Steam on the English Riviera

End of October is when most heritage railways pack up for the winter, and get ready for the Santa Specials. The South Devon Railway was having a half-price weekend to commemorate the clocks going back, so I travelled down to Torbay on Friday 27 October to get me some steam action. The trip involved changes at Gatwick Airport, futuristic Reading and Newton Abbot to reach Paignton (£20.80 from the GWR site, I refuse to buy from Southern on principle). The scenery beyond Exeter being wonderful. Arriving at the flat Torbay town, first sight was of a forlorn Lydham Manor  outside the Dartmouth Railway station, which is just a level crossing hop from the mainline station.

7827 Lydham Manor
7827 Lydham Manor

So, on to the Brampton Guesthouse and my £25 a night single room (with shared shower room and loo)! After a walk down to the pier and a couple of pints of dark ale with fish and chips at the Talk of the Town Wetherspoon's, it was off to bed.

Saturday, after a superb fried breakfast, I wandered into town to get the 10.30 steam train. This stretch of the Dart Valley wasn't going to be running on Sunday. It was hauled by Standard Class 4 75014 Braveheart - why? cos it used to do the Fort William to Mallaig run when the film was being made.

74014 Braveheart at Paignton
This carried us down to Kingswear, where we got an included ferry ride to Dartmouth (£15.75 concession), a charming town with posh delis and artesan markets. After chasing a few Pokemons I re-crossed the river on the proper ferry this time (the first leg was on a cruise boat helping out).

Dartmouth ferry

Braveheart was the only loco running, so back at Paignton I hopped on a 12 bus and went to visit Brixham. When I were a lad my dad drove us down to Torquay in his Commer van - no motorways, it must have taken days! I remember visiting Brixham, and seeing the William of Orange statue (tho I though he was on a horse!).

William of Orange at Brixham

I tried to find a decent crab sandwich to no avail, so got the bus back and continued on to Torquay, where after a stroll round the harbour, found the Green Ginger Wetherspoon's for a well earned pint. Back at Paignton I popped into Lidl for some sustenance and went back to the B&B to watch Casualty.

Sunday's journey to the other Dart Valley line, the South Devon Railway was a little more complicated. I established that the hourly Stagecoach Gold bus (wot, no number?) went to Totnes, but not very near the station. As it happened, it stopped more or less opposite, but it was a longish walk to the station via some woods and a footbridge.

South Devon Railway footbridge
It was a surprise to see a pannier tank in London Transport livery No L.92, and this took us in Great Western splendour up to Buckfastleigh.

London Transport pannier tank No. L.92
On the way we passed the other loco, a Prairie tank No. 5526, which after a pasty in the refreshment rooms I travelled back to Totnes behind (my ticket granted me freedom of the line all day).

GWR prairie tank No. 5526
Back at Buckfastleigh I explored the sheds and workshops and saw locos in different states of repair, including 4920 Dumbleton Hall. There was something I though was a Deltic doing manoeuvres in the yard, but turned out to be

4920 Dumbleton Hall at Buckfastleigh
4920 Dumbleton Hall

I thought I might be able to catch a bus from Buckfastleigh, in fact a red London bus had been doing tours of the town and abbey all day, but had finished by the time I walked up to the main road to see what I could find. No luck, no bus for ages, so I walked back down to the station to get the last train to Totnes, and... it was being hauled by the diesel! A Class 37 No. 6975.

Class 37 No. 6975

A big plus point was that I could travel back in the observation car! Back at Totnes it was getting dark so I trudged back to the mainline station and bought a ticket to Paignton via Newton Abbot, only to find my Senior railcard had expired! Had there not been a fast train in, I'd have renewed there and then to enjoy my discount... ah well. Back at Paignton it was straight to the Wetherspoon's for a well earned pint!

Bronze Age workings, in the shape of an axe head
Monday morning it was another splendid breakfast, then a walk to the station to get a new railcard and a scenic ride to Exeter St David's where I'd be staying a couple of nights with my friends Dave and Jude, highlight of which was a visit to a Bronze Age site at a secret location, to see some mystery objects! The only regret is that I failed to see the Babbacombe Cliff Railway, but I'd overheard a woman on the Dartmouth train say it was broken anyway...

More photos on Flickr.


Edinburgh and Hull 2017

Again, no more than a listing of shows seen.

Edinburgh August 2017
Nathan Coley The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh 2004

Tuesday 22 August: to Waverley by train via St Pancras (£31.70). Spotted Flying Scotsman outside the NRM York. Pint in Cloisters bar and night in, watching me watching the Middleton Pace-Eggers on a TV programme about Utopias.

