Monthly Archives: March 2009

Mother’s Day on the Churnet Valley Railway


Sunday was Mothers Day, although I do manage to spend rather more than one day a year with my mum, it was good that she chose to spend this special day with Sue and I.

The day began with a search around the interweb and a certain amount of disappointment that several of our possible alternative venues, including the Battlefield Line and the Foxfield Railway were, according to their websites, not running a service of any sort. Don’t any of their members or volunteers have mothers who would have enjoyed a train ride on Mothers Day?

Anyway, we arrived to collect my mum from home and I was very pleased to meet one of my brothers and his  wife just as they were leaving from their parental visit.  For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, Sue and I see very little of my three brothers and their families.

After a brief conversation, Mum, Sue and I  climbed into our car (the bike would never take three of us – despite occasional suggestions that we should have a sidecar).  However, this was not before mum had had a bit of a worry about whether she was dressed for whatever we were going to be doing.

We had deliberately not told her what that would be, partly to contribute to the surprise, but also because we weren’t sure exactly what that would be until that very morning when my interweb adventure showed me that the Churnet Valley Railway was not only operating, but was  running at times that would fit in well with our (very) rough plan.

Our first stop was in Swadlincote to show mum where I now work. Whilst it was an interesting diversion to stand outside a closed and locked building with all the blinds closed, it occurred to me a moment after we arrived there that it would have been a more rewarding experience for all of us of I had thought to take my keys and show mum the inside of our compact office.

With this thought still bouncing around the space where a my brain should have been, I reset the Satnav and we set off into the comparatively unexplored (by Sue and I) wilderness of Staffordshire.

We are trying to come up with an acceptable name for the female voice of our Satnav. Sue has contributed a few possibilities, but none of these names really fit her personality, especially when she’s getting frustrated that I’ve deviated from her route yet again. Let’s face it, she’s the only woman in my life whose instructions I have the courage to ignore.

 Eventually, with the help of our still unnamed guide, we arrived at Cheddleton station with about ten minutes to spare before the departure of the train. This gave us good time to take Sue’s picnic from the car and get down to the station in time to get to the booking office, obtain our tickets and board the train which pulled into the beautifully restored station a few moments later. Sue and I were delighted to be able to make the first use this year of our Heritage Railway pass.

The journey along the Churnet Valley, following the course of the river as well as the Caldon canal, was great. the on-train volunteer ticket collector was a great ambassador for the railway and we enjoyed the ride. We soon opened up the picnic of some very good ham sandwiches and a huge plastic box of crisps. Mum and I were soon stuck into the food, with Sue not far behind us.

The train journey includes a brief stop at Consall before a longer layover for water and a loco run round at Kingsley and Froghall. Sue took advantage of this time to pop off the train for three hot drinks from the station buffet.

Sue and Mum at the Churnet Valley Railway

Sue and Mum at the Churnet Valley Railway

The return trip took us, via another stop at Consall, straight through Cheddleton, passing through the 531 yard Leek Brook Tunnel (although the lineside sign says it is “Cheddleton Tunnel”) to Leek Brook junction where there is no platform, but the train crew effected a very efficient run round of the loco before returning to Cheddleton.

We were being hauled by GWR pannier tank 5199, the only loco in steam from their impressive roster. We saw two other steam locos as well as a couple of diesels at Cheddleton, the operating base of the railway. 


The three of us were in no hurry to leave the train, so took advantage of the fact that we had “All Day” tickets and enjoyed a second round trip.

By the time we got back to Cheddleton for the second time, we were ready for a quick trip around the shop where I found a great little book of Derbyshire Railway stations from old postcards.

Our trip back to mums was uneventful, possibly because I stuck strictly to the route given by the Satnav woman. After a cup of tea and a natter, it was back home to end a really enjoyable day out.

This was the second or maybe the third visit that Sue and I have paid to this great railway, but I know it won’t be our last.

Ride Safe

Good Weather – Good Riding

Another biking milestone was reached today (actually yesterday – it’s now a few minutes into Saturday as I write this). Sue and I got out on the bike together for the first time in 2009.

 Sue had been awake for most of Thursday night, so took the day off work sick and slept for much of it while I went off to the dentist and to do some work. When I got back in mid afternoon, Sue was up and feeling a lot better, so we kitted up, got ourselves astride the Heritage Softail and hit the road.

