interesting railwayman was the driver with 30 years experience who talked about the reality of working in these conditions. I found his matter of fact description of stopping the train, his guard and himself moving a body off the track and continuing to the next station to report the incident to be harrowing.

It was also very interesting to see and hear from the young child making a kind of living on the edge of the law working on a station as a shoeshine boy. It was also interesting to hear of a former shoeshine boy who has become an entrepreneur with fingers in all the business interests on the railway station, but who is also involved as a volunteer ambulance driver, often transporting the people killed or injured.

Perhaps the most moving story was that of a young woman hawker who travelled on the railway’s “Ladies Only” trains selling Saris and other clothing to the passengers. This is completely illegal, but when she was arrested by the railway police, she paid the fine and went straight back to her only work. At the end of the programme, however, she went with her family to visit the flat that her sales had enabled her to buy.

The young shoeshine boy also left the station that had been his home as well as his workplace and was seen at a centre for runaway children starting to learn the skills that will give him a better chance of improving his life than he would have found on the railway station.

Although British viewers could recognise the railway which was the central character of this documentary, the living and working conditions, the culture, the society and the attitudes that were revealed by the programme were a world away from our own urban railway networks. I am looking forward to seeing the second part of this revealing look at something that is simultaneously so familiar and so alien.

Ride Safe
Dave

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Three Legends of Steam

Today, freed from the domestic pressures that have plagued our summer along with the appalling British weather, we threw caution to the winds. We were also helped by the clocks going back to Britsh Winter Time, or as it is more generally known, Greenwich Mean Time.

Our revolutionary activity was to abandon the million or so things that we “should” have been doing at home, jump into the car and drive down the A60 to Loughborough to visit the Great Central Railway.

The Great Central Railway - Loughborough Central Station

The Great Central Railway - Loughborough Central Station

We arrived a few minutes after the start of the steam service, having missed the train hauled by “Lord Nelson”, but in time to see the Heritage DMU that always starts the GCR timetable move out of the platform to its siding. This gave us plenty of time to walk along the beautifully restored station, to visit the gift shop and the Emporium, the very well-stocked second hand shop as well as popping into the station buffet for a cup of tea.

However, I had already taken a walk as far as I could along the platform to see the locomotive that was on the front of our train. It was the Great Western Railway’s legendary “City of Truro”.  Although I had lived in Swindon as a child, and have read countless words about this engine, I don’t think I had ever seen it myself. I was not disappointed with the beautifully turned out machine that was to pull our train and was providing steam to heat the train to slightly warmer than comfortable for us.

“City of Truro” was not positioned to allow me to get a photograph at Loughborough, especially as the railway’s own operating volunteers were crowded around the end of the platform, leaving little room for a passing anorak. But it didn’t matter, I knew that I would be able to get a picture later in the day.

Right on time, at 11:15, with us safely in our seats, a high pitched whistle sounded and the train started to move smoothly. We were sitting well towards the rear of the 6 or seven coach train that was predominantly reserved for diners so heard little of the locomotive working.  Although this train, and every train that we travelled on or saw during our visit was very well patronised, we never had any difficulty finding seats that were clean and comfortable in carriages that obviously have as much care lavished on them by the GCR staff and volunteers as the steam locomotives.

The journey to Leicester North, with brief stops at Quorn and Woodhouse and Rothley stations was smooth and uneventful. At one point, Sue commented on the brevity of the GCR’s intermendiate station stops saying that she really liked the way that the trains stopped for just a couple of minutes and that at each station, quite a lot of people got on and off the train. When she added, “It isjust like being on a ‘real’ train”, I knew just what she meant.

On arrival at Leicester North, I leaped from the train and made my way down the platform to get my first proper look at at a legend. City of Truro did not disappoint in any way. I also appreciated the way that the couple of dozen photographers gathered around to picture the loco moved back to allow each of us to get clear shots. This was something of a theme throughout the day, although the really serious railway photographers, the ones that bring serious tripods, cameras with six inch long lenses and some professional looking video cameras, don’t tend to join the scrums on the stations, but avail themselves of the GCR’s brilliant lineside pass scheme.

