Tag Archives: Peak Rail

Day 45 – Darley Dale Down Building

Today we carried out a key action in our involvement as trustees of the Derwent and Wye Valley Railway Trust. 

The story of our day isn’t being told to criticise anyone at Peak Rail, but to highlight that any campaign needs to have all the elements in place if it is going to be effective. 

For some time now, we have been raising a reasonable amount of money by having donation envelopes on the train and around the railway to raise funds towards our planned rescue and restoration of the derelict building on the down platform at Darley Dale Station. This has been successful in bringing in not only the donations themselves, but quite a lot of gift aid from people who had completed the declaration on the envelope. 

I had produced a poster to raise the profile of these envelopes among visitors to Peak Rail. The trustees decided that we would launch our new posters to coincide with the busy Easter weekend at Peak Rail.  Sue had arranged for the printing and laminating of the posters during the last week and today, we got up early and travelled up to Darley Dale armed with a staple gun and the posters themselves. 

Darley Dale Down Building April 2010

Darley Dale Down Building April 2010. You can see the new poster in the sixth window from this end of the building.

As we arrived there, the stationmaster, Ian, was on hand and popped out to see what we were up to. Our comings and goings also stirred up the curiosity of the signalman and as we spent the rest of the morning at the railway, of a number of other volunteers as well. The idea of the posters was really well received by everyone and we had a number of conversations about our progress on the behind the scenes work that we have been doing for a while now towards the bigger down building project.

We fairly quickly found suitable places to put up the huge A1 sized posters on both platforms and on the building itself.

Darley Dale Poster Board

Darley Dale Poster Board

We then went to Rowsley South station where the train was being prepared for its first run of the day. While I hopped aboard and put up some smaller A4 posters in each carriage of the train, Sue went to the station buffet for a couple of bacon cobs and cups of tea.We were surprised that she was initially overcharged for these, but no-one ever gets away with charging Sue too much for anything , so after the refund had been sorted out we got stuck in to breakfast. 

Sue quickly spotted that there were none of the envelopes that we were promoting on the tables in the train and after a few enquiries, she discovered that there were some in the booking office on the platform. She brought out a handful and as the train made its way southwards.

I hopped off the train briefly at Darley Dale and handed a small pile of the envelopes to stationmaster Ian, so that he would also have a supply.

As Sue came back down the train from distributing the envelopes, she was handed a couple of them already filled and with the gift aid declarations completed. So it was well worth us making sure that they were handed out.

When we got back to Rowsley South, I popped into the booking office where Malcolm showed me that there were several boxes of envelopes in a cupboard. I took one of them onto the train where I left them with the Ticket Collector.

I remain hopeful that if the envelopes are actually on the train, there is more chance of them bringing in some donations than if they are sitting in a cupboard on the platform. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that ticket collectors know that they are a vital link in this fundraising campaign for the down building.

We had one of the large posters left over and intended to find a suitable location at Rowsley South station for it, but there didn’t seem to be a suitable location, so the spare poster is yet to be displayed. I am extremely keen to ensure that it is displayed. I have experience of an organisation having posters printed, but the event that they were promoting was a disaster because no-one got round to putting them up.

As these large posters cost a small fortune, it’s vital that they raise awareness of the down building project and bring in lots of money. However, I am convinced that this was money well spent. With goodwill from everyone involved in the process, these envelopes should start to bring in even more money in during the coming summer.

Then all we need to do is to raise the rest of the king’s ransom that it will cost us to bring the building back to life.

If you would like a copy of the Down Building Poster to support the campaign, click the link to download the PDF file (A4 size).

Ride Safe


Darley Dale Station

 On Sunday I did one of my regular volunteering shifts at Peak Rail as the guard on the train. This was my first experience of the 2009 timetable and my first experience of stopping at the down platform at Darley Dale station.

Until the beginning  of March 2009, no passenger trains had stopped at Darley Dale’s down platform since 1968 when British Railways closed the former Midland line through the peak district. In the past, Peak Rail used the same (up) platform for stopping trains in both directions, but a couple of years ago, our two-train running project meant that trains from Matlock to Rowsley South had to run non-stop through Darley Dale on the down platform line.