Edinburgh August 2017
Gerald Leslie Brockhurst By the hills 1939
Wednesday 23 August: to the BBC area to queue for The Now Show (Punt and Dennis) tickets, no luck. Gallery (mini)Bus to Museum of Modern Art Two for True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s. Superb exhibition if you like this period of deeply unfashionable art, which I do! Across to One for small exhibition of Ed Ruscha and cardboard churches by Nathan Coley. To Fruitmarket for Jac Leirner Add it up, a sort of Martin Creed thing using everyday objects arranged to make art. To the Standing Order for a Wetherspoon's pint, and to Sandy Bell's, to catch up with Peter Chrisp. Then into the stand-by queue at the BBC for Punt and Dennis radio show and I got in! Doug Anthony All-Stars were one of the guest acts.

Thursday 24 August: £4 day bus ticket to Summerhall to see the art. Not impressed. To Talbot Rice, ditto. Bus back to Tollcross and a coffee and custard tart at Colony. To King's Theatre for Jarvis Cocker's Room 29, a musical about Hollywood, with Chilly Gonzales and the Kaiser String Quartet.

Edinburgh August 2017
Salvation Army Knitted Bible Story, from Warrington
Friday 25 August: Bus to Nicholson Square, popped into the Knitted Bible Story at the Salvation Army and Sue Perkins Live! in Spectacles at Pleasance Grand, then after a beer in the courtyard, Nick Helm's very sweary Masterworks in progress '17. To George Square for a cullan skink pie and mash and a walk back to the flat.

Edinburgh August 2017
Avro Vulcan B.2A XM597
Saturday 26 August: day off! Bus to St Andrew's Square to meet Mad, then train to Drem and bus for the National Museum of Flight. There I was reunited with Concorde G-BOAA and a Vulcan amongst other treasures, including a Lego event. Bus to North Berwick, train, and a Korean meal at Ong Gie back at Tollcross.

Edinburgh August 2017
Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership
Sunday 27 August: Bus to National Library for film about Staffa and Shackleton exhibition, thence to City Art Gallery for Edinburgh Alphabet, a miscellany of stuff from the archives. Visited the green Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership at Trinity Apse, and Al Murray's The pub landlord's saloon at the Speiegeltent Palais du Variete. Don't sit at the front! His guests were... The Doug Anthony All-Stars doing the same song as at the BBC! Pizza at the Wildman then to the Festival Theatre Studio for Martin Creed himself with Words and music singing twee Ivor Cutler style songs to an electric guitar. Taxi home.

Edinburgh August 2017
Oops! Black Burns by Douglas Gordon
Monday 28 August: Bus to Book Festival, and then to the Stand for Simon Munnery's Renegade Plumber. He never disappoints. To the Portrait Gallery for coffee and tram to West End and bus to the Pleasance for NewsRevue 2017 at Beyond. As you'd expect: songs and dances about current affairs competently done. Watched the end of festival fireworks from Sam's kitchen window!

Hull City of Culture 2017
Hull telephone box

It's never dull in Hull. It has its own railway and its own telephone boxes.

Tuesday 29 August: Train to Hull (£20.45). Walk to Haymarket, pint of Peanut Butter Stout at York Tap. Met at Hull Paragon station by Rick for a night in with trout.

Hull City of Culture 2017
Philip Larkin's trousers, and vest
Wednesday 30 August: to University to see Philip Larkin exhibition New eyes each year at Brynmor Jones library: his books, his trousers, his cameras, his knick knacks. I was delighted to find next door a wonderful art gallery of mainly early 20th century art, and lots of self portraits. Hearty soup at Zoo, then later to Ambiente in the Fruitmarket for tapas and to the Freedom Festival Tent for Counting Sheep Revolution: a guerrilla folk opera, a Ukrainian immersive experience with lots of songs. Thankfully I wasn't dragged into the country dancing.

Hull City of Culture 2017
Hearty soup from Zoo
Thursday 31 August: Park by Premier Inn for walk round the Fruitmarket and Humber Street Gallery. Check in at Royal Hotel for the night. Walk up to Ferens Art Gallery (Mr Ferens didn't like the Pre-Raphaelites, too modern! Missed the Skin exhibition. Then across the square to the Maritime Museum and a pint of Old Moor's Porter at the Wetherspoon's The Admiral of the Humber. Picked up from hotel and to the George Street Car Park for Ragroof Theatre's Bridges y Puentes, another immersive, this time about immigration and written by Dorothy Max. Got a passport! Then rush to festival tent transformed for a Freedom Festival Gala evening with entertainment by Slightly Fat Features, a troupe of comedy jugglers, champagne, wine and a veggie lunch box.