City Of Truro at Leicester North Station on The Great Central Railway

City Of Truro at Leicester North Station on The Great Central Railway

The railway operates a permit system that allows photographers to be on the lineside with a photocard permit and a specially branded high visibility jacket. From the numbers of photographers on the lineside, this great idea must bring in some much-needed revenue for the GCR.

Having grabbed some photographs and made my way back to Sue on the train, it wasn’t long before we set off back towards Loughborough. This time we were much closer to the locomotive and could hear the characteristic chuff as it hauled us up the slopes along the route. Our speed, of course, was far more sedate that “City Of Truro’s” record breaking run when she became the first man-made machine ever to travel at 100 miles per hour.

We had decided to change trains at Quorn and Woodhouse to join the southbound train that would be pulled by LMS liveried locomotive, Leander. We were, by no means the only ones to make this change. It was clear from overheard conversations that many people had already done the same change from the first train pulled by “Lord Nelson” onto “City of Truro’s” train and again to “Leander’s”. We were more than satisfied with our two different locomotives, although we could have stayed until “Lord Nelson” was again rostered for a train later in the day, we were happy to see it running light on Driver Experience duties.

We were also looking forward to having something to eat on the Great Central’s famous griddle car train, which we had just joined. Sue quickly joined the queue at the counter and put in our orders for the Great Central All Day Breakfast. We were told that we would half-an-hour’s wait for our meals, although I am sure that they arrived more quickly that this. The generous breakfasts were pretty good, although our eggs were somewhat overcooked. Well they were cremated really!  However, this was a minor irritation on an otherwise brilliant day out and in any case, I am no food critic, I just eat what I am given.

I did have time to leave the train again when we reached Leicester North to get a few photographs of “Leander”.

Leander at Leicester North Station on 26th September 2008

Leander at Leicester North Station on 26th September 2008

I also came close to making a big mistake, forgetting that station stops on the GCR are very brief, and also that it is a double track railway and that trains do not always pass in stations. I hopped out at Rothley station to grab a picture of “Lord Nelson”, only to be told that it had already gone through the station and that we had passed it. I dived back onto the train just as the stationmaster was shutting the doors for our departure.

On our return journey, “Lord Nelson”, in its Full Southern Railway livery was in Rothley station as we pulled on and I was able to grab my long-awaited photograph.

Lord Nelson at Rothley Station on the Great Central Railway

Lord Nelson at Rothley Station on the Great Central Railway

I wonder how often it is possible to see three steam locomotives in the colourful pre-nationalisation liveries of three different companies working together to provide a single railway service. It must be fairly rare.

On arrival back at Loughborough, we decided to end our most enjoyable visit to the Great Central and make our way back to Nottingham via the Nottingham Heritage Centre at Ruddington.  We had spotted their sign on the main road advertising train services every Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday on the way down to Loughborough. So with it being early afternoon, were looking forward to another journey on a line that we have not visited for several years. Imagine, our disappointment to discover that they were not running, but had been running during that morning. We seem to be ill-fated with this railway as the last time we intended to visit Ruddington, we discovered that they were running a Diesel Gala and that the admission price was, frankly over the top.

Talking of fares, I must give enormous credit to the Great Central Railway for running what was effectively a major steam gala, but charging no more than their normal ticket prices, which for Sue and I as working volunteers at Peak Rail and holders of a Heritage Railway Association Inter-Rail pass, was completely free.  No wonder the GCR remains one of my favourite railway experiences.

Ride Safe
Dave

16 Legs and No Brain

This post has been in the planning for well over a month now, but a title had eluded me until some friends of ours came round last night and David came out with the great line that heads this – 16 legs and no brain. It is so right, so many times.

So what kind of animal are we talking about? Is it some long extinct dinosaur, a sea creature from the depths of the Pacific Ocean or a mythical being from Greek mythology. No, none of these. It is a very apposite description for a group of otherwise perfectly normal people who get together and form – gasp – a committee!