In fact, Peak Rail  has come in for some criticism from some people on an internet discussion forum because the re-opening of the down platform was a very low-key affair, with no brass band or speeches.

On Sunday, I understood why. The platform is now in in use, but still needs a lot more restoration work. So far, the platform wall, coping stones and platform surface all needed work doing before it was safe to allow any passengers to use the platform.

This is where the Derwent and Wye Valley Railway Trust was able to help. As the platform is part of the heritage of the route, this was completely within their remit and the trustees had no hesitation in putting up the funding for this work.

However, the surface was always going to have to be a temporary one because the platform will have to be dug up again in order to continue the long process of restoration. Members and supporters of Peak Rail will have seen an article in issue 21 of  Peak Express (which is available from the railway at £2.75 plus p&p), setting out one man’s personal quest to collect and bring back lamp posts, seats, signs and other railway fittings that had been lost since closure. Again, the trust has played a part in this by putting up the money for the platform fittings for Darley Dale’s down platform.

Then there is the problem of the building on that platform.

This is a priority for the trust, but is going to cost a king’s ransom to save from falling down, let alone to refurbish it so that it can be used. Yet we are determined to do just this.

We have already attracted some funding towards this project, although there  is a very long way to go. Astute observers may even have spotted the small yellow envelopes on the train.

Darley Dale Down Building Donation Envelope

Darley Dale Down Building Donation Envelope

These invite our passengers and visitors to drop in a donation, much in the same way that the Peak Railway Association did as part of their contribution to the building of the new engine shed.

The great news about the current public appeal is that the majority of these, and other donations to the trust, are being accompanied by a gift aid declaration. This means that for every £1 donated, we get another 25p from HM Customs and Revenue.

Last week, a new discussion started on the internet discussion group. It seems that the present owners of the original footbridge that stood at Darley Dale station want to dispose of it. As a trustee of the Derwent and Wye Valley Railway Trust, I decided that this was worth looking into, although I remain very sceptical following Peak rail’s past experience of a second-hand footbridge.

However, when several posts appeared from people offering money to support a fund to restore a footbridge at Darley Dale, I posted a promise that I would put the issue of a footbridge onto the agenda for the trustees meeting later this month.

We will have to wait and see whether I get shot down in flames, or whether we agree to take on another major heritage project.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s operations went really well. I love the new timetable because it gives us time to catch up on delays, I like the convenience for our passengers of stopping at Darley Dale station in both directions. I also like that the railway has, at last, made the recruitment and training of new station masters a priority and Sunday was the first day that I have ever seen a stationmaster at Darley Dale.

The timetable does make it harder for me to find time to eat my sandwiches, but an interrupted lunch is a small price to pay for the improvement in our service.

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

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

This post on the blog is really not be suitable for young children. It’s not that it contains lurid tales of sex or violence, but could destroy a little of the magic of Christmas if it fell into the wrong hands. After all, there are now quite a lot of children who KNOW that they have met the REAL Santa Claus – me!

In a recent post here, I wrote about my first experience (this year) of being Santa when I went along to the party for older people at Snapewood Community Centre in Nottingham.

However taking the role of Father Christmas was hardly a spur of the moment thing – I had been growing my beard since the autumn in readiness for this opportunity. I had also promised that I would volunteer on a couple of Peak Rail’s Santa Special trains during December and I fully expected to be asked to dress up for the Christmas party at work.

Also, Sue had made me a fabulous Santa costume, based on the same pattern as she had used for our legendary Halloween cloaks.

My experience at Snapewood had whetted my appetite for getting more into the role, but I did feel a little apprehensive about Santa’s real target audience of young children. I really shouldn’t have worried, because my first session at Peak Rail was great fun. I was only able to spend half a day on the train for my first shift, but I was able to do two trips on the train, so spent a very exciting couple of hours chatting to children, helping to construct and maintain the special mystique that Christmas holds for them and having a wonderful time myself.

Peak Rail’s Santa Specials are superbly well organised by the indefatigable office and shop team at the railway, led, as ever, by Jackie Statham. The bookings are well planned, the presents carefully selected for the children’s age and gender and the mulled wine and mince pies for the adults are all ordered and ready to go. On each of the trains, two “train managers” look after the volunteer teams who serve the wine, mince pies, sweets for the children and who organise the sack handlers who look after the huge pies of presents. Runners collect the children’s colour-coded tickets from each table or compartment and fetch the appropriate presents from the sack handlers. The train manager then passes the presents to Santa as he moves along the train spending a few minutes talking with each child or group of children.