Hull City of Culture 2017
Ferens Art Gallery
Friday 1 September: RMT Northern Rail on strike so early Hull Trains to Doncaster, but no further. Had to wait hour and a quarter for my Virgin train, but rest of journey uneventful. (Hull to London King's Cross £9.90; St Pancras to Brighton £11.55)

More photos on Flickr


Guildhall and Pokemon Go

It was Romans day for the kids
I've been living in or near London for nigh on 50 years. I've visited the National Gallery, the Tates, you name it. But thanks to a heads-up on Facebook by Mary-Lou, on Tuesday I was about to visit an Art Gallery I'd never even heard of, the Guildhall Art Gallery, in the City of London.

The 1999 exterior
What attracted me was a photo of Rossetti's La Ghirlandata, a gorgeous picture of Alexa Wilding, with May Morris (Jane's 10-year old daughter) posing as the angels above. It's full of symbolism, described in detail to a small group of us taking the free guided tour. The only thing Rossetti got wrong were the flowers at the bottom of the picture. I didn't expect a lot more to be honest, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Photography was allowed too.

Rossetti and others
Almost every Pre-Raphaelite and follower is represented: Holman Hunt's Eve of St Agnes, a smaller version to that in the Walker; Millais' The woodsman's daughter and the pair of Sermons, My First and My Second. Then there are other treasures, such as Lord Leighton's The music lesson [Fun fact: Leighton became a Lord on his deathbed, the shortest peerage in history, just one day], and Paul Delaroche's The execution of Lady Jane Grey, our forgotten queen, so poignant as she was tried for treason in the Guildhall next door, and William Shakespeare Burton's The wounded Cavalier, also full of symbolism.

Burton and Holman Hunt
Take the free guided tour (Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays) and you'll be taken to all the nooks and crannies (mind you, I'm convinced I missed a room under the main gallery, where the bottom half of John Singleton Copley's The defeat of the floating batteries at Gibraltar, 1782 resides. What a whopper, the largest painting in Britain. There are several big 'uns on display. I was taken by the more formal The ninth of November, 1888 by William Logsdail depicting the Lord Mayor's procession. Beautifully painted, it looks almost 3D. The collection of London paintings are down below, and even deeper is a Roman amphitheatre!

Another whopper: Michele Tedesco A Pythagorean school attacked by Sybarites
The building itself, though founded in 1886, was reopened in 1999, after being mostly destroyed in the Blitz. I got the bus from London Bridge and spent the rest of the day chasing Unown and Kangaskhan in the Pokemon Go city event. They were not as plentiful as I'd been led to believe, but tracked down a Kanga at Victoria station and a couple more at Green Park. My one and only Unown was found in Lincoln's Inn Fields. And I was so pleased that I treated myself to a pint of something welsh-sounding at a nearby Wetherspoons, Penderel's Oak, named after another Cavalier.

BTW the last exhibition I went up to London for was Alma-Tadema: At home in Antiquity at Leighton House, back on 12 July, the day of the David Devant and his Spirit Wife gig at the Monarch in Camden Town. No photography allowed, but a fine exhibition. [Fun fact: Alama-Tadema was born plain Mr Tadema, he added the Alma so he would come first in catalogues.] There's an Alma-Tadema in the Guildhall catalogue but not on display, or maybe on loan to Leighton House*, or maybe in that room I might have missed!

* A Pyrrhic Dance was indeed in the Leighton House exhibition.


Ludlow, SVR and Ironbridge

Bridge over the River Teme
Bridge over the River Teme
I'd been invited to Jane's surprise 60th in Ludlow, so I thought I'd tag on a visit to the Severn Valley Railway in Kidderminster, a bus pass trip to see the Iron Bridge and a visit to my Uncle and Aunty in Shifnal. So, on Saturday 13 May, Ellen drove Jackie, Deborah and me up to our creaky Air B&B right in the centre of town. The surprise party, organised by Jane's kids, worked out remarkably well, but it was a long walk back to the B&B.

Ludlow market
Sunday we spent wandering round town and around the castle - there was a food festival on - and had lunch at the Green Cafe down by the river. Jane nearly fell in whilst texting along an eroded muddy river bank! We bought food from the market to eat back at Jane's again.