Every voluntary organisation has at least one, and in many other kinds of public and private sector organisation they can proliferate at an alarming rate. I am well aware that although there has been some progress towards gender equality, most committees comprise groups of men. I will admit that there are women who meet my stereotypes, although I will, for the most part, use the male pronoun.

Over the years, I have been sucked in, cajoled, ordered (at work and at home) and even volunteered to serve on an endless stream of committees that have gone by all kinds of names. I really wouldn’t be surprised if everyone on the planet has, at some time, been a member of:

  • An organising group
  • A working group
  • A focus group
  • A trustee board
  • A management committee
  • A board of directors
  • A team meeting
  • A staff meeting
  • A volunteers meeting
  • A residents’ association
  • … and so on. I’m sure you get the idea by now.

But how effective are these committees, especially those operating in the majority of voluntary organisations without any kind of staff or paid worker support?

Of course, they will vary from brilliant to dreadful. I have been on some very good committees, but in almost every case, these have been good because one or two individuals bring the drive and passion to take the rest of the members along with them and to make  things happen. I know that I have been that live wire on some occasions, but on others I have been enthused and energised by someone who has inspired me. I have not really set out to write about these committees that function well, although I believe there are some members of almost every committee who could usefully think about how much they really contribute. Even the best committee has some dead wood.

Unfortunately, I also seem to have been part of far too many committees that spend a lot of time, generate a lot of hot air and achieve very little. I have been thinking quite a lot about what makes some committees so bad.

So I start by asking a couple of questions:

  • “Why would anybody (including me) ever want to be on a committee in the first place”.
  • “Are we there to genuinely work for the greater good of the organisation, the cause or issue, or are we there as a public declaration of our elevated status; the power trip?” 

I  recognise that the power trip can be a heady experience, but with power comes an equal amount of responsibility. Too many committee members fail to make this connection in their own mind. We have all seen those committee men (and only occasionally, women) swagger about, massaging their own egos, knowing that they will never be able to give enough time and energy to fulfil their role.

Then there are the old-timers. They are only there because they’ve always been there. Their only priority is to preserve the status quo, to ensure that outsiders don’t come in and start making changes and to close ranks against anyone who rocks the boat. These are the people who respond to any new idea with, “We tried that in 1974 and didn’t work then, so there’s no point doing it again.”

The dictators can be a strange bunch. They are open to any new ideas and will give you a warm welcome onto the committee. However, they’ll only want your ideas if they match their own and the welcome is only as warm as your support for everything that they say.

The bureaucrat knows the organisation’s constitution inside out and loves formulating new standing orders and goes weak at the knees at the prospect of a sub-committee to discuss a new policy. He, or she, will get a real buzz from proving a point of order, and will write reports for future meetings until the cows come home.

The square peg is sad case.  He could have been a great member of some other part of the organisation, perhaps taking a great deal of responsibility for something practical that matches his skills and interests. He was the ideal volunteer or worker for any organisation.  So which idiot invited him to stop doing what he did so well an come onto the committee? He is now out of depth, out of his comfort zone and fairly quickly out of the organisation.

The politician is a dangerous beast. And I’m not talking about your local councillor here. In fact having a local councillor on board can be a real asset if you want to have some kind of influence, even over a decision about a £100 running costs grant next year. No, the politician that I mean is the kind of Machiavellian schemer who comes to the committee with his own agenda which will normally be in his own self-interest, or in the interest of a clique within the wider organisation. He is usually easy enough to spot, but very difficult to prevent him from relaying everything that is said in committee supposedly in confidence back to his interest group.

The politician’s special interest group could well include the former committee member. Remember that the only way to escape from a committee is by resignation. No-one ever contests committee roles at AGMs, do they? So the former committee member has probably resigned after a row with someone and, rather than turn his back and walk away, he has hung on the edge of the organisation, whether retaining membership or not, ready to criticise and snipe at every snippet of news or gossip that he can lay his hands on. He might, at some point in the future, want to re-join the committee, but is probably far happier staying where he is, armed with the politician’s inside information as ammunition, creating the maximum disruption.