The really clever part of the organisation is in having not one, but two Santas on the train, one in each half. This is why there are two train managers and two sets of sack handlers. It may well require a lot of volunteers to run, but it makes it possible for Santa to spend a reasonable amount of time with each child because he has to have all his visits complete before the train completes its round trip.

Managing two Santas is one of the most important part of the whole exercise, however. Only one can ever be seen at a time by the passengers, and one goes out onto the platform to greet arriving and departing families while the train is stopped at Rowsley South station for the change over.

After that first half-day, I was looking forward to yesterday’s full day on duty and once again, I had a great time, although it proved quite difficult to find time to grab a drink because I was either on duty or in hiding for almost all the time I was there. Fortunately, Sue had made me sandwiches, so I was able to grab some lunch while I was in hiding for half an hour or so.

It is a real shame that I don’t have any photos of myself in action on the railway, although lots of photos were taken by parents and grandparents . If you were at Peak Rail on 23rd December 2008 and have a picture of Santa in action, please would you email me a copy to put up here?

As well as the comments about the suit itself, one of the things that I brought to the role was my real beard. On more than one occasion, I am sure that a child or two went away convinced that they had met the real Santa Claus, rather than just some bloke dressed up.

Steam railways are notoriously dirty places, and the white fur of my Santa suit suffered a little. However, Sue came to the rescue by proving that the whole suit is washable. Thanks to her hard work, each of my public appearances was in a pristine costume.

I made two other appearances in character this year. One of these was at the Christmas Party at Nottingham CVS.  This appearance was my second annual one to distribute the Secret Santa presents that most of us had been part of. However, this year, I was also pictured by the Nottingham Evening Post because, as part of the pary, the staff of NCVS has given and wrapped presents for some of the homeless people who will be visiting Emmauel House

My final fling for Christmas 2008 was just this afternoon when I dressed up while my three sons, my mother and Sue’s mum shared and opened our presents. Over a number of years, it has become a tradition that we get together on Christmas Eve, Sue cooks a sumptuous and very traditional meal and we have our main family celebration.  This is because the boys want to spend Christmas day with their mother and with girlfriends’ and partners’ and families, so Christmas Eve has become established as “our” day.  Of course, the suit came out again and pictures were taken. I’ll just put one of them on here.

Christmas Eve 2008 - Santa makes another house call

Christmas Eve 2008 - Santa makes another house call

 Have a great Christmas and a wonderful 2009.

Ride Safe

Halloween And The Ghost Train

I am quite willling to deplore most of the dreadful customs that we British import from our colonial cousins in the United States of America. That is not to say that I am anti-american for almost all of my favourite music comes from those shores. However, the way that Halloween is celebrated these days has much to do with what I have seen on TV, film and in print as more part of American culture than British.

In particular, i find the growth of “trick or treat” over the past few years to be a very worrying trend. As parents, we tell our children all year about the potential dangers of approaching strangers, yet at the end of October each year far too many parents encourage their offspring to knock on the doors of houses and demand sweets with menaces. This then lasts into the following week as “Penny For The Guy” replaces “Trick or treat” before “Carol Singing” becomes the year’s final excuse to harass the neighbours.

Partly to avoid the irritation of the Halloween door knockers, but mostly because we have a huge amount of fun, Sue and I have spent the past couple of Halloween nights at Peak Rail.

This year, Sue went to town and made us each a brilliant fancy dress cloak in black with gold braid trim. It’s not too clear in this picture, but I also had a staff with skulls on the top and there were spiders and centipedes (plastic ones covered in glitter) on the gold coloured streamers hanging from the staff. I was also wearing a black woolly hat under the hood of my cloak which was rather more visible than I would have liked when this photo was taken.

Halloween 2008 Dave and Sue in Fancy Dress At Peak Rail

Halloween 2008 Dave and Sue in Fancy Dress At Peak Rail

Pretty well as soon as we arrived at Rowsley South station we were christened “The Druids” by one of other Peak Rail volunteers, although the children who came to join us on the train later in the evening immediately started calling me Dumbeldore; the Head Teacher wizard in the Harry Potter series.