On Monday I walked with Jackie down to the railway station, had a coffee in Tesco's then I flagged down the 2L bus to Kidderminster for a very scenic journey up and over the green Shropshire hills. I'd booked two nights at the Premier Inn, which was a converted mill with lovely brickwork. The hotel was right by the bus station, so after a quick pint at the Penny Black, I did a recce of the railway station, and I got lost choosing the wrong exit from an underpass! Phone and Google Maps got me to the stations, where I had a chat with a bearded volunteer,  grabbed some leaflets, then caught a bus back to the Wetherspoons for four bean chilli and another cheap pint.

Tuesday I took a bus to the station and bought a day rover ticket for £18.80. First train of the day was steam at 10.15am - an 0-6-0 pannier tank No. 1501. A coach party had bagged most of the carriages but I got a nice enough seat. We passed a safari park at Bewdley and I saw some elephants and a rhino, then No. 7802 Bradley Manor in the station!

No. 1501
No. 1501
I alighted at Highley to visit the Engine House locos in the new Visitor Centre, including 2-10-0 No. 600 'Gordon', Ex-Longmoor Military Railway, and Standard tank No. 80079, built in Brighton 1954. The next one built, 80080, is currently working at the East Lancs railway!

Severn Valley Railway
No. 48773 and No. 600 Gordon
Severn Valley Railway
Standard tank No. 80079
After a quick cup of tea, I jumped on the next train, pulled by a diesel No. 271, to Bridgnorth, where there were lots of locos to admire outside the sheds, including No. 34053 Sir Keith Park, also built in Brighton. Now I've been to Bridgnorth before, in 2008 on a coach trip, and all I remember was that scary bridge linking the station to the town.

Bridgnorth foot bridge
Bridgnorth foot bridge

I wanted to visit the Cliff Railway, so marched across it and turned right downhill to Low Town, where I found a pie and mash cafe called BamBoo with a bewildering number of options! After lunch (broccoli and mushroom pie (small - a bit dry) with cheesy mash, mushy peas, carrots and veggie gravy, since you ask) and a pint of Hobson's, I crossed over the road and bought a return ticket for £1.60 (no singles) for a ride on England's steepest inland funicular, in its 50s style coaches up to High Town.
Bridgnorth cliff railway
Cliff Railway
Then it was a walk round the other side of the castle, over that bridge again, and onto a train hauled by GWR 2-8-0 No. 2857 back to Kidderminster where I had a pint of mild in the King and Castle followed by a bus ride back to the hotel.

0-8-0 GWR No. 2857
GWR 2-8-0 No. 2857
On Wednesday 17 May, I took a 297 bus to Bridgnorth, and for the first time saw the town centre and High Street. Bought a sandwich at Tesco's and boarded the 114 to Telford, where I had a hour to kill. It was raining so  investigated the shopping mall, bought some stamps and a bottle of wine at Asda then set off on the 96 to Ironbridge, where I had half an hour to take some snaps, cross the bridge, and have a half of Hobson's in the Tontine Hotel before being collected by my cousin and taken back to Shifnal.

Iron Bridge
Thomas Telford's Iron Bridge
They very kindly took me to eat at a pub The Fox, opposite where Jeremy Corbyn once lived (Yew Tree Manor), and on Thursday my Uncle gave me a lift to Shifnal station, to travel home via Wolverhampton and the London rush hour. I arrived back just in time for a Beyond the Level party at Moe's Cafe!


Clogs, steam, art and pace-eggers: Part 2. Steam and pace-egging

City of Wells
City of Wells at Ramsbottom
On Good Friday I made my way to the East Lancs Railway and got a free round-trip members' ticket. I intended to go straight to Ramsbottom, but it was a diesel, so I got the train to Heywood, hauled by City of Wells. At Rammy, I was taking some photos when I bumped into my Facebook friend Stephen Porter and we retired to The Railway for a pint. We were then joined by the Bury Pace-Eggers, who performed their play. All mummers plays follow a similar pattern: St George fights the Turk, gets killed, then the Doctor appears and cures him. There is then a rematch and St George triumphs! It's all about resurrection.

Bury Pace-eggers at Ramsbottom
Bury Pace-Eggers at Ramsbottom
We followed the pace-eggers to the Irwell Works Brewery which was rammed, and after they finished, enjoyed another pint. I caught the Union of South Africa train back to Bury, and the bus back to my sister's.

Union of South Africa
60009 Union of South Africa
On Easter Saturday, it was a bus to Bury, then to Bacup. The last time I visited this mill town was when a DMU from Bury started running there. As I arrived, I saw a small crowd in the town square - I'd just missed them. So, I had a wander round, found the shortest street in England, and to my delight discovered a vegan pie shop in the market! Then it was a leisurely walk out of town where the Coconutters performed in several locations, accompanied by the Stacksteads Brass Band playing some very catchy tunes.