Beware of the new broom on a committee. With definite characteristics of the dictator, everything is to be challenged and, if at all possible changed. His slogan, “Change is the only constant.” A right pain in the backside, especially if faced by a bunch of old-timers. Between them, the whole committee can be deadlocked forever.

Worst of all, in my view, are the great and good whose membership of the committee distances them from the “peasants”; the rank and file of the organisation.  I have actually heard it said, “We’ll do what we want and they can take part if they want to.” Such arrogance is dumbfounding, but what is even more dumbfounding is that these people are nodded back on the committee at the next AGM. Maybe the “peasants” don’t see the contempt with which they are regarded, or maybe they just don’t care.

Maybe you can come up with some more types from your own experience. I have found it really hard to refrain from naming names for each of the types I have identified. I also admit that at times, I can fit into several of these groups myself. However, back in the real world for a moment, most committees may include elements of any or all of these stereotypes without going to the extremes that I describe. 

So why are so many committees so inept? I believe that there are a number of reasons.

  1. Almost all recruitment to committees is by informal invitation. By inviting “people like us”, we perpetuate what exists already.
  2. Very few new committee members come in with their eyes open about what they are joining. I have never been given a “job description” before joing a committee and I never been interviewed beforehand by the chair or other committee members.
  3. Committee members do not always have enough information. I have served on committees for organisations whose constitution and past minutes are guarded more closely than a state secret.
  4. Committee members are generally not trained to carry out their role.
  5. By not having a clear understanding of what the committee is there to do, many members do not put in enough time. Many committees run on attendance at the meetings with no input in between times.
  6. Most committees have no idea that there is support and help available.

This last point is both saddening and shocking. There really is no excuse for the ineptitude that is so often evident, other than ignorance of what is available and even, on occasions, an attitude that “We don’t need any help because we know it all already.”

So where would the committee of a voluntary organisation get that help from?

But the most important first step is to recognise that the committee and the organisation could use some help. Committee skills that can be learned and there is a lot of support out there. I am absolutely convinced that the major difference between the good committees on which I have served and the bad ones is the willingness to seek out expert help.

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – The Whisky Train

This BBC 4 TV series gets better and better. In the fourth of Julia Bradbury’s walks along disused railway tracks, she visits another area that I have yet to experience for myself, the fabulous countryside of the Scotland’s Spey Valley.

The programme saw Julia travelling along the route of the former Speyside Railway through the heart of Whisky country and through some amazing countryside along the River Spey. From the opening shots of Salmon and Trout fishermen wading in the river, to the spectacular aerial views of the route, the whole programme made me want to jump on my motorbike and ride for the twelve or so hours that it would take to get to this northerly outpost of the railway network. Unfortunately, I am not impetuous or spontaneous enough to abandon all my responsibilities in the real world and head off on such an unplanned adventure.

My knwledge of this area was perhaps a little more complete than of the area covered by the previous programme in Cornwall, but I was blown away with the scenery of the area and the amazing state of preservation of much of the route. Although some of the river bridges appea to have gone, the stations appeared to be in a good state and the trackbed was clear and made for easy walking.

Further on from the section of line that Julia walked in the programme is the preserved Strathspey Railway running between Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Broomhill. It is a real shame that Julia did not visit that railway as she did in the first programme of the series when she visited Peak Rail’s preserved station at Darley Dale.

I enjoyed seeing how little environmental impact the vast, globalised Whisky industry has on the Spey valley and the people that Julia spoke to along the way, as in the previous programmes, brought the history to life.

Once again, this was a line closed in 1968 follwing the Beeching rationalistion of the network and, predictably enough, there was a former station master prepared to go on the telly to regret the passing of the line and to say that there was enough freight traffic to have kept it open. I can well believe that the enormous scale of whisky production that was evident throughout the programme could have provided work for this route, although whether that traffic would still be available today is a moot point.

The old stationmaster on the programme, like many former railwaymen had a momento of the closure and produced a totem from his old station, Ballindalloch.

Rather like Julia’s Snowdonia walk, this route went through a lot of places with unpronounceable names. However, with the Internet to the rescue, there is a map showing the former Speyside line here, with all the stations named.