After tucking into our tea of bacon cob and chips from Rowsley Buffet, Sue and I went to greet the children as they arrived with their families to join the train. Many of the children and a lot of the adults had made as much effort as Sue and I to dress up and the station platform soon became crowded with witches, zombies and other monsters. The journey to Darley Dale and Matlock was fun because we switched all the lights out in the train, to the great delight of the children and the consternation of some of the parents.

At Darley Dale, Sue and I left the train and joined a couple of professional actors on the platform and we all went up and down the train, peering in a windows and generally scaring the people sat beside them. My skulls had flashing red “eyes” which were particularly effective in the dark. Once we left Darley Dale station, I encouraged the children in the two carriages that Sue and I were travelling in to scream and shout and the atmosphere became even more fun in the darkened train. During our pause at Matlock, we put the carriage lights on while the steam locomotive ran round the train and again ventured onto the platform. I really enjoyed this, especially when one little girl poked her tongue out at me so I opened the carriage door and went inside the train to talk to her face to face; a face that became a real picture as I approached.

It was then that I developed my ultimate Halloween “chat-up” line that worked with children of all ages for the rest of the evening. I told the children that I was looking for a small, but chewy, snack to eat either with chips or chocolate sauce, clearly indicating that the child could well be that snack. I tempered the potential for frightening them by asking such questions as “were they wearing a stripy jumper” because stripes get stuck in my teeth and when I asked their names, I would say things like, “The last Kelly that I ate tasted horrible and I’m not eating another one”.

By the time the train left Matlock, many of the older, more confident children were going up and down the train using their own costumes to add to the overall atmosphere of friendly fun that permeated the whole night.

Once back at Rowsley South station, the first trainload left us, but the fun was not over because the firework display takes place between the two train journeys. This year’s display was as spectacular as ever, with Peak Rail staff member Rob Sanders and his team putting on a great display.

The second train journey was similar in format to the first, although some of the children did get a little over-excited. At one point Sue had to rescue one of the actors who was dressed as a ghost who was in danger of having her white wrappings pulled off. Sue threat’s to get Dumbledore to sort them out seemed to do the trick.

I must mention the decoration of the station and of the train itself. This was really spectacular. Jackie Statham, the railway’s joint Managing Director, and her small team of helpers do a fantastic job of staging all the railway’s special events, but Halloween night was a real triumph. The ramp to the platform is turned into a tunnel with spiders webs, skeletons, ghosts and an amaing avenue of pumpkins. It’s a great welcome and a fantastic scene setter for a wonderful evening.

Beautifully carved and illuminated pumpkins welcome visitors to Peak Rail's Halloween night
Beautifully carved and illuminated pumpkins welcome visitors to Peak Rail

I lost count of the number of compliments and thanks we received from families as they left the platform at Rowsley. I was also delighted that many of them said that they will be back for the Santa Specials in a few week’s time.

To my mind, there is no doubt that the children who came on the Halloween Special Trains at Peak Rail will have had a far more enjoyable and a far more memorable evening than they ever would had they been traipsing around the streets demanding “trick or treat”.
Ride Safe

Railway Walks – The Peak Express

This week, I caught a BBC programme in which Julia Bradbury heads off on more of her walks in the countryside. In her new series on BBC Four, she is walking along disused railway routes. It is called “Railway Walks“, with the first of the series being entitled “Peak Express”.

The programme started with a very familiar image to me, the platform totem at Darley Dale Station. A few moments later, Peak Rail’s train came into view driven by regular Peak Rail driver Robin Smith.

It turned out that Julia’s first walk was to be along part of the former Midland Railway route through the Peak District, now known as the Monsal Trail. Those of us involved in Peak Rail know this as the route that we want to restore and run trains on again.

Julia’s walk started at Bakewell station, the main building of which is still in use as offices. Her walk took in the route northwards and included an escorted trip through one of the tunnels – Headstone Tunnel, I think, because they came out onto the famous Monsal Head viaduct at the end of their tunnel walk. She also crossed the twin viaducts by the site of Millers Dale station, as well as the other landmarks of this route. Later she diverted around some of the other tunnels, walking right down beside the river Wye and ending her journey at Blackwell Mill.

