Lappa Valley Steam Railway near Newquay, Cornwall

The road from where we were staying to the Lappa Valley Railway was horrifying. Even by Cornwall’s standard of narrow roads the route we took something else. Look at this picture – this is a main road with a one vehicle wide bridge.

The road to the Lappa Valley Train

The road to the Lappa Valley Train

Anyway we got there …….

Sign at Entrance

Sign at Entrance

When we got there we found that although it was a gorgeous day wife Sarah and I were the only people there apart from the ticket collector, engineer and two tea ladies. The railway is a short 15 inch line catering to families with kids. Our loco was named Zebedee.

Zebededee ready to roll

Zebededee ready to roll

Zebedee's controls

Zebedee’s controls

As we trolled along Sarah and I tried to remember where we knew the name Zebedee. Sister Karen, who wasn’t with us knew instantly – the Zebeddee character was a “Jack In The Box” in a tiny tots TV programme called the Magic Roundabout that aired in the 70’s. Zebedee wore a bright yellow jacket and had a shiny spring instead of feet, and would often be accompanied by a Boing sound whenever he disappeared. The iconic closing lines from the show were, Zebedee called to everyone. “Time for bed.” to which Florence replied “Already?”

Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout

Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout

When we arrived at the end of the line we marched off to the cafe as I was parched. As Sarah was ordering I saw it …….. Malteser cake!!!!!

Malteser Cake

Malteser Cake

There was one slice left. Hee, heee, hee. For those who haven’t savoured a malteser they consist of a roughly spherical malt honeycomb-like centre, surrounded by milk chocolate. You suck off the chocolate and then suck the honeycomb. After thirty two your tongue is totally raw and your blood sugar number is waaaayyyyyyy off the scale. Whoppers are a pale imitation.

Maltesers

Maltesers

Whilst we were glugging our tea and I was stuffing my face we watched the engineer take on water ….

How about that for a water tank

How about that for a water tank

Fortified for the return to where we were staying down those wretched narrow lanes we sauntered back to the depot …..

The train depot

The train depot

Twas a lovely bucolic afternoon.

Hols 2015 – Days 1 through 5

I am sitting in our great studio apartment in Amsterdam. Wife Sarah is outside on our street mini mini patio awaiting the arrival of daughters Holly and Annalise from Iceland. Iceland? Yup. They flew here from JFK via Iceland. Don’t ask!!!

The flight from San Francisco to London was diabolical. I am forbidden by Sarah from allowing you to see my detailed description. So be it. The weather on arrival and since we have been here has been benign. Fort Braggish temps day and night. No rain to speak of – a few drops on Wednesday and that’s it.

Arrival day on Sunday we visited Sister Karen in Chertsey – which is close to Heathrow. We ate in the local pub, the Crown. Of the meals we had Sunday evening my lamb burger was second best. Sarah’s Haddock Smokey (haddock cooked in a creamy cheese sauce with a poached egg on top with thick toasted fingers of bread) was voted tops.

Chertsey is next door to Runnyemeade where the Magna Carta was signed. The river which runs past Runnymeade and through Chertsey has swans in it – all of England’s swans belong to the queen. It’s that of time year …..

Chertsey swan sitting on ten eggs

Chertsey swan sitting on ten eggs

Dinner anyone

On Monday, recovery day, we had brekkers so big I was full for the rest of the day:

Monday brekkers

Monday brekkers

On the way back to the hotel we passed this sign which I hurried past:

Fat Al's Gym

Fat Al’s Gym

Tuesday we ventured south to Brighton to visit with my step mum, Mavis. Cold as the wind was we (I?) persuaded her that a trip on Volks Railway was the tonic she needed. Vols railway runs for about a mile along Brighton’s esplanade.