With just two more Railway Walks to come, I am going to miss this series, but I am hopeful, with several thousand more miles of former railways left to explore, there is lots of scope for a second series.

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – Cornwall – The Birth Of Steam

In the third programme in this consistently good series on BBC 4, Julia Bradbury headed to Cornwall to explore a another disused railway route. However, unlike the first two programmes, the closure of the pioneering tramways around Redruth owes nothing to the good Doctor Beeching because they closed a century before his notorious report.

The two tramways that formed the route from the North Cornwall coast to the English Channel taken by Julia in this programme were originally built for the products of the mining industry. I found it fascinating to be reminded how the rural, tourist idyll that is 21st Century Cornwall was, in living memory, a scarred industrial landscape dominated by mining and chemical works.

Part of the route travelled during this programme was across a lunar-looking landscape that had been poisoned by arsenic that had been a valuable product from the mining industry. Throughout the journey, Julia seemed to constantly be close to derelict winding houses with evocative names, many including the name “Wheal”.

I have to confess that, unlike the areas featured in the first two programmes of Railway Walks, I had never heard of the route in this programme and Cornwall is not an area that I know well. Therefore I was rather shocked when I compared the regeneration that has taken place in the former coal mining areas that I know from the Midlands, where I live, with the images of industrial dereliction portrayed on this programme. Even with the reclamation of so much former Cornish mining landscape by nature, there has obviously been far more money spent on regenerating former colliery sites than has been spent on this former tin mining area.

As for the former tramways, it is great to see that lines that fell into disuse 140 years ago have found a new lease of life as cycle and walking routes.

A trip to Cornwall must be added to my ever increasing list of “must do” activities.

Mind Body Spirit – Mansfield

At one time, in the not too distant past, you would never have got me near an event called “Mind Body Spirit“. Even when one of our friends, Kathy, asked Sue to be a case study for her own training in Crystal Healing, I was inclined to dismiss this as “hippy nonsense”.  Even when I went for Chakra balancing with Kathy and was impressed by the sense of peace that I came away with, it wasn’t until I experienced the real world effect of reflexology that I decided to become a a little more open minded and to stop dismissing all kinds of alternative therapies and lifestyle choices out of hand.

It was back in May this year that I “came out” here on this blog as a former sceptic. Even then, I would have been wanted to keep my conversion low-key and would never have visited this kind of event.

It was, of course, Kathy who gave us the opportunity to go to Mansfield Civic Centre today. In her role of Holistic Therapist under the name “Ray Of Light”, she was on a stall there with husband Phil. Kathy was offering 15 minute head massage taster sessions while Phil was chatting to customers for their essential oils, scented candles, wooden boxes and a plethora of other items, most of which I do not thoroughly understand, such as those small brass cymbals on a length of leather thong.

Our day started with a new and amazing experience for me, my first ever Indian head massage by Kathy. I have already come a long way in that I was not only willing, but enthusiastic about doing this in the middle of a large room full of people. Of course, no-one took the slightest notice of what I was doing and the massage was a great way to get into the event by relaxing me and giving me time to remove my mind from the outside world and to open myself up to the incredible positive energy that filled Mansfield Civic Centre.

After the massage, Sue and I had a cup of tea before wandering around the amazing array of stalls selling everything from angels to crystals, fairies to drums, incense sticks to art and books on every topic under the sun.  All of the stallholders that we stopped to talk to were friendly, knowledgeable and very understanding when talking to a callow beginner like me.

On one stall, Sue fell in love with a healing bear that had been made by Julie of Harmony Crystal Bears  and came complete with a rose quartz crystal, a birth certificate and the name “Misty”.  Misty is also the name of Sue’s cat, so there was immediately some kind of connection between Sue and this bear. At first there was no way that Sue was going to part with her hard-earned cash for a teddy bear, but after looking at all of the bears on display, she returned to Misty and the rest, as they say, is history.  Julie’s husband Ray said that you don’t really choose a bear, the bear chooses you and I am convinced that this is what happened today.