Britannia Coco-nut dancers, Bacup
Britannia Coconut Dancers at Bacup
They start with a bit of listening and pointing, then off they skip tapping their 'coconuts' in time with their clogs. At the Irwell Inn (closed) they headed back into town where after a dance in the town square they split into two sides, and I bumped into my niece's friend Adele and family. They gave me a lift back, via a micro-pub Hop in Rawtenstall, where I had a pint of coconut chocolate porter. A great day out.

Middleton pace-eggers
Middleton Pace-Eggers
After doing nowt much on Easter Sunday, I popped in to Bury Art Gallery for a quick look on Easter Monday and was pleased to find the little cafe was in business again. I then travelled to Middleton  to see their Pace-Eggers. They were meant to start at 12 at the Dusty Miller, but there was no sight, I bought myself a half (pints £2.10!) and in they came, loads of them. I saw the play four times, ending up at the Wetherspoons, where I had another pint (of Swordfish). They were being filmed by BBC4 for a series on Utopias. So, it was back to Bury, and on Tuesday caught the tram to Manchester and home. I was disappointed to find the Ian Allan shop had closed, but all in all it was a fantastic week in the North.

Blacking up
Now then, the blacking up of morris dancers and mummers has become a contentious issue, with the Coconutters being barrred from The Shrewsbury Folk Festival. If I ruled the world I'd do what some morris sides have done and choose another colour of face paint, blue say. It's no good hiding behind 'tradition' when blackface does offend some people today, however unintentionally. The idea is that it was originally a disguise to protect workers from bosses, using coal or cinders. However the Moorish connection does rather undermine that excuse.

More photos on Flickr

Some videos on Youtube

Clogs, steam, art and pace-eggers: Part 1. Art

Clogs, steam, art and pace-eggers: Part 1. Art

I've wanted to see the Britannia Coconut Dancers for a long time, and this year made an effort to fulfil this ambition. The only guaranteed gig is Easter Saturday on their home turf of Bacup, a bus ride away from Bury. I also discovered from a Facebook group called Bury Olden Days that the Bury Pace-Eggers would be performing in Ramsbottom on Good Friday. And that the Middleton Pace-Eggers would be doing their longer mummers play with more characters on Easter Monday. And that it was Pacific weekend on the East Lancs Railway featuring A4 Union of South Africa and West Country Class City of Wells. But first, some Northern art...

Tiffany glass vase
I've been ticking off Northern art galleries - last time it was Blackburn, this time it was the turn of Accrington and Burnley... two in one day! I travelled up to Bury on Tuesday 11 April via the Doric Arch bar at Euston station. Had a rest day on Wednesday and on Thursday set off to the Haworth Art Gallery as you go into Accrington. I arrived at 11am, but it didn't open until 12. Luckily the cafe was open and there were Pokemons to catch in the grounds. The Haworth has the finest collection of Tiffany glass this side of New York, taking up the whole upstairs of the hall, thanks to Joseph Briggs who in 1891, aged only 17, left Accrington to seek his fortune in America. He worked with Tiffany all his working life and sent his collection back to his home town in 1933. They do have a small collection of Victorian art too, but most of the downstairs was taken up by local artists.

Towneley Art Gallery, Burnley
So, it was on to the central bus station and the M3 bus to Burnley. I knew getting to the Towneley Art Gallery would be tough, as it was in the middle of a park, but underestimated the amount of walking I had to do. Their website said bus no. 1 went near, but it was not that close - a dog walker said it'd take me half an hour to get there! So, plodding along the side of a stream, I finally made it to the stately home and got in free with my Art Fund card (a fiver to anyone else). After a few wrong turns (turn right at the mummy, the front desk woman said) I found the art gallery floor, and a splendid collection it was: with Burne-Jones, Alma-Tadema, Leighton, Poynter, Waterhouse and many other minor pre-Raphaelites represented. They also had a fine collection of Pilkington pots, and the postcards were only 25p each! Photography was forbidden, but the attendant allowed me to take some general views.

Pilkington Royal Lancastrian pottery
On my way out, I asked the ticket woman the best way to the nearest bus stop and she told me people generally call for a taxi. Oh, if only I'd taken her advice... I got totally disoriented and even the GPS on my phone was no use. At least it wasn't raining. But eventually I skirted a golf course and caught a bus back to Burnley bus station - and stayed on it as it travelled back to Bury.

 < Clogs, steam, art and pace-eggers: Part 2. steam and pace-egging