Penultimatum

It’s the last night of the trip. As ever, the way time plays tricks, on the one hand it seems like yesterday I set off, in other ways, a month ago. Anyway, tomorrow is home day — but of course I have a circuitous route planned.

I think this image tells the story of the day….

Rainy Day

Meanwhile here is how I got back to England… and The North…

The alarm was completely redundant this morning and so I was at the station with loads of time to spare. It’s another weather contrast; back to grey and drizzle again. Doesn’t bode well for what should be a scenic trip over the Central Wales line.

I really can’t believe how much the area in front of Cardiff station has changed in the four or five years since I was last there. I recall a bus station and lots of concrete? All gone and the area completely filled with a new office block — with more to come next door judging by the continuing demolition and big cranes.

Cardiff Station Frontage

I got a sandwich and drink for later from M&S then a bacon baguette with a coffee from the station buffet — for an eye watering premium. I had thought of the First Class lounge (I assume there is such a thing at Cardiff – though I didn’t see it?) but I don’t image they do bacon butties?  I learned that the Welsh for Willington is Willington, courtesy of the bi-lingual PA announcement for the CrossCountry service that will stop there at 10:25. I’m heading in the opposite direction though.

The time to departure of the Swansea service was spent reading an article that Not-Brother-Nick had sent me last night about Llanwrtyd Wells on the Central Wales Line (now branded the Heart of Wales Line) which I am to travel later. I got so engrossed I almost didn’t notice the Swansea HST arriving.

Cardiff Station Platforms

Talking of Nick, the real brother one this time; I will share something with you all that he sent me yesterday. He is currently in the process of tidying up his extensive library of holiday diaries…

This little snippet in your diary from the ’92 ‘forgotten driving licence’ trip made me chuckle to myself.

2120 Saturday 19th September 1992.

.…………….Harvard is a wonderful place. The first shop I wandered into was “The WGBH Learningsmith Shop – for people with a curious mind!”. Centrepiece of the shop was a bank of PC and Apple Mac computers each with a hard disc full of software to have “hands on” with. As I had never previously touched a Mac (In Britain a salesman would have intercepted you at 50 feet, run a check on your bank account and if found to be worth less than, say, £50k p.a., laughed you out of the place!) I spent the best part of an hour introducing myself to one. I was never once bothered by anyone from the shop nor, as it was still quiet, was there any pressure to move on……….

What did it lead to ??

Where indeed.

Swansea. Myself included, there were at least six or seven “men of a certain age” (and one lady of perhaps even more vintage), with cameras, lurking, mostly alone, waiting for the doors of the Shrewsbury Dogbox (for it is one of those again) to be unlocked. Yes, it appears there are more like me. I expect they will still be there at Shrewsbury.  As we set off the train wasn’t heavily loaded but with folk on and off at all the station stops en route I reckon the service probably carried over hundred passengers in total.

Swansea Dogbox

Talking about the weather is, I’m afraid, unavoidable. Even in the lowlands around Gowerton the weather had closed in. I feared visibility higher up would not enhance the scenery but for the most part my worst fears weren’t realised.  By Pantyffynon the weather had improved —  marginally — and more importantly the window had more or less cleared of clinging raindrops. Then it began raining again. That cycle repeated multiple times but at no point did visibility go altogether.

Our service crossed with the Crewe – Swansea train, and with it the crew change took place, at Llandrindod. The ten minutes this took allowed most of the through passengers the opportunity for a quick leg stretch on the platform (and for several of us, the chance to snap away). As it was 12:01 when we departed, it seemed a suitable signal to break out my M&S sandwich. (Minor blunder, instead of ham & cheese I somehow managed to acquire ham & mustard mayo. Oh well, it didn’t poison me). I celebrated with a coffee from the trolley which is conveniently also going the full length of the journey. (“Proudly serving Starbucks” – in a sachet!).

Llandrindod

Ammanford

We crossed back  into England at Knighton and while no disrespect is intended to Wales, I’m sure the weather was immediately better, or at least brighter, in England. We left the Central Wales line and rejoined the main line at Craven Arms, still replete with semaphore signalling. Which made it all the sweeter when we had a signal check for several minutes at Marsh Brook Crossing for some reason – providing the opportunity to admire its home signal at length!

We were about five minutes away from Shrewsbury  then there it was – the tiniest glimpse of blue sky. And that was it for the rest of the day.

Shrewsbury Arrival

Shrewsbury Departure

I don’t really have much to say about the leg from Shrewsbury to Crewe. There were no intermediate stops on a moderately busy three car Class 175 DMU and it was over in seemingly no time at all.

At Crewe I had a little over half an hour for the Edinburgh train which was to take me as far as Lancaster. I had expected it to be a Pendolino on the basis of its Class 9 headcode but RealTimeTrains begged to differ… and was quite right. Given the timing and having not that long ago had a coffee, I decided to forego the lounge and instead hung around on the platform to watch the world go about its business.

When I arrived all the platform departure boards were showing a default ‘Welcome to Crewe Station’ message, making me wonder if Virgin Trains’s systems had been hit by the rampant ransomware attack over the weekend. Within a few minutes they were back up as normal, so it must’ve been a minor glitch.