A little later, we met Reiki Master Alan Green, who was sitting behind a display of crystals. I stopped dead in my tracks when he said something to me and greeted me by name. I still have no idea how he knew my name was Dave, and we stopped to talk with him. He invited me to put my hands on a large and complex stone that was full of different kinds of crystals. I think I could feel some heat in the stone, but what happened next put the experience totally into the shade.

Alan asked Sue if she would like to experience Reiki (like Kathy and many other exhibitors, he was also offering taster sessions). Sue declined saying that she has psychic sensitivity and had, in her words, “closed the door on it”.  I had heard her say this many times in the past and despite my own scepticism about this whole area, I am convinced that Sue has experienced things that I cannot explain.

Anyway, Alan was having none of Sue’s refusal and asked her to put one hand out, with her palm upwards. Alan stretched out his own hand and never made any physical contact with Sue. He asked her to describe what she could feel and she talked about a warmth travelling up her arm and across to her other shoulder.

 Alan asked her to put out her other hand as well and as Sue held out both her hands beneath Alan’s one hand for onky about about 5 minutes, she described how the warmth and a tingling sensation had travelled through her arms and down into her body. She described the feeling as waves of warm water.

The warmth stayed with her for a long time after their hands had moved apart. Sue also felt very thirsty. I think the after effects have stayed with her because she was in bed and well on the way to being asleep by 10:30 pm whereas we would normally be up until midnight or later.

If I had not been standing next to Sue throughout this, I don’t think I would have been as convinced as I now am that there was something passing from Alan to Sue. I have no idea what it was, but I am sure it is real. I came away from this brief encounter wanting to know a lot more and will be reading and researching this. When I can afford the time and money, I would love to be trained to harness whatever power it is that was flowing there.

As well as the diversity of stalls reflecting all shades of alternative lifestyles, healing and therapy, there was a programme of talks that took place across the day. We went to two of them. The first was an informal chat by Sue Tribe whose website describes her as a Shaman, Past Life Therapist, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Therapeutic Drummer.  Unfortunately, she didn’t use the microphone that was available which made her talk a little difficult to hear at time, and the many questions that she took were completely inaudible to us. However, I wanted to persevere and to find out more about hypnotherapy, which was the subject of her talk. She covered many issues and addressed a lot of areas of my own ignorance. However, she didn’t really fire my imagination in the way that the second speaker, Fay Hartwell, did later in the day.

Fay is an accomplished speaker who did pick up the microphone. This immediately made me relax and helped me to concentrate on what she had to say. She is a Life Coach and the topic of her talk was “The Cosmic Kitchen”. This is based on the simple premise that the universe will provide whatever it is that we want and ask for. The complexity comes in the way that we identify for ourselves what it is that we really want and the way that we ask for it. I loved her imagery of there being a chef in the Cosmic Kitchen who takes the orders and sends them out. This means that we won’t always get an immediate response, but just like we order food in a restaurant, we can be sure that it is on the way. Fay also involved the audience in three simple exercises, two of meditation and one of visualisation of the differences between the past, present and future.

I came away from her session very fired up and wanting to know more and I am going to look for some of the books she recommended.

The whole day was quite an experience. I tried to go into it with an open mind and I came out with a real desire to learn more. Sue and I are already talking about going back again tomorrow for some more of the talks. Thanks toKathy for giving us the opportunity to go to this fair. It isn’t going to be our last.

Maybe there’s a bit of that hippy in me somewhere trying to get out.

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – Discovering Snowdonia

The second programme in what is becoming, for me, an unmissable series on BBC Four, saw Julia Bradbury walking the former Cambrian Railway route from Dolgellau to Morfa Mawddach and on across Barmouth Bridge.

This line has a resonance for me that goes back a long way before my involvement with railway preservation and restoration. I vividly recall travelling on this line on the way to childhood holidays on the Mid-Wales coast at Friog, tucked under the cliffs on the end of the beach at Fairbourne.