Throughout the programme, as the amazing scenery of the route unfolded, I realised that this part of the line is our secret weapon. I know it will take a huge amount of work and a vast amount of money, but it is now up to those of us who are now involved with the railway now to show the same vision and determination as the preservation pioneers who had the original idea.

Imagine riding a train along that same trackbed that Julia Bradbury walked, through Headstone Tunnel and across the viaduct that poet John Ruskin so vehemently attacked at the time it was built:

“You Enterprised a Railroad through the valley — you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton”

Modern views have softened a little since then with the viaduct now being a listed structure.

The whole programme was great publicity for Peak Rail and for our future aspirations to restore the line through to Buxton, almost an advert on prime time BBC.

Ride safe

Peak Rail 1940s Weekend

This annual event is one of the highlights of the year at the railway where we volunteer; Derbyshire’s  Peak Rail. It attracts large numbers of visitors and participants each year and it was great that this year was very busy, especially as it coincided with the Cromford Steam Rally and an event at the nearby Tramway Museumat Crich. The great weather must have helped to swell numbers as well.

Although I am still off work ill, we decided to go and add our effort to the volunteer force needed to make such a big event as this run smoothly. Dressed in suitable camouflage and khaki clothing, Sue and I arrived at the railway bright and early this morning, raring to go. We were to be coach stewards on the train, a task that really meant keeping things tidy, helping customers to find seats, especially at busy times and just being a presence in case anything needed doing.

Before the first train, we started our day with a cup of tea and a bacon cob from the already busy station buffet at Rowsley South station. Already there were a number of other people around dressed in far more authentic military uniforms than ours, including British, American and German, as well as civilians dressed in 1940s clothes. There was even a Spiv, complete with black market good for sale on the quiet. There must have been a hundred or more of these 1940s re-enactors around. There were also military vehicles and equipment on display as well as other memorabilia from wartime.

As the apponted time for the departure of the first train approached, we boarded the train and prepared ourseleves for the onslaught. We stationed ourselves towards the back of the train and did not have many passengers in our part of the train on the first trip. However, we took the opportunity to clean down tables and check that there was no litter left.

We picked up a few more passengers at Darley Dale and Matlock before the train made its non-stop run back to Rowsley South. The second round trip was similarly quiet in our part of the train and we were getting a little fed up at having very little to do. This was not helped by another volunteer from further down the train taking on herself to bustle through our part of the train with a bin liner doing the very job that we had come prepared to do.

I think it must have been the third or fourth trip when the train seemed to tax the little 0-6-0 Austerity saddle tank locomotive, WD150 Royal Pioneer. The train was heaving with people, with the vast majority of seats filled, people standing and sitting in the corridor and a great atmosphere. I am not old enough to have experienced wartime train travel, but I remember travelling on steam hauled trains when I was young that were full to capacity, probably holiday services on Summer weekends. This was well recreated for me at Peak Rail this weekend.

However, during the morning, it became clear that there were simply too many volunteers on the train and that we were having almost to fight to have something to do.  Sue is very good at spotting jobs that need doing, though, and switched from stewarding to replenishing the on-train buffet stocks of soft drinks that had become seriously depleted. A few minutes after we pulled into Rowsley South station, I saw her battling her way along the crowded station platform with lots of Apple Tango and Ribena. However, this was never going to enough to keep both of us occupied for the rest of the day, so we decided to stick with our original commitment to the volunteer roster and to finish at lunchtime.

I was disappointed that we were not able to make a more significant contribution to the success of this important weekend for Peak Rail. However, I am happy that even after we had decided to finish, there were still more than enough volunteers there to maintain the very high standards of the event.

This experience, along with some similar ones in the past, have given me an idea for a way in which I can use my experience in volunteering to help make future events more rewarding for the volunteers as well as fun for the re-enactors and the visitors to the railway. I am going to produce a Guide to Involving Volunteers in Events. My initial idea is to publish here on the blog, so please come back and check progress and if you would like to help, please leave a comment with your own ideas for this.

A final point, we really must remember to take the camera to things like this so that I can share some pictures with you.

Ride Safe