We started out by heading out to East Midlands Airport in the hope that there might be a few planes to watch. We sort of saw a Ryanair jet land in the far distance, but couldn’t get into the closed Aeropark, so remounted the Harley and set off down the old A453 which runs parallel to the bust A42 through the Leicestershire countryside towards the wonderfully named Ashby-de-la-Zouch. This quiet road was a dream to ride and all too soon we came down to Flagstaff island at Ashby. There is a McDonalds there, so we took advantage of the fact that I had a full coffee loyalty card and stopped for a drink and a deli of the day.

Suitably refreshed, we headed out along the Burton road – my daily route to work, but rather than turn down into Swadlincote, we continued through Woodville and took a right turn at the Mason’s Arms towards  Repton and Willington. Both of these villages were quite busy as we landed there during the peak of the school run with countless women in Chelsea tractors collecting their little darlings – and one or two giving their mobile phone conversations far more attention than a couple of bikers aboard an apparently invisible Harley.

I did feel slightly better after yelling “W*nker” into my helmet lining as one idiot in a Mercedes narrowly failed to kill us.

After this, the open road of the A38 towards Derby felt like a welcome relief. This was short-lived because my impeccable timing had managed to hit the start of that fair city’s rush hour traffic. This is where a bike’s ability to filter through the queues really comes into its own and I am grateful to the unknown rider of a red and white Kawasaki who led us, and two or three other bikers, through the melee.

We took the familiar tarmac of the A6 northwards through Duffield, where the Kwak turned right and left us to it, on to Belper (more filtering) and out through Ambergate, Whatstandwell and Cromford.

It was great to see a good number bikes lined up in Matlock Bath outside the Promenade Chippy, but we pressed on into Matlock itself where our destination was Sainsbury’s petrol station. After a quick consultation with my pillion, we decided to go no further northwards, but to head back via Tansley, Wessington and Alfreton onto the A38 and back via the M1.

We arrived home at about 6:15 and after one of Sue’s speedily produced stir fry dinners, we both crashed out for a sleep that ended sometime after 10pm. Our day finished with a cup of tea in front of the TV and me sitting down at the computer to write this ride report sometime after midnight.

It was a good ride, and all the better for having Sue on the back. Here’s to many more of them.

Ride Safe

Another Ride

I have no real wish to bore you with daily accounts of my commuting to work, even when this is aboard the Heritage Softail. However, for the second time this week, the bike has had a airing yesterday.

This included a ride through the lanes of South Derbyshire on the way to Chesterfield for a work meeting.

It was a day that started with some fairly dense fog, but ended up warm, dry and sunny.

I’ll try to add some more to this post later today, if I get time.

Ride Safe

At Last

St Patrick’s Day saw my first ride aboard the Heritage Softail this year.

OK, it was a ride to from Nottingham to Swadlincote to go to and from work, but it was a ride. It was inspired by the fact that yesterday was a warm, sunny spring day and as I drove the now familiar route to work, I found myself wishing that I was on the bike rather than cocooned in the car.

Today, of course, was nowhere near as good. It was dull and overcast all day, but it stayed dry.

The bike got a reaction from most of my work colleagues. Jackie and Alison appeared in car park as soon as I pulled up at about 8am and later in the day, Saira and Chris were both sitting aboard the bike.

I think they were quite impressed.

It took me about the same length of time for the journey, but I think I used slightly less petrol in the bike than in the car. However, a 1440cc engine is always going to be rather a thirsty beast.

I fear that tomorrow I will have to go by car for a couple of reasons. One is that I put a lot of petrol in it on Monday that needs to be used up. (Don’t ask, it’s a long story.) The other is that I have to find my way to a place that I don’t know in the village of Hilton.

Well, this year’s biking has finally started – let’s hope there lots more miles and lots more rides to come.

Ride Safe

I Was Taken Shopping – And Enjoyed It!

I’m convinced that men just don’t “get” shopping” in the way that women do it. When we go to buy something, we go the shop, pick what we went for, pay for it and leave.

It’s no accident that women go on shopping “expeditions” in which they look at everything in the shop before settling on the very first thing they looked at, an hour earlier. If that word expedition applies to any human endeavour it applies to shopping. I’m sure that a trip to the south pole is a walk in the park compared to one of Sue’s shopping trips. This isn’t me being sexist; it’s the result of many years of dispassionate observation on my part It probably comes down to the genetic differences between men and women.

For this reason, I would normally prefer to immerse my head in custard rather than be dragged out shopping.