Volks railway emblem

Volks railway emblem

Volks railway train coach

Volks railway train coach

Volks railway car waiting for us to board

Volks railway car waiting for us to board

Volks train interior

Volks train interior

Volks railway - useless steering wheel - car is controlled from foot pedal on left

Volks railway – useless steering wheel – car is controlled from foot pedal on left

Wife Sarah and step mum Mavis looking toward Brighton pier from Black Rock the end of Volks railway line

Wife Sarah and step mum Mavis looking toward Brighton pier from Black Rock the end of Volks railway line

Wednesday we spent mooching getting ready for the very early start to catch the Eurostar to Amsterdam the next day, I was caught loitering looking at instant waist line enhancers:

Cake for all Minion lovers

Cake for all Minion lovers

Fishy Cookies

Fishy Cookies

Dissected Eccles cake

Dissected Eccles cake

We liked the flowepot man in the local flower shop!

Flowerpot man

Flowerpot man

Next blog – the trip to Amsterdam.

R H & D R loco lent to R & E – which translated means that the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway lent a locomotive to the Ravebglass and Eskdale Railway

When we got back to Ravenglass we dived into the gift shop where my first acquisition was a Ravenglass and Eskdale DVD. Then I saw this amazing pottery train thingy:

9 inch pottery train model

9 inch pottery train model

Back view

Back view

I sneaked a peak at the bottom to see the price and promptly, very carefully, put it down. 200 pounds or $375. This guy caught my eye:

Angus cow

Angus cow

My wife’s, “And what are you going to do with that?” caused me to, reluctantly, relinquish him.

So we went back to the car and started up ready to troll off to Manchester to see relatives there and have chips and fish – hake being the choice of fish. Just as we were about to pull out a gigantic lorry pulled into the parking lot with a steam engine loaded on the back.

Lorry with steam engine on board

Lorry with steam engine on board

How many times in my life was I going to see a steam engine being unloaded from a lorry?  So, after a few minutes of cajoling, bribing and pleading wife Sarah agreed that I could watch them unload.

The first item off of the lorry was a boiler which had just been re-tubed. The new boiler was to be fitted into the engine that had just pulled us from Dalegarth. This meant that the Ravenglass and Eskdale would be down to a bare bones number of locos for daily operation and the busy season started in a week or so. Hence the decision to borrow a loco from the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.

Slowly, carefully up

Slowly, carefully up

Ever so gently down and off to the engine house

Ever so gently down and off to the engine house

Next off was the tender …….

Tender being wiggled onto the tracks

Tender being wiggled onto the tracks

Next came the really tricky part. The loco weighed a tad over five tons and the crane was rated for five tons when the boom was fully extended. So, lifting her up was ok …..

Lifting her up

Lifting her up

Swung up off the lorry and over the fence

Swung up off the lorry and over the fence

We were collectively holding our breath whilst watching the boom at this point.

With the boom fully extended up over the wall and the path beside the rails she is gently placed on the track

With the boom fully extended up over the wall and the path beside the rails she is gently placed on the track

The lorry driver and everyone about (except my wife who sat oblivious knitting in the car) uttered a VERY audible sigh of relief when the thumbs up sign came from the track crew that it was mission accomplished.

I got back in the car and wife Sarah said, “What was so special about that?”

Sometimes it is better to remain silent.

Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

Question 1 – where is Ravenglass?

Location of Ravenglass

Location of Ravenglass

Question 2 – Where is the Lake District?

Ravenglass - not far from Scotland and Hadrian's Wall

Ravenglass – not far from Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification against the Scots in Roman Britain begun in AD 122 during the rule of emperor Hadrian.  In addition to its military role, gates through the wall served as customs posts.

So now you know where I went on my vacation. My first two visits to the Lake District were 45 odd years ago in winter. The rain clouds were inches off the ground, the wind howled and the rain lashed down. I never told wife Sarah this ‘cos I thought she would refuse to go. Anyway, we went and it was a glorious English spring day and for the first time I saw the Fells – the name given to the hills/mountains of the area.

Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see

Rhododendrons as far as the eye can see

To my stepmother, who was evacuated from the Manchester area during WWII to the Lake District the railroad on which we were to ride was not the Ravenglass and Eskdale but La’al Ratty.