The original line that ran from Ruabon to Barmouth Junction (which was the original name of the station later re-named Morfa Mawddach) was built by a variety of railway companies, but by the time I was aware of it, had become part of the Western Region of British Railways.  I remember changing trains at Ruabon, almost certainly having broken our long railway journey from Swindon where we then lived. We would have alighted at Gobowen to travel along another lost railway line to Oswestry to visit grandparents.

I can remember the stations at Llangollen, Corwen, Bala, Dolgellau, Morfa Mawddach where we would have changed for the short trip round to Fairbourne. Some of the minor stations and halts on this route also stick in my mind with Penmaenpool and the tiny wooden platform at Arthog being the cues for mounting excitement because we had almost arrived.

My own first views of Barmouth Bridge invoked a similar reaction to that of Julia Bradbury in the TV programme, except that we had no time to stop and sit to admire that view from the slowing train.

Julia’s walk started on the site of Dolgellau station, now completely vanished under the town’s by-pass which has used the old track bed. Her walk started across the river from the station site and was only able to join the old railway line after crossing the river by a footbridge after the by-pass veeered away. The walk soon lost the traffic roar and became much more tranquil.

The aerial views of the spectacular scenery added to the shots from ground level of a route that continually revealed more and more of the mountains of Snowdonia and the river valley as it became an estuary.

The remaining railway structure, the signalbox, station buildings and even a well-preserved signal at Penmaenpool were a poignant reminder of the heritage that was swept away in 1968 when the line was closed. Julia met a former engine driver there who declined to express his opinion on TV of Dr Beeching, the man responsible for the closure of the line.

The programme, like my mounting childhood excitement, then moved on to towards Arthog, where Julia and a local historian stood together on the site of Arthog’s station, where again, no trace remains. We also saw the massive concrete tank traps that had been erected during World War II and which are a still major feature of much of the estuary and coastline in that area. I remember that as children, we called them “Dragon’s Teeth”, a name that could well have been coined by my grandfather!

Although the programme mostly invoked memories for me, I also learned that Arthog almost became a resort town, possibly to rival Barmouth itself, but that one man’s grand plans came to nothing, except for his embyonic resort to be used as a wartime training camp for marines, who would have welcomed the ruggedness of the surrounding hills and mountains.

I knew about the areas industrial past in Slate quarrying and have visited some of the disused quarries, with memories of a walk to one quarry high above  Fairbourne to visit the “Blue Lake”, probably another of my grandfather’s descriptions to enthrall us small children.

Julia’s walk eventually reached Morfa Mawddach, at one time a major junction station, which I believe had no road access at one time, but was simply an interchange between the coast route and the line that Julia had just walked. As Julia walked along one of the disused platforms at Morfa Mawddach, she had arrived at the still active line between Machynlleth and Pwllheli. Sue and I have walked the same path that Julia took for the final stretch across barmouth Bridge, the longest bridge in Wales.

In the 1980s, a worm almost achieved what Dr Beeching faied to do, to sever the Cambrian Coast line, but as this description says

The majority of the bridge is quite low to the water, and it caused British Rail massive problems in the nineteen eighties when a marine worm bored into the piles beneath the bridge, substantially weakening it. For a period only light Diesel Multiple Units could use the line and heavy locomotive-hauled trains were banned, but fortunately BR bit the bullet and repaired the bridge at massive cost.

Julia”s walk ended with the short stroll into Barmouth and an observation that this is one of the few big towns in this part of Wales that despite a very strong Welsh identity and widespread use of the Welsh language, retains its railway imposed English name, rather than being known by it’s perfectly serviceable Welsh name, Abermaw.

I have always had a deep-seated wish to see the whole of this line restored and re-opened from Ruabon to the coast. I am delighted that the Llangollen Railway and the narrow-gauge Bala Lake Railway have both made good use of part of the line, but it’s not the same.  I guess that my dream will probably never be realised, particularly after the loss of Dolgellau Station to the road scheme there. However, after the oil runs out, who knows?  Another of my grandad’s pieces of wisdom well before 1968 was that they shouldn’t be closing all these railways because they’ll need them again one day.

It’s a rare TV programme that can move me as much as this one did.

Ride Safe
Dave