Yesterday, however, was a bit different. It wasn’t a trip into the centre of Nottingham to worship at the shrine of Monsoon or Debenhams, but a drive out the wilds of Derbyshire. well, not exactly “wilds”, but to the (really) picturesque village of Cromford. We were taking Maggie, a friend of ours, to visit Mystical Crystals in Cromford Market Place. Sue and I both love this shop which has a calm, healing atmosphere and is run by Keith, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of crystals and stones. There is always calming meditative music playing there and the air is filled with gentle smell, on this occasion of fig and something or other.

We have never been to this shop without coming away with some more beautiful stones to add to our growing collection, and this visit was no exception. I now have a Celestine geode, a quartz point and a slice of a multi-coloured mineral that I have already forgotten the name of. Sue has piece of amethyst geode and a small natural bowl of agate (I think) crystals. But I’m already jumping ahead to the second part of the day.

After spending ages in Mystical Crystals shop, we crossed the road to Inpsired Earth where lots more surprises awaited us. Since our last visit to this shop that is filled with knitted hats and jumpers, felt slippers and tote bags of all shapes and sizes, the place has been extended. It still has all the fair-trade knitted and felt things, but also has lots of jewellery and a whole new area with eastern (Indian and Tibetan, I think) wooden tables, doors, shutters, boxes. At ecvery turn, we discovered door knobs, coat hooks and so much more. There were even rolls of Tibetan Prayer flags in the shop.

There is also an independent bookshop in Cromford, Scarthin Books. We did intend to pay a visit there, but time ran out so this is a treat that we have yet to enjoy.

With these three shops, as well as the seriously rural atmosphere, Cromford has everything in place to become a real hippy heaven; a place where I could feel completely at home.

If you heard a loud rumbling across Derbyshire on Saturday, it wasn’t an earthquake, just my tummy complaining as 2pm came and went and my lunch remained out of reach in the back of the car. We did stop shopping for a tea and scone in the Old Bakery (also in Cromford, and next door to Inspired Earth). After a visit to the millpond in the centre of the village, we drove up to Black Rocks to have the home made soup and Cheese Scones that Sue had brought with us.

With the rumbling silenced, we then set off for the second part our trip, towards Stapleford and another haven of hippiedom, The Majik Thread‘s shop.

In a masterpiece of mistiming, we arrived there to find the blinds down and the door locked. They shut at 3pm on a Saturday, it seems, but the universe must have been feeling in a good mood towards us because there were people in the back of shop attending a workshop, so we were invited in to look round. Of course, more money changed hand in return for rocks and a book or two.

It must have been getting on for 5pm before we got back home and with no time for an afternoon nap, it was straight into preparation for last night’s disco at Lakeside – the first wedding of the 2009 season. That’s why today has been very lazy and laid back.

We did intend to get out on the bike, but didn’t make it. No worries, there will be lots of other chances this summer to get out and join the ever increasing number of other bikers on the roads.

Ride Safe

What’s In It For Me?

People who know me in my professional life will have heard the phrase “What’s in it for me?”from my lips on regular occasions. It’s not that I am totally self-centred; it’s not even about me, but it’s meant as a reminder to people who manage volunteers that volunteering is always a two-way process.

For most volunteers, most of the time, “What’s in it for me?” is fairly intangible. Things like gaining experience, meeting people, developing skills and putting something back are very hard to pin down. However, if the volunteer isn’t getting what they want from their volunteering, look out, because you’ll need to go through all the hassle of recruiting a new one.

So most good volunteer managers will also also ensure that volunteers are recognised in more tangible ways. June 1st – 7th each year is Volunteers Week in the UK, when we are encouraged to celebrate our volunteers. One way that this is done is through the Volunteers Week certificates that we are encouraged to present to our volunteers. I have at least one or two of these and wouldn’t dream of throwing them away.

Some organisations will celebrate their volunteers at other times of year as well (or instead of) in Volunteers Week. Christmas is always a good time to invite volunteers to the organisation’s party.

