From the vaults: Railways (26/12/2009)


(Some things never leave you…)

Walkers seem to have a natural affinity for railways; one which goes beyond the obvious connection of the environmental benefits of public transport. There’s something which makes the intrusion of a railway line into the landscape somehow less disagreeable than a comparable stretch of road. Maybe it has something to do with railway architecture having contributed some of the finer man-made additions to our list of landmarks: Ribblehead Viaduct, The West Highland Line, The Forth Railway Bridge …

 Driving that stretch of the ‘Great North Road’ (The A9), north of Dunkeld, can feel like traveling through a publicity newsreel for Highland tourism: the Tay valley, the pass of Killiekrankie, Drumochter, Loch Ericht, the southern Cairngorms …
But the road, for all the possibilities it opens up, can never match the romance of the Highland main line which shadows it for much of its route. Something feels ‘right’ about watching a passenger service tracking north, calling at Dalwhinnie, Kingussie, and beyond; a sense of amenity somehow surviving the onslaught of ‘deliverable outcomes’ and ‘targeted solutions’ in the post-privatisation era. Sadly the days of a locomotive dragging coaching stock are all but gone, so we make do with ‘Sprinters’ and ‘Turbostars’; better those though than line closures in the name of shareholder value.

I grew up around railways, and all too many years have slipped by since the days when I would lie awake, windows open, listening to the night mail paused at our local station. Invariably, in steam days, there would be wheel-slip and clatter from the departing locomotive – usually a Stanier Black ‘5’, occasionally something a bit more exotic. Later came the familiar ‘whistle’ of the old english Electric Class 40s at idle, the growl as they eased away from rest; railway sounds are one of life’s indelible imprints. We need to preserve our railway network, extend it and reclaim some of what’s been lost. And there needs to be a change in the impenetrable complexity of ticket pricing to ensure that walk-up fares are pitched at more realistic levels.

Pictures: (Top) Back in the days of GNER livery the northbound ‘Highland Chieftain’ passes the station at Dunkeld & Birnam. (Above) A Class 153 unit, having finished its stint on Europe’s shortest branch-line, waits by the signal box at Stourbridge Junction.

Chris Townsend’s blog (October 2009) includes an excellent piece on trains:


From the vaults: First Snow (25/12/2009)

First Snow

First snow was a bit of a strange affair. The fall was intense but short in duration, and no more than a few centimetres fell. Usually that amount of snow would be gone within a day but – having fallen on already frozen ground and with temperatures remaining low – this relatively trifling amount hung around, even at street level, for almost a full week. As is often the case, the disruption, bordering on chaos at times, was disproportionate to the volume of snow.

Out on the hills it had fallen to a greater depth and as of today there is still decent cover, particularly above about 600 feet; well trodden in places, still pristine in plenty of others. The clear sky suggests that overnight temperatures may remain sufficiently low for it to stick around for a while longer yet.

The mini thaw from the mid-day sun brought shards of accumulated ice tumbling from the beech trees in spectacular showers and the absence of any wind meant that we were never less than comfortably warm when on the move. Idiot that I am, I left the camera at home; another reason to hope for the snow to still be there in a few days’ time.

From the vaults: Turbines (18/12/2009)


This was the first – but would by no means be the last – post on the vexed subject of onshore wind and its misguided, indiscriminate and destructive proliferation. I am not a fan…

The pictures to the left and below were taken a few miles from the centre of the second largest city in the UK. Fewer still from that dismal confluence of the M5 and M6 motorways – the one where we inch, at glacial pace, past Ikea, the RAC control centre, and the great expanse of Network Rail marshalling yards at Bescot. It was taken across the road – literally – from the edge of the West Midlands conurbation.

 So how much would I like to see a couple of strands of wind turbines marching up the line of that ridge and across the neighbouring Walton Hill? Not much at all actually, although it would make sense; more sense than many of the sitings presently being considered for these largely ineffective eyesores. The hills are adjacent to a huge area of consumption and demand; much closer than the Elenydd or any number of proposed locations in the Scottish Highlands.

So why not plaster the Clent Hills, and Waseley and The Lickeys beyond? Maybe the Malverns too? There’s a lot of ridge to work with between British Camp and North Hill.

 It won’t happen of course, and nor should it. There would be outrage; these hills are visible from the homes of suburbanites who wish to continue leaving their 42″ plasma screens on stand-by. So my hills of home are probably safe; others aren’t and we need to be vigilant.