La'al Ratty

La’al Ratty

The original Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway was a 3 ft (914 mm) line opened on 24 May 1875 to transport hematite iron ore from mines around Boot to the Furness Railway standard gauge line at Ravenglass. Passengers were permitted from 1876 and were carried until November 1908. It was the first public narrow-gauge railway in England. The line was declared bankrupt in 1897 although it operated for many years afterwards. It was forced to close in April 1913, due to decline in demand for iron ore and small volumes of passengers in summer. In 1915 Bassett-Lowke and Proctor-Mitchell, two model makers, converted the line to the 15 in gauge that it is today.

La’al Ratty was number 3 on my Bucket list and my first glimpse of our loco was enough to tell me that I had not erred.

River Mite on the turntable

River Mite on the turntable

Inside the cab

Inside the cab

Running around the passenger cars

Running around the passenger cars

The ride is seven miles long.

Seven miles of heaven

Seven miles of heaven

A great ride on a great day.

 

Britain’s Narrow Gauge Railways

I bought this book to read on the plane on the way home from our vacation in England. I, predictably, fell asleep on the plane and it remained unread until very recently.

Front Cover

Front Cover

Whilst in England we rode on four narrow gauge railways all of which were but a hop step and a jump from where we were staying. The map inside the book shows the location of the 89 narrow gauge railways that one can ride. As you can see there is DEFINITELY a narrow gauge railway near whereever you are in Britain.

Railway Locator Map

Railway Locator Map

Remember all these railroads are narrow gauge. In addition there are well over a hundred heritage railways – the name given to railways that run standard gauge steam locomotives. Remember too that Britain comfortably fits into New York State. So, if you are like me, a narrow gauge nut, float your boat to the land of chips and fish!!!!!!

I have dog-eared the pages of the book on the railways to be considered for our next trip to blighty. Just to give you a sample here’s three I am salivating over …..

The Corris Railway

The Corris Railway

Golden Valley Light Railway

Golden Valley Light Railway

Threlkeld Quarry Railway

Threlkeld Quarry Railway

Want to check them out? Here are the links:

The Corris Railway

Golden Valley Light Railway

Threlkeld Quarry Railway

If you want more of my long short list let me know!!!!

Bure Valley Railway – a 15 inch gauge railway in Norfolk, England

The 15 inch gauge Bure Valley Railway runs nine miles from Wroxham to Aylsham. The railway is built on the trackbed of the East Norfolk Railway which started in 1877.  Wife Sarah and had a wonderful visit accompanied by Sarah’s niece Katherine and her husband Jason and their two delightful children, Emily and James. Collectively we had a wonderful time on our visit.

Bure Valley Railway Map

Bure Valley Railway Map

I was attracted to this railway among the many available to ride in England by the great locomotives they had on their roster:

Mark Timothy

Mark Timothy

Sian

Sian

Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall on the turntable

Number 8

Number 8

The View from the driver's cab

The View from the driver’s cab

Passenger coach

Passenger coach

If you can’t get there to ride yourself check out this video to get an idea of what it is like.

Brunel, The Man who Built the World by Steven Brindle

I was sitting on an ornate bench in Windsor Station when I started looking up and around me. I had just finished visiting The Queen (a loco – see two blogs down) and the rain was pattering on the roof. I marveled at the elegance of the structure and wondered who was the architect. So, coffee downed I beetled off to the ticket office to ask the name of the architect. The answer to my question from an elderly ticket clerk eager to have some company was “Brunel sir. He built the GWR (Great Western Railway) of which this station is a part. Brunel was placed second in a Beeb (BBC) poll to determine the 100 Greatest Britons you know.” Of course I didn’t know. The ticket clerk went on, “The station was originally built in 1850, and entirely rebuilt and remodeled with a new royal waiting room in 1897. And”, he said in a whisper, “This station was the scene of an attempt on Queen Victoria’s life in 1882. Lovely ain’t it.” It is as you can see below.