I stand corrected on the traction for the next leg: It was a Virgin “Super” Voyager.

Super VoyagerOnce again I have no cause for complaint with Virgin Trains’s service; a chicken Caesar and bacon wrap was quickly delivered to my seat along with the by then very welcome coffee. Of course this leg of the journey is retracing my steps from Wednesday, but unless I was to mess around going through Chester and Liverpool or Manchester (either option would take an age) there’s no other practical route back north. Super Voyager it is.

At Lancaster the first thing I saw was the Morecambe train in its bay platform (another Class 153, belonging to Northern Trains this time). I had a quick look at the timetable and saw I could go to Morecambe, just for the ride, and be back in Lancaster in time —  but it would be tight. Discretion got the better part of valour, and besides, I wanted to explore Lancaster station for the remnants of the Lancaster, Morecambe & Heysham electrification. It was only after it was too late that I looked closer and realised the 153 from Morecambe formed my Barrow in Furness service (or part of it, as it turned out), so it would have been a perfectly safe diversion. Oh well — I found my remnants so was happy.  (Look closely at the far end of the wall in the photo below and you may spot the stub-end of two masts which have been gas-axed off…)

Lancaster Remnants

What actually happened was a Pacer and another 153 arrived in the bay from Carlisle then split. The Morecambe 153 then arrived behind them to form a two car set to Barrow, while the Pacer presumably took over Morecambe duties. It all seemed very complicated (and I overheard the platform train dispatcher say into his radio that it was the quickest he’d seen the manoeuvre done), but I guess it makes sense for capacity reasons. I’d sill prefer something a little grander than a pair of ubiquitous (on this trip) “Dogboxes”!

Thus we set off toward Barrow in Furness. Open stations at Lancaster and first stop Carnforth meant that the front of the train was very popular for some reason. There was also perceptible movement toward the front door as the conductor got ever closer! This culminated in some not subtle signs of relief behind me when Carnforth platform came into view. (I checked out of interest — the Anytime single fare is £3.30).

Dogbox Shunting 1

Barrow in Furness: There I witnessed some real railway work. I’d realised before we arrived that the brace of units I was in would form a return working, back through Lancaster to Preston (I had thought I might be in them going north). When we arrived at Barrow I hung around on the platform as I sensed a bit of a photo opportunity when the unit departed, framed by a pair of semaphore signals. I waited, and as departure time passed I realised the driver had disappeared. Better turn my camera off a bit.

Barrow Departure

What had happened was that the previous hour’s incoming train from Carlisle had been cancelled, and this hour’s working was about ten minutes late. Rather than cause a lot of southbound passengers extra anguish with another missed connection, Northern had decided to hold the Preston train. A bold move given it works over the West Coast Mainline between Carnforth and Preston, so has the potential to cause all sorts of knock-on delays. Once that departed, itself about 10 minutes late, the fun really started.

For reasons I have no clue about, the two 153 single car units which came in from Carlisle and which will form my service to St. Bees, were shunted to change their order. That in itself wasn’t a trivial manoeuvre involving each one running out of the station and back into a different platform. I’m guessing it was an issue with a driving cab or something (defective wipers, perhaps?). Anyway, it gave the Barrow signalman something extra to do!

Dogbox Shunting 2

As we boarded we were told that the initial delay was due to a DRS Class 37 loco hauled train failing on one of the earlier services. The ever-dependable N.B.N. later confirmed the failure was a defective radio on the loco (a safety critical feature these days). In his announcement, as well as labouring the Delay Repay scheme, the guard made a point of naming and shaming DRS! It was all handled with aplomb, I thought — but I wasn’t one of those affected by the cancellation of the hour earlier service.

For the record, it stopped raining. For about five minutes around Askam. By Foxfield, two stops later, it was peeing down again. There, two very wet young lads got on (it’s a request stop, so I guess they didn’t risk the driver not seeing them, or them not hearing the train approach, if they were in the shelter!?). That prompted me to check; more of the same forecast for tomorrow. Terrific.

Wet Coastal View

We were a little bit late at St. Bees. That won’t have pleased the signalman as ours was the last train of the day, so he’d be going home once it cleared the section. I trundled my case up the hill (not very far!) to the Manor Hotel where I was quickly and painlessly checked in, I was gently informed that as they’re not that busy, evening meal service may not go on too much longer, so once I was sorted, I came down to the bar.

St Bees Station

I whetted my whistle with a Theakstons – Mountain Folly (3.8%). I resolved to work my way from left-to-right, though there are only three ales on, and all of them are golden beers of sub-4%. I went through to order dinner in the restaurant and stuck with the family tradition — the last night steak. Delicious. Back through to the bar for a Wadsworths – Filthy Chucker (3.8%) and diary tidying. Next up is Old Mill Brewery (Snaith) – Three Rivers (3.9%). Its a lie-in tomorrow as my train isn’t until 10:30 (it was that or silly-o’clock), so I might go round again later!

The Manor

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