I was invited to a special Celebration of Volunteering at Bulwell Vision recently in recognition of some volunteering I had done there. I was  delighted to recieve this, especially as my involvement at Bulwell Vision had been on just three or four occasions:

Celebration of Volunteering Certificate

Dave's Celebration of Volunteering Certificate

However, much of my regular volunteering is at Peak Rail. This is a seriously volunteer led organisation, with perhaps a couple of hundred volunteers involved and just a handful of paid staff. Yet there is an annual and very tangible means of recognition that is available only to active volunteers. Not just the ones active  at Peak Rail, but at almost every other heritage railway in the country. This is the opportunity to buy an inexpensive pass that allows free or reduced rate travel on all the railways that are members of the scheme. 
Since most of us who volunteer on one steam railway are anoraks at heart, we love to visit other lines and the pass becomes well worth having. Sue and I have put our pass to good use each year that I have been involved in the railway.
I believe that the fantastic cooperation between such a large number of independent and disparate voluntary organisations that enables this scheme to exist is one of the best examples of volunteer recognition that I have ever seen.
That’s a part of “What’s in it for me?”; another is that I can keep you posted about our visits to other railways during the summer.
Ride Safe

Motorcycle Batteries

I remember that the battery on my Sportster was reasonably accessible without the need for a masters degree in dismantling. It’s a pity that the current bikes aren’t quite as straightforward.

The Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail and the Yamaha YBR 125 have both been standing in the garage for quite a while now while:

  • The weather has been Too cold
  • Too icy
  • Too much salt on the road
  • I have had easy availability of a car

So, predictably enough, the batteries on both machines had started to suffer a little. Recognising this as a potential problem when biking conditions finally improve,  we set out on a quest that involved a trip to Ikea to take advantage of their generous money back guarantee on unopened items.

We had bought some furniture, as well as reaching a medical breakthrough and we had to take back the two chests of drawers for which we had failed to measure the space available. This part of the expedition went well, with money being refunded. This was to the great astonishment of my credit card which has become used to the slurping sound of money going out. The balance of the universe was, however, restored when the bill for our subsequent wander around the Ikea store resulted in just one, but taller chest of drawers and and few other bits and pieces. The total, of course, came to rather more than the refund.

As we left Ikea, I’m sure that I heard a sigh of relief from my pocket as your master Visa thought that the pressure was off.

However, rather than our normal route away from Ikea along the A610 towards Nottingham, we took the exit from the Ikea exit roundabout towards the picturesque villages of Eastwood and Kimberley. This was because there is a good motorbike accessory and clothes shop in Kimberley, J & S Accessories. We parked up and went inside this Aladdin’s cave of helmets, jackets, boots trousers, waterproofs, leathers and so much more.

I am sure that the Visa card groaned, but we strongly resisted several hundred pounds worth of temptation and only bought a Dr Bike battery optimiser.

Yesterday evening was spent avoiding the Ikea boxes because I decided to get the Harley battery on charge. In fact, the Sportster used to have a useful little socket for a battery charger, although I never made any use of it. So I dug the socket and its two crimped battery terminals out of the charger box and approached the Harley to fit it.

This is where the fun really started.

I searched the interweb for some advice about how to get to the battery and found a great deal of smart-assed comment on the discussion groups and websites but precious little useful information. I had worked out for myself that the seat had to come off, but I couldn’t work out how to do it. Eventually Sue casually said, why not look in the handbook. Of course this explained, set by step, exactly what I had to do.

Actually doing it wasn’t quite as easy, and judging from the condition of one of the screw heads, the bikes previous owner(s) must have fought the same battles I now have.

Essentially, all you have to do is undo three screws, one on the rear fender behind the pillion seat and one each side of the rider’s seat, then slip the pillion grab strap over the head of the screw on the left side of the bike before pulling the seat backwards and up to release it.

If only the doing was as easy as the telling.

Eventually I did succeed and fitted the rings on the socket cable to the battery. This is when I made another discovery. Removing the battery cable from a Heritage Softail sets off the alarm. Loudly.

By this point, I just put it down to being part of life’s rich pattern and plodded on as the shrieking continued. Once finished, the alarm silent and the battery on charge, putting the seat back on was the work of but a moment in comparison to the voyage of discovery to get it off.

But I gave up on getting at the Yamaha battery for that evening.

Fast forward to today and with the Hog’s battery full, I had to bite the bullet and go for the YBR 125’s battery compartment. Once again, the handbook came to the rescue and saved me several hours of potential swearing. To get at a YBR battery, unlock the left hand side panel using the bikes’ ignition key. pull HARD on the front edge of the panel and a pin will disengage from (I think) a rubber mount. the back end of the panel also comes away and there is the battery in its full glory. Using the supplied pair of croc clips, the charger was plugged in and the kettle was on in just a few minutes.

Every day there seem to be more and more bikers on the road. It can’t be long now before I join them, although my commute to work is now quite a bit longer and I’m not sure that the M1 in rush hour is the place for a 125cc bike, but that’s a story that going to have to wait until I’ve tried it.

I’ve just realised that this the first bike post on here in ages. It’s good to be back.

Ride Safe