Inside of Windsor Station

Inside of Windsor Station

So, I toddled off to Waterstones (an excellent chain of English bookstores) where a very young lady led me upstairs to a section that had no less than seventeen books on Brunel. “Any suggestions?”. “Well sir, this one is very popular”:

Brunel by Steven Brindle

Brunel by Steven Brindle

Having read the book I have concluded that Brunel was a genius and I do not use that word lightly. There is a short passage in the book which I think is important to assess Brunel:

“Today we rather take railways for granted, noticing them most when they go wrong. They seem like part of the landscape, and it requires an effort of imagination to grasp what a vast cultural and economic achievement they represented when they were new, and what they meant to the people who built them.”

In fact, to say that Brunel e was a genius of quite breathtaking innovation and vision really is putting it mildly. His revolutionary engineering designs would change not only the face of Britain but also the world around him.

Although he is usually associated with Bristol, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Portsea, Portsmouth in 1806. His English mother, Sophia Kingdom, had married a refugee from the French Revolution, Marc Brunel, in 1799. Marc was already a well-known engineer and he taught his son the engineering trade from a young age. At the age of 14, Marc sent Isambard to France to continue his training where he studied watch making, which gave him a good schooling in precision engineering.

I K BRUNEL / ANONWhen he returned to England his father was working on an ambitious project to build a tunnel under the River Thames and Brunel joined him as his apprentice.

It was whilst working on the Thames Tunnel that Isambard had a piece of bad luck that would turn into his chance to strike out on his own and take the first steps on his road to greatness. In 1828, a flooding in the Thames Tunnel killed six workers and badly injured Brunel, who went to Bristol to recuperate.

ThamesTunne lFrom Wapping

ThamesTunne lFrom Wapping

Whilst in Bristol, he became aware of a local contest to design a bridge that was intended to cross the River Avon. Brunel began to draw up his designs for what would become the Clifton Suspension Bridge, his first major solo project, in the visionary and ingenious manner that would come to typify his attitude to engineering throughout his life. His plans were revolutionary and spectacular. The length of the bridge was to be 700 feet, longer than any bridge in existence at that time, and 245 feet above the water level.

Brunel duly won the contest and work began on the bridge in 1831 but before any major parts of this amazing feat of engineering could be constructed, the project ran out of funds. Work on the bridge was eventually re-started by admirers of Brunel shortly after his death and was completed in 1864.

Clifton Bridge

Clifton Bridge

Although he never lived to see his great work, his plans for the Avon Bridge announced to the world in general that a new young talent had arrived in the engineering world. His growing reputation saw Brunel appointed in 1833 as chief engineer to the most ambitious engineering project ever undertaken in Britain at that time. Although railways were not a new invention, no country in the world had a major rail network and this was the aim of the proposed Great Western Railway, which sought to connect Bristol to London, and later Exeter, by rail.

The vastness of Brunel’s achievement with his railway building cannot be overestimated. The GWR spanned 118 miles and cut the travelling time down from four days to four and a half hours. He built the Royal Albert Bridge, the Windsor Railway Bridge and the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, and also the famous Paddington Railway Station.

Royal Albert Bridge under construction

Royal Albert Bridge under construction

Royal Albert Bridge

Royal Albert Bridge

As well as the construction of many viaducts, Brunel designed the Box Tunnel, at two miles long, the longest railway tunnel at the time.

Box-Tunnel when it opened in 1841

Box-Tunnel when it opened in 1841

Box Tunnel in 2010

Box Tunnel in 2010

Isambard Kingdom BrunelNever one to rest on his laurels, Brunel came up with an idea that was breathtaking in its audacity and revolutionary in its intention.

He proposed that people would travel to London Paddington to Wales on the railway and then cross the Atlantic to America on massive steam powered ships.

Paddington Station

Paddington Station

The plan was so extraordinary that one of the GWR company directors was rumoured to have muttered, “Brunel’l have us going to the moon yet.”

Brunel formed the Great Western Steamship Company and the first ship that he built was the SS Great Western, which made its maiden transatlantic voyage in 1838. The Great Western was a paddle-wheeled, wooden hulled steamship and was by far the biggest ship ever built at the time.

