Beyond the Level

Beyond the Level - Artists' Open Houses, Brighton: the website is now live. it uses SSI (server side includes) for the navigation menu so I don't have to update every bloomin' page if it changes! - hence the shtml! I managed to find a very cheap host www.110mb.com that supports SSI, something a lot of the paid hosts don't even do!

Easter in Ramsbottom

Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Ramsbottom, or Tupp's Arse as we used to call it, or just plain Rammy, was the venue for the 114th Easter Meet of the Clarion Cycling Club. Ian and Sue Bullock very kindly gave me a lift Up North. Ramsbottom is quite near Bury, where I was born and bred and where my sister and family still live. I was able to kill two birds with one stone: attend my first Easter Meet and see my family. Well, three really as Ramsbottom is a station on the East Lancs Railway and I'm passionate about steam trains!

I missed the hill climb on Saturday morning as it started at the crack of dawn and was all over by breakfast. The Conference was rather longer and more technical than anticipated, with the added surprise at the end that the Brighton and Hove Section (aka Bob Harber) was to host next year's meet - in Eastbourne! After this, I sloped off to Rawtenstall, pulled by a very clean and shiny Deltic Co-Co Class 55 no. 55022 Royal Scots Grey (I'm not usually keen on diesels but this one won me over) to seek out Britain's last Temperance Bar and sample a sarsaparilla (80p) and a Black Beer with Raisins (not as nice), followed by the first of many rides on steam trains: behind Standard Class 4 tank no. 80098, which was about to lose its boiler ticket. The other steam engine on duty was BR 2-6-0 Class 4MT no. 76079. I'm not usually excited about Standard locos, but hey! Also I was delighted to discover that I had three free rides on my membership card (I'm usually up for steam galas which are not eligible). Back in Rammy I tucked in to a cup of black peas then set off for Bury behind 76079 and a pint of Black Magic Mild at the Trackside - a bar that boasts 9 real ales, none above £2.40 a pint! Saturday night was an excellent buffet supper, and luckily I had to leave to catch my two buses home before the ceilidh band came on.

Sunday was the highlight of the weekend with a car trip to the Clarion House Cafe, the other side of Burnley. The weather was glorious and we were able to take our 50p pints of Clarion tea outside and enjoy magnificent views over the Pendle hills. Other more hardy lycra-clad Clarionettes had cycled there, a leisurely 40-mile excursion with plenty of challenging undulations. On the way back we took a wrong turning in Burnley and stumbled across rows and rows of boarded-up houses and shops - a scandal. Afterwards, Ian and Sue joined me on a round trip of the ELR and were delighted to be pulled by a loco (80098) built at Brighton Works in 1954. After a drink in the pub next door (with its own bowling green half way up the hill) we repaired to the Annual Dinner. Unfortunately I had to leave before the speeches.

As the next day was Easter Monday, there was another opportunity to ride on steam trains. This time I did the complete round trip, including Heywood. It's not the most attractive part of the journey and I spotted several gangs of disaffected youths being talked to by hi-vis clad policemen. Later I read in the Bury Times that kids had been throwing stones at the trains. Heywood however is a good place to take photos of the engine changing ends. 80098 had gone and was relaced by a rather ugly USA S160 2-8-0 no. 5197. Why is it that foreign locos always seem to have an excess of pipes and other accoutriments bolted on all over the place? I finished off the day with a pint of Old Moor Porter in the Trackside.

On Tuesday, on the recommendation of one of the Clarion officers, I went to view a fabulous exhibition of Walter Crane's work at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester entitled 'Art and Labour's Cause is One'. A whole bay was devoted to the Clarion, with letters and artwork - and a photo of the Clarion 'van - including the National Clarion logo and various versions of the popular poster 'A Garland for May Day 1895'. I was joined for lunch by Lois, Pete and Joe up from the Peak District, and we also enjoyed the Subversive Spaces show - joe got told off for touching a Sarah Lucas dining room and my favourite was a video of a bloke with a drumstick rattling it on railings. Wednesday was a quiet day spent in Bury, visiting the splendid art gallery, buying black puddings and whinberry pie - and watching the art deco Hornby Buildings being demolished! The journey back south on Thursday was completed in a record time of around 4 hours (taking the bus to Manchester rather than the expensive tram and taking a wrong tube train!), for the grand sum of £13.20 on Virgin.


IoW steam railway

Water tower
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
The visit to the Isle of Wight steam railway was the climax of a very pleasant cycling holiday with the Clarion. We'd cycled 28 miles from Ryde to Totland youth hostel, a lot of the time on disused railway tracks - the one along the Yar valley being spectacular and teaming with wild life. And another undulating 18 miles to Wootton, where after lunch six of us headed to the station to put our bikes on the 2.31 train to Smallbrook Junction. Aren't guard's vans a good idea? We paid £5 for a single. The train was pulled by Hawthorn Leslie 'Invincible', an 0-4-0 industrial saddle tank. At the main station of Havenstreet, we had 15 minutes to dash round the museum, shop and shed. We saw Barclay 0-6-0T 'Ajax', Hunslet 0-6-0ST Austerity No. 92 'Waggoner' and British Rail Class 05 0-6-0DM No D2554 plus a few others in bits. No Terriers. The official website is here. Then it was on to Smallbrook Junction, which is no station at all - just an interchange to the Island Line, which uses old London tube train rolling stock - from which we got the tube to Ryde Pier head and the Fast Cat ferry. As we crossed the Solent, the sea mist closed in - we missed our train home and had to wait an hour for the next one. Smallbrook Junction has no way out and a woman volunteer, who was very impressed by Jim's ex-BR hi-viz jacket and whistle, was in charge of both platforms.