Five years later Brunel launched an even more remarkable craft. The SS Great Britain was a true feat of engineering genius. Weighing in at 3018 tonnes and measuring 322 feet, it was the world’s first large iron steamship. Its propulsion system was equally unique, with the screw propeller replacing the paddle wheel. The ship slashed the travelling time from Bristol to New York from 75 days to 14 days.

SS Great Britain in drydock in Bristol

SS Great Britain in dry dock in Bristol

SS Great Britain First Class Dining Room

SS Great Britain First Class Dining Room

Brunel’s third ship, the SS Great Eastern was even more gigantic than its predecessors, measuring 680 feet and it was designed to be able to carry enough coal to power itself to India and back. Although a stunning technical achievement, the SS Great Eastern was too expensive to run and it was not as successful as Brunel’s previous ships.

His talents at being able to design in disciplines other than his usual trades were clearly demonstrated in 1855 when Florence Nightingale appealed for help in improving sanitation conditions in hospitals during the Crimean War. Brunel took up the call and constructed a wooden and canvas pre-fabricated hospital that so greatly improved sanitary conditions that deaths were said to have fallen by ten times the usual amount.

Just before the SS Great Eastern was to make her maiden journey in 1859, Brunel suffered a stroke. Ten days later, on 15 September, he died. He was only 53 years of age.

To have achieved so much in such a short space of time is true testimony to Brunel’s genius. His contribution to British life is immeasurable. But his legacy to modern civilization is perhaps even more profound. He revolutionised public transport through his work on the GWR and the transatlantic ships. His railways designs were copied all over the world and his maritime innovations became standard worldwide.

Beyer Garratts of the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino – The Railway at the end of the world

Whilst wife Sarah and I were visiting the South Devon Railway (see post below) I spent some time in the model shop on the platform talking to the locals and visitors alike. I handed out about 15 of my cards to potential visitors to our website and in one case a potential visitor to Fort Bragg to ride California Western’s Skunk Railroad.

In the course of conversation I said to one new friend that Sarah and I were on our way to Porthmadog (in north west Wales) to ride the Ffestiniog railway to knock number one off my bucket list, ride behind a Beyer Garratt locomotive. Another chap overheard our conversation and chipped in that what Sarah and I really needed to do was get on a cruise ship to Anatartica and make sure that it stopped in at Ushuia – the most southerly town in the world – and ride the Beyer Garratts of the Train at the End of the World.

Station Sign

Station Sign

I made a note to look it up and see if it was for me/us.

The owners of the railway are Tranex Turisimo S.A. and the narrow gauge (500mm)  line opened in its present form in October 1994. The railway route dates from 1896 and it originally served the local prison in Ushuaia. The penal colony was set up for repeat offenders and to be sent here was seen as little better than a death sentence. The little train was essential to the construction of the prison and to ensure the supply of wood for heating and cooking. That is why serial killers, like the notorious Petiso Orejudo (Shorty Big Ears) to political prisoners like Ricardo Rojas all chopped wood. The line extended from the slopes of Mount Susana and along the Pipo River Valley, named after an escaped convict. Success was no means assured for the little line until cruise ships en route around Cape Horn or to Antarctica began stopping at Ushuaia.

Well the railway does indeed have Beyer Garratts – that’s the good news.

Beyer Garratt Nora belonging to the Train at the End of the World

Beyer Garratt Nora belonging to the Train at the End of the World

Beyer Garratt at the Ushuaia Station

Beyer Garratt at the Ushuaia Station

Beyer Garatt belonging to the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino

Beyer Garatt belonging to the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino

The bad news is the climate. Because temperatures are cool throughout the year, there is little evaporation. Snow is common in winter and regularly occurs throughout the year. Ushuaia occasionally experiences snow in summer (from November to March). Due to its high southern latitude, the city’s climate is influenced by Antarctica, and the duration of daylight varies significantly, from more than 17 hours in summer to just over 7 hours in winter. Sarah and I left Montreal in part because of the winters so I may not not be able to persuade her on this one. But ……… the carriages are heated.

Maybe we’ll just enjoy the vid …….